New Books – An Overview for December 2009

Author: Martin Chandler

New Books - An Overview for December 2009

With the announcement of the prestigious CW Book of the Year Award 2010 just seven days away the purpose of this article is twofold, firstly to mention those 2009 releases that were either missed in our midyear review in July or were not known about then, and secondly to look forward to what the publishing industry has in store for us in 2010.

The first area to look at is the books that have been published on the 2009 Ashes Series which, while not as memorable as 2005, was certainly a cause for celebration for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. It will be many years before England followers forget the events of Sunday 23 August and that slight feeling of unease when Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey briefly made us think that 546 was not an impossible target after all, before Flintoff in the field and then Swann and Harmison with the ball calmed our nerves. Just nine days later, with a speed out of the blocks which was certainly not reminiscent of his playing days, Mike Atherton produced the first account of the series, “Atherton’s Ashes”. That was followed by Gideon Haigh’s “The Ultimate Test: The Story of the 2009 Ashes Series” which appeared 16 days later. Amongst the players Andrew Strauss’ account “Testing Times” beat Andrew Flintoff?s effort, “Ashes to Ashes”, by a fortnight but both were on the shelves by 1 October as was the paperback edition of Alastair Cook’s 2008 autobiography “Starting Out :My Story So Far” which was updated to cover his views on the series. A week later “England’s Ashes: The Exclusive and Official Story of the N Power Ashes Series 2009” by the England Cricket Team (although I believe it is actually written by journalist Peter Hayter with a series of sound bites from the players) brought up the rear.

It is perhaps not surprising that Australian publishers were less inclined to rush anything off the presses although by November Ricky Ponting’s “Ashes Diary 2009” had appeared with, strangely and amusingly to this reviewer’s eye, a chirpy looking Punter on the cover – surely a grimace would have been more appropriate? In any event Ponting’s offering was not to be the last, November also seeing the release of “Bowled Over: An Ashes Celebration :My Side of the Story” in the name of Stuart Broad, and just as we thought that might have been it the last few days have seen the release of Jarrod Kimber’s offering “Ashes 2009: When Freddie Became Jesus”. As the title suggests Kimber, an Australian blogger, has produced something which is not a conventional tour account.

Before moving away from the Ashes one other “book” merits a mention that being “The Official MCC Ashes Treasure” by Bernard Whimpress. This contains at its heart a profusely illustrated potted history of the contest and as such is very good indeed although, I suspect tellingly, would not satisfy anyone wanting to learn about more than the basic story. What sets it apart from every other Ashes book, and accounts for the title, is that it contains a large number of items of facsimile memorabilia stored in pockets on some of the pages. To cope with the obvious problem the book is supplied with a slipcase in order to keep it all intact. A laudable idea but one which, by virtue of the fact that it is already being sold at half its original price, I suspect sold poorly. The problem with this project is, I believe, that there simply isn’t a market for facsimile memorabilia in itself and that accordingly the paying public simply couldn’t see that the books curiosity value was as high as thirty pounds – that said at fifteen pounds it is recommended.

The Ashes apart, and in July publishers plans for that were quite incapable of accurate prediction in any event, we did not miss too much in our July review. Amongst biographies the only glaring omission was Michael Vaughan’s bulky autobiography that was released in October entitled “Time to Declare”. Also missed in July was Ronnie Irani’s autobiography “No Boundaries” which was also released in early October. Irani is an interesting character who at county level played for his native Lancashire before making a successful career move to Essex which brought him a three Test career in the late 1990’s. He was marginally more successful in ODIs. I have not yet read the book but if it concentrates on Irani’s cricket career rather than his second incarnation as co-host of the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast Show on talkSPORT then it should be well worth reading. On the other hand if it is as lame and inane as his performances on the radio have become it will be a disappointment.

Amongst biographies of Australians Ian Woodward has published, in a signed limited edition, a short biography of Sam Morris who was the first non-white to represent Australia in Test cricket. Also released in the Southern Hemisphere has been “CC”, the autobiography of 1950’s opening batsman Colin McDonald. Expected by the end of the year are two further limited editions, firstly one by David Jenkins entitled “Near Death on the Sub Continent” which is the story of the little known Australian Gavin Stevens and also, unusually, a two volume limited edition by Alf Batchelder entitled “Hugh Trumble: A Cricketer’s Life”.

