Author: Gideon Haigh & David Frith
Publisher: News Custom
Rating: 4.5 stars
By Archie Mac
28 Jan 2008
After reading 600+ cricket books, it is only logical that the learning curve starts to plateau, so when the two greatest extant cricket writers were given the opportunity to delve into the previously embargoed archives and minutes of CA, this cricket tragic started to salivate at the prospect of hidden controversies and new information on past scandals.
Former Australian captain Joe Darling who had attended some of the early Board meetings (representing South Australia circa 1908) in his memoirs gave us an idea of what the authors may be up against,
"Everything on the agenda for meetings was discussed privately at a prior meeting of five delegates from Victoria and New South Wales and two from Queensland, who in that period sold their votes for a secret promise of a Test match".
'Old' Joe may have been right and many of the minutes seem rather perfunctory and even a little staged. Still there are some fascinating insights to past events that never quite happened, such as:
* There was a motion to invite a team from India for a Test tour in the season of 1927-28, this motion was defeated, it being felt that "Indian cricket was not of sufficiently high quality".
* After Australia recaptured the Ashes in 1930 it was believed that the Ashes Urn would be returned to Australia and it was hoped go on display at Parliament House Canberra.
* England were asked to agree to the playing of seven Tests during their visit to Australia in 1963-63, they declined this as well as the proposal to play back to back Test matches during the tour.
The early board comes across as very heavy handed and having a somewhat parsimonious attitude. Refusing reasonable requests and treating the players like naughty schoolboys. Refusing Vic Richardson his request to be able to stay in England at the cessation of the 1930 tour for promotional/learning opportunities just one of many mean spirited decisions.
The Board, except Clem Jones and including Sir Donald Bradman, are cast in a particularly poor light regarding their handling of the South African dilemma of the late 60s early 70s. Contrary to previous belief Bradman only agreed to cancel the South African tour to Australia because of security concerns, never seeming to consider apartheid in any of his decision making.
What was amazing was the huge growth in the running of the game and the transformation from an amateur outfit into a multimillion dollar organisation. Where once admission to Test matches and tours accounted for almost the entire revenue of Australian cricket in which television and sponsorship was regarded with extreme suspicion, to the eventual acceptance of sponsorship and TV as being the life blood of the game.
Unfortunately there was no new light shed on some decisions that I was interested in, such as why Keith Miller was never given the Captaincy of the Australian team, or why was Ian Craig selected initially over Richie Benaud. Also no new information as to whether Ian Meckiff was sacrificed by the Board.
The book itself is lavishly produced and extremely well written, but what else would you expect from these authors. Every person who professes to know their Australia Cricket history should not be without a copy of Inside Story
I must begin this book review with an admission that will come of no great surprise to readers; I am a cricket tragic. As an example of this characteristic, I actually enjoy reading books about cricket that are not a ghosted autobiography or diary of a current cricketer. One book I found fascinating was True to the Blue
by Phillip Derriman which reviewed the history of the NSW Cricket Association. Derriman was permitted access to the Association's records, and he delved deeply into the interesting, and sometimes slightly murky, past of the body. I was therefore keen to read the recently released Inside Story - Unlocking Australian Cricket Archives
. This story reveals the 'behind-closed-doors' discussions and decisions made by the entity originally called the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket and currently known as Cricket Australia.
Interestingly, this book was actually commissioned by the Cricket Australia, and it allowed the two nominated authors complete access to their secrets, and the freedom to write the book as they see fit. The co-authors of this book, Gideon Haigh and David Frith, were deliberately selected for the simple reason that they are superb writers. Both authors have written extensively on the history of cricket in both Australia and around the world, and have won many prizes for their works.
This is not a book for the casual reader. Exceeding 350 pages and at nearly 300,000 words, it examines and dissects in great detail the actions of the board. The reader cannot simply skim through the content presented by Haigh and Frith, as is possible with many other current examples of cricket literature. Their analysis of many key points in Australian cricket history is excellent, and the time taken to digest the text is very worthwhile.
The early days of the Board of Control provide fascinating details of the famous "Gang of Six" revolt in 1912, and the day the captain punched the chairman of selectors. As with any review of Australian cricket, the name Bradman features strongly. His career as a journalist whilst still under contract as a cricketer is examined, as is his quick move from player to official. Other highly significant events such as Bodyline, Packer's World Series and the South African rebel tours are also reviewed, and make for interesting reading.
It is hard not to feel considerably empathy for the players throughout the 20th Century, as the administrators often appear very remote and condescending. This issue is not limited to the dim and distant past, with the bookie scandal of the 1990s an example of administrators more interested in minutiae than serious problems. When Warne/Waugh indiscretions were discussed, the resolutions were limited to the end of the meeting, by which time one member had already left to catch a plane. There didn't even appear to be a vote, with at least one board member admitting afterwards that the entire process was poor and unsatisfactory. The arrogance of some administrators is evident right from the moment of inception, but this attitude didn't necessarily diminish quickly over time. One of the more intriguing themes over the board's history is the fact that ex-players were unwanted as administrators. The knowledge and experience they could have brought were clearly considered less important than the skills of the local businessman who had never played cricket.
This is a valuable book for fans of the game, and provides a great insight into the logic, questionable as it may have been, that underpinned many of the decisions that have guided cricket in Australia. Cricket Australia deserves credit for letting Haigh and Frith to write as critically as they have. They could have censored the authors to prevent embarrassing blunders being made public, but both writers claim that there were no restrictions on either their access to materials or the content that flowed from it. Very highly recommended for serious fans of the game, but casual readers probably will be overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of the project. 4 stars (4.5 for the serious cricket lover).