Author: Rick Smith
Publisher: Apple Books
Rating: 2.5 stars
By Archie Mac
26 Dec 2005
One of my favourite cricket books is Googlies written in 1932 by a long forgotten Australian Test cricketer; one H.V. (Ranji) Hordern. Dissimilar to a lot of the autobiographies of the period Googlies is written in a light-hearted conversational manner. The great Australian writer Gideon Haigh selected Googlies as his timeless cricket classic. So when I heard Tasmanian author Rick Smith was releasing a biography about H.V. Hordern, I was both excited and a little nervous, that the self-enfacing writer of a cricket classic would be betrayed in a harsh reality.
Rick Smith writes you need one of three things for a cricketer to make a good subject for a biography, 'it is not enough to simply be a good, or even great cricketer'. The three things are:
1. 'A controversial character'
2. A 'sheer lack of knowledge' about the cricketer in question
3. Or 'an amazing life'
Rick Smith thought Hordern came under the third category, and he is (Smith) no doubt right in that assessment; A Dentist who studied at the University of Pennsylvania, and as a result played cricket with the then famous 'Gentleman of Philadelphia', service in the first World War and a family member of a major Sydney retailing firm. Herbert Hordern was Australia's first great practitioner of the leg-spinners art; in fact Smith makes a case for him being the second best Australian leggie behind Shane Warne. This despite the fact he only played in seven Test Matches.
A good writer and an interesting subject, how could you go wrong? I am not sure but I was a little disappointed in the cricketing side of the book, in essence Smith has simply summarised the Hordern autobiography, and just added a few statistical facts. The book really comes to life in the period of Hordern's retirement, as the author had access to both of H.V. Hordern's sons. A marriage break up the death of his second wife, (whom he nursed until the end) and war experiences. If you have not read H.V. Hordern's own book, I think you really would enjoy Googlyman.
Rick Smith shies away from mainstream cricket writing, he has not written a biography of Bradman or any of the modern cricketing legends. Instead his writes about controversial events and personalities from Australian crickets pass; such as Cricket's Enigma the story of Sid Barnes the only Aussie cricketer to be left out of the Australian team for reasons other than cricket. Or Cricket Brawl the story of the 1912 dispute, which saw six of Australia's best cricketers, refusing to tour England.
With South African historian the late Brian Bassano he has also release a number of long forgotten tour books such as the first West Indian tour of Australia in 1930/31 (published 1990). These books are great for the 'cricket tragic' like myself, but as can be imagined is hardly commercially viable or attractive to the general public. The way Rick Smith often overcomes this problem is by making his books limited signed editions. Googlyman is no exception with the book being limited to just 300 copies of which 280 are available for general sale. Copies of Googlyman can still be obtained from cricket book seller Roger Page, 03 94356332 (Melbourne).