You Only Get One InningsMartin Chandler |
Author: Nicholls, Barry
Publisher: ABC Books
Rating: 4 stars
It is certainly the case that you don’t see too many books like this one amongst the vast array of cricketing autobiographies that find their way to market. Publishers’ reasoning for this is no doubt fairly predictable, along the line that dictates if they can’t guarantee selling enough copies to break even of the memoirs of an international cricketer who has enjoyed some success in the international arena how are they going to do so with the life story of a man who has merely followed his deeds from afar. At first blush it seems a fair argument, but it must be flawed, if for no other reason than Barry Nicholls book is a very enjoyable read.
So the first question, particularly for those of us in the northern hemisphere, is who on earth is Barry Nicholls? He has obviously found a degree of fame from putting in a guest appearance for the review team in February with his thoughts on Retro Cricket. Emerging unscathed from the lion’s den that is Archie Mac’s favourite armchair in the course of our leader’s reviews of his previous ventures into authorship is another important part of his CV. For Those Who Wait is a biography of former Aussie ‘keeper and, just once, skipper, Barry Jarman. Cricket Dreaming is not quite an autobiography, but along those lines.
These days Barry Nicholls’ main gig, his efforts with the pen apart, is as a broadcaster. I will pass no comment on his abilities in that respect, never having heard him at work, but I do feel obliged to express a view on his abilities as a cricketer. The rear cover of You Only Get One Innings tells the reader that he claims to be the most boring batsman in the history of Sir Donald Bradman’s former club Kensington. The eagle-eyed, or simply those who always feel compelled to click on links, will have spotted Stuart Wark’s alternative description, he was also a very handy cricketer with Kensington in the Adelaide grade competition. Having read the book I can confirm that the Wark quote is accurate, and the Nicholls one somewhat misleading, to put it mildly.
So what is it I enjoyed about Barry Nicholls book? It no doubt helped that he and I are of a similar vintage. He doesn’t announce his date of birth at the outset of the book but it is clear that it is around 1960. I finally worked out about half way through that he is in fact a couple of years younger than me, but when you get to our age that is something which, as near as dammit, makes no difference. There are plenty of contrasts between us though. Coming from opposite sides of the planet is an obvious one, and our cricketing abilities another. Those of us whose claim to fame with the bat is to (almost) have carried our bat through a complete innings without scoring would give our eye teeth to have scored just a fraction of the runs Barry Nicholls has under his belt.
I also had a rather easier childhood than Barry Nicholls. He doesn’t seem to have suffered unduly as a result of his parents splitting up, but it clearly wasn’t easy. Some would describe my upbringing, and occasionally I might concede this myself, as idyllic, but later life has evened that one up, Nicholls giving his own children a stability I was sadly unable to give to mine. The real “soulmate” material of course is the love of and an existence largely dominated by cricket that has sustained us both throughout our lives. I smiled particularly at what I suspect is an inevitable consequence of an early passion for cricket, that being a somewhat shambolic start to our efforts to win over the hearts of fair maidens.
The biggest fault with autobiographies, hardly surprising given what they are, is that even if they can avoid doing so generally they do have a tendency to become overly self-indulgent in places. Another thing difficult to get exactly right, assuming you are not a real star of the cricketing firmament and therefore not interested in it, is the appropriate level of self-deprecating humour, and knowing when to be serious. As he succeeds comfortably on all those counts I have given Barry Nicholls four stars for this entertaining and at times thought-provoking memoir. I have little doubt Archie Mac and David Taylor would do likewise. On the other hand I dare say Rodney would struggle to see beyond a two or three at most, but that is because he is too young for much of the book to strike enough of a chord with him, but he should persevere. Whilst it isn’t possible to really understand the 1960s and 1970s unless you were there, books like You Only Get One Innings certainly help.