Berkmann makes ragtag lot brilliant

RAIN MEN<br><b>Marcus BerkmannPublished: 1995.

Sport: Cricket.

Sample: ''Cricketing agnostics habitually accuse us of using the game to blot out the more painful and difficult aspects of life. But what can be more painful and difficult than a cricket season? The knuckle on my left hand has never been the same since that dropped catch last August. It's not that cricket is a substitute for real life. It is real life. It's realer than real life. Psychosis, Tim's wife calls it.''

The setting: The pitches and pubs of English village cricket.

The protagonists: The willing men (Berkmann is one) of the Captain Scott Invitation XI, a ragtag local cricket team.

Why it is brilliant: Berkmann is a lovely writer, so that helps. The book is full of funny, interesting and recognisable characters. That helps, too. And there's just a wonderful streak of sheer romanticism that underlies the whole story. Hopeless cricketers? Most of us can identify far more readily with them than we can with the Sachin Tendulkars and Brendon McCullums of this world. Berkmann and his cronies are brilliant - in their own way.

Don't just take my word for it: ''A very funny book about some very sad men.'' - Ian Hislop.

The aftermath: The success of Rain Men landed Berkmann a gig writing a column in Wisden Cricket Monthly. He also wrote Brain Men - subject: the pub quiz - before returning to cricket with Zimmer Men, detailing his quest to stay involved in the game into middle age.