Cricket Web Book of the Year 2017

Published: 2014

This year, as with last, we again have a new departure for our awards. Whilst the majority of cricket books continue to emerge from England and Australia there are still quality offerings from other countries, and we have therefore decided to introduce an additional award, for the International Book of the Year. This year that is on the subject of New Zealand cricket, and whilst the final product was published by an Australian publisher the content is entirely from the Shakey Isles.

So, with links to our reviews, the winners are

CricketWeb Book of the Year 2017 is Edging Towards Darkness  by John Lazenby, published by Bloomsbury

Runner-up is A Clear Blue Sky by Jonny Bairstow and Duncan Hamilton, published by Simon and Schuster

Australian Book of the Year 2017 is Chappell’s Last Stand, by Michael Sexton published by Affirm Press

The Cricket Tragics Book of the Year 2017 is In Sunshine and in Shadow by Stephen Chalke, published by Fairfield Books

Best Début Cricket Book in 2017 is Over and Out  by Steve Neal, published by Pitch

International Book of the Year 2017 is The Skipper’s Diary by Sir Richard Hadlee, published by The Cricket Publishing Company

As with previous years we asked the same five questions of each of our winners. Once again the gentlemen concerned have excelled themselves and we are most grateful to them all for the time and trouble they have taken:-

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? 

John Lazenby

Firstly, many thanks for the award and the generous review, it is much appreciated.

I don’t think there is too much I would have done differently with Edging Towards Darkness. I suppose any writer would want a little more time with their book – it’s always hard to let it go – and, inevitably, there’s a temptation to rewrite parts of it in your head once you’ve done so. But it never pays to go down that particular rabbit hole.

I worried about this after finishing my first book, but someone wise said to me that you’ve just got to tell yourself you did the best you could within the timeframe (six to eight months) and the circumstances involved (in this case, having to juggle much of the writing around the research).

I hope I managed that with Edging Towards Darkness, I certainly tried to.

Duncan Hamilton

No. It worked out exactly as it was planned, in fact.

On our first day I was just about to suggest to Jonny that the prologue should be about his century in Cape Town when he suggested exactly the same thing to me. Everything flowed from there.

I hadn’t met Jonny before we started to work together, but what struck me immediately was his professionalism towards the task. He was a joy to work with. I just hope people realise what a brave step he and his family took in deciding to publish the book in the first place and also in talking so frankly and honestly in it. The best sports books aren’t really about sport, but the human condition and everyone wanted A Clear Blue Sky to be like that. Jonny never ducked a question or an issue – despite, as you can imagine, how hard it must have been for him (as well as his mum Janet and sister Becky) to go back into the past again.

Jonny wanted to produce something positive that would in some way inspire, help and encourage others. I know, from the fabulous reader responses to it, that the book has already done that. I think it will carry on doing so too. It’s going to stay in print for a long, long time.

In one interview Jonny gave recently in Australia, he said he was ‘very, very proud’ of the book. So am I.

Michael Sexton

No regrets because I wanted the book to be fun and informative and readers seems to have had that experience. Since it was published several people have come forward with memories of the time and the era which I wish I had known in advance so I could have added them. Not anything contradictory rather just added flavour … for example one man was at the game SA v NSW and had a clear memory of Ian Chappell approaching Wayne “Fang” Prior and then running back to first slip but dropping a bit deeper and closer to the wicketkeeper. The next ball found an edge and Chappell leapt to snag a one-handed catch. Prior says Chappell seemed to know cricket moments more than anyone and it appears this was one of those moments. It is something you can’t find on a scorecard but the person who saw it remember it like yesterday.

Stephen Chalke

I don’t think so. Because Geoff is such a good talker, I made an early decision to structure the book around his telling of his story, and I thought that worked well. I am a great believer in using the actual words of my subjects, rather than introducing my own vocabulary and sentence structures into their speech. Language fascinates me; it has layers below the surface that can tell you so much about a person. In Geoff’s case I thought his warmth and his humanity came through strongly in his speech.

Steve Neal

Nothing of any significance comes to mind with the exception of the odd detail. When you are writing the book, you are thinking about it all the time, but once you have sent off the final version that’s the end of that phase of the relationship. Which is a good thing really because your chance has gone.  For me, hindsight takes a while to kick in, probably around 10 years from now. I will have to let you know.

Ronald Cardwell/Sir Richard Hadlee

Sir Richard has said in an email to me that ‘I would not do anything different. A lot of time and energy went into the project with the normal planning and commitment that was required to do justice to the book. He adds that he is ‘delighted with the end result and what The Cricket Publishing Company were able to achieve’, noting ‘it is a quality book beautifully presented’ Sir Richard concludes ‘For me it is a mission accomplished in honouring my father and recognising the performances and the achievements of the Forty–Niners’. I am very proud of what we have achieved’.

2.Your own title aside, were you particularly impressed with any other books released in 2017 either cricketing or otherwise? 

