Cricket Web Book of the Year 2011

Cricket Web Book of the Year 2011

For those who may recall it we began this piece last year by saying It has been no easy task to select CW’s Book of the Year for 2010. We have received a number of excellent offerings that vary greatly in style and content and which have all served to demonstrate that whatever the state of the world’s economy generally, and the publishing industry in particular, the evolution of the game’s literature continues apace. We are delighted to say that 2011 has been another vintage year for cricket writing.

Our deliberations about this year’s awards were lengthy but eventually we ended up with two leading candidates, one from a new author, and one from an established one. Both were tour books, covering tours a century apart and, in the end, the monumental research that went in to our winner carried the day.

Our two leaders notwithstanding there were some fine books in other genres as well. David Tossell, an honourable mention last year, is so again with his superb life of Tony Greig. In a historical vein there is Leo McKinstrey’s Jack Hobbs – England’s Greatest Cricketer. Both authors are fine writers with proven track records. It would have been a major surprise if their books had been anything other than contenders.

An excellent offering came from Chris Waters,Fred Trueman – The Authorised Biography, and the ACS Lives in Cricket Series, which has published a number of quality biographies in recent years, produced its first outstanding one with Robert Brooke’s FR Foster – The Fields Were Sudden Bare.

Slightly off the beaten track were Jonathan Smith’s The Following Game and Alistair Hignell’s Higgy. Martin argued long and hard for the latter, to which he had given a 5 star rating but, as he feared may have been the case, its wide ranging subject matter edged it out of contention. When the award season is fully underway we fully expect it to claim one of the “all sports” awards.

Two books that can broadly be categorised as works of recent history merited discussion. Brian Radford’s Caught Out and Guy Fraser-Sampson’s Cricket At The Crossroads are well worth reading.

In addition Mike Harfield’s idiosyncratic look at some past tours, Spirit In The Water, came up for discussion, as did Gulu Ezekiel’s anthology, Cricket And Beyond, and a collection of historic photographs, edited by Adam Powley, When Cricket Was Cricket.

Finally we need to mention a title published too late in the year for consideration by all of us amidst all the Bahamian attractions put before us, Britain’s Lost Cricket Grounds by Chris Arnot. The journalist has travelled the length of Britain looking at 38 grounds which are no longer used for First Class cricket or what, if anything, remains of them. After dropping enough hints David received a copy for Christmas, and his review will appear here next week.

Turning at last to the final two Gideon Haigh’s Ashes 2011 is runner up to Patrick Ferriday’s Before The Lights Went Out. Archie sums up our feelings on the dilemma perfectly;

In 1995 I was devastated when Forrest Gump beat out Pulp Fiction for the best picture Oscar. To be fair they only have one Oscar to award and Forrest Gump was a very popular movie.

It is a pity we only have one award for book of the year here at CW. Haigh’s book, which is also a tour book, was perfectly written and is just about the best tour book ever produced.

During our all expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas to decide the book of the year, it became a battle of two books, in the end I am confident we made the right decision. However there is a concern that just like Pulp Fiction, which is now regarding by most critics as the better film in comparison to Forrest Gump, time may come back to haunt us.

I will add for legal reasons that none of the team was drunk or took bribes during our stay in the Bahamas.

And on our winner he sums up

In his well received book The Ashes Captains, Gerry Cotter wrote:

“I am not a social historian so I have chosen to describe them (Ashes captains) in the context of their Test matches rather than in the social and political settings of their times. The latter would make a fascinating book, and if anyone wishes to write it I would guarantee them at least one sale.”

It is hoped Mr Cotter parted with his hard earned and procured a copy of Cricket Web’s 2011 book of the year: Before The Lights Went Out. By dint of research, which is just about the most exhaustive undertaken by any cricketing author, Patrick Ferriday has placed the combatants in their social settings as no other tour book before it.

Tour book does not really do this publication justice. Ferriday provides a synopsis of the political state of all three countries immediately before, during and after the 1912 tour. He expands on the reasons why the tour was arranged and its significance to both cricket and to the Empire just prior to the Great War.

The material which is always a crucial factor in deciding the potential interest of a book is here in spades. As are the reasons Ferriday gives as to why the tour was a financial flop:

  • Too much cricket with three countries playing each other in three Tests all in one English summer (nine Test Matches)
  • The six best Australian players including Victor Trumper, Clem Hill and Warwick Armstrong, refusing to tour after a dispute with the Australian Cricket Board.
  • A wet summer which saw every single Test affected by rain.
  • Infighting between the Australian players which saw team-mates (the phrase is used loosely) deliberately dropping catches of those they did not like.
  • And finally no one including the organisers, press or the poor public having any idea as to how the champion team would be decided.
  • At over 140,000 words it is almost a certainty that no other book on the 1912 Triangular Tournament will ever have to be undertaken, and as an added bonus Gerry Cotter’s request written in 1989 has finally been achieved. It just took a book of the year to achieve it.

