Team MatesMartin Chandler |
Author: Chalke, Stephen and Barclay, John (Editors)
Publisher: Fairfield Books
Rating: 4 stars
No one with an interest in cricket books is unfamiliar with Stephen Chalke, one of the very best writers we have. His publishing company has also produced three excellent books by John Barclay. Both have contributed a chapter to Team Mates, along with 25 others. Those others consist of 13 England Test cricketers, the best known being Michael Atherton and David Gower, and one Australian, John Inverarity. Six more are English county cricketers, including Barclay. The remaining five are Rachel Heyhoe-Flint and Clare Connor from the women’s game, thespians Michael Simkin and Charles Collingwood and, last but not least, national treasure Sir Tim Rice.
None of the writers has received a fee for his (or her) contribution, and the costs of printing the book have been paid by ‘benefactors’. This means that every penny of the £15 price tag can* end up swelling the coffers of the Arundel Castle Cricket Foundation, a most worthwhile charity. It is a little disappointing to this reviewer, who is rather fond of that sort of thing, that the band of 27 did not also provide a few signatures to enable a limited edition at a premium price to be produced. I suspect that logistical factors might have been a problem, but I have no doubt such a special edition would have sold out rapidly – I would certainly have bought one.
The most important part of any book, whatever other aims it may have in addition to entertaining its reader, is the writing. Something Chalke and Barclay are both adept at, and which to an extent the latter no doubt learnt from the former, is producing an essay that extends to around half a dozen pages that is both easy to read and thoroughly absorbing. All of these pieces achieve that goal, although it would be interesting to know just how much editing was involved – one suspects for some of the writers it may have been a good deal.
The mission statement given to the contributors seems to have consisted of little more than the title of the book. Most select just one individual team mate from their cricketing career, but some select a pair. Sir Tim Rice goes outside the game, and selects Andrew Lloyd Webber, the man whose name is, for many of us, synonymous with his. Most of the essays contain at least an element of humour, and David Lloyd’s pen portrait of his fellow Lancastrian ‘Flat’ Jack Simmons is full of it.
Inevitably some of the pieces are better than others, but all are rewarding. The best is, perhaps, that of Michael Atherton which entirely fittingly goes in first. Athers makes some shrewd observations on how teams function before singling out Angus Fraser. It would be interesting to know if the accompanying photograph was selected before or after the essay was written. Certainly it is a perfect fit. Fraser, or ‘Gussie Boy’ as an old friend of mine used to scream at the TV screen every time he took a wicket, is the one man to feature as subject and writer. His choice is former Middlesex wicketkeeper Keith Brown, and his writing is of a quality that brings a tinge of regret that he chose to leave the press box and become MD of Middlesex.
For this reviewer the contribution of Chris Cowdrey was also outstanding. It amounts to something of a treatise on the foibles of Alan Knott, some of which are well known, others less so. Given that the book states that Cowdrey’s current occupation is said to be a Master of Ceremonies and after dinner speaker I assume he must have a fair amount of free time during the day. If he finds that time drags then I would certainly suggest that writing Knotty’s biography would be a most worthwhile use of it.
Despite my having felt able to give a special mention to two of the pieces I would not want to be understood to be suggesting that the standard overall is not a uniformly high one, as it most certainly is. I am aware that of the first seven readers to give the editors any feedback on the book all nominated a different essay as their favourite, none of which matched their own view, although at least they themselves seemed to be ad idem on the question. I shall however refrain from mentioning the name of the former Kent, Middlesex and England batsman concerned lest I have misunderstood what I have been told.
All in all Team Mates is an excellent book, and anyone purchasing it will be supporting a very worthwhile organisation. But there is no need to take my word for that as Stephen Chalke has kindly agreed that we can publish his introduction to the book, a most thought provoking piece in itself. You can read it here.