There are all sorts of literary friendships in history. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg. The Algonquin Round Table. But they usually restricted themselves to literary pursuits. Not so with J.M. Barrie's cricket team, which was packed with famous names and almost no athletic ability.
J.M. Barrie loved cricket. He loved it so much he formed a cricket club in 1887. But he didn't pick his team based on athletic ability, no. That would be silly. Instead, he invited people based on a more eccentric set of criteria:
With regard to the married men, it was because I liked their wives, with the regard to the single men, it was for the oddity of their personal appearance.
He got what he asked for, naturalist Joseph Thomson wore pajamas as a substitute for cricket whites. Also joining the team were Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, G. K. Chesterton, Jerome K. Jerome, and A. A. Milne.
The name of the club was the "Allahakbarries," which is a culturally insensitive pun. And a mistake, since the two explorers who came up with it thought the name meant "Heaven help us," which was something the team would need to say a lot. That's not what "Allah Akbar" actually means, but, hey, they did manage to get Barrie's name in there.
Among the team's greatest hits:
- Right before the first game, Barrie discovered his teammates trying to decide which side of the bat to use to hit the ball.
- One French player thought that when the umpire called "over," the game was literally finished.
- Barrie described a player as "Breaks everything except the ball."
- Barrie had to write the team a book of advice which included asking them not practice before matches since it would only give their opponents confidence and "Should you hit the ball, run at once. Do not stop to cheer."
Poor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the only one on the team who was actually a good player, and was described by Barrie as "A grand bowler. Knows a batsman's weakness by the colour of the mud on his shoes."
Barrie himself had just the right attitude about the game. He was relentlessly positive about the team and their opponents. He dedicated his book on the team with "To Our Dear Enemy Mary de Navarro," an American actress who had bowled him out. He was also aware of his own shortcomings as a bowler, repeatedly writing about how slow he was. Eventually he fell back on an excuse that so many of us have used: the more accomplished a man was at writing, the worse he played.
Sadly, the end of the team was not as joyful as its inception or career: World War I finished the team. Barrie saw it coming, writing in his diary:
The Last Cricket Match. One or two days before war declared – my anxiety and premonition – boys gaily playing cricket at Auch, seen from my window. I know they're to suffer. I see them dropping out one by one, fewer and fewer
Read more about the Allahakbarries in Peter Pan's First XI: The Extraordinary Story of J. M. Barrie's Cricket Team