New Books – An Overview for July 2010

New Books - An Overview for July 2010

Global economic pressures seem to have brought themselves to bear on the publishing industry, certainly in terms of the number of substantial cricketing titles being released. This is best illustrated by the fact that I have, sadly, to report that Know The Score Books, one of our favourite publishers, have gone into administration. Know The Score published some excellent titles in their short existence, and it is a cause for concern if they and their like are no longer able to prioritise adding to the quality of cricket’s precious written archive above achieving long print runs of publications that bear the name of a star performer, but add little to the knowledge of the true enthusiast. We wish Simon Lowe and his staff well in the future and hope that they are not lost to the industry.

It is against this background that I am not surprised to be reporting a decline in quantity in this round up in terms of what we can expect to see in the coming months. That said do read on as there are some quality titles on the way and five in particular look as if they should, to borrow the words of the late John Arlott, demand a place in any truly representative library of the game.

The first of the five to hit the bookshops, on 1 July, will be by Harold Larwood’s biographer, Duncan Hamilton. With its author’s track record Hamilton’s book, A Last English Summer, while not as groundbreaking as the other four titles, will doubtless be there or thereabouts when the awards season arrives. I suspect the book will be a sad and evocative one. This is what the publishers say: “Combining reportage, anecdote, biography, history and personal recollection, A Last English Summer is an honest and passionate reflection on cricket’s past, present and future. A memorable and acutely observed portrait of one summer of cricket from an award-winning sports writer who has watched – and loved – cricket since he was a boy, it is essential reading for anyone who cares about the English game.”

Next up is Blood, Sweat and Treason which is due for a 19 July release. The publisher’s synopsis reads: “Sports book meets real-life thriller in this sensational autobiography of Henry Olonga, the former Zimbabwean cricketer whose black armband protest against Robert Mugabe at the 2003 World Cup saw him branded a traitor, sentenced to death in his absence and forced to dramatically flee his homeland and his family. Blood, Sweat and Treason tells the story of Olonga’s childhood, of his gradual realisation that he was living in a dictatorship, of his battle to reach the top as a black cricketer and how he sacrificed his position to do something he hoped would make a difference.” Olonga’s career record and his reputation as a Test cricketer is modest. On the other hand his contribution to the game’s literature will, I suspect, be substantial and, unusually for a cricket book, will reverberate well beyond the game itself.

Third out, on 16 September to be precise, is The Victory Tests by Mark Rowe. The book promises to be part social history and part tour account dealing as it will with the hastily arranged series of five matches between England and the Australian Services XI in1945. The matches have never been considered official “Tests”, and that factor, coupled with severe wartime paper restrictions, has meant that no fully detailed account has been written before now. Outside the strictly cricketing content Rowe’s thoroughly researched 256 page book promises to shed fresh light on Keith Miller’s war record (what is disclosed will not please his legion of fans) and, equally controversially, will look at the accusations of service dodging that were levelled at the absent Sir Donald Bradman.

The fourth of the five falls into a rather different category. Boundary Books is planning to publish a new book by Duncan Anderson later in 2010. It concerns cricketers of the Golden Age. Full page sepia photographs of over 100 cricketers will be reproduced from the superb original postcards produced by the firms of Hawkins and Foster in Brighton, mainly during the period 1904 to 1914. The fascinating story of E Hawkins & Co, the first firm of specialist cricket photographers, and the pioneering photography of Thomas Foster will be told in detail for the first time. In common with all Boundary Books publication I expect no expense to be spared in production and a superb collectors item to be the result.

The last of my “five to watch” is not due until April next year but, as it has a definite release date, is something I feel I can mention now. The title is not the most imaginative, Out of the Ashes, but it will faithfully record England’s first successful defence of the Ashes on Australian soil since Mike Gatting’s men achieved that feat in 1986/87.

For those in the Southern Hemisphere who think I am living in a dream world we will have to agree to differ but, I have to confess, the second sentence of my last paragraph is an invention. The real Out of the Ashes, written by Sunday Times journalist Tim Albone, deals with just about the only cricketing subject that could be more important than this winter’s series in Australia. Again I can do no better than quote the publisher: “This is the true story of the Afghanistan cricket team and their extraordinary attempt to join the world’s elite cricketing nations. That this devastated nation should be able to field a cricket team at all, let alone one as successful as this, is an unbelievable achievement. Seven years ago, in a country which does not have a real cricket pitch even today, there was no national team. But a group of young Afghan men, exiled by war, learnt to play in the smashed concrete of refugee camps, and have risen from obscurity to the groomed grass pitches of international cricket.”

