Tom Emmett : The Spirit of Yorkshire CricketMartin Chandler |
Author: Lonsdale, Jeremy
Rating: 3 stars
With this life of Tom Emmett the ACS Lives In Cricket Series reaches its half century, and by and large it has been a splendid innings. There has been the odd play and miss, and there might have been a bit more expansive strokeplay along the way, but each of the previous 49 books have shed light on interesting and often largely forgotten cricketers, and this one is no exception.
To students of Victorian cricket Emmett’s name will be one that they recognise, but unless they are Yorkshiremen they are unlikely to know a great deal about him, and that was certainly the case for this reviewer. I knew that Emmett had been one of the England side in the first ever Test match at the MCG in 1877, but hadn’t realised that by then he was already 35 so, given that he was primarily a left arm pace bowler (although also a useful batsman) it is perhaps not surprising that his record in that match, and six more Tests in the following four years, is not a stellar one.
The prime years of Emmett’s playing career, age wise, came in the 1860s, the decade when overarm bowling was legalised, when WG Grace emerged to change batting forever, and the game began to look much more like the sport we know today. Despite his Test career coming a little too late for him at First Class level Emmett was still a fine performer well into his forties, and indeed his largest haul of wickets came as late as 1886, when he was already 44.
We have reviewed both of Jeremy Lonsdale’s previous books. The first, published back in 1992 was The Army’s Grace, a biography of a Hampshire amateur, RM Poore. The second, rather more relevant to Tom Emmett, was A Game Taken Seriously, a history of Yorkshire cricket that covered the period between 1822 and 1893 and also published by (and still available from) the ACS.
Writing a book about someone who died more than a century ago is a challenge. Occasionally there may be family archives or something similar. In the case of The Army’s Grace, for example, Lonsdale had access to Poore’s own diaries and scrapbooks on which to base his account. He doesn’t have the same advantage with Emmett and, without any descendants to assist him, has had to rely on other sources. To that end he acknowledges the great assistance he has had from the various online newspaper archives, both in the UK and Australia, that are now available to historians, as well as the considerable body of literature that has, over many years, built up on the subject of the game in Yorkshire.
Despite not suffering from a lack of references on the subject of Emmett, much of what Lonsdale had at his disposal would have been coverage of the games in which he played, and therein lies the great danger of books like this, that they can end up as a series of rehashed match reports. In truth there is some of that here as well, but it is something that Lonsdale deals with very well. He clearly knows the pitfalls and negotiates them with some aplomb. He does so by constructing an account from his plethora of secondary sources, and then by writing his story with impressive continuity. What he can’t change is the fact that, in relative terms, Tom Emmett is not one of the most glamorous cricketers of his time, but he nonetheless succeeds in leaving his reader with the satisfying feeling that not only have they learnt something, but have enjoyed doing so. It helps that Emmett was not as dour as many Yorkshiremen of his era, and there is also a good deal of material available on his life outside the game, and the sort of man he was.
Those who are familiar with this series of books will instantly recognise the usual Lives in Cricket format which, as a reminder, includes all the essentials that any cricketing biography should have. The statistical section might be a little parsimonious for some, but the index and the illustrations are difficult to fault, nor the nod towards the author’s sources. By virtue of its subject Tom Emmett: The Spirit of Yorkshire Cricket is not going to be a bestseller, but for anyone with an interest in the era it covers it is well worth a look.