New Books – An Overview for July 2012

New Books - An Overview for July 2012

New Books – An Overview for July 2012

It is with some dismay that I find that the writing of this article, which most definitely occurs every six months to the day, seems to come round faster and faster each time I sit down to begin it. I intend to undertake a course of hypnosis to try and reverse this worrying trend, although I am not confident that it will work. Archie did suggest that if the balance of my mind was being adversely affected that I could make the articles annual, but I have decided to soldier on for now, and will just regard this acceleration in the passing of my three score years and ten as an unfortunate side effect of England holding the Ashes.

Mention of England and the Ashes allows me to start with tour books which, unusually, are a rather more interesting category this time round. There is, as usual in the absence of an Ashes series, nothing about recent tours, notwithstanding that England’s contrasting fortunes against India and Pakistan last year would appear to have been a thoroughly worthwhile subject for publishers. There is, I believe, a book bearing the name of Stuart Broad due in the autumn, so there will doubtless be some coverage of those series, but what would be really interesting would be an account from someone like the late Alan Ross.

Ross died in 2001. He was cricket correspondent of The Observer for many years, and wrote some of the finest tour books to embrace the game’s literature. Gideon Haigh, of whom more later, has described Ross as a belletrist, not a word that I was familiar with I am afraid, but having consulted a dictionary it is one that is clearly appropriate. Renowned publishers Faber and Faber have just released new editions of Ross’s tour accounts, Australia ’55 (Australia v England 1954/55), Cape Summer and the Australians in England (England v Australia 1956 and South Africa v England 1956/57), Through the Caribbean (West Indies v England 1959/60), Australia ’63 (Australia v England 1962/63) and The West Indies at Lords (England v West Indies 1963). Most if not all were republished in the 1980s, either by Constable or the Pavilion Library, so they join Douglas Jardine’s account of the Bodyline series as, to my knowledge, the only tour books to run to a third edition.

Going back even further in time, but published for the first time, is Maiden Victory an account of South Africa’s historic first win in England in 1935. Brian Bassano, who we have to thank for several accounts of all but forgotten pre-war Test series, began the book but sadly died in 2001 before completing the project. Rick Smith has now finished the account, and book dealer John McKenzie has published it in a limited edition of 150 copies.

A rather more off-beat tour account is Trumper’s Team in Queensland 1906, which I have already reviewed here. A similar volume is to be published by the Singapore Cricket Club and I believe is titled The Governor-General. As all afficianadoes of Australian cricket know that is the soubriquet of Charles Macartney, who at 41 captained a side in Singapore and Malaysia in 1927. The team played as WAS Oldfield’s XI, after their Test playing wicketkeeper, and also included in their number Australia’s Bodyline captain, Bill Woodfull as well as a number of others with First Class experience, so I expect an interesting book.

Which rather conveniently brings me on to biographies and autobiographies and Charlie Macartney In Otago, the little-known story of the Governor-General’s season there following the Australian tour of England in 1909. This is however strictly the province of collectors as it is to be published in an edition of just 72 copies, leather-bound and signed by the author and, hopefully, local legend Glenn Turner who will launch the book. The cost is, I understand, AUSD90, and copies can be ordered from Roger Page.

Returning to the mainstream brings me back, as promised, to Gideon Haigh, whose biography of Shane Warne is due soon. Doubtless Haigh will use some words to describe Warnie that have never been used for that purpose before, but it will be interesting to see if he can actually add very much to the already considerable volume of biographical writing on the subject of the man who is, arguably, the biggest celebrity the sport has thrown up in the last twenty years.

The career of former captain Ricky Ponting overlapped with much of Warne’s, and I believe an autobiography from “Punter” is due in a few months time. Perhaps the book’s appearance tells us that we will not see the great man on the field in England in 2013, but then again I may be reading too much into that. I wonder too whether, given the number of “diaries” that have appeared in Ponting’s name, the size of the tome will rival that of predecessor Steve Waugh, which ran to more than 800 pages – to be honest I hope not, but suspect there won’t be much in it.

And from Ponting I move on to another modern great, Sachin Tendulkar, whose career is not, as far as I am aware yet over. Despite that CW blogger Gulu Ezekiel has just published the second edition of his biography of the great man (the book first appeared in 2003), simply entitled Sachin. Is Gulu just trying to steal a march on the opposition, or does he know something the rest of us don’t? If it is the latter the straightness of the bat with which he has met my robust enquiries of him would do his subject credit.

