Between Wickets

Published: 2014
Pages: 168
Author: Cardwell, Ronald (Editor)
Publisher: The Cricket Publishing Company
Rating: 5 stars

Between Wickets is an interesting title. A very fine volume of that name was published by Ray Robinson in 1946. In fact it was probably the first true masterpiece of cricketing literature to emerge from Australia, and one of us should review it for the site, but not today.

Some would say that the Between Wickets I review today, entirely appropriately named after ‘Sugar’ Ray’s classic, is not a book at all. I did wonder that myself, but it does look and feel like a book, so I’m going to treat it as one.

The only reason for there being any doubt is that Between Wickets is a publication that appears twice a year, and the title remains constant. It certainly isn’t a magazine and, strictly, is probably better described as a journal than a book.

Myself and Archie agonised for what seemed like hours, but was actually about ten seconds, before concluding we could properly treat a review of Between Wickets as a Book Review, although at that point the questions start rather than finish.

The real issue is what in fact gets reviewed. I am currently reading the third issue, subtitled Summer 2014-2015, so do I review that in isolation? or do I treat this as a review of Between Wickets as a whole?

In the end I decided I would just review Volume 3, my reasoning being that otherwise I would need to read right through 1 and 2 as well to do the job properly, and I have to admit that to date I have only cherry-picked a few pieces from those.

So what do you get in Between Wickets? It is not the work of one man, and Volume 3 features fifteen full articles. There is nothing from Ashley Mallett or (this time) David Frith but, those two apart, I would suggest it is fair to say the great and the good of Australian and Anglo-Australian cricket writing are all here. There is also a single photograph of each man and a few words to mark two contrasting departures from this mortal coil. The modesty of the tributes serves only to render them the more moving – vale Philip Hughes and Ian Craig.

If you feature quality writers the inevitable consequence is the articles will be well written and meticulously researched, so I will confirm that once and once only. The difference between the articles is the author’s choice of subject matter and as readers’ interests and tastes will vary this can never be a ‘one size fits all’ publication. Thus the contribution to Volume 3 by Gideon Haigh, very possibly the finest cricket writer currently plying his trade, is probably my least favourite. It is about the 150th anniversary of the Carlton Cricket Club, and whilst I can appreciate the quality of the writing, I am far too far away from the action to number the subject of Australian club cricket amongst my main cricketing interests.

On the other hand I am a voracious collector of cricket literature, and there are pieces here that are therefore right up my street. First and foremost is Peter Lloyd’s look at Serious Book Collectors. But there is more for the bibliophile. There is an article by David Studham about one of the rarest and most unusual Ashes publications, R.D. Beeston’s St Ivo and the Ashes. I suspect many will skip that one, but it fascinated me. A little more ‘mainstream’ is Greg Growden’s thoughts on his biography of ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood-Smith, first published almost a quarter of a century ago. Finally there is a tribute to Stephen Gibbs by Alfred James. I doubt there is a man alive who knows more about cricket literature than Gibbs did, and his passing last year was a sad loss.

Tragedy is a recurring them in Volume 3. Ronald Cardwell writes movingly about Charles Backman, a man who played First Class cricket just once, for South Australia against the 1911/12 MCC tourists. He was one of the many who perished at Gallipoli in 1915. Also featured is a piece on Norman Dodds by Rick Smith. Dodds was a Tasmanian batsman who died in 1916, albeit in circumstances unrelated to the Great War. Finally of this type there is an essay by David Jenkins about a young Australian cricketer who has always fascinated me, Karl Schneider, who died at 23 in 1928, before the Test caps he was surely destined for could come his way.

I think the writings I have mentioned already would probably have persuaded me to give Volume 3 of Between Wickets five stars on their own, but there is a jewel in the crown to go with them. Again this is a piece that will not appeal to all readers, but having harried Murray Hedgcock ever since I first learned of his interest in the subject I was absolutely delighted to read about the life of the eccentric and controversial historian Major Rowland Bowen. It is a fascinating article and the news that recent events have rekindled Hedgcock’s enthusiasm for his full biography of Bowen was very welcome.

Between Wickets is not the cheapest read there is on the game, but it is right out of the top drawer. Its content is focused on Australia and New Zealand, which might restrict interest in the UK, although it really shouldn’t. There is a dedicated website for those interested, and subscriptions can be place directly through Roger Page in Australia, or Boundary Books in the UK.

More articles by Martin Chandler