Famed for Peter Pan, author JM Barrie was also the creator of a remarkable star-studded cricket team, finds Sandra Dick.

The sound of leather on willow, the clink of china cups as tea is served, and the gently curling cucumber sandwiches which no-one wants to eat.

Cricket, with its sluggish overs and persistent rain stopping play, may not be Scotland’s number one sport. But thanks to the creator of Peter Pan and his unlikely celebrity cricket team of famous names from literature, adventure, art and society, for a brief spell it was at least a little more interesting.

And, for Kirriemuir, the Angus birthplace of Sir JM Barrie, his love of cricket would also leave behind perhaps the strangest of tributes to the sport – the world’s only cricket pavilion to incorporate, of all things, a camera obscura.

Early next month will see the 90th anniversary of Kirriemuir sports pavilion, opened by its famous son in a ceremony that saw thousands cram the town’s streets desperate for a glimpse of the diminutive writer who, as well as creating the tale of the boy who never grew up, was among that rare breed of Scots who simply loved cricket.

However, when it comes to cricket history, it was the Allahakbarries, the extraordinary celebrity team of cricketers the Peter Pan creator amassed to help indulge his love of the sport, that must surely be his finest sporting achievement.

After all, who else could have dreamed up a team that brought together the creators of Winnie the Pooh, Mowgli, Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster and, who by his own admission, was unlikely to pose much of a threat with his ultra-slow bowling technique?

“If I have sent down a bad delivery I can always pursue the ball, recapture it and sent it down again,” he once admitted, adding: “The balls do not so much take the wickets, as lie against them.”

Regardless of his shortcomings – he was just 5ft 3½in tall – Barrie gathered a remarkable squad who, if they found themselves unable to win a match, which they regularly did, could at least provide their opponents with a good yarn to send them on their way.

Founded in 1887, Barrie’s team was the ultimate all-star amateur cricket team, recruited from across the literary landscape with household names that included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, AA Milne, PG Wodehouse, and Rudyard Kipling.

Unfortunately, few appeared capable of surpassing Barrie’s own limited cricketing skills and, it emerged moments before their first match, some weren’t even sure which side of the cricket bat to use.

With that in mind, Barrie gave them a suitable name – the Allahakbarries was a twist on his surname and “Allah akbar” which he mistakenly thought to mean “heaven help us”.

Either way, God’s great intervention would certainly have been a help when the all-star team took to the cricket field.

The Allahakbarries’ first match was against the village of Shere near Guildford. But if Barrie was hoping for a fine innings he had first to deal with fellow Scot Joseph Thomson, an explorer, geologist and naturalist who gave his name to the gazelle, and who turned up at Waterloo Station wearing pyjamas as an alternative to cricket whites.

Meanwhile, author Augustine Birrell had to have the rules of the game explained to him, including which side of the bat to wave at the ball and what to do when the umpire says “over”. Birrell would go on to swap writing for politics and become the First Secretary for Ireland during the Easter Rising.

Barrie later noted that one player “breaks everything except the ball”, while he also had to issue explicit directives to his players: “Should you hit the ball, run at once. Do not stop to cheer.”

As self-appointed team captain, Barrie imposed a firm rule which barred his team from practising within sight of their opponents before a match, arguing that “this can only give them confidence”.

His approach to choosing his team was equally unconventional: “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 said.

In a “who’s who” of talent, one player shone brightest. Fellow Scot Arthur Conan Doyle’s 6ft frame towered over the pint-sized Barrie, earning him the nickname The Colossus.

Conan Doyle was also a footballer, skier, boxer and even accomplished billiards player. But Barrie knew a decent cricketer when he saw one: “Doyle. A grand bowler,” he wrote. “Knows a batsman’s weakness by the colour of the mud on his shoes.”

The Sherlock Holmes creator’s credentials included getting hit by a fast delivery that kindled a box of matches in his pocket and set his trousers ablaze.

However, having earned his stripes with the Allahakbarries, Conan Doyle would go on to play 10 first-class matches for Marylebone Cricket Club.

He achieved just one first-class wicket, albeit it was against WG Grace.

According to Kevin Telfer, author of Peter Pan’s First XI, a book that unravels the story of the Allahakbarries, JM Barrie loved cricket and the companionship it brought.

“He was a Scotsman who had moved to London and became an establishment figure, and cricket was the ultimate English establishment game,” he says.

“There was an element of networking going on, but also this innocent love of comradeship and an appreciation of fun.

“The team at first was mainly for fun and Barrie was probably the worst cricketer in his team.”

The Allahakbarries played around 70 matches over a quarter of a century. At one point their number included Paul du Chaillu, the explorer who first confirmed the existence of African gorillas and Pygmies; oddly for the team, proficient cricketer Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard; and even Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott.

Eventually the onset of war as opposed to rain would stop play. The Allahakbarries’ final match took place on October 13, 1913, when creator of Winnie the Pooh, A A Milne played alongside George Llewelyn Davies, one of the children who inspired Barrie to write Peter Pan and The Lost Boys.

Tragically, George would be among those who would not return, shot through the head in March 1915 by a German sniper.

The opening of Kirriemuir’s cricket pavilion in early June 1930, paid for by Barrie, coincided with him receiving the freedom of the town, and was a chance for the now 70-year-old author to revisit his passion for cricket.

Kirriemuir’s cricketers paid the supreme honour by renaming themselves the Allahakbarries for a celebratory match against the West of Scotland watched by 5,000 spectators. Unlike so many of their celebrity predecessors’ games, the Allahakbarries won.

Had the current health crisis not stopped play, the match would have been recreated next month as part of Kirriemuir Regeneration Group’s celebrations to mark the 90th anniversary of the pavilion which they saved from closure five years ago, and the 160th anniversary of Barrie’s birth.

“As a child, JM Barrie played cricket with his friends on a hill and used the cemetery gates as a wicket, which did not go down well with some people,” says Irena Krasinska-Lobban of the regeneration group.

“He called the hill where the pavilion is built his ‘hill of memories’.”

The event, now scheduled for next year, had planned to feature a JM Barrie character, spectators in 1930s dress and, of course, cucumber sandwiches – surely the perfect mix of fun, fantasy and cricket for the boy who never grew up.