Six of the Best – CricketMartin Chandler |
Author: Lloyd, Grahame
Publisher: Celluloid Books
Rating: 4.5 stars
It’s a blindingly obvious plan really. Go back a couple of generations and pick on a particular game of cricket, talk about it with the surviving participants, add some historical perspective and a soup on of editorial skill and there you have it – a vibrant, original piece of work that this reviewer is inevitably going to be captivated by.
What a shame therefore that the game’s literature had to wait until 1997 and Stephen Chalke’s “Runs in the Memory” for this style of writing to evolve. The thought of the lost opportunity for Cardus to take this approach in the thirties to a book about the Old Trafford Test of 1902 (Trumper’s century before lunch and Fred Tate dropping the Ashes) or Crusoe in the fifties to a book about the Oval Test in 1926 (Rhodes recall at nearly 50 and Hobbs and Sutcliffe’s second innings heroics) is a sobering one.
The game Grahame Lloyd has chosen was played over the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1968 between Glamorgan and Nottinghamshire and was made memorable by Gary Sobers achievement in hitting six sixes in one over from Malcolm Nash. Lloyd has published this book himself but it was no surprise at all to see an expression of thanks in its Afterword to Chalke whose influence is evident throughout the book.
Without this sort of book we would never hear the story of John Parkin, the non-striker, a batsman who played 28 games for Notts over three seasons without ever passing 53 – he candidly admits that he simply wasn’t quite good enough. There are the stories of several journeyman professionals (for example Mike Smedley and Roger Davies), some nearly men (Alan Jones and Brian Bolus), some great characters (Tony Cordle and Nash), the mercurial Majid Khan a well as the great Sobers himself.
The book starts off with an introduction to the 1968 season and sets the bank holiday game in the context of both counties’ seasons . Lloyd then proceeds with a chapter on each of the six deliveries before going on to deal with the aftermath and to briefly acknowledge the three batsmen who have subsequently emulated the feat albeit without quite the same impact – as the book says six sixes is rather like climbing Everest – a remarkable feat by anyone but the ‘man in the street’ only remembers the first to do it.
The beauty of the narrative is the way it meanders along at just the right pace capturing the drama that was unfolding before the participants eyes but never overdoing it and, quite remarkably in my view, managing never to be in the least repetitive. Sobers himself is clearly a little (but only a little) peeved at the fact that of all his achievements in the game the six sixes is the one he is asked about most but for the rest, and Nash as much as anyone, it is either the or one of the highlights of their careers and all were clearly delighted to be involved in this project.
This book is highly recommended to all and, by virtue of a remarkable slice of good fortune, before you read the story you can see for yourself what all the fuss was about
I was thinking, as I approached this, that this just might be a unique book. Well, every book is unique of course, plagiarism can only go so far, but has anyone written a book about a single over before? Tours, seasons, even individual matches, for sure – the author himself has on his CV the story of Glamorgan’s Championship-winning season of 1997 – but surely not an over, a passage of play that only took five minutes or so (and that with a disputed ‘catch’ – some modern bowlers would struggle to send down a maiden in the same time). Yes, of course, this is the story of Sir Garfield (then Garry) Sobers’s record 36 runs off the bowling of Malcolm Nash, for Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan at Swansea in 1968.
The book contains a fair deal of background – how Sobers came to be playing in England, for starters, for 1968 was the first season of unrestricted signings of overseas players – and the relative success (or lack of it) of both counties in the run-up to this particular match. Neither was in the running to win the title this year but Notts at least were in with a chance of a top four finish, which Sobers for personal reasons was eager to attain in his first season as county captain.
So, the scene is set – St Helens Ground, Swansea – Nottinghamshire win the toss and bat on what looks a good batting wicket, and indeed reach lunch at 160 for one. After lunch wickets start to fall, but one man is not happy with the rate of scoring – the captain, and he comes out at 308 for 5 eager to push thing along. According to the opposing captain, Tony Lewis, Sobers was ‘furious’ at their slow scoring – yet Nottinghamshire went in at tea at 335 for 5, hardly a funereal rate. Mike Smedley, one of those singled out, made 27 in 40 minutes – “if anyone was playing for his average that day, it wasn’t me” he maintains, and the Glamorgan bowlers have been doing a tidy job.
Not least Malcolm Nash, the anti-hero of the piece, who normally bowls fast-medium left-arm over the wicket, and indeed opened the bowling in this style today – but after lunch, inspired it’s said by the success of Derek Underwood in the recent Oval Test, he takes to bowling slow or slow-medium cutters from around the wicket, and reaps some reward for it. At the start of the fateful over his figures are 21-3-64-4.
What happened next of course has passed into the record books. Sobers is probably better known, in this country at least, for hitting six 6s in an over than he is, say, for making 365 against Pakistan ten years earlier. There are reasons for that: the Test record was achieved far away, with comparatively little publicity, against a side reduced to two fit bowlers; and of course there was always a chance that the record would be surpassed eventually (it was, nicely, 36 years later, by a fellow West Indian), whereas the 36 runs in an over was perfection, a record that could be equalled but never surpassed.
Suffice to say that I enjoyed this book very much. Each ball is, gloriously. given its own chapter; just about everyone who took part in the match is interviewed, including the schoolboy who found the last ball outside the ground; there’s even a profile of the two substitute fielders who took the field that day – one a professional footballer, the other a Welsh rugby union international. Why Nash continued to bowl around the wicket to the left-handed Sobers, effectively feeding his leg side strokes, is a question even the bowler doesn’t answer, but everything else you might want to know about that memorable day is here.