BoundariesMartin Chandler |
Author: Knight, Roger
Publisher: JW McKenzie Ltd
Rating: 4 stars
I don’t get my cricketing facts wrong all that often, and when I do I generally manage to correct myself pretty quickly, but I have to confess to having spent many years labouring under two misapprehensions about the former Surrey, Gloucestershire and Sussex all-rounder Roger Knight.
The first, and on the basis it is one I have informed others about the more embarrassing, is that he is the father of former Warwickshire and England batsman Nick Knight. I can only assume it is the shared initial ‘V’ that caused that one.
The other was that he was the grandson of Donald Knight, the Surrey opening batsman who had the dubious pleasure of being capped twice by England against Warwick Armstrong’s Australians in 1921. I don’t know where that one came from. I dare say it was perhaps a comparison drawn by John Arlott or Jim Laker when I was listening to their Sunday League commentaries back in the 1970s, and that it was the Surrey and schoolmastering connections that I chose to conflate. At least with that one I don’t ever recall sharing my mistake with others.
I now know for sure, having read Knight’s autobiography, that he is completely unrelated to either man, and that although both his own father and his son do have entries on Cricketarchive, neither have a First Class appearance to their name. Roger Knight is therefore undoubtedly the best cricketer in his family.
I remember Knight from those afternoons of John Player League cricket in my teenage years. He was what we would now call a batting all-rounder, a forceful left handed batsman and a bowler who my father always described, a little disparagingly, as ‘military medium’, but he got his share of wickets and I do not recall him getting collared very often.
My recollections of Knight are strong. He hit the ball hard and was well worth watching in an era when not all players changed their approach very much for the limited overs game, and although he never did play international cricket I do recall his name was one that was thrown around as a potential Test player from time to time. What I had forgotten, but which Boundaries reminded me, was that he did once get called up as twelfth man for an ODI – so near and yet so far!
In Knight’s time cricketers did not change county with either the ease or regularity with which they do now, a generalisation to which he was the exception. Knight started with Surrey, before moving on to Gloucestershire, Sussex and then back to Surrey again. Was this somewhat peripatetic career because he was a temperamental sort? Far from it. Knight was in fact exactly the opposite, and the reason for the moves was a wish to be able to accommodate his ‘other’ career as a teacher of modern languages, and the willingness and ability of his teaching employers to accommodate an arrangement whereby he only taught for two terms in the school year, thereby leaving the summer term free for him to play county cricket.
When Knight returned to Surrey in 1978 it was to assume the captaincy, a job he did for six summers and, clearly a man with an abundance of the qualities demanded by leadership, he later went on to be a headmaster. He didn’t stay in teaching for his entire career however, as in 1996 he came back to cricket, accepting the post of secretary of the MCC, a job he went on to do until retirement.
It will come as no surprise that Knight is a fine communicator and a man who writes well. The story of his early life and his playing days, which takes up the first part of the book, will inevitably be of particular interest to those of us who have fond memories of the era in which he played. There are many entertaining anecdotes, as well as some serious points made about the game’s development. Knight on the question of helmets, unknown at the start of his career but widely used by the end, was particularly interesting.
As Knight retired from the game to concentrate on teaching I did think Boundaries might lose a good deal of its charm, as an account of his time at the MCC did not immediately appeal. It was, however, one of my better decisions to decide not to skim read that as, in truth it is probably the book’s highlight.
The first point that struck me is just what the job of running Lord’s involves, and it is certainly a task that would be beyond me. I was simply not prepared for the list of responsibilities that Knight undertook, ultimately being the man who had to organise and oversee, on big match days, up to a thousand people working at or around the ground in one capacity or other.
And then there are the big decisions, the most momentous of all being that, finally taken during Knight’s tenure, to allow women members. The issues raised by Zimbabwe during Knight’s time are also much illuminated by being explained by a man close to the eye of that particular storm.
Also of importance are Knight’s observations in relation to the vexed question of the disused rail tunnels underneath part of the Nursery ground which are, perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not, put in the public domain shortly after the publication of Charles Sale’s bulky book on that subject. Initially I wasn’t convinced about that one, but after reading what Knight has to say it is another book which I feel I need to read.
The final part of Boundaries is entitled Looking Back in Retirement and, as that suggests, represents Knight’s reflections on his lifetime of experience. There is no doubting the man’s skills as a diplomat as he rehearses the arguments in favour of and against a particular proposition. His views on the much maligned ‘The Hundred’ is perhaps his trickiest assignment in that respect, but one which he skilfully accomplishes. He also has some compelling points to make on the subject of that hoary old chestnut, the spirit of cricket.
All in all Boundaries is an excellent book, written by an intelligent and articulate man and chock full of interesting content. In some ways it is reminiscent of the work of Stephen Chalke, hardly surprising given that Stephen is acknowledged by Knight as a source of encouragement and advice. The finished product, in many ways in the style of Fairfield Books, is a most attractive hardback* from book dealer John McKenzie’s publishing arm.
*Currently Boundaries is only available as illustrated at £20 a copy. That said for those who are prepared to wait another month there will also be a numbered limited edition of 75 copies, bound in half calf and signed by the author, Mike Brearley, Sir Tim Rice and Kumar Sangakkara, available for £100 from the publisher.