John Lazenby

I have to admit I didn’t read a cricket book in 2017 (unless 70-year-old research books count), something I’ll try to put right this year; Gideon Haigh’s Stroke of Genius is top of the list.

However, the book that stood out (and it was something of an unexpected surprise, in terms of its honesty and humour) was Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. I don’t as a rule read many rock autobiographies, but this was so powerfully, yet effortlessly, written that I couldn’t put it down.

Duncan Hamilton

I am always reading. I usually have about five books on the go at the same time. I recently finished – and can robustly recommend – Robert Bryon’s beautiful The Road to Oxiana, Simon Leys Collected Essays, The Hall of Uselessness, Martin Amis’ The Rub of Time, Essayism by Brian Dillon, Javier Marias’ Between Extremities and Hiromi Kawakami’s novel The Nakano Thrift Shop. Oh, and I’ve been re-reading some of Henry James. As for sport . . . well, I have no vast interest in cycling but Paul Fournel’s Anquetil, Alone is a biography cum memoir, a remembrance of things past. There’s some lovely writing in it. It’s also proof – and I bang on about this a bit, I’m afraid – that not everything needs to be 500 pages long.

Michael Sexton

I didn’t read many new cricket books last year because I was so absorbed in research for my book. I immersed myself in 1970s cricket which was a rich experience. Every era is reflected in writing and reporting and so it was for this time. I scavenged around second hand bookshops to find smaller titles of the time.

I really liked Denis Brien’s brilliant book on colonial cricket in South Australia “All the Kings’ Men” and although it is a few years old now, my most recent favourite cricket read was Duncan Hamilton’s biography of Harold Larwood.

Stephen Chalke

I greatly enjoyed ‘White Bicycles’ by the record producer Joe Boyd, which I only discovered this year. A fascinating insight into the music I loved when I was young: Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, the Incredible String Band, right up my street!

Among cricket books I enjoyed ‘Edging Towards Darkness’, John Lazenby’s account of the timeless Test in 1939. Parts of Harry Pearson’s biography of Learie Constantine – mainly the non-cricketing parts – were very good.

The best cricket book I’ve read in the last two or three years is ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of the Ashes’ by Arunabha Sengupta. I’m really disappointed that nobody has given it the publicity it deserves. It’s so original, a wonderful conceit, and it’s based on terrific research on late Victorian cricket and on the London of Sherlock Holmes.

Steve Neal

Most of the cricket books I read are linked to my writing, so I’m a bit of a laggard when it comes to keeping up with the recently published. However, I’m looking forward to reading Feeling is the Thing that Happens in 1000th of a Second. The combination of Patrick Eagar’s photographs and Christian Ryan’s words sounds excellent. (A few years ago, I particularly enjoyed Golden Boy.) I’m also looking forward to catching up on The Cricket War by Gideon Haigh, as it’s the right time to revisit the Packer years.

Outside of cricket, I can recommend The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception by Emmanuel Carrère, which was reissued in 2017.  The life of a fantasist who cheats his friends and family with disastrous consequences is very well told with a strong narrative drive.

Ronald Cardwell

Yes, I agree with CW on this one. The two best books of 2017 were Edging Towards Darkness and A Clear Blue Sky. The books are entirely different. The first is well written and more than adequately researched. It maintained my attention throughout. The second is a candid and honest book, well written with much empathy and understanding.

3.Can we expect any new publications from you in 2018 or 2019? If so what can you tell us about your plans? 

John Lazenby

I’d like to ghost one if the opportunity came my way, and it was the right project, but I don’t have any immediate plans for another cricket book. As ever, I’ve got one or two ideas on the go; when you’re as infatuated by the game and its history as I am, you’re constantly on the hunt for something new. It’s probably best not to say too much at this stage … so, let’s just say, I’m always hopeful.

Duncan Hamilton

I have a list about ten books I’d like to write, but one I must finish before the end of May because it is due to published in September. It’s a football version of that book I did on cricket, A Last English Summer. It’s called simply Going to the Match. Further on, I will have a book out for 2019 and possibly 2020 too. There is, definitely, a cricket book I want to do in 2020 for 2021 – if nothing gets in the way!

Michael Sexton

Nothing formed fully yet but am working on a collection of short stories about sporting people I have met over the years. Not all are champions but they are people who fascinate me. One example is Vic Grimmett, the son of leg spinner Clarrie Grimmett, who shared a passion for photography with his father. Vic made the hobby a career and was a wonderful photographer.

Stephen Chalke

At the moment my focus is on encouraging (or should be that cajoling?) Fred Rumsey to complete the writing of his autobiography. He’s lived a full life and has a fund of wonderful stories. Above all, his visionary work in single-handedly setting up the PCA needs to be recorded.

Steve Neal

Definitely no new book in 2018, although there could well be some shorter pieces. There may be a book for 2019, an oblique look at the history of the game. But it’s early days yet, still a gamble, and I don’t quite know whether it will stand up.

Ronald Cardwell

Not from Sir Richard. Despite being a cricketer rather than a writer he has already been involved in a dozen books including three autobiographies, five books of humour and a couple of instructional works.