In England the July review missed a couple of relatively obscure items those being “A Geordie All Rounder” which is a volume of autobiography by Malcolm Scott who played with relatively modest success for Northamptonshire in the 1960’s and was a good enough footballer to play for Newcastle United for a time. “H H Stephenson: A Cricketing Journey: Kennington Oval to Uppingham School” is a short biographical sketch of the Surrey all rounder of the Victorian age who played once, in 1880, in a Test match for England against Australia.

One other book deserves to be considered before the subject of 2009 biographies is left and that is “Of Didcot and The Demon” written by Anthony Gibson and published by Stephen Chalke’s Fairfield Books. The book is an anthology of the work of Gibson’s father, Alan Gibson, a noted cricket writer and broadcaster of the latter part of the 20th century and in what promises to be a most interesting way of approaching such a project Gibson Senior’s work is showcased within a series of biographical essays written by the son. The review copy which has been received at CW will undoubtedly keep this reviewer quiet over the Christmas and New Year break.

From India a biography of VVS Laxman has appeared as has a book of tributes to Sunil Gavaskar called “Sunil Gavaskar : Cricket’s Little Wonder” which marks the occasion of his 60th birthday. Whilst on the subject of the great Indian opener an anthology of his writing, “Straight Drive”, is also due.

December saw the appearance of Volume 14 of Philip Paine’s “Innings Complete” series. Philip has produced these signed limited editions for over a decade. While the idea of a book containing nothing but photographs of cricketers’ gravestones with brief biographical details might at first blush seem a little macabre they are actually fascinating little volumes and are well worth seeking out.

Books about cricket grounds have appeared regularly for many years and 2009 has seen the appearance of “Cricket Grounds from the Air” which comprises some superb aerial photographs of English First Class cricket grounds with associated commentary and statistics. It is a large format book and at less than ten pounds is very reasonably priced.

Other 2009 books which merit a mention include a diary by South African Captain Graeme Smith, “The Road to Number One”. Books from South Africa are all too rare and I hope that this may be the start of a steady flow from a country which surely ought to be able to support a number of releases each year. A more scholarly volume, “Empire and Cricket: The South African Experience 1884-1914”, has also appeared which serves to fuel my optimism.

Other limited editions have appeared which include “Giffen’s Match” by Bernard Whimpress which is a small signed limited edition consisting of an account of a remarkable performance by George Giffen for South Australia against Victoria in 1891 when he scored 271 and took 16 wickets. UK book dealer Christopher Saunders has published “First Cricket In…” by Martin Wilson in a limited edition. The book will not appeal to the casual observer consisting as it does of a record of the first mention of the game in various locations but as with all of Mr Saunders’ publications it will represent an important contribution to the chronicling of the game’s history.

The July article mentions the Association of Cricketer Statisticians and Historians “Lives in Cricket” series. The 2009 publications in that series have been completed by books about Welshman C P Lewis, the finest cricketer produced by Wales in Victorian times, and Ric Charlesworth who played for Western Australia in the 1970’s. Neither man has left a great mark on the game but that is not, of course, a prerequisite to a fascinating life. In Charleworth’s case in particular his achievements as a hockey international, leading medic and politician would certainly, on the face of things, appear to justify a detailed account of his life.

West Indian cricket’s modern great, Brian Lara, is the subject of a new biography by Clifford Narinesingh which, unusually for a cricket book, is actually published in the Caribbean. Whether it will sell particularly well remains to be seen but it is only two years since Brian Scovell’s biography appeared and it may therefore struggle. Another Caribbean publication is “From Ranji to Rohan: Cricket and Indian Identity in Colonial Guyana” by Clem Seecharan which certainly sounds like a scholarly piece of work. Perhaps of a similar ilk is “Shadows Across the Playing Field” a collection of essays by Shashi Tharoor and Shaharyar Khan about the 60 years over which India and Pakistan have played cricket against each other.

Just released is “Sporting Travels of a Karoo Sun” by Des Newton. Newton is a tour guide who travels the world as a result and this is his life story. It promises to be a cricket book with a difference – time will tell!

