CrazyMartin Chandler |
Author: Lewis, Chris
Publisher: History Press
Rating: 3.5 stars
Chris Lewis played in 32 Test matches for England. He was often accused of being an unfulfilled talent, not making the most of the cricketing gifts he was endowed with and flattering to deceive. I doubt there are many of us who followed England’s fortunes during the turbulent early 1990s who can put hand on heart and say they never felt frustrated by Lewis.
Professional sportsmen are a long time retired. Lewis was only 32 when he left the First Class game in 2000, the end of his career blighted by the results of his attempts to report a match fixing approach to the authorities. There was a brief and unsuccessful attempt at a comeback in 2008 in the game’s short formats, but he only ever played one T20 match, missing the revolution in a form of the game to which his skill set might well have been ideally suited. Generally, life after cricket didn’t really work out for Lewis, and in 2009 he was convicted of a drug trafficking offence and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. He was released in June 2015.
As he tries to rebuild his life it comes as no surprise that Lewis has chosen to write an autobiography. The problem for the reader is, inevitably, making a judgment as to whether or not Lewis is actually being candid in the book. He is, after all, a man who openly admits his crime in the first chapter, yet maintained a not guilty plea to the very end of his case.
There is much in Crazy about Lewis’ time in prison, but no explanation as to why he chose to plead not guilty. There are only the basic details of the offence itself, and nothing about the defence he ran. The implication is that Lewis does not wish to delve into the involvement of his co-defendant in his book, understandable on one level, but the omission means the book is certainly incomplete.
Crazy is very well written by journalist Jed Pitman, who first met Lewis early in his cricket career following which the pair became friends. Pitman expresses the view that the book is a very honest one. Of course he would hardly say anything different, but at least he is in a much better position to make that comment than he would have been had he only met Lewis after his release from prison. The fact that Lewis, not always a popular man, regarded his ghost as a friend doubtless helped as well.
On the question of whether or not the book is truthful the answer to that seems to be ‘not entirely’. One reviewer, well versed in Nottinghamshire’s recent history, pointed out that far from Lewis being asked to leave Nottinghamshire in 1994, as he states in Crazy, that in fact he jumped ship, wanting to live in London. Can it really be the case that Lewis had forgotten what really happened? It doesn’t seem all that likely, but then a lot happened to Lewis in the subsequent twenty years and autobiographies are rarely entirely objective. Bearing that in mind it is possible, just about, to reconcile the Crazy version of events with the news items that appeared at the time.
Perhaps more significant in terms of assessing Lewis’ powers of recall is one curious observation by Pitman. On the question of the identity of his first Test victim Lewis assured Pitman it was New Zealand opener Trevor Franklin, caught at the wicket. No one who saw him bat will ever forget Franklin so it is difficult to believe those who bowled at him would. He was exceptionally tall, as thin as a rake and had a batting style as dour as any. Franklin did play in Lewis’ debut Test, but Lewis didn’t dismiss him in either innings. The pair never faced each other subsequently, nor had they before, so where Lewis got that memory from is anyone’s guess. In fact his first Test scalp should have been a memorable one, the late great Martin Crowe, leg before wicket.
Despite the doubts I had when I opened the book I do believe Crazy is a genuine attempt by Lewis to tell his own story truthfully and without embellishment. His youth was not straightforward, and the issues he had to overcome are explained succinctly. Certainly after reflecting on what he has to say I now believe the oft made criticisms recited in my opening paragraph were less than fair.
Is the book a good one? It is certainly an interesting story and, as cricketing autobiographies go, an extremely unusual one. Chris Lewis has, as he acknowledges, been the author of many of his own misfortunes, but he has paid his debt to society and I wish him well for the future.