The Cricket Publishing Company on the other hand has plenty of projects underway. We are publishing books from Kersi Meher-Homji (Australia v India at Cricket), David Frith (The Alex Hurwood Diary of 1930), Bill Francis (Stewie Dempster), Alfred James (Sixes at the Sydney Cricket Ground), Graham King (The Gordon District Cricket Club History) and David Jenkins (Behind The Pen – Collecting Cricket Autographs)

I, personally, am working on ‘Cricketers in Correspondence’, a review of Australian cricket annuals before 1915 (with Peter Lloyd), a book about early Australian collectors of cricket books and biographical books on Frank Ward, Doug Freeman, Paul Sheahan and New Zealand cricketing character Warwick ‘Fox’ Larkins. The Sheahan book is a collaboration with David Jenkins.

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

John Lazenby

Perhaps a work of fiction that takes cricket as its central theme, such as the excellent Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, one of the few books to have accomplished the feat. Cricket rarely lends itself to the novel, and I accept I’m probably aiming too high here, but I’d love to give it a go.

At the other extreme, my Kiwi brother-in-law once showed me some of the more remote and eccentric cricketing outposts in the country, suggesting there might be a book in it. On one occasion, we visited a net in the native bush, halfway up a mountain, and bowled to the owner – a farmer – who smacked our bowling to all parts before sending his dogs into the bush to retrieve the lost balls. If you enlarge that idea to include the world, it might make an intriguing and quirky little book. It’s one I’d do purely for the love of the game.

Duncan Hamilton

I have been thinking about and collecting material for a book on Garry Sobers for an age now. I’ve even written the odd scrap of it. One day I hope to write it all.  He was my boyhood cricketing hero. I don’t want to produce a conventional biography of him, though. I have an idea for something slightly different.

Michael Sexton

What a dream! I have always been fascinated with the cross-pollination that cricket offers countries and cultures. The influence Garry Sobers had on a generation of South Australian players during his three seasons in Adelaide and in turn the way it capped off his brilliant skill set. I think there is also a great book in the 1986 tied test in Chennai (Madras).

Stephen Chalke

The generous grant from the ECB, that allowed me to write ‘Summer’s Crown’, means that I have already written that book.

I am now turning my mind to a book in which I draw together and reflect on all that I have discovered over the past twenty years. I shan’t have time to write it till next year, which will give me the mental space to think through how I will approach it. The trick will be to achieve some freshness, not for it to finish up as a regurgitation of my previous work.

Steve Neal

Something that suggests unusual travel destinations, such as a trilogy on the Raj and cricket.

Ronald Cardwell

I believe The Skipper’s Diary has satisfied any current writing ambitions that Sir Richard has but for myself anything obscure that requires serious investigation and research relative to Australia and New Zealand cricket.

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

John Lazenby

I was lucky enough to have two books published by Bloomsbury Wisden, so the company’s decision to withdraw from all sports narratives – despite considerable success in that field – was a blow, not just for cricket, but sports writing in general. Having said that, I’m always amazed by the amount of cricket books published every year – a number due in no small part to the wonderful passion and determination of its authors. I do feel as if it’s up to all of us who love the game to ensure cricket has a voice and it continues to be heard. I know you’ve generated more than three million posts on the site, so you’re certainly doing your bit!

Duncan Hamilton

It’s more difficult to get a cricket book published than a football one because the readership base is much smaller. I just hope that will change when cricket returns belatedly to the BBC, but it may be a slow process, sadly.

Michael Sexton

I think it is bright simply because the books keep getting better. There has always been a tradition of tour books and biographies which has created a literary culture in the sport which is being built on every year. Every summer one of my favourite places is sitting under the sultana vines with the test match on the radio and reading a cricket book – I have never been let down yet.

Stephen Chalke

There are some outstanding cricket writers at the moment. George Dobell writes with beautiful clarity, as does Mike Atherton.

Paul Edwards, Chris Waters and Andy Bull are all first-rate and, which is important, they are all capable of going their own way with their writing. There are also some very good Indian writers emerging. So I see no cause for gloom.

The greatest problem is the decline of interest in cricket among the young in the UK. The game has such a rich culture, but we need people who can pass on that culture in a way that will catch the imagination of future generations. In that respect Simon Hughes does an excellent job, as broadcaster, author and editor of The Cricketer.

In short, let us not despair – and, for heaven’s sake, get the game back on free-to-view television.

Steve Neal

Right now, there are plenty of people writing about different aspects of the game in different ways, a hardy few independent publishers, a committed readership as well as magazines and websites that review the books. All of these may be signs of life if not health. It’s how well all that holds up in the age of the FANG companies, that’s the future.

Ronald Cardwell 

As for the mainstream publishers there will be a concentration on profiled players and events. For the smaller publisher it will be books that would otherwise not be published by mainstream publishers. The print runs are becoming smaller and marketing and limited editions are a key to breaking even.




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