New Books – An Overview for December 2011Martin Chandler |
Similarly to the manner in which I started this feature in July I will begin with an explanation of what I am seeking to achieve. I have learned that there is simply no way of knowing about all pending titles, so what you have here is those books that have been announced as forthcoming. That does not, of course, mean that all of them will actually appear, but experience shows that they generally do. Other titles I include are those which have appeared in the last six months and which, for a variety of reasons, were not on my radar in July. One last point is that there are some books due, Christopher Martin-Jenkins autobiography for example, that I have mentioned in previous features, so they are not always mentioned again, thus a new reader will get a fuller picture if this is read in conjunction with the earlier features, which can be accessed through our archive.
Starting as always with biography and autobiography I must confess to have not done very well last time in my attempts to track down all forthcoming releases. I will start, for no other reason than it’s about time that I started there, with the sub-continent, where I have learned of one such volume being released in India and, unusually, two in Pakistan. From India Suresh Menon has written a long overdue biography of Bishan Bedi. As the rear cover of Bishan – Portrait of a Cricketer reminds me Sir Donald Bradman said of this great orthodox left arm spinner Bedi was a real study for the connoisseur and amongst the finest bowlers of his type. His skill is associated with sportsmanship of high calibre. As Bish expected the scrupulously fair way in which he approached the game to be reciprocated by others he has also ruffled a few feathers along the way, and the book should prove an interesting read.
Turning westwards we have Shoaib Akhtar’s autobiography Controversially Yours. For me Shoaib is something of a contradiction. He is not a likeable man at all, so why have I always regarded him as one of my favourite cricketers? It must have something to do with the breathtaking pace that he bowled at in his pomp. Adding to that the fact that while many of his troubles have been, to an extent at least, self-inflicted, I have also always thought he has been treated a little unfairly and you have the best answer I can give. I do not expect Shoaib’s book to be an intellectually challenging read, but I suspect it will prove an entertaining one.
The second book from Pakistan I cannot tell you very much about I am afraid, as all my attempts to secure a copy have failed. In fact such were the number of blanks I drew in trying to source the book I convinced myself after a while that it didn’t really exist at all, and that I could stop worrying about it. Then a few weeks ago Gulu Ezekiel confirmed to me that Asif Noorani had indeed, as long ago as 2009, written and published Boom Boom Shahid Afridi. Afridi has, of course, a very different cricketing skill set to Shoaib, but that apart for me they are very similar characters and I would be delighted if a review copy of a book that I understand is now out of print were to find its way to Cricketweb Towers.
And so to South Africa, a nation that still produces many fewer cricket books than I feel it should. A delightful autobiography has appeared from Clive Van Ryneveld. 20th Century Allrounder is about a man who, now 83, has led a fascinating life. A useful batsman and leg spinner he played 19 Tests for his native country as well as, whilst at Oxford, being capped by England at Rugby Union. Outside the game he qualified and practised as a barrister before becoming a founding member of the anti apartheid Progressive Party. His time in the South African Parliament did not survive the following election but his life afterwards was no less interesting for that. Copies of his book are available in the UK from Fairfield Books.
Moving on to Australia we have a bumper crop this time. To begin with I will briefly mention the ghosted autobiography of a current player, Shane Watson’s eponymous Watto. As Archie has already reviewed the book here. I will say nothing more than it appears to be a rather better book than most of its type.
The first book I want to mention at any length is It’s Your Wally Grout. Australians wax lyrical about the wicketkeeping skills of Don Tallon and Bert Oldfield from days of yore, and they get hugely excited about the talents of latter day heroes Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist, yet the man who my father assured me when I was a child was the finest wicketkeeper he had ever seen seems largely forgotten. Perhaps it is because Grout, who knew he had a dodgy ticker yet did not make enough “lifestyle” allowances for it, died at the tragically early age of 41. I am looking forward to reading what promises to be a poignant story of a great cricketer who died, as a result of gambling debts, penniless. The author of the book is Grout’s grandson, which naturally adds to the authority of the narrative, and will of course add an invaluable human element to it. I understand that Gideon Haigh has described the book as “charming” – with that sort of endorsement I would recommend an early purchase, as publication is as a limited edition of 587, a strange number on the face of it, but it represents one copy for each of Wally’s First Class victims.
Next up is Roo’s Book, which is the self-published autobiography of Bruce Yardley. I was a little curious when I first learnt of this book as to me Yardley’s was a name I barely recalled, and I thought therefore that he was just a peripheral figure. A quick check showed that was my mistake. Yardley was an off spinner who, after making a relatively late Test debut at 31, went on to play 33 Tests in the next five years with considerable success. His story promises to be an entertaining and amusing one.
