NOTTINGHAM: Other than being the home of cricket, England is also the home of cricket literature. For decades, numerous authors have enriched the game by writing books on matches, series, characters, incidents and whatnot, making cricket perhaps the most written on sport in the English language. Neville Cardus is obviously the most famous name. There have been many more.
Stepping into any bookstore, it’s likely that one will come across the volumes on cricket. They can be expensive. For those unable or unwilling to spend that many, there is JW McKenzie Cricket Books, a rare shop that deals only in second-hand books on cricket.
It also sells cricket memorabilia and photographs but is better known for specialising in old books. Stores like this are less than a handful in countries where the game is played.
Run by John McKenzie, this is situated in Stoneleigh, just over half an hour by train from London’s Waterloo station. It’s a quiet town in Surrey, where the old buildings and narrow lanes take one back to the era bygone, much like the contents of the bookstore.
“I usually don’t keep new books which are available on Amazon. People come here for what they can’t find anywhere else," says McKenzie, who started this in 1973.
It’s a goldmine for those interested in cricket history. Other than all the volumes of the Wisden almanack starting with the first one published in 1864, there are thousands of books written by English, Australian, South African, even Indian authors.
Their catalogue is online and shows there are 2246 books for sale at the moment. Add multiple copies of the same book and some under restoration and the total runs into several thousand. There are eight rooms with racks full from floor to ceiling. That six persons work here suggests the business has been steady.
In his seventies, McKenzie started this after working in bookstores for a few years in his youth. In the beginning, it was a lending library before being turned into a store.
“It was basically out of love for cricket that I started it. My experience of working in this profession helped me understand what kind of books people like to read and buy.
"This business has given me the opportunity to meet interesting people, like authors and cricketers. I have also published books and people like Don Bradman and John Arlott wrote the foreword for some of those.”
Finding the books he wants to sell can be a laborious exercise. Other than advertising in almost every issue of the Wisden and elsewhere, McKenzie goes to auctions and private collectors to buy.
Also, people have come to know about this place from newspaper articles. So sometimes, those who want to sell old books drop by. The owner has an interesting tale to tell about this.
“One day I was sitting there when a tall gentleman walked in with a few volumes. Flipping through the pages, I saw ‘To Bill from Hedley Verity’ written on some of them. He was Bill Bowes. For some reason he wanted to sell them,” says McKenzie.
Bowes was a fast bowler who played for England and the first to dismiss Don Bradman in the Bodyline series. Verity the left-arm spinner was also part of Douglas Jardine’s team in that eventful summer in Australia in 1932-33.
Procuring is only one a part of McKenzie’s job. After that comes the important part of restoring and maintaining because the books he buys are not always in good shape.
He has restorers under his payrolls and says that keeping the place dry is necessary because moisture helps insects and worms breed, which can ruin his collection.
“Also, I used to keep books on the window for display. But I realised that the print fades if it comes under direct sunlight. So the display has stopped.”
Those interested in buying these are generally not that young, although McKenzie has had customers from the newer generations.
Among other books, this store has a tempting collection on the Bodyline series. The owner has a fascination for the pre Second World War era and readers can spend hours sifting through them.
Those unable to make the trip need not lose heart. JW McKenzie Cricket Books has kept pace with time and delivers orders online.