Peter Pan author JM Barrie and pals were lost boys at cricket

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THEY were the strangest characters in the history of cricket, a team captained by Peter Pan, with Sherlock Holmes as the star batsman and Winnie the Pooh also at the wicket.

• Sticky wicket: cricket fan JM Barrie bowls a delivery.

Now the incredible true story of a cricket team, founded by the Scots author JM Barrie and including some of the best-loved authors in literary history has been revealed in a new book about the curiously-named Allahakberries.

The amateur team, which included prominent 19th-century explorers, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle and AA Milne, took its name from what the players thought was African for "Heaven help us" – although it actually meant "god is great".

"Heaven help us" was a reflection on their prospects of victory as a number of the players, who were the delight of Victorian and Edwardian England, were unsure of which side of the bat to use.

Tragically, what began on the village greens of Worcestershire and Kent was to end among the trenches and bomb craters of Flanders when a number of players lost their lives during the First World War.

Peter Pan's First XI, a history of Barrie's cricket team, is being published to mark the 150th anniversary of the author's birth in Kirriemuir in Angus next month.

Kevin Telfer, the book's author, said: "JM Barrie was the one who made this team so special. It was an unusual obsession for a Scotsman but Barrie was fascinated by the English and with cricket.

"No-one else could persuade Jerome K Jerome, PG Wodehouse and Arthur Conan Doyle to abandon their fear of coming across as ridiculous and play for a team that was at times farcical."

Founded in September, 1887, when Barrie rounded up a group of friends to play against the village of Shere, near Guildford, it was not until everyone arrived at Waterloo Station that the extent of their ignorance of the sport was revealed.

• A line-up of Authors v Artists from 1903, featuring PG Wodehouse, back row, third from left, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, sixth from left, and JM Barrie third from right in the front row.

Joseph Thomson, a geologist, naturalist and fellow Scot, arrived wearing pyjamas as a substitute for cricket whites while in the train carriage an animated discussion took place among several players as to which was the most suitable side of the bat to use while striking the ball.

When it came to picking teams, Barrie favoured personality over play: "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."

Their most successful player was Conan Doyle, who is believed to have constructed the name of his famous detective from two Nottinghamshire cricketers, Frank Shacklock and Mordecai Sherwin.

Although Barrie believed that the more distinguished a man of letters "the worse they played", Conan Doyle proved to be the exception as a tremendous batsman and fierce bowler. Barrie wrote: "Doyle. A grand bowler. Knows a batsman's weakness by the colour of the mud on his shoes."

The team's final match was played on 13 October 1913 when Alan Alexander Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh played his first and only game, along with George Llewelyn Davies, one of the family of children who inspired Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.

Yet the following summer brought the outbreak of war. During a visit to Scotland with the Llewelyn Davies family, Barrie wrote in his dairy: "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."

Among those who died in the Great War was George Llewelyn Davis who was shot through the head on 15 March, 1915. His glasses and revolver were passed onto another former player, Percival Lucas. He was killed the following year.

Despite the trauma, Barrie never lost his love of cricket and one of his final acts was to purchase a new pavilion for the cricket club at Kirriemuir. On the day he was presented with the freedom of the town the local team renamed themselves as the Allahakberries when playing against the West of Scotland. Yet it was clear that this was not the real team. They won.