Court and Bowled: Tales of Cricket and the Law

Published: 2014
Pages: 300
Author: Wilson, James
Publisher: Wildy, Simmonds and Hill
Rating: 4 stars

One of the first cricket books I ever bought was by a retired solicitor, John Scott, and was entitled Caught in Court. It remains one of my favourites in any genre, bringing together my passion for cricket, and the subject of the profession that has accounted for the majority of the remainder of my waking hours.

That was back in 1989, at which time I was a newly qualified novice. I probably knew more law then than I do now, but the legal profession is one where the value of experience cannot be overstated. On each of the many occasions that I have revisited Caught in Court in the three decades since I first read it I have understood more of the tales it has to tell and, I have to admit, a not inconsiderable number of my clients have benefitted from the insights it has given me.

Against that background James Wilson’s successor volume is something I greatly looked forward to. It is probably too late in the day for me to learn too many new tricks from the book, but there have been so many occasions in the intervening quarter of a century or so when our great game has come into contact with the law that I knew Court and Bowled would be an entertaining read, and so it has proved.

Like John Scott author James Wilson is a solicitor, but unlike Scott, or me for that matter, he has had more sense than to spend his whole life in the profession. I rather suspect that is the reason he has done rather better than Scott at presenting, for a lay person, the legal principles that touch upon the cases he highlights. There is also rather more of a modern journalistic approach to his writing than his predecessor managed. Scott came across as very much the slightly eccentric senior man of a law firm telling and retelling his favourite stories for the benefit of an audience many years his junior, who all aspired to one day emulate him.

In many ways however the two books are very similar in approach. Cases are bundled together by broad categories of subject matter. Within that however the layout is rather different, Wilson’s book reminding me at times of the Will Practitioners Handbook that sits, well thumbed, just next to my desk. That is no doubt a consequence of Wildy’s being predominantly a legal publisher, and another side effect of that is the book has an excellent index.

One of the beauties of this sort of book is that it need not be, and indeed realistically could never be, an exhaustive treatise on the chosen subject, so like Scott before him Wilson was free to confine himself to those cases that are of particular interest to him. Both men clearly found cricketers’ brushes with the law of defamation a fertile source of good stories. Having written about Sid Barnes’ case, and those of Botham and Lamb v Imran and Cairns v Modi myself I can well understand that. Both Scott and Wilson dealt with Barnes’ peculiar and contrived case, but the latter two were after Scott’s time, so Wilson had the field to himself, and explains the cases very well indeed.

The meeting of celebrity and the criminal courts is something that the popular press tends to revel in, and I am slightly surprised that Wilson’s book does not deal with that at greater length than it does. He does provide a whole chapter on “on field” crimes, but despite Chris Lewis’ drugs conviction getting a lengthy mention, and a long look at Peter Roebuck, there is not a great deal else about cricketers coming into conflict with the criminal law.

I wonder if Wilson is perhaps planning a separate book looking at some of cricket’s stars who have found themselves before judges, juries or magistrates? I have written about a few myself, men such as Leslie Hylton, Tony Lock, Younis Ahmed and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith but there are plenty of others, the names of Makhya Ntini, Terry Jenner, Frank Foster and Wayne Larkins all tripping off the tongue. Perhaps Wilson thought the recent match fixers have been adequately dealt with elsewhere, but it is a subject that the legal take on would certainly be worth looking at – if Wilson is interested I could certainly furnish him with an introduction to the man at the CPS who was in charge of the Amir, Butt and Asif case, and whilst I don’t personally know the prosecution expert witness I do, as the old saying goes, know a man who does.

Wilson writes an interesting chapter on the laws of the game, and it is no surprise that Douglas Jardine’s Bodyline tactics merit a mention there. Of more interest, and not examined is the question of whether and if so to what extent the Iron Duke’s tactics, and later on those of Lillee and Thomson or Clive Lloyd might come into conflict with the criminal law as well as the laws of the game. And if the criminal law is not engaged what of civil law? Do any or all of the bowler, his captain, the umpires, the groundsman or anyone else owe the batsman a duty of care? In truth such questions are probably beyond the scope of a book such as this, but certainly justify further debate.

One type of case that would be well within the scope of Court and Bowled is the experiences of those county cricketers who have ventured into UK Employment Tribunals. Scott took a brief look at the contrasting fortunes of Bishan Bedi and Younis Ahmed before that particular forum, and I had high hopes that Wilson might have gone there as well, and examined the more recent examples of the unfortunate disputes that Chris Schofield and John Crawley had with Lancashire, but sadly I was to be disappointed, although again I put it forward as an idea for a follow up.

In some ways it is difficult for me to be entirely objective about Court and Bowled, a book which will inevitably appeal to the cricket loving lawyer, but I cannot believe that it will not also be of interest to the layman, and in my view it is well worth the four stars I give it.

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