Brief Candles 2Martin Chandler |
Author: Walmsley, Keith
Rating: 4 stars
Sequels can be disappointing, but generally only when those producing them are tasked with eking out a new story from a limited amount of material. Given that the first volume of Keith Walmsley’s Brief Candles focussed primarily on just 14 out of more than 9,000 cricketers who have played but a single First Class match I expected Brief Candles 2 to be another entertaining read. I was not disappointed. The essential premise on which the book is based is simple enough, but for those who don’t own a copy of the original some further explanation can be found here.
Having dealt with those who scored centuries in their only appearance in Volume 1 Walmsley begins the follow up by turning his attention to those batsmen who got into the nineties. There are five of them altogether, two dealt with at length and three in shorter order. The stories of the two are an interesting contrast.
The first is a New Zealander, Glenn Wilkinson, a man who did have ambitions in the game. Wilkinson scored 77 and 96 for Otago against Wellington in 1997. There were four Test bowlers in the Wellington side, so why didn’t he make it? Fortunately for his reader Walmsley was able to extract most of the story from the man himself.
In contrast to Wilkinson nineties man number two was a career local government official from England. Arthur Poole, nicknamed ‘AB’ long before Messrs Border and De Villiers were born, played as an amateur for Bedfordshire in the Minor Counties Championship between 1925 and 1951. His day in the limelight came in 1936 when he was selected for a representative Minor Counties side against Oxford University and scored 1 and 91.
South African Kevin Martin made an unbeaten 54 in his only First Class match in 1966. It is a creditable if on the face of it unremarkable contribution. There is more to it of course, because Martin was last man in, and the innings was part of an unbroken tenth wicket partnership of 154. As with Wilkinson there are no obvious clues as to why the 25 year old never played again and, in years gone by, that might have been the end of that. But now we have the internet and as a result Walmsley was able to trace Martin and later speak to him whilst the latter was visiting family in London. So as with Wilkinson we get the full story from the best possible source.
Remarkably, as many as four other men were involved in century partnerships for the tenth wicket in their sole appearance, and their stories are told as well. It made me wonder how many brief candles figured in such a stand for any wicket. The answer is not set out in terms in Brief Candles 2, but Walmsley has been asked, and I will update this review if he responds*.
On a less happy note there are those who went runless in their sole First Class appearance, and Walmsley devotes a chapter to them. With the best part of 350 men having suffered the indignity of a pair there was a wide choice. Walmsley’s cricketing interest in Harry Wilson was that, uniquely, he was run out for nought in both innings of his only First Class match, for Northamptonshire against the 1931 New Zealand tourists. Standard cricketing sources told Walmsley all but nothing about Wilson, something he clearly took as a challenge, and one which he accomplished with some aplomb. Wilson’s story is followed by a few highlights from the many other candidates, as well as by Walmsley for once stretching a point (0 and 0*) to include the man who is, by a country mile, the best known in the book, former England and West Ham striker and (once) Essex batsman Sir Geoff Hurst.
What is the worst cricketing experience a player can have? The stigma that attaches to it means that for me the answer to that one has to be being no balled for throwing. Walmsley tells me that a total of 117 unfortunates have heard the dreaded call from square leg. Fourteen of those suffered the indignity on debut, and for three of them that was that. For each of the three Walmsley does his best, years after all have departed this mortal coil, to reconstruct what he can of their lives.
With so many fitting his criteria it was always going to be likely that Walmsley would find some brief candles whose lives ended tragically, and one chapter deals with two of those. In fact he has to cheat a little here, one man having a little more tallow than he should, having played three times altogether. But the pair selected have a degree of symmetry, both sharing the surname Boys. The first died when a factory chimney in Lancashire collapsed onto the business premises that he owned, and the second suffered a fatal stroke on the morning of the day he was due to marry. Walmsley’s diligence has unearthed plenty of interesting detail on both men.
The final chapter of the book seems to be the one that the author most enjoyed putting together. This time it is the story of just one man, Alfred Green-Price. The match in which Green-Price played was for HK Foster’s XI against Worcestershire in 1919. His performance is the sort of forgettable one that would be expected from a brief candle. He scored 0 and 10, didn’t bowl and held just a single catch. There was of course something additional going on and that is Green-Price’s age. He was 59, still the oldest debutant in English First Class cricket and the third oldest anywhere. Clinching his place here, like everyone else featured in Brief Candles 2 is an interesting story, patiently researched and skilfully told.
*Keith tells me an exhaustive list is not possible, as not all the candles’ scorecards contain partnership information. He has however located 43 for me. Interestingly the most for any wicket is ten for the fifth wicket. No other wicket has more than five, a second place shared by the sixth and ninth wickets, as well as the tenth. Three of the partnerships extended to more than 200, the highest being 276. One man managed to be part of two century partnerships in his only match. I will give no more details now as, hopefully, we will meet some of those involved in Brief Candles 3 (or even 4 perhaps?)