New Books – An Overview for January 2015

New Books - An Overview for January 2015

Time moves on and the landscape changes, and with the recent passing of David Rayvern Allen the outlook of this feature will never be quite the same again. Over my time as a reader/collector DRA has been one of the more prolific of authors, and certainly one of the most eclectic. Skills gained in his day job as a producer for BBC radio were perhaps responsible for honing his ability as an anthologist, but cricket literature has much more to be thankful to DRA for than simply gathering together the best work of others, particularly the late John Arlott.

I shall remember DRA primarily for his efforts to explain and present the facts about the game’s earliest scribes, beginning with his Early Books on Cricket, and peaking with the wonderful commentaries he provided to accompany Christopher Saunders’reproductions of the ancient volumes of Samuel Britcher and William Denison. He was a fine biographer too, responsible for the definitive story of the life of his great friend Arlott, and the only biography of EW ‘Jim’ Swanton. He will be greatly missed.

My habit of late has been to begin this feature with a look at those titles that have appeared since my last feature, but which I was not aware were pending at the time it was penned. I do so again, if for no other reason than it enables me to make reference to the last work of DRA to appear during his lifetime. I add the caveat in the hope there remains material already written that an editor in the mould of the man himself will be able to fashion into a fitting final tribute.

But for now we have Life of Richard Linsell: The Essex Cricketer, Pedestrian, and Quoit Player. This was a modest 15 page pamphlet published first in 1858 and then again in 1921. Few can have heard of Linsell, who does not even merit an entry on Cricketarchive, but he was a noted single wicket player in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This obscure item was authored simply by “A Friend”. Christopher Saundershas chosen to republish it for a second time, in a limited edition of 125, DRA’s contribution being to pen an introduction, and append his signature to the limitation page.

Whilst on the subject of Mr Saunders I will mention two other recent publications from him, both aimed at the hardened book collector. One is a bibliography of Surrey cricket, written by John Per and Michael Pearce, and the other a new edition of The Gibbs Guide to Items ‘Not in Padwick’, the result of one man’s trawl for those pre 1990 publications that eluded the first two Volumes of the bibliography. In a sad few months we have lost Gibbs as well DRA, but I believe there are others continuing his work – at the time of his death he had uncovered as many as 2,200 items ‘Not in Padwick’.

The bibliographical theme takes me on to Cricket Lore: The Guide by Eric Midwinter, which is an affectionate tribute to a magazine that appeared in 47 editions between 1994 and 2003 and to which Midwinter was but one of a number of eminent contributors. Why did the magazine fail? It certainly wasn’t through a lack of quality in the way it was produced or its contents, but I fancy it rather fell between two stools. It was neither as scholarly or original as Rowland Bowen’s Cricket Quarterly, which passed through 32 issues in the 1960s and remains an acclaimed and sought after work, nor of course did Cricket Lore possess the immediacy or the dash of colour magazines dealing with current cricket need to have in order to enjoy popular appeal.

To briefly digress on the subject of magazines there are a rich crop at the present time. The Cricketer, which so often has had the field to itself, is still appearing 93 years after Plum Warner first published it. Not dissimilar are Spin and All Out Cricket, and one for those whose interest is rooted in the past, Backspin. Also available in England (I am not going to pretend to know much of overseas magazines) is The Cricket Paper which has appeared for a couple of years now. Personally I keep forgetting to buy it, but it has 11.5k followers on twitter, so must be doing something right. There is also the very presentable The Cricket Monthly from ESPN Cricinfo, but we mustn’t mention this one too loudly as there is no print version available.

And finally on the subject of regular performers we have The Nightwatchman. It is a quarterly from the Wisden stable, and rather more erudite than the competition. It is well worth reading, albeit it is possibly not quite up to the standard of its Australian equivalent, Between Wickets.

In the autobiography department I failed to spot a book by some bloke called Pietersen, but hope I will be forgiven that. There are some more interesting biographies though. One comes in the form of a scrapbook and is Maddox – From Tassie ‘Devil’ to Victorian ‘Saint’. John Maddox played eight times for Tasmania in the 1950s and there are just 12 copies of the book. Roger Page
may or may not still have a copy or two left. There are a few more copies, 50 in all, of Richard Walsh’s monograph about the former Worcestershire wicketkeeper Roy Booth, the last man to snare 100 victims in an English season.