Beyond these five the Ashes winter will, inevitably, bring forth a plethora of publications of all shapes and sizes but there is little confirmed as yet. A definite starter is The Toughest Tour: The Ashes Away Series: 1946 to 2007, by Huw Turbervill which is due for release in October. All of the tours it will include have had extensive previous coverage in book form but there has never been a thorough review and new Ashes enthusiasts may well find it useful. Also due in October is Botham’s Book of the “Ashes”: A Lifetime Love Affair with Cricket’s Greatest Rivalry which, as the title suggests, promises to consist of the story of, on the one hand, the way Sir Ian has left his mark on the historic contest and, on the other, how the contest has in turn shaped Sir Ian’s life.

As for that staple of the sporting press, the biography or autobiography of players, the second half of 2010 will not be providing a bumper crop and indeed it is necessary to cast ones eyes first to Australia. The evergreen Richie Benaud has a further volume of autobiography due, Over But Not Out, although I am far from convinced this is not merely a revised edition of his 2001 effort, “Anything But an Autobiography”. Whatever it is Benaud’s incisive but measured views are always worth reading.

Justin Langer has his story due out before Christmas. Keeping My Head – A Life in Cricket is no lightweight and promises to run for 440 pages. This is the sort of book that at first blush seems unnecessary. Langer has, with “The Power of Passion” in 2002, already produced one volume of autobiography, as well as three other books which, while not avowedly autobiographical, all shed much light on his experiences and personality. Those reservations expressed Langer is, with all due respect to his teammates, one of the more interesting Australian players of his generation, and it will be interesting to read his views on the 2005 and 2009 Ashes series.

One book I know little about, but which I am assured will also be released in Australia later this year, is Matthew Hayden’s autobiography, and hopefully there will be a UK release in 2011. By my calculations Langer’s erstwhile opening partner’s book will leave only Damien Martyn, of the latterday Invincibles, without his life story in print – I wonder how quickly that oversight will be remedied?

From across the Tasman Sea comes a cricketing biography of a rather different kind. Bill Francis has written Tom Lowry : Leader in a Thousand which, as the title suggests, is a biography of New Zealand’s first Test captain. Lowry came from a wealthy family and was related by marriage to the former England captain, and noted bon viveur, Percy Chapman. As befits a man in his position Lowry’s life outside the game was never dull and I am told, by a man whose judgment in such matters can never be faulted, that the book is very well written. Let us hope the print run is large enough for a few copies at least to reach the Northern Hemisphere, although given that Lowry was a product of what is undoubtedly my favourite era in the history of the game, I am taking no chances and my order is already in Roger Page’s inbox.

Moving away from players we have a book about South African umpire Rudi Koertzen entitled Slow Death. Umpires enjoy an increasingly high profile existence and in addition to Koertzen’s book Roger Donnelly has published a book about all 85 Australian Test Umpires containing biographies of the gentlemen concerned and much anecdote, both serious and not so serious. The book is titled, not particularly attractively I have to say, Stick it Up, Stick it Right Up.

Previous notices have missed a couple of Australian publications omissions which it is right I should make good now. Most interesting is Barry Nicholls’ Cricket Dreaming, but at least my colleagues, Archie and Stuart, have made up for my oversight by reviewing the book. Judging by how much they enjoyed it that friend of CricketWeb, Australian dealer Roger Page, is likely to be exporting a copy to Blighty in the not too distant future. The other title I had in mind is Malcolm Knox’s The Greatest: The Glory Years of Australian Cricket, which sounds to me like a celebration of what has seemed, to we English, to be a virtually unbroken run of Australian success going back for the best part of a quarter of a century. I think I may give the book a miss myself as I cannot see too much space being given over to the 2005 and 2009 Ashes contests, but I anticipate it will make enjoyable reading for Australian eyes.

For the collectors amongst us there are, as ever, a few interesting offerings on the way. West Country dealer Christopher Saunders is playing a particularly shrewd game. His main business is selling old and out of print cricket books (see CW’s Guide to the Dealers).The second string to his bow, Christopher Saunders Publishing, plans two new publications for this year. Both are bibliographies. The main purpose of bibliographies seems to me to be to highlight, for addicted collectors, all the gaps in our collections. Chris has already published a bibliography of Nottinghamshire cricket and been involved in the distribution of Rob Franks New Zealand bibliography and Stephen Gibbs 2004 “Not in Padwick”. He now plans to highlight the deficiencies in my holdings of Surrey and Pakistan items – I will inevitably buy both but suspect the latter will cause rather more frustration than the former!

A few limited edition books are confirmed, two of particular interest from Australia, both of which are written by authors with long track records of producing collector’s items. The first will be from Bernard Whimpress titled Addicted to Cricket. It is an anthology of the cricket writings of J. Neville Turner and will be limited to 200 copies. Turner spent most of his working life as a University law lecturer. Born in Lancashire, he has been resident in Australia for around 45 years and, cricket articles apart, has written extensively, mainly on family law matters. He is currently President of the Australian Society For Sports History.

Secondly it is hoped that Rick Smith’s latest offering will be available by the end of 2010. It is expected to be limited to just 150 copies and will be called Blighted Lives a biography of two Australian brothers of the Golden Age, Albert and Harry Trott. I am sure Archie in particular will be looking forward to reading what should be a fascinating book with much previously unpublished material, and one which I can confirm will scotch once and for all any suggestion that England’s latest South African recruit is in any way related to the brothers.

