Original Spin

Published: 2019
Pages: 328
Author: Marks, Vic
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Rating: 4.5 stars

Anyone who listens to Test Match Special will be familiar with Vic Marks. He’s the one who is unfailingly courteous, friendly and knowledgable. His autobiography does absolutely nothing to dispel that impression. He tells his story in an engaging style and, without producing any revelations or saying anything particularly controversial, succeeds in adding greatly to his reader’s understanding of a number of important incidents that he has been part of.

The best illustration of Marks’ writing style might well be in respect of the internal strife at Somerset in 1986 which resulted in Viv Richards, Ian Botham and Joel Garner all leaving the county. Much has been written of those tumultuous events in the past and, as with a number of the stories Original Spin deals with, Marks’ account of it follows on a few weeks after that of teammate Brian Rose. Marks was perhaps fortunate to be playing grade cricket in Sydney at the height of the drama, but the insights he provides into the events that led to the crisis and the aftermath of it provide arguably the best chapter of the book.

Marks is a West Country man with a farming background. His formative years, whilst uneventful, are still interesting and as a writer he has no difficulty in holding his reader’s attention. His was probably the last generation for whom sporting ability was a help rather than a hindrance as far as getting into Oxford University was concerned and his look at Varsity cricket in the early 1970s is illuminating. He also reminds us of some of the ways in which the game has changed. His observations on the start of the use of helmets is fascinating. No one wore them when Marks’ career began, but by the time he retired everyone did.

As a professional cricketer Marks was a good enough all-rounder to play at Test level, but not good enough to establish himself there. He was rather more successful as an ODI player, representing England 34 times in that format, as against just six Tests. I remember him as a durable batsman and a genuinely slow off spinner in an era when few of his kind gave the ball much air, reason enough on its own for him to have been popular man with neutrals.

On the subject of his Test career there is a particular delightful line in the book when Marks quotes journalist Pat Gibson, I don’t know what Marks read at University, but it wasn’t wrist spin, after he was bowled by the mercurial Abdul Qadir in the first Test of the 1983/84 series. Marks, self-effacing as ever, admits to having been totally flummoxed by Qadir, and at this point his batting record in four Tests amount to a pitiful 37 runs for six times out. There were just two more Tests for Marks, the final two in that Pakistan series. With Qadir waiting Gibson certainly wouldn’t have expected much, but Marks showed the fine cricket brain that has entertained listeners to Test Match Special since 1984 by finding a way to overcome his nemesis and, after that dreadful start and with his confidence as low as it could get, ending his career with innings of 83, 74 and 55.

Original Spin, as any autobiography should, tells the story of Marks’ life. It is strictly chronological and, perhaps in keeping with the author’s modesty, deals as much with his thoughts on others as it does with himself. As a man who knows well the likes of Ian Botham, Viv Richards and their ilk he is well placed to comment. Occasionally there are hints of disapproval, but as anyone who has listened to Marks on TMS will know he is not a man to be overtly critical about anyone, although in the closing chapter there is one subject on which he nails his colours firmly to the mast, the dreaded (by many including Marks) ‘Hundred’.

There are many interesting snippets of information that I picked up in reading Original Spin. Until I read the book I had no idea, for example, that Caroline Lucas, for the time being our one and only Green Party Member of Parliament, was married to a First Class cricketer. The husband concerned is Richard Savage, a man whose name I recognise, although probably only because of his second name, Le Quesne. Marks doesn’t go on to tell me whether Savage is in any way related to Laurence Le Quesne who, before David Frith bested him, had written the definitive book on ‘Bodyline’, but I will forgive him that.

Something I did know was that Marks was a great friend of Peter Roebuck, or at least he was until the latter departed our shores for Australia, after which distance and Roebuck’s odd personality meant the two drifted apart. Having recently been reminded of Roebuck by Rosey, and Stephen Hill’s splendid Somerset Cricketers 1971-2000 I was keen to read Marks’ take on his old friend. In a sense he does not disappoint, Roebuck popping up on many occasions in the narrative and being one of a few subjects dealt with at some length in the his closing chapter. It is a little frustrating that the man as well placed as anyone to speculate on the subject of what was really going on at the end of Roebuck’s life chooses not to do so, but by then I had learnt that Marks simply isn’t that sort of bloke.

In years gone by I used to listen to TMS a lot, but in recent years have done so less and less. I hasten to add that the reason for that is simply because it is something I would generally do in the car, and I drive much less than in years gone by. Tales from the commentary box are always entertaining, and in turn Marks gives his impressions of all he has worked with. Without being in any way sycophantic his comments are almost always positive, even though he surely must have encountered some he doesn’t like or doesn’t rate.

There are no statistics in Original Spin, which is a little disappointing, although there is a thorough index which future researchers will be grateful for. There is also an interesting selection of photographs one of which rather took me aback. After looking at it long and hard for several minutes I am prepared, just about, to accept that the image captioned With Anna having finished some exams at Oxford is a snap of Marks, but to my mind the man in the frame looks much more like Oxford teammate Imran Khan.

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