A Torch in Flame: The Story of a County Cricket Club at War is one of the many items published this year to mark the centenary of the Great War. This 84 page booklet deals with five Hampshire cricketers ranging from former England captain Lionel Tennyson, through noted adventurer ‘Hex’ Hesketh Pritchard, to three less well known men, Cecil Abecrombie, Alec Johnston and Arthur Jaques.

A very slim volume is the latest limited edition from Australian writer Bernard Whimpress, and has as its subject the background to and history of the iconic image of Don Bradman walking out to bat. Bradman’s Walk to Glory is available from Roger Page
in Australia and Boundary Books in England. Another privately published booklet has been produced by Duncan Anderson. The Trent Bridge Printers tells the story of CH Richards, printers to the Nottinghamshire Club and a well known name in Victorian cricket publishing. The booklet is not commercially available, just a handful of copies having been distributed amongst friends and fellow ACS members. If an opportunity is ever available to acquire a copy my advice is to grab it with both hands.

There is also a biography from South Africa, All-Rounder: The Buster Farrer Story available as both a paperback and a signed limited edition hardback. The latter has, I believe, already sold out, and the former will shortly be available in the UK from John McKenzie. Farrer was a batsman good enough to be selected six times for his country in the early 1960s. The first part of the title of the book is not derived from his very occasional off spin bowling, but from the fact he also played hockey for South Africa, as well as being a skilled performer at Tennis, Bowls, Squash and Golf.

Finally in the list of those I have missed is Scott Reeves’ fine debut, The Champion Band, rather more than just an account of George Parr’s XI’s visit to North America in 1859. I do have some mitigation for this oversight though, as on learning of its publication I at least made sure my reviewcoincided with its release. Another book on an early tour, this time the first truly representative Australians who came here in 1878, is due in January from John Lazenby. If gestation periods are anything to go by this should be an excellent piece of writing, as I note I first mentioned it back in July 2013.

Recently released in Australia is Miracle Match by Ian Brayshaw. I’ll say no more as Archie’s review will appear next week, but as you would expect of any account of a match written by one of the combatants it inevitably contains some fascinating insights. An older Australian book that I will mention is Darren Lehmann’s autobigraphy Worth the Wait. Published first in 2005 a new edition is on its way – a lot has happened in Lehmann’s life in the last decade, and I have to say that I would have thought a new book a better idea than a second edition, but we will see what the Mac thinks. He wasn’t greatly impressed with the first edition, giving it just 2.5 stars way back in 2005, but has promised to read the new edition too.

Moving on to 2015 there are not too many titles around, but of those there are a few sound very promising indeed. Most interesting of all, to this reviewer anyway, is a biography of the great Australia and Lancashire fast bowler Ted McDonald which is to be published by Ken Piesse in Australia and has been written by Nick Richardson. I have always wondered whether part of the reason for McDonald’s migration to North West England was unfinished business with the Tasmanian Police. Hopefully all will finally become clear. Piesse is also handling Max Bonnell’s biography of one of McDonald’s contemporaries, who was later Australian skipper, Herbie ‘Horseshoe’ Collins.

Another Australian book is Greg Growden’s biography of an interesting character Bowled by a Bullet – The Tragic Life of Claude Tozer. I’ll crib Roger Page’s summary on this one; Biography of the NSW cricketer, his early life, grade cricket career; World War I army service, establishment of a medical practice, and murder by a patient, the deranged Dorothy Mort, in 1920 when on the cusp of selection for Australia. Moving forward to Aussie cricket in the 1960s I know little about a new autobiography from the 80 year old former leg spinner Peter Philpott, but have it on the highest authority that it is on its way to us.

