New Books – An Overview for January 2016

Published: 2016

Another six months on and it seems likely that there will be a rather quieter period ahead in terms of publication of new cricket books, particularly in England. There is always a tendency to treat such news with a degree of dismay, although in reality as in most things in life it is quality that counts, and it is certainly better to have a few good books than a plethora of ordinary ones.

After that introduction I will begin down under, and Australians figure to a much greater extent in the biography genre than usual this time round. A large part of that is down to the sad death of Richie Benaud. There are four posthumous tributes available. Archie has already reviewed Paul Connolly’s collection Those Summers of Cricket. It will be hard to improve on that but the anthology of the great man’s own writings, Remembering Richie, and the saffron coloured Benaud in Wisden will doubtless both have great merit as well. More akin to Connolly’s effort will be the collection of writings brought together by Norman Tasker and Ian Heads entitled Richie: The Man Behind the Legend. All that is missing is a biography, but I rather doubt it will be very long before one is forthcoming.

If Benaud’s passing was sad at least his was a long life well lived. Phillip Hughes had a good life as well, but his was tragically cut short in November 2014. Malcolm Knox and Peter Lalor have written Phillip Hughes: The Official Biography, which I hope will capture the essence of a young batsman who never quite fulfilled his initial promise, but surely would have done had it not been for the terrible accident that claimed his life.

Other Australian writers have been busy as well. The name of Ric Sissons will be familiar to all who have an interest in the Victorian era and his book Reggie has just been released. Reg Duff died at only 33, a man broken by alcohol, but not before he had been the first to score a debut Test century from number ten. That was not his usual berth however. His better known role was as opening partner to Victor Trumper, and a combination of his short career, early death and being overshadowed by his illustrious colleague are the reasons why, until now, he has been something of a forgotten figure.

Whilst on the subject of Trumper I understand that Gideon Haigh is currently writing a book about the legendary opening bat. For those who feel, and there are many, that the various biographies that already exist do not do justice to their subject, I am afraid their wait for the definitive volume will go on as Haigh’s is not a full length biography. It will certainly be a satisfying read however, and will doubtless add much to our understanding of the man.

Also from Australia is a full biography of Eric Freeman from the pen of David Jenkins. By my reckoning this is Jenkins’ third portrait of a former Australian Test player. He is clearly something of a lucky charm, as all three gentlemen are still with us. None was a leading player, and all have modest records but Gavin Stevens (four Tests in 1959/60) made for an excellent book, and one cap wonder (1970/71) Ken Eastwood was the subject of an interesting monograph. Freeman, a seam bowling all-rounder who played eleven Tests between 1968 and 1970, was also a successful Aussie Rules player.

Colin McDonald was a much more successful cricketer than the three men noted above, and the end of his Test career coincided with that of Stevens. It was something of a surprise that it took until 2009 for an autobiography to appear, and equally surprising that another one came out a few weeks ago. Taking Strike; The Colin McDonald Story is in fact a slightly expanded version of the original but is a nicely presented limited edition signed by McDonald and six of his contemporaries. Sadly the late Arthur Morris was too ill to sign, but the publisher did manage to secure the participation of Richie Benaud and Lindsay Kline also sadly no longer with usin the signing.

Recently released in Australia is the story of Stephen Gascoigne. A check of CricketArchive will reveal no playing record for Gascoigne, thus making him the first cricket fan to be the subject of a biography for that reason alone. Gascoigne, better known by the nickname Yabba, also the title of the book, was clearly quite a character. Best known for telling Douglas Jardine to leave Australia’s flies alone there are many entertaining interjections that are attributed to Gascoigne, and it will certainly be interesting to see them gathered together and to learn more about a man sufficiently revered to have had his image cast in bronze at the Sydney Cricket Ground, on the site of the famous old ‘Hill’, where he would hold court in his heyday. Richard Cashman’s book is available as a paperback and a limited edition hardback.

A curious limited edition that can be expected from Australia is due from a good friend of Archie Mac, Rick Smith. The title reflects the subject, Tasmania v Victoria February 11 and 12 1851. A quick look at CricketArchive reveals a low scoring contest that the locals won. The significance of the game is that it was later recognised as the inaugural first-class match to take place on Australian soil.

The splendid Cricket Publishing Company are, according to their website, working on seven titles. If all see the light of day it will be an excellent year for the Australian collector. I am told also of a forthcoming title from a former Test player that will prove ‘quite sensational’. Sadly however that is all I can tell you as my source tells me the identity of the man concerned is, at the moment anyway, ‘top secret’.

