The Way It Was
Author: Stephen Chalke
Publisher: Fairfield Books
Rating: 4 stars
By Martin Chandler
18 May 2009
Each month since May 2001 The Wisden Cricketer (or Wisden Cricket Monthly as it was until September 2004) has contained a feature by Stephen Chalke. On reaching his century of articles (there are a few from The Times thrown in for good measure) Chalke has gathered them together in this book. The stories have a wide range of subject matter but generally arise out of county cricket between 1946 and 1969. Chalke does stray outside that era but generally only where there is a link from it to be followed.
Chalke is not a historian in the strict sense, nor is he a reporter and he is certainly not a statistician. What he is is a storyteller of the highest calibre. He adds, with each piece he writes, to his own, constantly evolving, picture of cricket. There is a subtle linking of everything he writes which consists, not just of these magazine articles, but also of some superb biographies and accounts of county matches from 'his era'. It is, obviously, counterintuitive to suggest that such a wide ranging series of individual stories is held together by a strong thread of continuity but that is very much the case with Chalke's writing, and the greatest pleasure of The Wisden Cricketer is having another part of Chalke's canvas filled in each month.
In total there are 105 chapters in the book, none of which are more than 4 pages long and the majority of which are limited to around 750 words. They consist, in the main, of stories about cricketers who are now, themselves, largely forgotten, or episodes from the lives of the better known which are not generally remembered. In addition there are some obituaries and, from The Times, some accounts of notable Ashes Test Matches.
It is difficult to single out individual pieces among so many for fear of suggesting that some are better than others but particularly memorable to this reviewer is the poignant account of Walter Hammond's last first class innings which the author has generously allowed CricketWeb to publish. This reviewer also feels compelled to mention a piece about Hedley Verity based around an interview with his son. There is a very readable full length biography of Verity that was published in 1986, and which sold sufficiently well to justify a second edition being published in 2005. Enjoyable though that book is the point has to be made that such is Stephen Chalke's skill that a reader learns much more about Verity the man from reading this short article than one does from the entirety of Alan Hill's biography.
There is one other piece which should be mentioned specifically as it is a timely reminder of just how enjoyable this book will be to someone who starts off with limited knowledge of its subject matter. Chapter 62, entirely without warning, contains a piece, originally written for The Times, about a first division football match between Charlton Athletic and Huddersfield Town that was played in 1957. The story was, to this reviewer, completely new and it held me in thrall. For anyone unfamiliar with Chalke's work, or the era that he covers, the vast majority of this book will be just as unfamiliar and whoever buys this book may well have great difficulty in putting it down.
In terms of attributing a rating to the book the quality of the writing is undoubtedly five star. I give it a rating of four only because, strictly, none of the work is new, nor therefore original. That slightly reduced rating does not detract at all from the fact that this book is, without exaggeration, indispensable to anyone interested in first class cricket in England in the three decades after the Second World War.
You can read a chapter from the book in a Cricket Web exclusive here