A few historical works have also emerged towards the end of the year. Firstly Andrew Hignell has produced a large format book/brochure entitled “The Australian Cricketers in Wales” which concentrates largely, but not exclusively, on matches between Glamorgan and the tourists and will doubtless, and understandably, contain much coverage of the matches won by the Welsh county in 1964 and 1968. Whilst on the subject of Australia a book called “Bush Cricket” by John Terrell is about to appear dealing with the history of the game in Western Australia’s goldfields. Lastly in this genre is a privately published booklet by Stephen Larmour “The Repton First XI Cricket Team of 1908” which, by repute, was the strongest side ever produced by an English public school. The point of Larmour’s researches is to establish what became of the various members of the team.

A volume of more recent history is “Summers with Durham” by Tim Wellock. It is almost invariable these days that someone writes the story of the County Champions’ season but this is not simply a collection of match reports tied together with a series of predictable platitudes. Rather it is the story of Durham’s transformation over less than a decade from the County Championship’s perennial whipping boys to one of the strongest sides the competition has seen.

Lastly and unusually two booksellers catalogues merit a mention. The leading UK cricket book dealers have been producing excellent illustrated catalogues for a number of years but two have excelled themselves this year. SportsPages (formerly Bodyline Books) had given us a taste of what was possible when they relaunched their business after rebranding in August 2008 with a lavishly produced catalogue showcasing all of their fields of expertise. In 2009 their printed catalogue was, entirely appropriately, devoted solely to the history of the Ashes without any reference to such minority sports as soccer, golf, tennis and rugby union. The result was more than one hundred pages telling the story of the Ashes through the advertised publications all of which were beautifully illustrated in colour. Having declared to anyone who was prepared to listen (and many who would have preferred not to) that I had seen the finest ever book catalogue I was forced to revise my opinion just a few weeks later when I came into possession of a copy of Boundary Books twentieth anniversary catalogue. Every bit as well produced as SportsPages effort Boundary Books just shade it for me on the grounds of the wonderful selection of books and pamphlets within it, its concise and illuminating history of the business and the fascinating snippets of bibliographical information that appear throughout.

Moving, at last, into 2010 there is certainly a disappointing lack of activity in the cricket book market in the first few months of the year. The first book of any significance with a definite publication date that I can find is the ubiquitous Wisden Almanack which will appear in April for the 147th time. Shortly after that “Trophies and Tribulations: 40 Years of Kent Cricket” is released before the more interesting books, to anyone other than Kentish Men and Men of Kent of course, start to appear in May. First and foremost of these is “Following On: A Year with England Cricket’s Golden Boys” which is the second cricket book by David Tossell. Tossell’s first contribution to the game’s literature was the magnificent “Grovel”, his retrospective account of the long hot West Indian summer of 1976. The subject matter of this book is rather more contemporary but no less interesting being a book about the lives and times of the England under 19 side who won their World Cup in 1998. The highest profile today is held by Graeme Swann but the stories of the likes of Graham Napier and Chris Schofield as well as the unusual overall subject matter mean that I will predict now that “Following On” will be one of the very best books of 2010.

Also due in May is “No Holding Back” the eponymous autobiography of fast bowler turned commentator Mikey Holding. If Holding writes about the game as well as he speaks about it then this too will be a rewarding read. One of Holding’s colleagues is also publishing a book next year although unfortunately the sense of anticipation is rather less intense. “Start the Car: The World According to Bumble” would appear from what the publishers have said to date to be rather in the style of David Lloyds’s commentary and if that is indeed the case then while the book will doubtless have some entertaining moments it may be something of a struggle to get through.

Lastly amongst those that have a definite release date at this stage is “The Bad Boys of Cricket: The 100 Naughtiest Cricketers of Them All” which, from its title, promises to be an irreverent look at those incidents involving the great and the not so great that have made headlines other than on the sports pages. Whether it will put all the incidents it deals with in their proper context must be doubtful but I would be surprised if it were anything other than good entertainment and if it is put together correctly, and given the publishers are those splendid people at Know The Score Books it almost certainly will be, then I would expect author Matthew Reed to have produced, in relative terms of course, a bestseller.

