Review: Cooper Not Out by Justin Smith


Title: Cooper Not Out

Author: Justin Smith

Published: 18th January 2022, Michael Joseph

Status: Read January 2002 courtesy Penguin Australia



My Thoughts:


A corker of a read, Justin Smith has hit a six with his heartwarming debut, Cooper Not Out.

When schoolgirl Cassie Midwinter discovers that her ‘uncle’ Roy Cooper has never been bowled, or run, out in his decades playing with the Penguin Hill Cricket Club she’s certain this makes him the best batsman in Australia, if not the world. Eager to share this astonishing achievement, Cassie writes to the Don Garrett, a newspaper columnist widely considered the nations expert on cricket.

Don Garrett, who is really Donna Garrett writing under a pseudonym, is delighted by the story of an overweight country copper and his extraordinary statistical feat. With the Australian cricket team having suffered a series of defeats, as the new season approaches the country seems to have lost their enthusiasm for the sport. Donna’s article inspires the imagination of the nation, and while Roy is bemused by the ensuing attention, neither has any idea that it will eventually lead Roy to the crease of the MCG wearing the baggy green.

Cooper Not Out is set in the summer of 1984, a period when Australian cricket was struggling against the power of the West Indies team particularly in the wake of several of the game’s legends retiring. Though I never developed much affection for the game, cricket was part of my childhood, and I was effortlessly captured by nostalgia. My dad was (and still is) a fan, not only did he watch matches on tv, yelling ‘you bewdy’ in response to a spectacular catch or fallen wicket by the Australian team, he regularly attended any games held at the WACA, thanks to a box owned by his employer, during the late 70’s to mid 80’s. My memories are fairly vague, but I was dragged along to a few matches and met many members of the Australian cricket team including legends like Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Greg Chappell, and Kim Hughes.

It’s against this dispiriting era of the sport that Smith introduces his unlikely hero, Ray Cooper. There’s so much uncomplicated joy in this story of an unassuming Aussie bloke from a dusty country town, a man with ‘no obvious skill or talent’ who nevertheless winds up batting for Australia. Even if you care nothing for cricket, you can’t help but like Roy, an old style country copper, humble and quiet, who shares a bath with his best mate every Sunday, and will be cheering him on.

I loved how the quiescently Australian rural community of Penguin Hill rallied behind Roy with good humour and genuine delight in his good fortune. Smith populates the town with charming characters from the sweetly earnest Cassie, and her father, Barry who tends the Penguin Hill cricket ground with devotion, to the flirty, brightly dressed Dolly, and Roy’s fellow team members, among them Chicken, Mighty and Skid.

Donna too is someone to champion. Forced to hide behind the dual identities of ‘Don Garrett’ and his assistant ‘Julie Barnes’ in order to pen her column, she loves the game, yet has had to make herself invisible to pander to the sexist attitudes of the time. Her visits to her father, to whom she reads her columns without revealing her necessary deception, are quite poignant, and the bond she forms with Cassie is touching.

Written with warmth and humour, Cooper Not Out is a wonderfully uplifting read, perfect for a summer’s afternoon.


Available from Penguin Australia

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Liz Dexter
    Jan 29, 2022 @ 03:19:48

    Oh this sounds lovely! I’m a big cricket fan, listening to test matches on the radio, watching on the telly with the sound turned down, and a worry when I went to university was whether to switch county team allegiance! This sounds like a charming book.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Louise H
    Jan 29, 2022 @ 19:35:59

    Fantastic review. I really enjoy stories that touch my emotions and engage me in the lives of the protagonists – this is definitely going on my TBR.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Helen Murdoch
    Jan 30, 2022 @ 13:50:31

    This is my kind of book: sport underdog, feel good. I am all over this one. Sounds like it would make a great movie.

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  5. sjhigbee
    Feb 02, 2022 @ 01:52:46

    What a lovely review – I have recommended this one to Himself, who is a huge cricket fan:). Thank you for sharing, Shelleyrae.

    Liked by 1 person


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