Spell-Binding Spells

Published: 2017
Pages: 315
Author: Dutta, Anindya
Publisher: Notionpress.com
Rating: 3.5 stars

I did receive a copy of this one when it first appeared but, as occasionally happens, it went straight on to the shelves after the most cursory of glances. There was a reason for that. The book’s title is, and I make no criticism of it for this, clear as to the contents and having spent the previous couple of years helping out with the research on Dave Wilson and Patrick Ferriday’s Supreme Bowling I simply didn’t fancy going over the same ground again.

What I now realise I should have done with Spell-Binding Spells was go beyond the first chapter, but at least I only waited a couple of years before doing so. The book isn’t in fact remotely like Supreme Bowling, and whilst there are inevitably a few performances that are looked at in both there is nothing here of the exercise we were attempting to carry out in ranking the various performances. As far as Dutta is concerned his book is just a celebration of some of the great bowling performances of the past.

Part of the appeal of Dutta’s book is that whilst he has a basic framework for his look at the performances he selects, he certainly doesn’t slavishly follow it. He gives his reader something of the match he is concerned with, and a flavour of the man concerned. In addition if there is something else he adds that in too.

The best example of a Dutta discursion comes in his first chapter, which deals with some mighty hauls in Test cricket. The story concerned is that of Richard Stokes who was, remarkably, present at Old Trafford in 1956 for Jim Laker’s 10-53 against Australia before, 43 years later, being at the Feroz Shah Kotla to see Anil Kumble’s 10-74. Did I ever know that? I think perhaps I did, but the fact that I had forgotten I regard as testament to the depth of Dutta’s research.

That first chapter, as well as Laker and Kumble, features George Lohmann, Johnny Briggs, Lance Gibbs, Sarfraz Nawaz, Stuart Broad and Curtley Ambrose. As with every other performance the book looks at Dutta includes the full scorecard of the match, so almost exactly half the pages in the book are taken up with statistics. I make no complaint about that, and mention it only to underline that the narrative is certainly not verbose. Perhaps the most important aspect of Dutta’s writing is that the one thing that does come across loud and clear from it is that he enjoys it.

The second chapter moves on to inspired debuts. Again the matches featured were all familiar to me, the men involved being Narendra Hirwani, Lance Klusener, Bob Massie, Alf Valentine and Albert Trott. The familiarity is irrelevant however as Dutta provides, as he does in his first chapter, an entertaining reminder of some timeless episodes from the history of the game. The second chapter concludes with a couple more examples, from an ODI and a T20 international. Now this was my initial mistake because I didn’t realise these would be included and the stories of Kagiso Rabada and Barinder Sran were not ones I had heard before.

A chapter on ODIs follows and, although I was reminded of the remarkable match between England and Australia in the first World Cup in 1975 the other selections were, to all intents and purposes, new to me and T20s get a chapter of their own later on.

Dutta does not however forget that mighty deeds extend beyond the international game. A chapter deals with men from outside the Test playing nations, and whilst treating Clem Gibson as an Argentinian is a bit of a stretch, no writer need ever apologise for telling the story of Eastbourne 1921, when Archie Maclaren’s scratch side downed the powerful Australian side led by Warwick Armstrong. Another chapter showcases the bittersweet experiences of some bowlers who have produced remarkable bowling in defeat including, I was delighted to see, Charles Palmer’s 8-0 for Leicestershire against Surrey in 1955.

Just once, in a crisis in the West Indies in 1953/54, Palmer got a Test cap, so he doesn’t qualify for the chapter that deals with the men who missed out. Some fine cricketers are included there however; Franklyn Stephenson, Vintcent Van Der Bijl, Charles Kortright and Padmakar Shivalkar. Bringing up the rear are a few men who enjoyed a remarkable final Test appearance. Those are four Australians in JJ Ferris, Jason Gillespie, Clarrie Grimmett and Hugh Trumble as well as two more who could equally have qualified for the debut chapter, Englishman ‘Father’ Marriott and South African ‘Gobo’ Ashley, both of whom produced stirring performances in their only Test.

Spell-Binding Spells is an excellent book. Those with a limited knowledge of the history of our great game will get an introduction to the pleasure to be had from studying that subject, and we tragics will enjoy a new perspective on some favourite moments, as well as enlightenment on a few more

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