Cricket Web Book of The Decade
Rating: 5 stars
By Martin Chandler
11 Jan 2010
Some of the Cricket Web Book Review Team have combined to select the Cricket Web Book of the Decade.
As well they have provided a short list of the best books of the last ten years. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, so if you can't locate your personal favourite of the naughties then it simply may mean that we have not read it!
In which case drop us a line and we will peruse and review it on the site in the coming weeks.
The Winner Is: Bodyline Autopsy by David Frith (2002)
I remember some years ago reading a book review that described its subject matter as "yet another attempt to change the result of the 1932/33 series by writing about it".
I was struck at the time by the wisdom of that remark and it is as applicable in 2010 as it was then. As history records in that long distant Australian summer the irresistable force won the battle against the immovable object, but in doing so it opened a cricketing Pandora's Box which over the next seven decades supporters of both sides fought over with their pens and typewriters with such zeal as to ensure the lid did not close again.
In 2002 that indefatigable Anglo-Australian David Frith approached the subject. Frith is a man whose life has been defined by cricket and who, as much as anyone could be, was in a position to close the box. In the event with "Bodyline Autopsy" he slammed it shut and nailed it down. "Autopsy" is a magnificent book possessing a vibrancy and objectivity that when I first read it I found quite remarkable. It is, without question, the CW "Book of the Decade" and were there any prospect of my being around to collect I would certainly place a large wager on whoever is writing this feature in 90 years time confirming it as CW "Book of the Century"
David Frith writes:
CricketWeb's gesture in making Bodyline Autopsy
their Book of the Decade was cheering news for an author scooping snow off his driveway and thawing out blue fingers. The book was the result of an unwitting lifetime's preparation. Many hundreds of notes and cross-references were filed over several decades, and as the 70th anniversary of the 1932-33 Ashes series loomed it seemed natural that the broadest attempt yet to chronicle and interpret the most famous Test series of all time was worth embarking upon. It helped to have known many of the cricketers who took part in those matches, and I was glad also to have some input from Gilbert Mant, the last of the journalists who covered the tour. It was he who passed on the most astonishing revelation of all: the name of the player who leaked Bill Woodfull's forceful protest to the England manager during that stormy Adelaide Test match. Bodyline Autopsy was intended to be definitive and comprehensive, and it's something of a relief that, seven years on, nothing further of substance has come to light. However, any thoughts that this "autopsy" would lead to final "burial" of Bodyline was wide of the mark. The topic, with all its intricacies, still comes up regularly in cricket conversations, and probably always will. Thank you, CricketWeb.
Martin's honourable mention:
No Coward Soul by Stephen Chalke (2008)
Stephen Chalke has been adding lustre to the literature about our great game since the late 1990's. His formula is straightforward. He seeks out and speaks to all who can assist him with whatever project he is engaged on and uses what he is told to build flesh on the skeleton of statistics, match reports and existing writing that he has started from. In terms of the standard of his narrative there is little to choose between any of his books, all of which are of the highest quality, but his life of Bob Appleyard, No Coward Soul
, is as good a sporting biography as has ever been written. Appleyard's story is quite simply remarkable - it is cricket's gain that the man who wrote it, is such a master of his craft.
David's three honourable mentions:
Basil D'Oliveira: Cricket and Conspiracy: The Untold Story by Peter Oborne (2004)
Basil D'Oliveira has written his own story a couple of times but Peter Oborne's book is the first biography of the Worcestershire and England batsman that I'm aware of. Some of the ground covered is familiar - the important roles played by John Arlott and journalist John Kay in getting D'Oliveira to England; his early struggles in league cricket at Middleton; and of course the furore caused by his initial non-selection for England's tour of his homeland in 1968. But as the title suggests, this book digs deep in uncovering the machinations surrounding the cancelled tour, in particular the efforts by the South African government to get the player out of the picture by obtaining him a coaching position. The book also includes full accounts of some of his early matches in South Africa.
Silence of The Heart by David Frith (2001)
David Frith has been recognised as one of the game's premier historians for many years now and Silence of the Heart is one of his best efforts. It's an updated and revised version of an earlier book, By His Own Hand
, and looks at the stories of the many first-class cricketers who have committed suicide over the last century or so. If it is perhaps slightly less commonplace than was once the case, the examples of Shrewsbury, Trott and Faulkner all occurring many years ago, it's still a distressing thing to hear about and there are enough recent cases for the reader to identify with. Frith displays obvious sympathy for many of his subjects and the result is a unique and very moving book.
