Author: David Frith
Publisher: Von Krumm Publishing
Rating: 4.5 stars
By Martin Chandler
05 Jul 2014
A cricketer's life as a player is relatively short, as in any physical pursuit it must be. Writing, on the other hand, is a sedentary activity, so for as long as a wordsmith retains a reasonable state of health and stays in command of his faculties he can carry on.
David Frith is 77 now, and Frith's Encounters
is, going by the list given within it, his 34th book on the game. Commonsense tells us that he must be much nearer to the end of his career than the start, but Encounters serves mainly to reinforce his reader's hope that there are at least a few more gems still to come.
Any consideration of Frith's Encounters
must acknowledge that much of it has been published before, the core of the book being a collection of articles that first appeared over a number of years in The Wisden Cricketer
magazine, but that is no reason not to invest in this splendid volume. There are a few new pieces amongst the old and, as importantly, a lengthy introduction dealing with many men who DF felt merited a mention, if not a full "encounter".
The key to qualifying for an "encounter" is that as well as DF having spent time with the subject they must also be deceased. This does of course mean that no reappraisal will ever be necessary, although I suspect that one of the main reasons is that, DF not being a man to mince his words, the libel readers need not be troubled by anything that he writes.
Turning to the articles themselves they are for confirmed cricket tragics, rather than the casual reader. There is the odd reminder of a man's deeds here and there, but these essays are not pen portraits. They are personal memoirs of men Frith has known and shine light on their characters and personalities more than their cricket.
One of the highlights, and one of the handful of "encounters" that stuck in my mind after reading it in the magazine, is the piece on Sydney Barnes. The old curmudgeon played his first Test in 1901 and it is a most sobering thought that DF, alive and well in 2014, is thus linked to the Golden Age
Two of the other chapters that I vividly recall are those concerning the reclusive Jack Gregory, who Frith seems to have approached wearing an uncharacteristic if, in the circumstances understandable, pair of kid gloves. The second is the story of a hard earned meeting with the almost mythical Eddie Gilbert - sadly it was not really an "encounter" at all, but it is one of the most thought-provoking pieces of cricketing prose ever written, and we are most grateful to DF and his publisher for permission to reproduce the essay as a feature here
One of the beauties of these pieces is they are unfailingly honest, although no one who has had any dealings with DF will be taken by surprise by that. The brooding resentment that he feels towards Christopher Martin-Jenkins is readily apparent from the introduction, and he is never reticent in highlighting a man's less attractive traits - Colin Cowdrey and Peter May, as well as fellow scribes Lyn Wellings and Jim Swanton fall into that category, although unlike in the case of CMJ there is clear affection in the stories of those encounters.
As time passed The Wisden Cricketer
became less about the game's rich history, and more about its current affairs, and DF's regular contributions became akin to an oasis in a desert of mediocrity. They were always refreshing, but slightly to my surprise make an even greater impression when gathered together, a consequence, I suppose, of this format providing an opportunity for readers to immerse themselves in DF's world, rather than just dip into it.
To sum up Frith's Encounters
is a fascinating and diverse collection of essays beautifully written by a master of his craft. Add in to that the fact that the book is well illustrated and produced, with a splendid dust jacket, and you have a book that will delight anyone with an interest in the history of the game in the 20th century, and more particularly the men who made it.
Frith's Encounters is on general sale in its standard edition at GBP15. For those who prefer the finer things in life there is a de-luxe limited edition of thirty copies at GBP60, a few copies of which remain available via the publisher