Gunner: My Life in Cricket

Published: 2020
Pages: 286
Author: Gould, Ian
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 4 stars

Plenty of top cricketers have written autobiographies, and many of them even sell pretty well. They are not, however, my favourite type of book by any means. After all it is inevitable with those who have lived their lives and played their cricket in the public eye that much of their story will be familiar.

The more rewarding life stories often come from those whose careers were rather less stellar, but perhaps more varied and, certainly, less well known.

One man who falls into the latter category is Ian ‘Gunner’ Gould. In the twenty first century Gould is probably best known for his years as an elite umpire, but between 1975 and 1990 he kept wicket and batted, often with rather more style than he gives himself credit for, and between 1982 and 1983 he appeared for England in 18 ODIs.

Like so many recent sporting autobiographies Gunner: My Life in Cricket does not chart a chronological path through its author’s life, preferring to begin with his umpiring and, more specifically, the series between South Africa and Australia in 2017/18 when, after some friction between the sides in the early encounters ‘Sandpapergate’ hit the headlines in the third Test. As TV umpire in that one, and on field umpire in that subdued fourth and final Test in which Australia, lacking the services of Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith and David Warner subsided to that defeat by 492 runs, Gould was in the best possible position to recount what happened.

The book is not far short of its half way mark before Gould finishes with his international umpiring duties. There are plenty more interesting stories, and observations on the players and his fellow umpires, not least amongst those being Simon Taufel, who is clearly something of an oddity. There is also an honest explanation of a period of burn out, unsurprising given the demands that the job placed on him. All in all Gould is an interesting character, gregarious and outgoing on the one hand, but at the same time something of a loner.

From the account of his time as an ICC employee Gould then goes back to the beginning of his life and his reader learns about a happy childhood in Slough with his parents and siblings. He might have been a professional footballer, but an apprenticeship at Arsenal did not bring forth an offer of a professional contract, and Gould decided instead to throw in his lot with Middlesex County Cricket Club.

It is remarkable to think that a man who is still umpiring in county cricket, and clearly enjoying it, began his cricket career in a dressing room that included some real old school professionals, men like Fred Titmus, John Murray and Peter Parfitt. Murray retired at the end of 1975 and for a couple of years Middlesex had a good look at both Gould and Nigel Ross before, in 1978, Gould got the nod.

It was to be only a couple of years however before Gould had another rival, Paul Downton being brought in from Kent and, reading the writing on the wall, he moved on to Sussex. That it was a good move is amply demonstrated by the fact that within a couple of years Gould was touring Australia as Bob Taylor’s understudy and playing regularly for the England ODI side including for the duration of the 1983 World Cup campaign.

After a decade with Sussex, and looking over his shoulder at the promise and progress of Peter Moores, Gould decided to move on again and accepted the post of coach and second team captain back at Middlesex. He has entitled that chapter Never Go Back and, for me, it is the most interesting chapter in the book providing, as far as I am aware for the first time, a very good explainer for the travails that the county experienced in the 1990s. And then Gould became an umpire …….

The most important point about Gunner: My Life in Cricket is that it is immensely readable. Well written by an unaccredited ghostwriter it has many things to commend it. The story of Gould’s life is essentially a positive one, but he does not shirk from disclosing the occasional disappointments that have tripped him up along the way.

One thing the book is a bit light on however is Gould’s own opinions and judgments, and on a number of occasions he chooses not to disclose the identity of some involved in the tales he is telling. In particular I am sure there must be more Gould has to say on the subject of ‘Sandpapergate’ and, more particularly, its aftermath and the punishments handed out to those involved. At the end of the day however I will simply put that down to Gould providing his ghost with a surfeit of material and, hopefully, the fact that Gould and his ghost are planning a second book. That there is one in the immensely likeable ‘Gunner’ I have no doubt at all, and look forward to reading it.

The book itself is produced to the high standards that we have now come to expect from this publisher. Well designed and laid out Gunner: My Life in Cricket contains some well chosen and nicely reproduced photographs and while, to get on old hobbyhorse for a moment, there are no statistics nor index, for some reason their absence, for once, seems to be of no real significance.

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