What do literary giants do when they aren’t writing history’s greatest books? There’s no better way to stave off a case of writer’s block than to play a rousing game of cricket. That seemed to be the motivation of a cadre of famous writers who formed the most literary-talented cricket team in history.
J.M. Barrie (1860-1937) is best remembered as the author of Peter Pan. Less known was his passion for the game of cricket. In 1890, Barrie formed an amateur team and invited fellow authors to join.
Barrie called his team the Allahakbarries. It was a combination of his name and his (mistaken) understanding that the Arabic phrase Allah akbar translated as “Heaven help us.” It actually means, “Allah (God) is greatest.”
The Allahakbarries was active from 1890 to 1913. The team roster was a Who’s Who of the literary greats of that era. At one time or another, players for Allahakbarries included:
- A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh series
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series
- P.G. Wodehouse, author of the Jeeves and Wooster series
- H.G. Wells, author of The Time Machine and other science fiction works
- Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book
- E.W. Hornung, author of the A.J. Raffles series
- G.K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown detective novels
- Jerome K. Jerome, author of the comic travelogue Three Men in a Boat
- Henry Justice Ford, artist and illustrator for Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books
- A.E.W. Mason, author of The Four Feathers and creator of the French literary detective Inspector Hanaud
- Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh, author and poet
- E.V. Lucas, humorist and author
- Maurice Hewlett, poet and novelist
- Sir Owen Seaman, editor of Punch magazine
- Sir John Bernard Partridge, illustrator
- Augustine Birrell, politician and author
- Paul Du Chaillu, zoologist and first modern European to confirm the existence of gorillas
- George Llewelyn Davies, friend of Barrie and the inspiration for the Peter Pan and Lost Boys characters
- The son of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate
Although the team’s contributions to literary culture were beyond dispute, their athletic abilities left much to be desired. A few of the players had some skills on the field, but most of them contributed little but enthusiasm.
Barrie wrote about his cricket team in the privately-published 40-page book Allahakbarries C.C. In the book, Barrie demonstrates his pride in the team but clearly harbored no illusions about their athletic prowess. Concerning his skills, he said he would deliver the ball and then sit down and wait for the ball to reach the other end, which “it sometimes did.” As for the other members of his team, Barrie advised them not to practice ahead of a match when the other team could see them because “this can only give them confidence.” One of the team members showed up to a game in his pajamas. Another needed instructions about which end of the bat to use.
Occasionally the Allahakbarries would produce a player with some real athletic talent. Arthur Conan Doyle, for example, was a gifted athlete who was responsible for popularizing the sport skiing in Switzerland. He had one particularly memorable moment while playing for the team when he accidentally set himself on fire.
Doyle remembered the occasion in which he was up to bat and the pitch hit him in the thigh, striking a box of matches in his pocket: “A little occasional pain is one of the chances of cricket, and one takes it as cheerfully as one can, but on this occasion, it suddenly became sharp to an unbearable degree. I clapped my hand to the spot and found to my amazement that I was on fire. The ball had landed straight on a small tin vesta box in my trousers pocket, had splintered the box, and set the matches ablaze.”
Doyle joined his teammates in playing for the joy of the game. He wrote, “We played in the old style, caring little about the game and a good deal about a jolly time and pleasant scenery.” He later added, “There were many whimsical happenings, which were good fun if they were not good cricket.”