While on the sub-continent there is an autobiography due from former Sri Lankan opening batsman Channa Gunesekara, Through The Covers. The author is described in Roger Page’s latest catalogue as “one of Sri Lanka’s finest opening batsmen, known for his perfect technique and almost impenetrable defence who later became a highly successful coach.” Apparently he has much to say about “the childishness and cheap theatrics of current Test cricketers”. By my calculations Gunesekara is the third Sri Lankan, following Roshan Mahanama and Aravinda De Silva, to publish his life story. Even allowing for the fact that I can accept that the demand for cricket books in Sri Lanka might not be particularly large, surely it is about time we heard from Muttiah Muralitharan and Arjuna Ranatunga?

Published in England to coincide with the visit of the 2012 South African is Jackers – A Life in Cricket, the autobiography of Robin Jackman, co-written by South African journalist Colin Bryden. Jackman’s few Tests did of course come with the three lions on his chest, but his South African connections caused much controversy, particularly when he was flown out as a replacement for the 1980/81 tour of the Caribbean, and I am looking forward to reading his story. A mention too for the UK publishers, Pitch Publishing, who are publishing a number of cricket titles this summer.

From earlier this year we have a couple of limited edition biographies of Australian Test players whose glory days date back to before the Great War. First is Tibby Cotter – Fast Bowler, Larrikin, Anzac, written by Max Bonnell and Andrew Sproul. Cotter was a fast bowler with a fearsome reputation for damaging stumps and bails, and was the only Australian Test cricketer to lose his life in the War to end all Wars. A biography is long overdue and, appearing as it does in an edition of just 200 copies, is unlikely to be readily available for too long.

There are precisely double that number of copies of Cricket’s Unsung Legend, so it should be around a little longer. The author is a new name to me, James Brear, and the subject is Jimmy Matthews. The name of Matthews is long forgotten, which is surprising given that he is one of the few men to have taken two Test hat-tricks, an achievement made all the more remarkable by virtue of the fact that none of the dismissals required assistance from wicketkeeper or fielder, and that both occurred on the very same day. As with Cotter greater recognition for Matthews is very welcome.

English publishers have tended to provide the bulk of the entries in this section of these articles but not, I regret, on this occasion. There are a few on the way, as noted in December last year but very few others. In fact Jackman apart there is just George Chesterton: A Remarkable Man by former Hampshire player Andy Murtagh. Chesterton, who is rapidly approaching his 90th birthday, was a decent medium pace bowler with a good record over a career that stretched over 18 years, albeit with only 72 First Class matches for Worcestershire and Oxford University over that period. As will be clear from the limited nature of his First Class career Chesterton’s achievements came in many fields other than cricket, and his story will no doubt concentrate rather more on his war service in the RAF and his subsequent career in teaching than his cricket.

At least the steady flow of books in the ACS Lives in Cricket series will continue, although I announced all but one of the forthcoming releases in that series in December. That one I can now confirm is a famous Lancastrian from Victorian times, AN “Monkey” Hornby. Hornby’s place in cricket history is assured by virtue of the famous poem, At Lord’s, that was written by the tragic Francis Thompson in the 1890s but, uniquely in this series to date, there has already been a biography of Hornby published. The Cricketing Squire, by WH Hoole, appeared in 1991, but it has to be said it is one of the least well known cricketing biographies ever written.

And that is just about it for England. Martin Tebay at Red Rose Books has continued to publish his own limited edition booklets looking at the minutiae of Lancashire cricket and indeed has also published a slightly weightier effort by Gerry Wolstenhome consisting of biographies of the First Class cricketers produced by Rossall School near Blackpool, of whom there are a surprisingly large number. Those worthy efforts apart I will briefly mention Alan Ross again, his 1983 biography of Ranji joining his tour accounts in making a re-appearance thanks to Faber and Faber. And that enables me to make a somewhat tenuous connection with the fact that I believe that Simon Wilde is working on a new biography of David Gower (Rob Steen published one in 1995). The link is that Wilde has previously written a very good biography of Ranji, and indeed has authored a life of Warne as well, so in fact I have two coincidences for the price of one.

Finally, before departing from the subject of cricketers’ lives I thought I would set out, in the hope that some industrious but presently unoccupied author would take note, the contents of a conversation that I recently had with a fellow cricket tragic, in which we set out to choose one cricketer from each Test playing nation, who we would most wish to read a biography of. This is trickiest for England, from where many more biographies emerge than from elsewhere, and the outstanding candidate fell foul of the “rule” that decreed there must be no previous book covering any part of the ground, but we ended up making allowances for Graeme Hick, given that My Early Life was just that, published in 1991 before his International career had even begun.