Those few definite releases apart one is then left with the glorious uncertainties. Duncan Hamilton, Harold Larwood’s biographer, is putting together a collection of Geoffrey Boycott’s most entertaining comments and writings which will no doubt prove popular. Of particular interest is likely to be a biography of Sir Ian Botham that is being written by the Sunday Times Cricket Correspondent Simon Wilde. Wilde’s previous excursions into biography have been a superb book about Ranjitsinhji and an unconventional biography of Shane Warne. In his biography of Warne Wilde began his account by writing a chapter from the perspective of a batsman facing Warne – will he do something similar with Botham? If so there are many options – he could put himself in Dennis Lillee’s mind at Headingley in ’81, or poor old Mike Whitney circling under that steepler at Old Trafford in the same year – or what about Craig McDermott as he was smashed back over his head from the first delivery he bowled to Botham at Edgbaston in 1985? Botham quite rightly remains one of the major characters in English cricket and a full biography by a quality writer, as opposed to an autobiography (of which there have been three including two in 2007), is long overdue.

Similarly the late Fred Trueman has not been the subject of a biography since John Arlott’s “Fred” in 1971 and given the unconventional and outspoken character that Trueman was the biography that Yorkshire Post journalist Chris Walters is currently working on should be well worth reading when released.

One disappointing piece of news I have to report is that one of CW’s favourite publishers, Stephen Chalke’s Fairfield Books, appear to have a quiet year in the offing. Mr Chalke himself is currently working on a project with Micky Stewart but concedes that that is unlikely to see the light of day much before the end of the year at the earliest. He is also working on another project, a book on “Britain’s Lost Cricket Grounds” but again no release date is known.

The ACSH are planning more releases in the “Lives in Cricket” series already referred to those definitely due in 2010 being AP “Bunny” Lucas, Michael Falcon and Joe Hardstaff. In this reviewer’s opinion the outstanding book in the series for 2010 will be that concerning former Lancashire skipper Jack Bond who is certainly an interesting subject and his biographer, Douglas Miller, is a fine writer who will undoubtedly do justice to his subject.

From the Southern Hemisphere the Cricket Publishing Company will be producing a history of Mosman Cricket Club, a leather-bound limited edition of a book called “The Baggy Green” that has already been released in standard form and former Australian off spinner turned author Ashley Mallett is writing a book called “The Catch That Broke The Bank” which is the story of Alexander Crooks, the treasurer of the South Australian Cricket Association in the 1870’s, who took a remarkable catch in the deep to dismiss W G Grace in a match in 1874.

Also due will be a further volume from Philip Paine in his “Innings Complete” series that is referred to earlier in this article and he is also publishing a history of the Montpelier Club which was the forerunner of the Surrey County Club.

I am pleased to say that 2010 will also see a new book from David Frith. It will not be as ambitious as the 500,000 word “David Frith Archive” that appeared in 2009 and was mentioned in July but “Frith on Cricket” will be an extensive anthology showcasing the best work of, some would argue, the finest writer of his generation.

For the hardened collectors amongst us I can reveal that a well known author is currently researching a biography of Leslie Gutteridge the former proprietor of Epworth Books in City Road, London who for many years after World War II was the pre-eminent cricket book dealer. It was Gutteridge who wrote the article that appeared in the Centenary Wisden (1963) dealing with the Almanack’s history. While on the subject of the Almanack I can confirm that what is also being worked on, although unlikely to appear before 2011, is a biography of the good book itself. Most tantalising of all is the possibility of a biography of Rowland Bowen. Bowen was responsible for the critically acclaimed “Cricket Quarterly” Magazine that ran for eight years in the 1960’s. Bowen was, to say the least, eccentric going so far on one occasion as to attempt to amputate his own healthy foot a task which he not unnaturally abandoned but not, as I understand it, until he had made significant progress towards achieving his aim. Stories of his bizarre and irascible behaviour are legion amongst those who knew him and a book is long overdue although I hear progress towards completion of the project is depressingly slow.

And finally …………………………….. if this article has whetted the appetite of any reader for any of the more obscure offerings referred to please email info@cricketweb.net and the book review team will do their best to assist you in sourcing whatever interests you.

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