My sources can tell me something about the seven. It seems highly unlikely that all seven will appear before I reprise this feature in six months time but there is every confidence two biographies will appear, of the star of the inaugural Test, Charles Bannerman, and New Zealander Barry Sinclair. Amongst the others a biography of Frank Ward is promised. Ward was a good enough leg spinner to play four times for Australia in the late 1930s, and with Tiger O’Reilly, Clarrie Grimmett and ‘Chuck Fleetwood-Smith about the competition was immensely strong. Amongst the others is a history of the Tests between Australia and India, the long awaited book about Australian book collectors and a book about ‘Kiwi Cricketers in England’ – one for Jon Filby of the Sussex Museum and Educational Trust to contemplate – further cryptic comment later.

I will also make mention of one last Australian publication, From Lord’s to the Letterbox. The book is essentially 311 pages of beautifully reproduced images of cricketing postcards and related ephemera from the collection of Peter Schofield. There are only fifty copies around, and the book has a very heavy price tag, but if you can find a copy and have some spare cash it is a magnificent volume that will grace any collection.

Before leaving the land of the baggy green I will mention recent books by a couple of men who have, in recent years, worn the iconic headgear with great distinction.  It is only six years since Line and Strength, but Glenn McGrath has produced Test of Will: What I’ve Learned from Cricket and Life. Whilst this new book clearly cannot be an autobiography as such, reading the publisher’s blurb certainly suggests it is more from that genre than any other. Not, I suspect, all that different in approach is Mike Hussey’s Winning Edge: Behind the Scenes of Elite Cricket. In Hussey’s case the new book comes just two years after his most recent autobiography.

And finally from an Australian publisher we also now have the story of Peter Roebuck – judging by Archie’s recent review Chasing Shadows  is clearly an absorbing read As far as the rest of the southern hemisphere is concerned I have very little to report. There are far too few cricket books published in South Africa and despite the quality of the cricket their teams play nothing much seems to change there. AB: The Autobiography is the only title I have managed to find. No one can argue that DeVilliers isn’t one of the most exciting players in the game, but a mid-career autobiography is unlikely to receive a great deal by way of critical acclaim.

Recently published books in India include Nation at Play; A History of Sport in India, although the content naturally goes far beyond cricket. Exclusively about our great game are The Insider by former Test batsman Aakash Chopra, and Cricket Changed my Life by Shamya Dasgupta. In many ways the latter looks more interesting, the publisher’s blurb advising that the book tells the stories of cricketers who have played for the Indian team and those that couldn’t, players who have achieved success only at the IPL or only in first-class cricket, men who walked the wrong path and foreigners that earn their living in rupees. Chopra’s book, subtitled Decoding the Craft of Cricket, is likely to be of more interest to those who play the game than those who simply revel in its history.

Forthcoming titles in England are few and far between at the moment, but thankfully there is something new on the way from Stephen Chalke’s Fairfield books. The provisional title is Team Mates, and it is a collection of about 30 essays in which cricketers write about a favourite team mate from their playing days. A distinguished list of contributors includes Mike Atherton, Vic Marks, David Lloyd, Derek Pringle, John Barclay, Mark Wagh, Ed Smith, Simon Hughes, Clare Connor, Geoff Miller, Alastair Hignell, Angus Fraser, Mike Selvey, and Sir Tim Rice.

Whilst contemplating Team Mates I was going to make a joke about who Kevin Pietersen’s contribution might have been about. But then I realise that the answer is probably only a click away, as brand Pietersen had its own book out just in time for Christmas. KP’s On Cricket (a title Geoffrey Boycott has used more than once) has the sub-title The toughest opponents, the greatest battles, the game we love.

Mention of Boycott leads me into Pitch Publishing’s first cricket book of 2016, The War of the White Roses: Yorkshire Cricket’s Civil War, 1968-1986 by Stuart Rayner. As a Lancastrian I must confess to having occasionally derived some pleasure from the travails of our greatest rivals over those years, but this will be fascinating story, and I expect to learn a great deal from Rayner’s research.