From New Zealand comes a 146 page A4 History of Test Cricket at the Basin Reserve. There are to be a generous 3,000 copies of this and, unusually, all will be distributed free of charge. The trouble is half will be given away at the Wellington Test and the other half to local schools. How other enthusiasts are to obtain copies I do not know and, worryingly, even the sagacious Mr Page seems not to know.

Red Rose Books are publishing a small booklet, limited to 125 signed copies, of Martin Tebay’s Boy Briggs and his Lordship. It is the story of Johnny Briggs’ Benefit match, the Old Trafford Roses encounter of 1894 when, at Yorkshire skipper Lord Hawke’s insistence, a less than perfect wicket was used as a consequence of which, much to the beneficiary’s chagrin, the match was over by lunch on the second day.

Taking an excursion from the beaten track brings me to Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect by Beth Hise and Matthew Engel, which is just about to be released. The publishers say: “Cricket and baseball are usually thought of as having little in common, two great summer sports attracting their own devoted followers, oceans apart. And yet, as this beautifully illustrated comparative survey of the two games reveals, they share intertwined histories. From 1840 to 1855 cricket was actually America’s leading ball game. WG Grace tried his hand at baseball, and Babe Ruth at cricket. Each sport came to symbolise a version of national identity, and each was spread around the world with a kind of missionary impulse. In an age when Major League Baseball is becoming ever more international, and the phenomenally successful Twenty20 format has introduced baseball-like elements to cricket, Beth Hise’s timely and engrossing book will appeal to those interested in the history of either sport.” I am looking forward to reading this book. The two sports have been looked at together before, but not by a former editor of Wisden and a baseball expert, and it will be interesting to say the least to see what conclusions each of the authors draw from their collaboration.

BBC Test Match Special commentator and former England and Leicestershire opening bowler Jonathan Agnew has written Thanks Johnners which is subtitled “An Affectionate Tribute to a Broadcasting Legend”. Whether the cricket book buyer really needs another book about Brian Johnston must be doubtful but this will inevitably be an entertaining read even if it does seem highly unlikely to justify the publisher’s description as “The must-have sports book of 2010”.

This feature is not really a place to look at reissues but there are usually a few such publications that merit a mention. The first this year is My Favourite Cricketer which is edited by John Stern. It is a collection of pieces that have previously appeared in The Wisden Cricketer magazine under that title. The magazine has doubtless been spurred on by the critical acclaim that was heaped on “The Way it Was”, which was a similar collection of articles, all bearing that title, which Stephen Chalke had contributed to the magazine. There are a wide range of writers involved and much nostalgic and effusive reminiscing – I could suggest the writing will fail to quite touch the lofty heights of CW’s own staff writers “Our Cricketing Heroes” series, but will not do so for fear of being justifiably accused of bias. The book is highly recommended.

Another reissue worth a mention is David Kynaston’s W.G’s Birthday Party. The book, centred around the Gentlemen v Players match at Lords in 1898, and the lives and times of those involved, was originally published as long ago as 1990. Since then Kynaston’s reputation has blossomed to the extent that he might well now be fairly described as the most popular historian in the UK. Two of his more recent books: “Austerity Britain” and “Family Britain”, have received great acclaim and achieved excellent sales figures. The appearance of this new edition now, aping as it does the look of the bestsellers, is clearly an entirely reasonable attempt to cash in on Kynaston’s burgeoning reputation. That said “W.G’s Birthday Party” is a fine book in its own right and if only a few nonbelievers are converted into lovers of the game then this new edition will have been a worthwhile exercise.

And finally in this World Cup year comes Sporting Heroes of Essex and East London 1960-2000: Bobby Moore and Graham Gooch, written by lifelong West Ham United and Essex supporter, Dr Phil Stevens. The two subjects were born just a few miles apart in the area where East London meets metropolitan Essex. Both went to school in Leytonstone, a tough working class borough, close to the East End. As emerging young players, Moore and Gooch both had the benefit of strong and supportive families, and were extremely proud of their working class background and stayed close to their roots. The book compares and contrast the careers of these two iconic figures within a rapidly changing social context. In the year when, 44 years on, Fabio Capello’s team have failed so disappointingly in their attempt to emulate Moore’s greatest triumph, I am definitely looking forward to reading a reminder of the days when England had a football team the world respected.

Twice a year CW looks forward to those cricket books due in the months ahead. These features are heavily reliant on help from others and special thanks are due this time to Roger Page, Christopher Saunders, Randall Northam, Simon Lowe, Stephen Chalke, Mike Down and John McKenzie for taking the trouble to respond to my persistent requests for information. Inevitably in this sort of exercise books will be overlooked. If any publisher 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 2010 then please contact us at info@cricketweb.net.

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