    Having decided the destination of the award Archie charged Martin with the task of seeking out and interviewing Patrick Ferriday about his book. Patrick, slightly to Martin’s surprise, did not prove too difficult to find and was a delight to speak to.

    MC – Why did you decide to write about this particular period of cricket history?

    PF – I got a cheap copy of the Sewell book on ebay and wondered why no-one had revisited a completely unique event. Then the centenary came to mind.

    MC – How hard was the publishing process?

    PF – I had a couple of dubious offers from publishers and had a brief dalliance with a self-publishing company, but having bitten the bullet to go it alone it wasn’t that difficult. I had help from a designer and various ‘readers’ but it was nice to keep control and I’m sure that nobody else would have tracked down the images I did. It was surprisingly easy and so many people were happy to offer advice/help. Marketing is trickier and without Stephen Chalke I’d be floundering.

    MC – Were there any major discoveries you made during your research which surprised you?

    PF – Not really but it was gratifying to find details of events like the Bailey/Vogler court case and the terrible behaviour of some of the Australians which had only been alluded to in other books. Also finding that Aubrey Faulkner wrote a column for the Star in South Africa was a great pleasure.

    MC – Were there any aspects of the research you hoped to do that in the end you were unable to do?

    PF – No, I am pleased to say that I managed to explore all the avenues that opened themselves up to me.

    MC – Are you planning another book?

    PF – Yes, a book which will be the most ambitious attempt ever to identify the greatest test centuries. I am hoping that each of the top 25 will be described by some of the best cricket writers in the world and/or the players involved.

    MC – Were you out of pocket on Before The Lights Went Out or have you made a profit on the book?

    PF – Out of pocket at present but if I can sell the whole print run then I’ll show a modest profit. I’m depending on book awards, TMS and Wisden to give me wider publicity in this centenary year.

    MC – Have you received any other awards?

    PF – Still in the running (with, I think, 7 others) for the MCC/Cricket Society Award

    MC – How long in total did it take you to write the book?

    PF – About 3 years, but not full time

    MC – Twelve months on and with the benefit of hindsight if you were going to do a second edition what would you add/take away?

    PF – Probably not that much because the reviews have been good. It would be nice to fix the typos and I’d like to chop 15 pages to bring the weight to below 1kg and save postage costs!

    MC – Well if you will use top quality paper and so many illustrations I suppose there is bound to be a downside Patrick! – but one final question, after devoting so much time and energy to the book, if you could go back in time and watch just one days play which would it be and why? Similarly if you had the chance to interview just one of the players who would you choose and why?

    PF – Macartney’s 99 in the third Test. He was obviously a genius, it was a superb innings and SF Barnes was bowling.

    MC – And the interview?

    PF – Crikey, asking some of the Aussie larrikins what they thought of polite English society might have been fun but Rhodes, Hobbs, Barnes and Woolley would be the ones to talk to. Maybe Sir Wilfred of them all.

    So CricketWeb’s Book of the Year for 2011 is Patrick Ferriday’s Before The Lights Went Out, but before we go back to keeping our eyes open for 2012’s winner there is just one more thing, for which it is over to Stuart;

    As a reader, I have grown to detest “ghosted” autobiographies of current cricketers. They are released before the end of a player’s career, so the individual is incredibly careful not to inadvertently offend team-mates, selectors, the governing body, or the media. The player is normally under a Code of Conduct in their contract, which means they can be punished if they make a comment that is deemed “publically detrimental”, whatever that means. These factors all combine to make mid-career autobiographies exceptionally bland and boring, with very limited intrigue or even insight. They often read like match summaries, with key performances of the individual highlighted and failures rarely explored. But they sell like hot cakes, and therefore a plethora of them are released each summer. And I tend to ignore them all.

    However, this year for Christmas my in-laws, with all best intentions, bought me a copy of Shane Watson’s book Watto. This is traditionally the type of book I avoid at all costs, particularly when it is the “autobiography” of someone like the apparently cerebrally challenged Shane Watson. Nonetheless, I couldn’t really offend my in-laws and just ignore it, so encouraged by Archie’s excellent review, I sat down on Boxing Day and started it. And I really liked it. And read it from cover to cover in one session.

    I won’t do another review, as Archie has already done a sterling analysis. But I would encourage all current players and their respective “ghosties” to read it and note that Watson does not appear to have suffered any negative media coverage or retribution, in spite of his honesty and willingness to speak his mind. It shows that it is entirely possible to make this type of book both interesting and readable. Archie’s review concluded that this book was “the best autobiography of a current player for many years.” I couldn’t agree more. While it doesn’t quite hit the mark for the “CricketWeb Book of the Year” Award, we felt that it certainly deserved recognition, and is therefore CricketWeb’s “Surprise Book of 2011”.

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