Mystery Spinner by Gideon Haigh (1999 Aust. 2000 England)
One of those whose story was told in Frith's book was Jack Iverson, the Australian spin bowler of the 1950-51 Ashes series, his only experience of Test cricket. Mystery Spinner by Gideon Haigh is his story, written many years after his subject's demise as Iverson shot himself in 1973. It was quite an achievement to write a biography of someone whose career was so short, and whose life outside cricket was so little-known, and Haigh had to do a considerable amount of research. Reading the book set me wondering how Iverson would have managed in the super-slo-mo era; would batsmen watching on TV have been able to work him out sooner? Perhaps it's as well that they didn't, and this rare bird was able to flourish for one glorious summer.
Stuart's three honourable mentions:
Any Old Eleven By Jim Young (2001)
It is probably appropriate that a decade known as "The Naughties" saw the emergence of a new force in cricket books. It seemed that every club cricketer suddenly decided that the eccentric, bizarre and sometimes saucy actions of their local lower grade sides was worthy of national attention. Rain Men, The Vincibles, Penguins Stopped Play, Fatty Batter
- the list goes on. In my opinion, the best of the lot pre-dates all of those mentioned but is perhaps the least known. Any Old Eleven beautifully captures both the joys and trials of club cricket, without the artifice systemic to some subsequent takes on the same topic. Well worth tracking down.
A Corner of a Foreign Field by Ramachandra Guha (2002)
Much as CLR James and his book Beyond a Boundary have become synonymous with both West Indian cricket and its society, Ramachandra Guha's 2002 work A Corner of a Foreign Field
has become the seminal piece of literature regarding India's social and cricketing history. The book considers, both as a theme and in detail, the complex dynamics between cricket, caste and religion over the history of the game in India. This book should be read by all fans of the game, regardless of their country of origin. Whilst it deserves praise for its comprehensive review of Indian cricket history, it also deserves recognition because of the high quality of Guha's writing.
Fingleton by Greg Growden (2008)
There are many great Australian players of the 1930s and 40s who have been almost forgotten as the mainstream media remains consumed by Bradmania. It was therefore very satisfying to see the release of a book about one of the lesser figures of the Bradman era. Fingleton is a very interesting choice of subject, although 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. The author, Greg Growden, gained access to the personal correspondence of Fingleton, Bill O'Reilly and many others, and through these letters, has pieced together a fascinating story. Anyone who is interested in the Bradman era should seek out this book, as they will not be disappointed.
Archie's three honourable mentions:
Harold Larwood by Duncan Hamilton (2009)
The CW book of the year for 2009 is what could be described as a modern cricket biography. The author does not cover all of the subjects cricketing tours or all of his Test matches, instead concentrating on the man and selective cricket issues.
This is the way of the modern cricketing biography and Duncan Hamilton's effort is an example of it at its best. This is Larwood the man, not just the villain (or hero if you are English) of Bodyline. The author has also supplied fascinating mini biographies of Arthur Carr and Bill Voce, which are the best written about either cricketer.
Captain of The Crowd by Tony Laughton (2008)
The CW book of the year for 2008, brings to light one of the peripheral characters of cricket history. His subject Albert Craig, was known as the Surrey Poet, but apart from a few rhymes not much else has be documented about Craig by cricket historians.
Well all that changed with the release of Captain of The Crowd, one of the most thoroughly researched and well-written biographies yet produced by a cricketing historian. The quality of the writing is complemented by the magnificent production of the book, with colour printing throughout.
Great Characters From Cricket's Golden Age by Jeremy Malies (2000)
I have been waiting for ten years for this author to release another cricket book, but even the patience and optimism of a cricket book tragic is just about exhausted. It may be time to admit that the author, in a cricketing sense, is another Margaret Mitchell (although in reality both Mitchell and Malies wrote an earlier book).
The book as it suggests covers some great characters, the only thing they have in common is that they all played First Class cricket. This enables the author to cover such luminaries as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and lesser lights such as my personal favourite Gerry Weigall.