The novel deals with the theme of a young man's sexual awakening. The male hero is Jim Collier, sixteen, shy and virginal. The female hero is Gabriella Blenkinsop, eighteen, experienced, beautiful.
The setting is the annual cricket match between St Swithin’s Boys School and the local grammar-school shits. Gabriella is the Head Girl of St Swithin’s Girls School; her boyfriend is Algy, Head Boy of the Boys' School. Jim is one of the opening bowlers for the grammar-school shits.
Gabriella is an arrogant, upper-class bit of hot totty. She wants to see the lower-class grammar-school shits taught their customary annual lesson. St Swithin’s have merely to knock off eighty-odd runs to win the match. It should be easy.
Gabriella is discomfited by young Jim; usually so cool and self-confident, she feels and becomes clumsy and awkward before him. She is determined to see him, and his whole race and class, humiliated.
Jim has developed two particular types of delivery in his fast bowling; he bowls like a devil and begins working his way through the line-up of upper-class wallies, to the fury of Gabriella.
We also meet Jim's parents, his dad obsessed with football and his mum forever reading celebrity magazines, and Gabriella's parents, two upper-class decadents making their ravenous way through the supply of working-class sexual fodder rounded up for them by their man, Chivers.
Gabriella gets her daddy to change the rules so that she can go in to bat and save St Swithin’s from the vicious succession of balls sent down by the low-born shit. She gets padded up in all her physical glory.
There then follows the contest between Gabriella and Jim: he, with a mixture of different balls and probing deliveries, attempting to break through her defences and she, determined and rock-like, trying to block him out. The game of cricket, the hard red ball, the long-handled bat, and so on, becomes the arena for the sexual tussle between the two principal characters. It becomes an extended metaphor for the game of love, and all its intricacies, and also for the sexual act, from foreplay to actual fulfilment. It is also the arena for the growing realisation on the parts of both Gabriella and Jim that they are madly in love with each other; their hate for each other, whether class-based or personal, is an expression not just of the sexual tension between them, but also, eventually, of their love for each other.
We meet other characters throughout the afternoon and evening; amongst others, the third-former Mary Collier, Jim's sister, who has a crush on Gabriella, and who Gabriella later realises is the child of her own father, Lord Blenkinsop, and therefore her own half-sister, and Fanny, a former acquaintance of Jim's, who becomes a rival for Jim's affections just when Gabriella thinks she has ensnared him. At the same stage, when Jim has to decide which girl he wants, the truth concerning Gabriella's parentage is revealed to us (Chivers is her father), and helps Jim in his choice.
Their sexual sparring, on and off the pitch, entails various activities with ball and bat. Jim writes poems about Gabriella in between overs, Gabriella taunts him with her provocative dress and behaviour, and strange things occur with the hard red ball which, at times, smashes into Gabriella's body or gets rubbed frenetically near Jim's cock. Jim hits her with such a succession of venomous rearing balls that she is slowly divested of articles of clothing, and their love-hate affair culminates in a final over of frenzied bowling and batting which mirrors the sexual act of penetration and annihilation itself.
This is a sexual comedy, where the game of cricket, and who will be the winner or loser, is used as an image of love-making, romantic attachment and sexual intercourse. It is, ultimately, a love-story between two characters from opposite ends of the social stratum, a young innocent man's first experience of sex and a young very experienced woman's first experience of love. The ending is happy (or so, at least, it seems).
Comic, bawdy novel for adolescent and adult audience