Of a similar vintage is Greg Chappell who has not, perhaps surprisingly in view of his achievements, been the subject of a book since Adrian McGregor’s biography in 1985, shortly after his retirement from the game. That all changes in January with the release of Fiercely Focused, an autobiography written with the assistance of Malcolm Knox. I will be particularly interested in Chappell’s views, following a period of sober reflection, on his very public falling out with Sourav Ganguly during his stint as Indian coach.
As I mentioned in July an autobiography of Brett Lee, imaginatively titled My Story is due in March. Following the lead of several of his teammates it is a bulky volume, 436 pages I believe, and it will inevitably follow a well trodden path. We will just have to see if there is enough of Lee himself in the book to make it attractive to those who have already read his teammates’ books.
And finally I come home to England and, supposedly, the centre of the cricket book universe although, certainly as far as mainstream publishers are concerned, a bit of a disappointment this time round. There are a couple autobiographies of current players due, one that comes as no surprise, and another that I have to say I had not expected to see. The expected volume is an as yet untitled offering from The Burnley Express, aka James Anderson, that is pencilled in for September. It will doubtless sell well to the west of the Pennines, although whether it is a best seller generally might, I suspect, depend upon the outcome of and Anderson’s contribution to, England’s forthcoming series against South Africa.
The surprise is Paul Nixon, Leicestershire’s veteran wicketkeeper who has just retired, albeit he is the sort of character who, bearing in mind his county’s limited resources, I suspect we may not have seen the last of. His long career, T20 specialism and involvement with the ill-starred Indian Cricket League might well produce a better story than the constraints of his ECB contract permit Anderson’s ghost to write.
The most promising title by a distance is Stephen Chalke’s long awaited biography of Mickey Stewart which, it is hoped will be with us, if not by the start of the new season, then not too long afterwards. The author’s name guarantees a well-written book and his subject on this occasion must be by some margin the most interesting former cricketer who has not previously been written about in book form. Stewart started his cricketing career when Surrey were on their run of seven successive County Championships in the 1950s. He played for England in the 1960s, probably not as often as he should, and was a soccer player good enough to play for Charlton Athletic. The most interesting part of his story will be his years as England’s cricket manager, and then ECB Director of Coaching. In particular I am told to expect some new insights into Mike Gatting’s often controversial tenure as England skipper.
And that, dear reader is just about it. The Phil DeFreitas autobiography that I mentioned this time last year was due in October has now slipped to March but, were it not for Stephen Chalke’s Fairfield Books, and the wonderful efforts of the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians via their Lives in Cricket series, we would have no books about former players at all. Thankfully however we will, having had Jack Mercer and Walter Read this month, be getting as many as seven more in the course of 2012. March will see Edgar Willsher appear, 2012 being the 150th anniversary of the incident at the Oval when he was no-balled for bowling overarm, following which he and his fellow professionals left the field until the umpire was replaced. By the start of the 1864 season the law had been changed.
The second March release is something of a departure called Brief Candles. The association’s publicity material states Many cricketers have played in just one first-class match, but for some their one appearance was more memorable than for others, for good reasons or otherwise. In 1924, Fred Hyland spent less than ten minutes on the field of play before rain washed out the game. Poor Josiah Coulthurst didn’t even step onto the playing area in a damp Lancashire contest in 1919. Emile McMaster’s only match, in South Africa in 1889, was later awarded Test match status. Bob Richards, playing for Essex at Leyton in 1970, didn?t learn till afterwards that his solitary appearance was a first-class game. Nobody can now be sure who was the Wilkinson who played a match at Oxford in 1939.
June should see the life of Charles Llewellyn published. The story of Llewellyn, who at the tail end of the 19th century was the first non-white to play Test cricket for South Africa, is one I am particularly looking forward to. The other June release, hardly less interesting is, exactly 100 years after his death, about the great Surrey fast bowler Tom Richardson. Later in the year it is confirmed that the series will embrace HV Hesketh-Pritchard and Australian Keith Carmody as well as another title that is yet to be finally decided. I will give further details in July.
The next traditional category is that of the Tour book. This need not detain us for long as there are none that I am aware of in the pipeline. Ashes series remain, at the moment at least, reasonably popular with publishers but, no doubt in part due to the truncated nature of today’s tours, there seems to be little prospect of any other series being chronicled in the old fashioned way. Neither are there, to the best of my knowledge, any reflective accounts of series past being planned, which, given the quality of some that have appeared in recent years, is for me the greater pity.