From Australia agreement was quickly reached on Ted MacDonald, a particularly frustrating example given that, as I have bemoaned before, my understanding is that his biography has been written, but that no publisher has been willing to take it on. New Zealand was more difficult, and there are several candidates, but ultimately we settled on Bevan Congdon, a man whose achievements in 1973 in England impressed me greatly, and who deserves to be remembered much more than he is.

Changing continents to Africa unanimity was quickly reached again. For South Africa we were both much more interested in the great off-spinner Hugh Tayfield than anyone else, and for Zimbabwe, with their much smaller list of candidates, Neil Johnson, a potential great if ever there was one, was a straightforward choice given that we decided that Steve James book, The Plan, might well rule Andy Flower out.

The sub-continent was where the debate was at its most wide-ranging, particularly as local publications mean that rather more of the old masters than some might think are in fact ineligible. In the end for India we chose a modern great, Anil Kumble, and from Pakistan the man who lit up both our childhoods, Asif Iqbal. I have already touched on the two Sri Lankan candidates, and Murali was a clear winner. For Bangladesh we eventually settled on one of the most ordinary cricketers to play the International game, but Khaled Mahmud still came across to both of us as a man whose story would be an interesting one.

Which left just the West Indies, which was a fertile area for discussion although, once again, we reached agreement pretty swiftly, and settled on another great off-spinner, Lance Gibbs, who like Congdon we both felt receives much less recognition today than he deserves.

As for other books I particularly like the look of Famous for All Time: The Dark Side of Test Cricket’s Early Days from Australian Malcolm Knox. The book is due in November and this brief description has certainly whetted my appetite “Compared to the controversies of contemporary cricket – ridden as it is with match-fixing, gambling, cheating and national politics – most people think of the early days of Test cricket as a time of gentlemanly competition and camaraderie, with any disputes settled by Queensberry Rules over a glass of port. Not so. Cricket between the 1870s and 1914 was fraught with exactly the same bitter, vicious and greedy bad behaviour as the current game. It was cricket in the raw, explored in depth for the first time by the insightful eye of Malcolm Knox, with a genuine affection for the legends of the day – players like WG Grace, Fred Spofforth, Victor Trumper, Joe Darling and Stanley Jackson.”

I am less convinced of the merits of One Hundred and Twenty Five Lord’s Tests by Jonathan Rice, not because I have any concerns about the quality of the book itself, rather that treading as it does a well-worn path (the same author published a similar book after the 100th Lord’s Test), that it is difficult to see where its market will be. That said the book has the patronage of the MCC, so it has an impeccable pedigree.

Bent Arms and Dodgy Wickets: England’s Troubled Reign as Test Match Kings During the Fifties by Tim Quelch is another offering from Pitch Publishing. Its remit is to look at the England team from the glorious recovery of the Ashes in Coronation Year (1953) to the wholly unexpected surrender of them back in the controversial 1958/59 series. I will inevitably enjoy the book because of the era that it covers, but if, as I believe is the case, the book’s content is driven by the recollections of those who were involved rather than contemporary accounts, then it might prove to be a classic.

I probably could have mentioned Darrell Hair’s book In the Best Interest of the Game with the autobiographies, but I am placing it here because it concentrates on events at the Oval in 2006 and their aftermath as much as anything else. Stuart has already reviewed the book here, and it has now been released in the UK.

This year’s sumptuous limited edition of the year award looks like going to David Rayvern Allen’s The Ewbank Enquiry, recently published by Sportspages. To say that the book’s subject-matter is obscure would be something of an understatement, but for those who may be interested you can read about it here
.I have to confess to not having begun to read my copy yet, so I cannot comment on the content of the book, but I can confirm that the lavish production standards are quite outstanding.

Another limited edition, this time of 150, is about to be published by the Cricket Memorabilia Society. Cricket’s Collectors has been written by David Frith, with contributions from a number of the society’s members, and promises to be a fascinating read for those of us who delight in the acquisition of the game’s literature, art, ephemera and other collectables. The price tag is GBP48 for UK members and GBP58 for non-members. I would expect the membership to take up this offer very swiftly, so if this appeals I would recommend that an order is placed as soon as possible.

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 December 2012 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, Stephen Chalke, David Jeater, David Wilkinson and Mike Down

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