Playing for the Red Rose in the second part of that era was Graeme ‘Foxy’ Fowler. I first learned of Foxy’s second autobiography a while ago now, but in May Absolutely Foxed will finally appear. The book gets a rare second mention partly because Foxy is one of my favourite cricketers ever, something the more notable because that is just about the only thing my younger brother and I have ever agreed about. That said the main reason for Foxy getting a further plug is the cover of the book – is Foxy a modern day WG impersonator, or has he become a hipster? Either way it is a splendid beard, and his book should be purchased for that image alone.

Mention of Lancashire leads me on to Max Books, whose aim to add quality books to the game’s literature regarding my favourite county has to be the most laudable there is, and 2016 promises to be their best year yet. First of all is an interesting variation on the theme of a player’s diary of a season. The variation is that the man concerned, skipper Tom Smith, only played once in 2015 and then spent the rest of the summer recovering from back surgery. Boulder Rolling: The Diary of Tom Smith is due in March, and there will be a limited edition signed by the whole first team

Max Books are also publishing a long awaited follow up to Colin Evans Mods and Blockers, one of our select few 5-star books. Sun, Snow and Strike deals with the summer of 1975, precisely a decade on from the original. The title refers to the sun which shone for most of the summer, the snow that fell during one County Championship match at Buxton, and a Lancashire players’ strike.

There is also due to be a biography from Max Books, but at the moment it is not clear which of three possibilities it will be. This may well be a cunning attempt to get the books mentioned more than once on Cricketweb, in which case it will of course be successful. The options are 1950s off spinner Roy Tattersall, hero of my youth Barry Wood, or he who was one half of the subject matter of Francis Thompson’s famous cricket poem, Dick Barlow.

And finally from Max Books is the sort of thing I wouldn’t normally mention, a novel. I make the exception partly because it is Max Books, and partly because Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of the Ashes by Arunabha Sengupta looks like it might actually be quite interesting.

The ACS is a reliable source of interesting books, none more so than in its Lives in Cricket series. Since I last reported on activities there we have seen books on Edwin Smith, Norman Yardley and a joint one on father and son England captains Frank and George Mann. Last summer also saw a book about the Great War, Dimming of the Day, another fine effort. The latter part of 2016 promises to be a busy one for the Association, but I will keep my powder dry on that one, other than to give an early recommendation to the first ever Lives in Cricket sequel, Keith Walmsley’s Brief Candles 2 – it will be a fine book indeed if it matches the quality of the original.

In the first six months of the year there should be a book about the Halifax Cup in North America and one interesting addition to the Lives in Cricket series. Volume 43 is due to be about ‘Foghorn’ Jackson. Born in 1833 Jackson enjoyed a, for those days, short First Class career between 1855 and 1867. He was a good enough batsman to score a century for Nottinghamshire against Kent in 1863 in days when three figure scores were much rarer than they are now, but his main claim to fame was as a very fast right hand bowler of the round arm style. Despite living another 34 years after his last First Class match, and receiving a benefit of £300 in 1874, Jackson died in poverty in a Liverpool workhouse. His story will be an interesting one.

I will also take this opportunity of recommending that any reader of this article who is not already a member of the ACS should join. Membership is a mere £20 a year (in the UK) and for that, as well as having the opportunity to attend a number of social functions, membership brings a well‑produced and interesting journal four times a year. In addition a copy of one the Association’s publications is sent to members free of charge. This year it was the very readable Dimming of the Day. I should perhaps also mention that there is a busy schedule of other publications of an essentially statistical nature that appear each year. Joining is entirely straightforward, and can be done immediately you leave this page via this link

Peter Oborne’s recent history of cricket in Pakistan, Wounded Tiger, received much critical acclaim and doubtless encouraged by that Oborne, joined this time by Richard Heller, the author of two well received cricketing novels, has produced White on Green. The book seems to be something of a supplement to the previous work, exploring in greater depths some of the individuals concerned in the history, and with a selection of digressions into matters not readily suited to what was intended to be a definitive history. It is due in June.

On matters historical David Beaumont has written and privately published From Third Man to Third Base. The book is for the most part an account of a tour of North America in 1879 undertaken by a very strong team led by Richard Daft of Nottinghamshire. The inspiration for the book was a great deal of fresh material regarding the tour that has been located in the county’s archives. There is also a good deal of biographical material about the members of the touring party and the book is exceptionally well presented. It is highly recommended.

