Mind Over Batter

Published: 2019
Pages: 309
Author: Fowler, Graeme
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Rating: 4.5 stars

Mind Over Batter

It is a sign of how quickly time flies that it is now all of three years since Graeme Fowler’s Absolutely Foxed came through my letter box. As cricketing autobiographies go it is one of the very best and, most unusually, has spawned a follow up. Mind Over Batter is not exactly a sequel, but it is certainly, contrary to my initial expectations, an essentially autobiographical volume.

The first question, I suppose, is whether or not it is necessary to have read Absolutely Foxed before opening Mind Over Batter? The simple answer is no, as the new book can stand on its own, but I would certainly recommend that Absolutely Foxed is read first, as the one thing Fowler certainly does not do is duplicate his material.

Mental health issues played a big part in Absolutely Foxed and, as its title suggest, it is the theme that runs through Mind Over Batter. The book begins, and indeed ends, with Fowler consulting former England Captain and renowned psychoanalyst Mike Brearley. Fowler is 62 now, so has long since learnt how best to co-exist with his demons, but his search for answers is clearly undimmed.

One thing Fowler has always known, as we all surely do, is that he is a product of his upbringing. The initial chapter lays bare a tricky home life, which is certainly outside my experience, and also a not always straightforward schooling. That one I can identify with, having spent seven years of my life in a very similar educational establishment, also in Lancashire, at almost the same time as Fowler attended an old fashioned grammar school in Accrington. It was a different world at home as well as at school in those days. Just how much things have changed was brought home to me the very same day that I first opened Mind Over Batter as Channel 4 News informed that in Scotland physical chastisement of any sort against children is now unlawful.

If problems with parental and educational authority dominate Fowler’s first meeting with Brearley his second sees him discussing his issues with authority during his time with England and Lancashire. It is a pleasure to learn, right at the end, that as a result of his meetings with Brearley Fowler finds enough answers to conclude that it’s okay to be me. Those of us who follow him on twitter, and social media does get quite an airing in the book, will know that Fowler still has his dark days, but he clearly benefited greatly from the six hours he spent with Brearley.

There are however 18 chapters in Mind Over Batter and the meat of the book is therefore in those 16 that are bookended by the meetings with Brearley. An individual reader’s reaction to those chapters will, I suspect, to an extent depend upon the level of his or her playing ability. For myself I have had a passion for cricket for as long as I can remember but, sadly for me, never had much in the way of talent, something which has meant that I have generally derived a great deal more pleasure from watching and reading about cricket than playing the game.

At a basic level I was competent enough, and I know and understand how the game works and as a youngster did have the benefit of a fair amount of coaching, but my playing experience is limited to a standard so modest that all the cricket I remember playing was played in a convivial and friendly atmosphere. In short there wasn’t really a mental element to it once I got over the disappointment of realising that I was never going to be anything like as good a cricketer as my father, let alone aspire to a future at the level at which Fowler played.

In the circumstances I have no practical appearance experience of sledging or other types of ‘mental disintegration’ techniques that cricketers employ. I do of course know about friendship amongst teammates, but not the sort of camaraderie that binds a team together in real adversity. Another unknown to me, in a cricketing context, is the pressure of failure, loss of form or losing my place in the team.

Fowler explores all of these issues and many more. He illustrates that there are a myriad of ways of dealing with any given situation, and that there is generally no right or wrong way of going about anything. The book is littered with examples and illustrations. Many of them are the back stories to incidents and individuals that are familiar, particularly to those of us of the same generation as Fowler. From a purely personal point of view it was also important that a goodly number of the stories involved some Lancashire legends of Fowler’s time, in particular men like Neil Fairbrother, Paul Allott and Jack Simmons.

In essence Mind Over Batter opened my eyes to aspects of playing cricket that I had never really thought about before. The simple truth we supporters often forget is that for professionals like Fowler cricket is a job, and not a very secure one. I found myself comparing and contrasting some of the situations Fowler considers with difficult episodes in my own working life. There are parallels in many things and it can be done. I was certainly able to identify a few situations I have been in which Fowler would understand, and I found he and I on the same wavelength more often than I found us disagreeing. Perhaps more to the point at no time did I find myself not understanding Fowler’s point.

Something that books about the lives of cricketers inevitably deal with is tours. There is often something in the relevant chapters of the touring experience, but the cricket played is understandably the focus. Mind Over Batter looks at tours as well, but in this book it is the cricket that is incidental. Touring has changed a good deal since Fowler’s day but the principle is still the same, in that it involves long periods away from home and plenty of pressures of the non-cricketing sort to go with all the usual tribulations of a professional cricketer – it is an eye opener.

There is much else I could write about Mind Over Batter but suspect I have said enough – for middle aged Lancastrian cricket tragics the book is indispensable, for everyone else it is merely highly recommended.

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