The “Demon” SpofforthStuart Wark |
Author: Richard Cashman
Publisher: Originally New South Wales University Press (currently available from Walla Walla Press)
Rating: 4 stars
David Frith, who is undoubtedly one of the finest cricketer writers in the world, once commented to me that a new book would only sell well if it either contained the name Waugh or Bradman in the title. As such, the nature of publishing means that the major book houses are loath to support anything that is not seen to be commercially viable. Ghosted autobiographies sell like hotcakes; historical texts obviously do not. One of the unfortunate side-effects of this economic pressure is a lack of books devoted to the great players who laid the platform for the game we love today. Thankfully, some of these books do still manage to make it to the marketplace, with one such example being The ‘Demon’ Spofforth by Richard Cashman.
Richard Cashman is an academic who has held the position of Professor in History at the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology. He has a keen interest in cricket, having written a number of books on the subject, and was the General Editor of the ‘Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket’. Cashman is one of the few current writers who seems keen to redress the lack of recognition given to players from the pioneering days of international cricket, and this book focuses upon the legendary Fred Spofforth, or “The Demon” as he was known. Spofforth is remembered as Australia’s first great fast bowler, taking 94 Test wickets in 18 matches and he also was the first bowler to take a Test hat-trick in 1879. Spofforth’s place in test history can be seen with his induction as one of the ten inaugural members of the official Australian Cricket Hall of Fame.
Cashman manages to weave together both the on-field performances of Spofforth with a thorough analysis of his life. Spofforth had a long and profitable business career off the field, and he died a very wealthy man. The author manages to cover Spofforth’s post-cricket work with the London Star Tea Company in sufficient detail without taking away from his cricketing prowess. And Spofforth’s ability with the ball is naturally the main focus of the book. One of the strengths of the book is undoubtedly the ability of Cashman to show his great knowledge of the game through his examination of Spofforth’s place in history. The views and assessments of Spofforth by both his team-mates and opponents is scrutinized well within the framework of the time.
As is perhaps fitting of an author with Cashman’s academic background, the magnitude of the research is both impressive and fitting to the subject. Cashman has not simply produced a biography of Spofforth by cobbling together well known details already published elsewhere. Instead he has delved deeply into little known sources in both Australia and England to provide the reader with a genuinely interesting book. Cashman’s scholarly approach to writing is also seen through the consistent footnoting; if the reader wishes to confirm the source of a previously unknown story, the references are provided to follow up on. This is an approach that some other well known cricket authors could do well to learn from. A slight criticism can be made that the book is a touch ‘dry’ at times, and perhaps overly academic in parts. This is, nonetheless, only a minor complaint, and it does not distract the reader greatly from their enjoyable task.
The name Fred Spofforth is well known to most genuine cricket lovers, and whilst Richard Cashman’s book is the only biography about this legend, it is well worth tracking down and is the definitive biography of ‘The Demon’. Highly recommended for cricket historians, and anyone who loves the game.