Sixty Summers: English Cricket since World War 2David Taylor |
Author: Peter Cox
Rating: 4 stars
Written shortly after the memorable 2005 Ashes series, and not to be confused with David Foot’s similarly titled book on Somerset cricket, this is an unusual and diverting effort from a writer previously unknown to me. He takes as his premise a time traveller from 1946 supplanted to an English cricket ground of 2005, and wonders whether he would recognise the game in front of him, what with helmets, coloured clothing, 15 (or often fewer) overs an hour, covered wickets, huddles and high-fives and the preponderance of non-English players in English cricket.
Of course it is basically the same game as it was then – a bowler still runs up and bowls to a batsman, with ten of his colleagues in support – but there have been many changes, and this book examines them in detail. Cox uses the performances of the England Test team as his central theme. Taking each series in turn he gives abbreviated scores from each Test, giving over about a page to each series – a little longer for such tide-turning years as 1953 and 1981. Limited overs internationals are not mentioned, with the exception of the eight World Cups which had taken place at the time of writing.
Perhaps my favourite chapter was the ten pages that starts it off – a sort of prologue on cricket and cricketers in the second world war. The exploits of Edrich, Compton, Miller and many others, along with those who did not return, of course, is worth a book to itself I feel – there is an extraordinary piece of writing by Bill Edrich on his feelings on taking part in a wartime game. There’s also a retelling of the famous tale of the newly liberated EW Swanton finding villagers in Thailand listening to one of the Victory Tests, with Cristofani on his way to a hundred.
From 1946 onwards we go through the story of England’s performances, home and away (I had forgotten how many winters were tour-free, it seems odd that the leading players were left at home for a rest in 1951-52 when there’d been no tour in 1949-50, but of course tours were much longer then). When I was beginning to wonder, 75 pages in, if the writer makes any distinction between ‘English cricket’ and ‘the England Test team’ there is a chapter on county cricket, in which Cox examines the reasons for the decline in attendances through the 1950s and early 60s, leading to the introduction of one-day cricket and overseas players.
Other chapters deal with throwing and dragging, changes in the no-ball and lbw Laws, the infancy of Twenty20 (he identifies Doshi and Loudon, both already out of the game, as young spinners of promise) and the ugly side of the game – sledging, dissent, intimidation. At Perth in 1981 “Lillee and Miandad, moustached and fiery, each with a fuse approximately the same length, squared up to each other.”
Notwithstanding the odd error (the first Sunday of Test cricket in England was 1981, not 1991, and Phil Edmonds was born in Zambia, not Zimbabwe) I certainly recommend this book – incidentally there is a designated website at sixtysummers.co.uk for anyone wanting to investigate further.