Cricket Web Book of the Year 2016

Published: 2016

This year we have had to have a new departure for our awards, one title having unfortunately had to be disqualified from consideration. We hasten to add that this is through no fault of the author or publisher, but rather is due to Martin’s Red Rose tinted spectacles, which on occasion he seems unable to take off. Thus it was that at our initial meeting he was only prepared to discuss the runner-up prize, treating it as a done deal that Graeme Fowler’s Absolutely Foxed had, in his words, ’won it by a mile’

In the end, on the basis that we agreed the feature would start off with an honourable mention for one of Accrington’s favourite sons, Martin in turn agreed to stop being a pillock and consider other books. So having got that one out of the way we will proceed straight to the awards and the fabulous five this year which are, with links to our reviews:-

CricketWeb Book of the Year 2016 is Stroke of Genius by Gideon Haigh, published by Simon and Schuster in the UK and by Penguin in Australia

Runner-up is Unguarded by Jonathan Trott, published by Sphere

Australian Book of the Year 2016 is A Pictorial History of Australian Test Cricket by Ken Piesse, published by Echo

The Cricket Tragics Book of the Year 2016 is Brief Candles 2 by Keith Walmsley, published by the ACS

Best Début Cricket Book in 2016 is The Corridor of Uncertainty by Nihar Suthar, published by Pitch

As with last year we asked each of our winners the same five questions, their responses are in our opinion the most interesting yet. Of course Jonathon Trott is a cricketer and not a writer so in his case we have spared him the task, and enlisted George Dobell, who rendered him such sterling assistance in the writing of his book in the first place:-

1.Your book was clearly popular with the Review Team at Cricketweb. Looking back some months after publication and with the benefit of hindsight would you do anything different if you were starting the project now? 

George Dobell:- Thanks for the generous review and for placing us so high in your list of books for 2016. It’s hugely rewarding to know that the work is appreciated.

It’s very rare to say this but I don’t think either of us would do anything different. It was an almost uniquely straightforward process. We’ve know each other a long time. I knew his wife and friends. We live close to one another and he was very good at providing the time I required. Everyone involved – whether it was Andy Flower or KP or Alastair Cook – was easy and helpful.

Very occasionally when you’re writing, you look down on the page and the words seem to have written themselves. That’s how it was with this book.

The rest of the time I have to hack the words out of my soul with a blunt spoon.

That’s all because Trotty spoke so well and had a vision for how he wanted the book to read. He could pretty much have replaced me with voice recognition software.

I’m glad he didn’t, though. It was fun to do and we all remain good friends.

Gideon Haigh:- No sooner do you finish a book than you commence to rewrite it in your head, but that way madness lies if you go too far.  Best to take the lessons learned and apply them to the next book.

Ken Piesse:- There are always one or two tweaks authors would make to a book. Mine being a Pictorial History there are pictures I have since sourced which would have been lovely additions: maybe we can do a Mk II version one day!

Keith Walmsley:- I might have narrowed down the number of potential Candles for inclusion in the book at a much earlier stage. As it was, I researched in some detail a dozen or more cricketers who didn’t make the final cut for Candles 2. But it’s an ill wind … (see 3 below).

Nihar Suthar:- No, I would not really do anything different regarding how I went about writing the book. I was lucky to get a chance to work with the Afghan cricket players and help tell their story about how they helped bring their country together. Pitch Publishing also did a great job of helping me put together a very professional book. The only thing I would maybe change is where we publicized the book post-publication. I think The Corridor of Uncertainty appeals to more than just cricket fans. Several high school teachers have decided to read the book in their classes with students because it teaches Middle Eastern history, geography, politics, and culture in a compelling manner. So, I think I ultimately would have spent more time publicizing the book to young adults in schools rather than just cricket players after publication.

2.Your own title aside, were you particularly impressed with any other books released in 2016 either cricketing or otherwise? 

Nihar Suthar:- I actually really enjoyed Fire in Babylon: How the West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet by Simon Lister. I think he did a great job writing in vivid detail some of the struggles that the West Indies cricket team went through. It’s a really touching story, and it shows that no team in cricket, or any sport for that matter, had an easy journey to get where it is today.

Gideon Haigh:- Among cricket titles, I thought Jonathan Trott’s Unguarded was the stand out, a real credit to George Dobell.  I’m reading Mark Greif’s Against Everything at the moment, which has a provocative thought on nearly every page.

Keith Walmsley:- On the Cricket Tragics front, I would nominate Pears 150, Andrew Thomas’s astonishingly detailed history of Worcestershire CCC. It was actually published in 2015; from the 2016 lists I’d go for the first volume of Stephen Hill’s series on Somerset Cricketers, which contains detailed and  entertainingly-written biographies of all those who played first-class cricket for the county up to 1914, and includes many new discoveries about players’ identities or other biographical details. Tragic in a different sense was Chasing Shadows, while I’m greatly looking forward to reading Gideon Haigh’s Stroke of Genius, kindly delivered recently by Father Christmas.

Ken Piesse:- My personal favourite was Chris Rogers’ autobiography Bucking The Trend co written by Daniel Brettig one of the  real up and comers in  Australian cricket writing. Bucky brings you 22 yards away from Jimmy Anderson and his thought processes and intended method of playing as Anderson is running into bowl. It’s fascinating.

George Dobell:- Oh, yes. I thought Graeme Fowler’s was excellent. Witty, moving and honest. I recommend it. And Jon Hotten’s The Meaning of Cricket was, as you would expect, equally good. There’s a bit of me that hates Jon: he’s so damn talented. But he’s such a nice guy I can’t help liking him. Jarrod Kimber’s history of cricket was typically brilliant and unique, too. I liked Stephen Chalke’s book – Partners, was it called? – but you wouldn’t expect anything else from Stephen, would you? He sets the bar, as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t read Gideon’s book yet but if it’s anything less than excellent it’ll be the first thing he’s ever done that is.