The ACS Lives in Cricket series is something for which I have never hidden my admiration, and I am not about to start now. Very recently the 38th book in the series appeared, Stephen Musk’s life of Lionel Robinson. His subject was not actually a cricketer, well not much of one, but he was a hugely successful businessman and a great patron of the game before and after the Great War. Musk is also due to contribute another title in the New Year, his subject being another man with strong Norfolk connections, Rev GB Raikes, who played 30 First Class matches for a variety of sides between 1893 and 1912, and many more for Norfolk. In addition another stalwart Leicestershire all-rounder is to be the subject of a book by Anthony Littlewood, George Geary’s story following earlier efforts on Jack King and Ewart Astill. Next for release however is a Scotsman, albeit one who made his cricketing name with Lancashire rather than his native country. Alec Watson bowled slow round arm off breaks with great success in the 1870s and 1880s. The sub-title of the book is Chucker, which leaves little to the imagination. It is a first title in the series from Duncan McLeish.

Casting the net further afield a biography of quick man Gary Bartlett is on its way from the Shaky Isles, Meteor over Marlborough. There were nine unremarkable Tests for Bartlett in the 1960s, and one against India when he achieved what were, at the time, the best figures ever by a New Zealand bowler, 6-38. Decidedly hostile Bartlett, in a career cut by injury to just 61 First Class matches, apparently consigned as many as 42 batsmen to hospital. Perhaps inevitably against that background there were plenty of adverse comments made about his action, but no square leg umpire ever called him.

From Australia an autobiography has appeared from Ryan Harris – no prizes for guessing the title, Rhino. I would have thought it a bit early in its subject’s career, but the book has just received the Mac’s seal of approval. There is also yet another book on the legendary ‘Don’. Don Bradman: The First Ten Years 1927-1937 is an anthology. Another 2014 book that is already out and mentions the great man in its title is Greater than Bradman, by Rudolph Fernandez. The book’s mission statement, using available statistics, is to justify a conclusion that if he played in recent years Bradman would have been reduced to the status of mere mortal and Sachin Tendulkar would stand as the greatest of all time. Dave Wilson, aka chasingthedon and a man who is pretty good with statistics himself, has read the book and we are waiting for a review from him – as a heads-up though Dave was, to say the least, left unimpressed.

The bigger UK publishers seem to have few plans in the biographical sphere, and there is not much more than the Curtley Ambrose book I mentioned in July. I am intrigued however by Absolutely Foxed. Those responsible for the book, major player Simon and Schuster, say Anarchic, hilarious and insightful, Graeme Fowler’s look at life and cricket is a compelling and unmissable read.. To Lancastrians of a certain age ‘Foxy’ will always be a hero, mainly for the way he used to battle away despite looking hopelessly out of form. He was just short of the highest class, and has already had one go at the autobiography genre (Fox on the Run appeared in 1988) so it is a little surprising he has been given another chance, but Simon and Schuster are not fools, so there must be something they have seen which they expect to have wide appeal.

Pitch Publishing will be the source of two biographies in March. The first is a long overdue life of a great South African, Sundial in the Shade: The Story of Barry Richards: the Genius Lost to Test Cricket. The author is a former teammate, Andy Murtagh, and is his third biography of a cricketer following excellent books about a modest county player, George Chesterton, and a rather special Test batsman, ‘Long Tom’ Graveney. The Sussex-based publisher’s second effort is by Michael Burns. A Flick of the Fingers: The Chequered Life and Career of Jack Crawford details the remarkable and long forgotten story of a man who, briefly and successfully, played for England in Edwardian times.

Next year will see the 100th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest of them all, WG Grace. I suspect there will be others, but certainly two new books are due, Gilbert: The Last Days of W. G. Grace by Charlie Connelly and W. G. Grace: In Search of the Great Cricketer from Anthony Meredith. As long as neither of them seeks to compete for the same ground as Simon Rae’s masterpieceof a biography I see no reason why they should not both add something to the substantial existing bibliography of the good doctor. Also due is an anthology, Wisden on Grace which by definition will contain nothing new, but will inevitably acquaint new readers with some classic writing from the game’s past.

