Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball MysteryMartin Chandler |
Author: Lloyd, Grahame
Publisher: Celluloid Publications
Rating: 4.5 stars
It may sound like the title of an Agatha Christie novel, and I suppose it would be fair to say that its contents would lend themselves to an offering from that genre of literature, but in fact Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery is very much in the non-fiction category.
Author Grahame Lloyd has already, with Six of the Best, managed to write an excellent book about a single over of a relatively unimportant County Championship match that was played back in 1968. Now he has produced a sequel which, without a doubt, is quite unlike any cricket book that has appeared in the past.
Six of the Best was about Garry Sobers’ achievement in becoming the first batsman in the history of the game to score 36 runs from a six ball over. At the time the ball which suffered at his hands was, in the manner of a time when the importance of the memorabilia market was nothing like it is now, signed and given, as a gift, to the secretary of the Nottinghamshire Supporters Association. Not much more was heard about it until it appeared at auction at Christie’s in London in 2006, where the hammer price was an eye-watering GBP22,000 (GBP26,400 including a 20% buyer’s premium)
Lloyd was amazed, because he knew, as did others, that the ball that Christie’s sold was a doppelganger. For a start it was from the wrong manufacturer, Dukes rather than Stuart Surridge, but there were other disquieting errors in the auctioneer’s lot description. He made the point in Six of the Best, but felt compelled to act when he saw the same ball appear again in the listings for an auction at Bonhams in 2012. Lloyd contacted the auctioneer, produced the evidence, and the lot was withdrawn.
His sense of fair play well and truly aroused, not to mention his journalistic eye for a story, Lloyd then embarked on a journey to try and find the truth behind what was either an orchestrated fraud, a genuine mistake, or something in between the two.
Determined to right the wrong his first task was to try and track down the original purchaser. Finding his agent was easy enough, the man himself less so. Surprisingly it turned out that the buyer never saw the ball himself, for reasons which unfold as the story progresses. The gentleman concerned, an Indian, emerges from the story without a stain on his character.
The unpalatable possibility was that somehow Sobers himself, who had provided a certificate of authenticity for the vendor shortly before the Christie’s auction, had behaved in some way dishonourably, or worse. I do not want to give too much away, but was much relieved when, towards the end of the book, it became clear the Lion of Cricket’s involvement in the matter did nothing to taint his reputation as the fairest and most honest of cricketers, and indeed in many ways the manner in which he conducted himself serves only to heighten his standing.
The original vendor of the Dukes ball comes out of the story with a similar degree of credit to Sobers, but the same cannot be said of the great man’s sometime agent, former teammate Basharat Hassan, who Richard Curtis and Ben Elton would doubtless describe as “a twisty turny thing”. But despite that in the final analysis “Basher”, a thoroughly entertaining cricketer in his day, just about manages to come out on the right side of the line.
The villains of the piece appear to be one or more of the team at Christie’s that dealt with the sale and, quite possibly, the Glamorgan Club’s archivist, but sadly they all, to a greater or lesser extent, declined to co-operate with Lloyd, a reluctance that inevitably speaks volumes on its own. There is no right to silence in the Court of Public Opinion, but in any event the body of evidence that Lloyd assembled in support of his contention appears irrefutable, so it is difficult to see what they could usefully have said except, perhaps, “sorry”.
There is one other major player in the cast list who Lloyd christened “The Space Man”, who was the disappointed vendor who tried to sell the Dukes ball through Bonhams. A solar panel magnate the Space Man, another Indian, acquired the ball for next to nothing through legitimate if unconventional means. He is quite a character. Lloyd admits that he was frustrating to deal with, to say the least, and to start with the reader doesn’t like him at all. But as the story moves on and the Space Man’s communications become more and more obtuse, whilst remaining unfailingly courteous, I have to say that I did begin to warm to him, and find his cunning most entertaining.
The conclusion I came to on finishing the book was that there almost certainly wasn’t any dishonesty in the original sale. However there was clearly a lack of care and/or attention to detail at the time Christie’s catalogue was prepared, the culpability for and degree of which it is difficult to be confident about in the absence of any input from those who chose not to answer all of Lloyd’s questions. What is truly remarkable however, and what makes the book so interesting, is the level of complexity, intrigue and obfuscation that some of the participants introduce into what on its face appear to be a straightforward set of circumstances. It is certainly one of those situations where if Lloyd had put forward his manuscript as a novel it would probably have been rejected on account of the plot being too far-fetched.
As the foregoing doubtless indicates I thoroughly enjoyed Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery and I would unhesitatingly recommend it. It’s production standards are, for what amounts to a self-published book, excellent and there are an interesting selection of photographs and even an index – some larger publishers could take note.