ACS Famous Cricketers SeriesMartin Chandler |
Rating: 3.5 stars
The ACS Famous Cricketers Series began in 1986 with a volume about Sir Jack Hobbs. Two decades later, in 2007, it brought up its century with one about Richie Benaud, at which juncture its innings was marked “retired out”, and consigned to history.
It was perhaps inevitable that the Association of Cricket Statisticians would eventually get around to gathering together in one place the statistics of the lives of the game’s greats and, sometimes, not so greats. Having embarked on that course it was probably equally certain, once Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, that in the not too distant future there would be a rather more sophisticated way of making the same information readily available.
Over 21 years and 100 booklets it was always going to be the case that the series would evolve, but although the later volumes are somewhat different from the earliest ones, due to the care and continuity brought to the task by successive editors, there is a very clear common thread that runs through each of the hundred titles.
All start with a biographical sketch of their subject, and follow that with a season by season record of his deeds on the field, with a myriad of statistical tables bringing up the rear. The bulk of the information provided is now readily available on Cricketarchive, and for the international game via statsguru, but I must confess that for me these booklets remain invaluable, and until my browser can access those web pages instantly, will remain so.
Clearly a definitive statistical analysis requires a player to have retired, and of the 100 featured only Malcolm Marshall had a career that extended into the 1990s. Keith Fletcher and the Knights Hadlee and Botham were still playing when the series began, but those three apart the subjects are generally from further back in history. All the giants of the game are present, WG, The Don and Sir Garfield to name just three.
As the books are written by enthusiasts there are some quirky choices of subject matter. George Parr, Arthur Haygarth and John Wisden appear despite dating back to an era before the dawn of the Test match, and England’s first ever Test captain, James Lillywhite Junior, has his career reprised as well. Of the rest all are Test players, save Essex stalwart Percy Perrin and the Middlesex Australian Frank “Tear ’em” Tarrant, both from the game’s Golden Age, although former Glamorgan skipper Johnny Clay played just once for England.
The books vary in size, the bulkiest being the 155 pages taken up with the doings of Wilfred Rhodes, and the slimmest the mere pamphlet of 17 pages that covers the cricketing life of Ivo Bligh, the England captain who brought home the Ashes in 1883.
The combination of the brief essays that begin the books, coupled with the narrative notes that preface each season’s statistical record of matches played, is invaluable in piecing together the stories of the men concerned. We have particular cause to be grateful in the case of those whose lives and times have not been fully chronicled elsewhere; George Geary, Ernest Tyldesley, Bert Ironmonger, Herb Taylor, Aubrey Faulkner, Paul Gibb, Tom Hayward, Reg Simpson, Don Kenyon, Laurie Fishlock, Arthur Jones, Fred Tate, Teddy Wynard, Bruce Mitchell, John Goddard, Billy Murdoch and Jack Crawford make up that list, together with Parr, Clay, Perrin and Tarrant.
Whilst the internet has lessened the need for books like these they do still contain statistics that cannot be easily sourced elsewhere. This is particularly so for the less web-savvy amongst us and the writing, admittedly no better than workmanlike in some places, is excellent in others. A number of the bios having been put together by lifelong admirers of the men concerned, so they often contains quirky pieces of information not readily available elsewhere.
As to buying these books all are now out of print but have, by and large, held their value over time. Indeed I recall a long run appearing on ebay not too long ago and a goodly number fetching around the GBP20 mark. The seller on that occasion was a hospice, which doubtless fuelled a few bids that would not otherwise have been made, but generally the books are readily available for just a few pounds each. But then you don’t actually have to buy any at all as the ACS, splendid body of men and women that it is, has digitised the whole bally lot of them here – and you don’t even have to join to access them (although you really should)