10 for 10Martin Chandler |
Author: Waters, Chris
Publisher: John Wisden
Rating: 5 stars
Numbers mean a lot in cricket, and just occasionally are sufficient in themselves to conjure up an image of match, man or series. The most famous is 99.94, but there are others, mere integers, that have been considered so memorable as to justify a book’s title consisting of them and little else. Examples are Brian Scovell’s biography of Jim Laker, 19-90, and Trevor Jones’ homage to Alistair Brown’s record forty over innings, 268. Stephen Chalke did not choose to call his account of the record opening partnership between Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe in 1932 555, but Five Five Five seems a distinction without a difference.
One remarkable feature of 10 for 10 is that it deals with the events of a match that took place less than four weeks after Holmes and Sutcliffe’s tour de force, and featured an identical Yorkshire XI. The famous opening pair had a big say in the game at Headingley against Nottinghamshire as well, but the performance that gives Chris Waters’ second book its title was that of Hedley Verity. Who, after beginning his spell with nine miserly maiden overs dismissed the opposition in the space of another ten overs, as they slipped from 44-0 to 67 all out.
As Chris Waters explains in 10 for 10 county cricket matches were well-attended affairs in those far off days, and that summer’s international cricket consisted of just a single Test match, the first that India ever played. Despite the interest in the match at the time, the question I asked myself before I opened the book was whether the on-field events of a single County Championship fixture that took place almost ninety years ago could really hold the attention of a 21st century reader. I quickly learned that in the hands of the right person they certainly can, and this book is every bit as enjoyable to read as Waters’ debut, his life of Fred Trueman.
Whilst in no way being a full biography of Verity 10 for 10 contains, as it must, plenty of background material about the great slow left armer. In the main this concerns the days before, at the relatively advanced age of 25, he made his bow as heir apparent to the legendary Wilfred Rhodes. There is a brief summary of his career, and later a full account of the circumstances surrounding his death in action in 1943. His cricketing deeds generally are fully dealt with in other books, so a year in year out account of that is wisely avoided. The greatest cricketing controversy that Verity was a party to was Bodyline, and the 1932/33 tour is inevitably mentioned, but mainly in the context of Verity’s relationship with Jardine, and in that lies what for me is the most impressive of Waters’ achievements – after the hundreds of thousands of words that have already been written about that famous series Waters manages to find a small corner of it on which to shed some new light.
Waters also, as was clear from his book on Trueman, recognises that cricket is not played in a vacuum, and there are many occasions when he leaves the game in order to set the scene and put what he is writing about in context. He quotes extensively from a story of the not yet two years old Princess Margaret, later to be a close friend of Keith Miller, attending her first party with her older sister. The party was unremarkable in the extreme, but the story shows what was important news to the British public whilst the nation was in the grip of the “Great Depression”.
One thing I did not know before I read 10 for 10 was that the Headingley ground was undertaking extensive renovation work at the time. That in itself is hardly surprising, but what was new information to me was that the need for that work was an old wooden stand, full of spectators at the time, having caught fire and been all but destroyed during a Rugby Union match at the end of the previous season. I was immediately reminded of the day I in 1985 when I saw those dreadful pictures from Valley Parade in Bradford, as the old stand at Bradford City FC burnt down claiming 56 lives. When the same thing happened at Headingley there was but a single injury, that being to a young lady who sprained her ankle in her understandable hurry to get to the safety of the playing area. As a result of reading 10 for 10 there are several events and individuals I want to learn more about, but above all I am intrigued by the question of why what appear to be two very similar accidents, more than fifty years apart, should end so differently.
To return to 1932 Waters, the current cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Post, spends around 70 pages reconstructing the game itself. The trap in these sort of match accounts is for the modern writer to do little more than recycle contemporary match reports, but there is no danger of that here. In researching the book, and it is clearly something that Waters has had in mind to write for more than a decade, he spoke at length to Notts batsman Frank Shipston, the last survivor of the game, as well as John Richardson, who had the pleasure of watching the drama unfold. The writing is discursive, Waters taking his reader off at a number of tangents, always relevant and interesting – I particularly enjoyed the passage about the visiting skipper Arthur Carr, and why he regarded green as his unlucky colour.
Waters was also fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Verity’s son, Douglas, who sadly, like Shipston and Richardson, did not live to read the finished book. Douglas Verity’s input was the source material for one of Stephen Chalke’s finest pieces of work, and his contribution to Waters’ research breathes life into this portrayal of his father in just the way it did with Chalke’s.
How to rate the book is a not a difficult exercise. There is a tendency in some places towards the attitude that the highest accolade should never be used, just in case something better comes along in the future. That is not an approach that I have a great deal of time for, and to my mind if a book is “unputdownable” then unless there is something seriously amiss with its production values I am going to give it 5 stars, even if I did the same for a publication from the same stable just a couple of weeks ago. So whilst I could have a gripe about the photographs in the book not being reproduced on art paper, especially those that have not been published before, and that we are not told who the batsman facing Harold Larwood on page 71 is (Jack Gregory?) that would be splitting hairs – 5 stars from me, and the Book of the Year for 2014 is now at least a two horse race.