Test Cricket by Jarrod Kimber is described as ‘an unauthorised biography’. According to the publisher it is as much a book for die-hard fans of test cricket as for those who don’t know much about the sport – it will reveal hilarious and unknown facts and stories to those who think they know the game, and explain the history, traditions, famous players and games of test cricket for those who find it a mystery. Kimber has a tendency to be a little too irreverent for my taste at times, but there can be no doubting that he can be a very good writer, and he will have to be at his very best if he is going to achieve the difficult feat of satisfying both of the potential markets that his publisher has identified.

In his book Kimber, entirely appropriately, takes a look at cricket in Afghanistan. Many hope, and indeed perhaps expect, that the day may not be too far away when the Afghans can compete at Test level. A history of cricket in that strife torn nation will be appearing soon. The Corridor of Uncertainty is written by Nihar Suthar.

More than once in this feature I have expressed surprise at the frequency with which new books on the subject of Lord’s cricket ground appear. Each time I think the latest must surely be the last, but it never is, and I have two to announce this time round. The more interesting to my mind, though I may well be wrong, is the self-published Lord’s My Cricket Home by David Dunbar. At seven years of age, in 1951, Dunbar’s family took up residence at the ground when his father became Assistant Secretary of the MCC. There are 170 photographs in the book’s 128 pages, most of which are being published for the first time. The second offering on the ground is The Secret History of Lord’s Cricket Ground: Behind the Scenes at the Home of the Cricket by one of The Times’ cricket correspondents Mark Baldwin. Again, as the title suggests, the book attempts to take a novel approach to its subject. This one will be a weighty tome, 352 pages, and is set for release in June.

An Ashes year, and there do seem to have been rather a lot of them recently, is a year when the choice of new books has a more traditional feel, with the otherwise all but extinct tour book enjoying a brief revival. Thus with some confidence in July I expressed the view that Aurum would, once again, publish the collected works of Gideon Haigh on this summer’s contest. At the beginning of the series, when most expected England to lose, I wasn’t too bothered. But the majority were wrong, and if the encounter wasn’t an absolute classic, it was certainly an interesting one with very much the right result. Thus I was looking forward to spending at least part of my Christmas holiday reliving the series with the assistance of Haigh’s flowing prose. Sadly however such was not to be a pleasure I was destined to enjoy as, for the first time since 2002/03, Haigh’s contemporaneous commentary on the Tests has not been published.

Those Englishmen who do want a book about the events of the summer have a choice of two. There is Stuart Broad’s contribution, Broadside, and Bringing Home the Ashes from Joe Root. The books look similar and one suspects that the content will be largely interchangeable. I will doubtless invest in one, and perhaps both if the reviews are good. I’d rather have something from Haigh though, but then I should be grateful to have anything at all as once again every other Test series from recent months goes, as far as I can see, without a print record of what happened. For Australians, and perhaps the odd gloating Englishman, there is also an Ashes Diary 2015 from losing skipper Michael Clarke.

Books that I have previously missed that have appeared in recent months include yet another publication about the Great War, In Memoriam, being a slim 36 page booklet produced by the Gloucestershire CCC Museum. Whilst on that subject Philip Paine’s book about the men whose names appear on the War Memorial at the Oval is nearing completion and his (sort of) annual collection of photographs of cricketers’ graves, Innings Complete, has now come of age, reaching Volume 21 in November.

A few limited editions need to be mentioned. The Sussex Museum and Educational Trust have continued their excellent series of occasional publications with Hubert Doggart 90 Not Out, an affectionate tribute to the county’s nonagenarian former skipper who was capped twice by England way back in 1950. I am not sure what the Trust may have in store for us in 2016. I would like to think that a celebration of the career of Austin Parsons might be in the pipeline, but I won’t be getting my hopes up too high even though I am aware that the man destined to write it recently spent some time in New Zealand with his subject. Inside the Boundary, Geoff Wellsteed’s tribute to the first-class cricketers who have emerged from the town in which I reside, Reading, was also a welcome addition to my collection, as was a monograph about Alan Marshal by Duncan Anderson.

Which brings me almost to the end of this preview although I have saved, if not the best, then one of the best until last. Late spring should see the next volume appear in Roger Heavens’ quest to bring to a wider audience the as yet unpublished part of Arthur Haygarth’s monumental research, which will see the twentieth volume of Scores and Biographies appear 154 years after the first – on that basis it is older even than Wisden and, unlike the modern almanack which has barely a nod back to ‘The Little Wonder’, ‘S & B’ is still pure Haygarth.

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. Particular thanks for assistance in the preparation of this article are due to Roger Page, Keith Walmsley and Stephen Chalke


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