I will take this opportunity to mention a couple more interesting books on their way to us from Pitch. The first will be Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts. No doubt Afghanistan and Ireland will dominate, but the five listed authors, who include Gideon Haigh, look well beyond the leading associates for their subject matter. Next is a new contribution from the man who brought us the magnificent Grovela few years ago, David Tossell. Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours: The England Cricket Team in the 1980s will hopefully apply a similar formula to a period that few England followers currently recall with much fondness. I suspect we will all look back rather more happily once we have read Tossell’s book.

Later in 2015 in what will be a busy year for Pitch they have a new book from Justin Parkinson, The Strange Death of English Leg Spin – How Cricket’s Greatest Art Was Given Away, as well as from Tim Quelch and Marc Dawson. I will give more details of those in June.

Having mentioned anniversaries 2015 will see the County Championship reach the ripe old age of 125. We have not heard much from Stephen Chalke in recent times because he has been concentrating on writing a history of the oldest and most enduring domestic competition in the game. Given Stephen’s involvement the book is bound to be a superb read, but will also be a collectors’ item of potentially gargantuan proportions. I was not at all surprised to learn that there was to be a limited edition version of the book. What did make me catch my breath was the news that there is not to be just a single limited edition, but eighteen, one for each First Class county.

The game’s best known personal landmark, the century, will be the focus of two books in the coming months. The first is from Simon Hughes, How to Score a Century. His publisher’s publicity material states ……learning from some of the greatest players of all time, Hughes builds up a composite of the perfect batsman, while at the same time providing plenty of useful tips on how to improve your own skills and some brilliant stories from the eternal conflict between batsman and bowler. Sounds like ‘The Analyst’ will be getting technical, so those of us with our playing days behind us will probably prefer Steve James’ The Art of Centuries. It will doubtless still have its technical moments, but I prefer this blurb …. he applies his award-winning forensic insight to the very heart of batting. Through interviews with the leading run-scorers in cricket history and his own experiences, Steve discovers what mental and physical efforts are required to reach those magical three figures.

What price another book on Lord’s? It may sound like overkill but I can report there is one due. Long-time cricket correspondent for The Times Mark Baldwin goes behind the scenes of the most famous sporting ground in the world. From the dressing room balcony, through the long-room in the pavilion, to the iconic media stand the groundsman’s hut, this will be a tour through the hallowed corridors of cricket’s beating heart. say the publishers. It is certainly a crowded market place, but then perhaps the truth is that when a man is tired of Lord’s he is tired of life. The Secret History of Lord’s Cricket Ground: Behind the Scenes at the Home of the Cricket is due in May.

With an Ashes series just around the corner I expect there will be a rush of new editions of the best of past books on the contest and there is certainly at least one ready to go, Blood on the Pitch. The writer is Rob Smyth, who is very good, but the sub-title A History of the Ashes in Quotations and Confrontations suggests it will be more a case of light entertainment for the casual observer than research material for the serious student of the game. Rather more substantial is Cricket as I see it by Alan Border, already available down under and due for release in the UK in the New Year. There is also a collection of Ashes related material from the pages of The Times due, which strikes me as an excellent idea.

Whilst on the subject of Australia, albeit slightly tenuously, Roger Page’s December catalogue contains two very attractive books in its “Forthcoming Publications” section. There is a substantially updated version of version of Richard Cashman’s 1990 biography of Fred “The Demon” Spofforth”. This leaves me with a couple of quandaries – do I read the original book before the new one arrives, and do I opt for the “ordinary” edition of 200, or the de luxe one of 70. I, Archie Mac and Roger all know I will eventually go for the all-singing, all-dancing version, but I always like to prevaricate first.The latter problem will arise again with Alfred James’ monograph on England’s substitute players since 1861/62, although with there being just 50 standard copies and 10 de luxe ones too much dithering on this one will be very unwise.

And finally, one of my favourite things, a subscriber’s only edition of a very special book, this time a publication from the Cricket Publishing Company. The subject of the book is the great Australian collections of cricket books and the men who have put them together. I was hoping the book might be nearing completion, but I fear it can’t be, as I am still waiting for Ronald Cardwell’s email asking me to write the chapter on Archie Mac.

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 2015 then please contact us at info@cricketweb.net, 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, Mark Rowe, Paul Camellin and Derek Hammond

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