A thoughtful, understated politico-philosophical memoir (first published in Britain 20 years ago), probably doomed in the American market because its central metaphor and favorite topic is--cricket: the blandest, politest, most arcane of ball games. Born in Trinidad (1901) into a fiercely respectable, upwardly mobile, bookish family, James (an eclectic Marxist historian and journalist) found in cricket both the noblest form of the English public school code--with its ideal of exuberant fun, scrupulous fairness, self-restraint, etc.--and the harsh facts of imperialism, with its demeaning treatment of blacks (who couldn't be team captains, regardless of their talent). James writes movingly about himself as a young rebel who lied, forged letters, and scamped homework to indulge his passion for cricket, even while on the playing field he was a complete Puritan ""who would have cut off a finger"" rather than sin against the immensely complex rule book. (In the years he spent in America, 1938-1953, he was appalled by the poor sportsmanship of squawking players and heckling crowds.) And James has many astute observations on the social role of sports (cricket being the archetypal sport): from the Olympics (""To our hypocritical 'only a game' they would have replied with scorn and quick anger"") through the 19th-century athletic renaissance (the legendary cricketer W. G. Grace ""brought and made a secure place for pre-industrial England in the iron and steel of the Victorian Age"") to his own experience of seeing West Indians making their way into ""the comity of nations"" bat in hand. All this is fine--but James' unending flow of technical cricket-talk (""middle-and-leg,"" ""behind square-leg,"" ""lbw"") poses awesome problems for the uninitiated. A few explanatory notes--and Robert Lipsyte's splendid introduction--can't bridge so broad a cultural gap. Illuminating--and obscure.