Author: Greg Growden
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 4.5 stars
By Archie Mac
20 Oct 2008
In 1991 I stumbled across a little paperback book called A Wayward Genius
by Greg Growden. I had never heard of the author, but the subject matter being discussed was that of 'Chuck' Fleetwood-Smith a colourful Test cricketer from the 1930s. The small book was consumed in one sitting (224 pages) and I was mightily impressed with the author.
For the next few years I would check the new cricket books at summer time, and keep my eye out for any new offerings from Growden. After a while I gave up hope of any new books until I walked into my local bookshop last week and found a beautifully presented hardback book titled Jack Fingleton
by Greg Growden.
Seventeen years is a long break between books, but like the acting of Jack Nicholson, the writing of Growden has improved with age.
I devoured this book in two days and loved every page, for my money it is easily the best Australian cricket book of the year, and one of the best biographies that I have had the pleasure to read. My only complaint was when I finished the last page and had to accept that I would leave the life of Mr. Fingleton.
Under the main title the words 'The Man Who Stood up to Bradman' appear, and the author keeps the feud that developed between the two former team-mates running throughout the book.
If you are sick of the hagiographies that are constantly appearing about the 'Don', and would like to hear the alternative side of the personality that many contemporaries were wary of, then Jack Fingleton
is a real revelation, regularly portraying Bradman in a selfish light.
The author on the whole presents a very balanced view of both his subject and Bradman, and despite the numerous controversial entries about Sir Bradman only once did I think the author failed to produce all of the facts, in relation to 'The Ikin Incident'.
This was during the first Ashes series after the second World War, when many thought Bradman was finished as a Test batsman. It was also believed that if he failed in the first Test, Bradman would more then likely retire. Early in his innings he played at a ball which was caught in the slips by Jack Ikin. All of the English players felt it was a straightforward decision and did not appeal greatly, until it became obvious that Bradman was not walking and that the umpire was not going to give him out. Fingleton and just about everyone in the press box thought Bradman clearly out.
Although Growden mentions in support of the 'Don' that even his biggest critic Fingleton stated that he never doubted the Bradman sportsmanship, he fails to mention that Lindsay Hassett the Australian at the other end also thought it a bump ball and that Bradman was not out. This is a minor criticism and could have been a simple oversight by Growden.
The subject of the book Jack Fingleton comes across as a very complex character, quick to take offence, and to hold a grudge, but also a very loyal friend and always 100% honest.
In the acknowledgements Greg Growden writes 'My underlying hope is that this biography will convince the reader to track down Jack's many marvellous books and discover more about this incredible character'.
Lets hope it does, personally as a big fan of the writings of Jack Fingleton I would recommend Cricket Crisis
(Bodyline), Brightly Fades The Don
(1948 Ashes) and Batting From Memory
(autobiography), although these are acclaimed as his best I also enjoyed Brown and Company
(1950-51 Ashes tour). There are ten Fingleton books in all.
Also a special mention to Allen & Unwin
who are fast becoming the best publisher of cricket books in Australia, and not just books about modern stars; they currently have books out about Doug Walters and have re-released 10 for 66 and All That
by Arthur Mailey to celebrate the fifty year anniversary of this classic autobiography.
If you are going to read one cricket book this year, then make it Jack Fingleton
, it is a guaranteed classic. I just hope Greg Growden does not wait seventeen years before writing his next cricket book.
The first cricket book I owned was 'Batting from Memory'
, the autobiography of Jack Fingleton. I remember reading it from cover to cover a number of times during the early years of my growing love affair with cricket. As such, I have always had a soft spot for Fingleton, and it was with great interest that I noted Australian author Greg Growden was to release a biography of him.
Growden isn't a name that would spring to mind for many cricket lovers when they think of the leading authors within the field. However, his recounting of the Chuck Fleetwood-Smith story is one of the best cricket biographies in recent years, and in my own top ten list of all-time. A major part of his lack of wide recognition relates to the fact that Growden has been the chief Rugby correspondent for the 'The Sydney Morning Herald'
for over two decades, and naturally concentrates his literary efforts predominantly on this sport. In spite of his focus on rugby, he has gained a fine reputation for meticulous research and well written books across a wide variety of sporting fields.
There are many great Australian players of the 1930s and 40s who have been almost forgotten about as the mainstream media remains consumed by Bradmania. It is very satisfying to see that not only has an established author chosen to write about one of the lesser figures of the Bradman era, but also that a major publishing company has taken it on. However, Fingleton is a very interesting choice of subject, and the sub-title of the book, The Man who Stood Up to Bradman, indicates the shadow of the Don still looms large even in biographies about other players.
Fingleton was a well performed opening batsman, initially in Sydney Grade Cricket with Waverly before making the step through representing New South Wales into earning the baggy green cap of Australia. He played a major role in the Bodyline series in 1932/33, scored three successive centuries against South Africa, and finished with a Test average of 42.46. During his cricketing days he was also a professional journalist, and he continued this career after his retirement from the field. Fingleton became one of the best cricket writers Australia has ever produced, and his books 'Cricket Crisis'
and 'Brightly Fades the Don'
are justifiable seen as classics. Fingleton also both worked and reported on the Australian Federal parliament in Canberra as a politican correspondent. However, Fingleton is often largely remembered now for his often public personal feud with Don Bradman that went on for the majority of their lives.
One of my concerns was that this book would add little to the content of Fingleton's own autobiography, however, this issue did not become a problem. As with his other works, it is clear that Growden has done his research carefully. He has gained access to the personal correspondence of Fingleton, Bill O'Reilly and many others, and through these letters, Growden has pieced together a fascinating story. Fingleton does not always come off as being particularly likeable, but the author does manage to portray him in a realistic light.
My only problem with this book is that there appears to simply be too much of a focus upon Bradman. It presents Fingleton as being preoccupied with the Don, and this obsession is continued within the biography. A reference to Bradman seems to appear on almost every page, and Fingleton's own noteworthy performances almost seem secondary to what Bradman was doing. In a generic review of cricket history their respective standings would dictate the appropriateness of this approach, however, within a biography specifically of Fingleton it almost seemed unfair. It certainly serves to perpetrate the thought that Fingleton's life revolved around his fanatical need to bring Bradman back down to size.
In spite of this slight criticism, it is a very well written book and is highly recommended for fans of the game. Growden?s research uncovers and reveals a lot of fascinating information. In particular, I found it interesting to read that Fingleton was very unhappy with the editing of his book 'The Immortal Victor Trumper'
. I personally found this book very disappointing, and it is clear that Fingleton was also not impressed with the final outcome.
In my opinion, this biography is not quite up to the exceptional standard of Growden's Fleetwood-Smith work, however, it is still a wonderful book. Anyone who is interested in the Bradman era should seek out this book, as they will not be disappointed. 4 stars.