Girls of Summer

Published: 2016
Pages: 292
Author: Tossell, David
Publisher: Pitch Publishing
Rating: 4 stars

The tour book is not what it once was. The reasons are not difficult to see. Shorter series and extensive television coverage mean they are simply not needed in the way they once were and, other than in relation to the Ashes they, now, almost never appear. Books about women’s cricket have never been common, and tour books virtually non-existent. I do own a book written by Nancy Joy, called Maiden Over, which is part history and part an account of the 1948/49 series between England and Australia, but until now I had never got round to opening it.

At this point I should perhaps confess to having always been a little distrustful of women’s cricket, a result no doubt of my experiences as a teenager. At thirteen I was a promising leg spinner. I could turn the leg break, bowl a top spinner and almost always put the ball on a decent length – an England bowler in the making I used to think. Then one day the Lancashire ladies’ wicketkeeper came to coach my village team’s under 14s. She liked what she saw with me and decided to show me how to bowl a googly. I have to concede it worked very well, the big problem though was I never managed to bowl a leg break again, meaning the cricket world had to wait for Shane Warne, rather than me, to make leg spin fashionable again.

As a result of that experience I, and my teammates, did all go to see a ladies match at Stanley Park in Blackpool. I am slightly embarrassed to say that, other than it was some sort of representative fixture, I cannot recall now who the sides were, but it was not an experience I particularly enjoyed. Our guest coach was, to be fair to her, very impressive behind the stumps, but if I recall correctly the speed of the bowling was such that she was able to stand up to all the bowlers. I recall also being struck by the amount of naked leg flesh on display. A couple of years later and I would doubtless have found that rather more interesting, but at the time the idea of playing cricket in a skirt struck me as plain daft.

After those experiences I took very little interest in the women’s game until relatively recently. I haven’t been to a game, but have seen the odd few minutes on television and then, last summer, rather more than that. With all due respect to the ladies I watched at Stanley Park all those years ago the game is played very differently today. There isn’t, of course, quite the power of the leading male players, and the relatively sparse crowds are disappointing but there can be no doubt that what is being produced on the field now is a standard of cricket that is skilful, competitive and entertaining.

Before I started reading Girls of Summer I did flick through Nancy Joy’s book. It is not a weighty tome, and after its short history of the women’s game the summary of the 1948/49 tour consists of just 86 pages. The account is very much of its time, a description of the play for a readership who, almost without exception, will have seen none of it.

David Tossell was never going to be able to get away with a conventional tour book, and Girls of Summer is a much more ambitious and far-reaching project. He immersed himself in his task, spending a great deal of time with the squad, getting to know the girls and the team’s officials as well as watching the play. There is an analysis of the games, but the stories of the players, and how the game becoming professional has affected them, is the book’s great strength. In truth there is just one disappointment with Girls of Summer, and that was something that Tossell could do nothing about – he did not have an English victory to report.

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