In some ways similar to the tour book is the season’s diary of which I am aware of three. From Australia comes In the Firing Line by Tasmanian opening batsman Ed Cowan. In India former Test opener Aakash Chopra enters this particular field for the second time with Out of the Blue, which tells the story of Rajasthan’s incredible run to their first ever Ranji Trophy title in the 2010-11 season despite starting from last in the table. Finally here I did, in July, suggest a title for the story of Lancashire’s first County Championship since 1934. The fact that such a book appears at all is a source of great joy to me, and although I still think my proposed title was better than Champions – About Bloomin’ Time, I shall still be investing in a copy although, sadly, not a copy of the over-subscribed de luxe edition.
While on the subject of over-subscribed Limited Editions I will make mention of a further book from the ACS, Cricket’s Historians and Statisticians. Just 35 copies of the de luxe edition of this are for sale, but at least all who are interested have an even chance as there is to be a ballot held. Snobbery apart as a collector I am looking forward to this more than any book I have ordered in a long time. As the title suggests it is a history of cricket writing and researching, written by Peter Wynne-Thomas, a man ideally qualified for the task.
Martin Tebay, the man behind dealership Red Rose Books, has continued to produce a number of limited edition monographs dealing with Lancashire cricket in the days before the 77 years of hurt weighed the county down. Most are written by Martin himself, but there are others by Gerry Wolstenholme. Martin deals almost exclusively with the distant past. Much of Gerry’s work also concentrates on the same era, but some of his writing also covers more modern times.
Philip Paine, he of the self-published Innings Complete books, is now up to Volume 17. The appeal of the formula, photographs of cricketers’ graves and/or memorials with a few words of accompanying text, does not wane.
The Sussex Cricket Museum and Educational Trust produced a limited edition that I noted in July concerning AJ Gaston. A similar volume containing essays about Jim Parks and Robin Marlar has recently appeared, and another concerning Ted Dexter is due in the spring. They are delightfully produced booklets and the contents will be of interest to anyone who loves the game, not just Sussex supporters.
Returning now to mainstream publications Tuffers’ Cricket Tales has, on the face of matters, all the potential to be a huge disappointment, full as it apparently will be of the chirpy Londoner’s favourite stories. In fact, as anyone who listens to Test Match Special will know, Phil Tufnell knows the game inside out, and if he has had real control of the content, as opposed to just lending his name to the book, then this just might be the most pleasant surprise of the year.
Moving onto works of modern history former Glamorgan and, twice, England opening batsmen turned journalist, Steve James is writing The Plan: How Fletcher and Flower Transformed English Cricket James’ autobiography, Third Man to Fatty’s Leg, was one of the best books of 2004, and I have every confidence in his latest offering being a fine read.
Also out, from Wisden Sports Writing, is The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and India’s Unstoppable Rise by James Astill. Despite the reference to Wisden this is all new writing and not one of those anthologies culled from the Almanack which we have seen a number of in recent years. The publisher’s summary is The Great Tamasha is the riveting story of modern India – with its vastness and ever-proliferating complexities – told through the prism of the glitzy, scandalous and mind-blowingly lucrative Twenty20 cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League
The same publisher is also bringing out We’ll Get ‘Em in Sequins: Manliness, Yorkshire Cricket and the Century That Changed Everything by Max Davidson – of this the publishers say A truly unique and fascinating look at the changing nature of masculinity and manliness, told through the lens of a series of Yorkshire County Cricket Club player portraits through the ages
….. and finally one I don’t know how to categorise. Our old friends at SportsBooks are publishing Going Barmy by freelance writer Paul Winslow. Is it a work of cricket history? A collection of biographies? A tour account? or should it be classified as humour? Realistically I dare say there will be elements of all four, but given the publishers track record I am confident that it will be well worth reading.
Twice a year CW looks forward to those cricket books due in the months ahead. Inevitably in this sort of exercise books will be overlooked. If any publisher or author reading this has a book we have missed please let us know and if you would like CW to review your books and/or announce your future plans at the end of June 2012 then please contact us at email@example.com, which email address can also be used by any prospective purchaser seeking further information. As ever this article is as comprehensive as it is only as a result of assistance from others and, in particular on this occasion, Roger Page, Stephen Chalke and Gulu Ezekiel, to all of whom we are extremely grateful.