3. Can we expect any new publications from you in 2017 or 2018? If so what can you tell us about your plans? 

Ken Piesse:- I have several ideas, including a biography of the colourful Cec Pepper, maybe the best cricketer never too play for Australia. It would be released in a strict limited edition so  it’s a breaking even if you are lucky type project — but a fun one I am currently researching.

George Dobell:- I’m talking to a few people. We’ll see. I doubt it’ll be in 2017, though. There really isn’t much time – my day job takes up most of my energy and my new contract actually forbids me from doing anything for anyone else – and the publishing deadline for a Christmas book is, I think, the end of April. So, no, nothing this year probably.

Keith Walmsley:- I’m currently preparing a couple of statistical/historical books for the ACS, but at this stage I’d rather keep the details to myself if you don’t mind. For the longer term, I’ve got plenty of material towards a ‘Candles 3’ if there’s a demand for it, and a list of further ‘interesting’ contenders for ‘Candles 4’. But whether, and when, these ever happen is down to the ACS as publishers. There were three years between the first two volumes of Candles, and I would expect that it would be at least as long before Candles 3 makes an appearance, if it ever does.

Nihar Suthar:- In terms of cricket books, I don’t have any immediate plans for a new publication (or maybe I do and I’m just creating some suspense). I am, however, in the editing phase right now for a new book that I think is different from what I normally write. This new book is about a man who was falsely accused of several different crimes and thrown in jail for over 17 years. A lot of racism was involved in his case. It’s far from a sports book, but I think it is really relevant to the greater subject of racism that many parts of the world are still experiencing today.

Gideon Haigh:- I am not contracted at the moment, but have plans for a new non-cricket cultural historical title for 2018 or 2019

4. Take away all the constraints normally imposed by money, time and lack of research material what cricket book would you choose to write?

George Dobell:- Couple of things: 1: When you become a cricket writer, you take a vow of poverty. Or so it seems, anyway. And 2: I’ve learned that I’m only good at things that interest me, so anything I do won’t be dictated by practicalities. If I ‘ghost’ any more books – and I probably will – then the subject will have to have an interesting story and be prepared to spend a lot of time on the project. And we’ll have to get on well. One project that looked attractive on the surface fell apart because of those two issues recently: the guy just wanted to do it for the money and, once I started to scrape the surface, I realised I didn’t like him. I also intend to take a few months off to write something non cricket-related in a couple of years.

Ken Piesse:- There has never been a biography of Jack Gregory. He was the Mitchell Starc of the 1920s, an express bowler, swashbuckling No 6 and sublime slips fieldsman. Like the Pepper project, it would have limited appeal, and as a writer, tracking down truly original material would be a challenge, but that should be an integral to every book: provide the reader with something they don’t know. That’s what made the Pictorial History such a joy. There are pictures in there never before published in book form. You could have the biggest library, like a David Frith, but still stop and say to yourself: ‘I’ve never seen that image before.’

Keith Walmsley:- Tricky. Maybe a biography of lifelong hero Clem Hill – though I believe someone else may already have that project in hand …*    Or a biography of JB King (but possibly ditto).

Nihar Suthar:- Honestly, if we could remove those restrictions, I would never have problems in life again! Haha! On a more serious note, I think it would be nice to write books on the journeys of the smaller upcoming international cricket teams (e.g. Nepal). A lot of these small teams out there show great promise and overcome many challenges in their countries, but rarely get any real coverage.

Gideon Haigh:- There have been many histories of Australian cricket; I would write, instead, a cricket history of Australia, exploring how the game has influenced and reflected the country and its people.

5. In a couple of sentences, how do you see the future of cricket publishing? 

Gideon Haigh:- In a way, Stroke of Genius reflects some thoughts I have had about the genre’s evolution.  The days of the stolid chronological biography are done, I think.  Not to deprecate research, which I love.  But laying the facts end to end, however hard won these facts are, is no longer enough.  The stories we tell must in some way illuminate modern perceptions and dilemmas.

George Dobell:- Tough but… it’s wrapped up in the future of the game. We’re going to see a huge effort made over the coming months and years to revitalise the game in this country. While I don’t especially like the method they’re taking – the new team T20 competition – I do think the game will benefit from increased exposure on free-to-air broadcasters. It’s still a great game: if more people see it, they’ll fall in love with it and that may well encourage more interest in cricket publications.

The downside of that is that, if they get it wrong and county cricket dies in the market towns and smaller cities, cricket – and cricket publishing – will be in real trouble.

Ken Piesse:- There was a deluge of cricket books, good and bad for Christmas, which spread the sales  wider than usual. Books are still seen as ideal gifts for those of us who love the game so much. The smaller-run limited editions are being more handsomely produced now, like Alf James’ Charles Bannerman, which is encouraging but the sales are modest, making it difficult for the smaller publishers to carry losses into another project.

Keith Walmsley:- My glass-half-empty approach to most things means that I am not optimistic. There are of course still some very fine writers around, and others emerging. But with the numbers of those who want to buy and/or read their books dwindling (as it seems to me), I am fearful for the longer-term future of printed cricket books – and I am no great fan of the more ephemeral online-only publishing, other than in exceptional cases (said he, to cover himself over one of his current ACS projects …).

Nihar Suthar:- I don’t see the future of publishing as a whole very positive, let alone for a niche topic like cricket. I think less people in general are reading today with the amount of distractions and highly accessible electronics. Stories will have to get even more exciting and unique to attract cricket book readers.

* I am struggling with time at the moment but still researching Nervous in the 90s – The Clem Hill Story – Archie Mac

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