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Essex in Print

Essex County Cricket Club was established in 1876 and, a little late, were awarded First Class status in 1894, four years after the official County Championship began.

The first book of any substance on the history of the Essex club was Charles Bray’s contribution to the series of county histories published by Convoy in the early 1950s, but the first substantial tome appeared in 1987, Essex County Cricket Club: The Official History. More than 30 years on a second edition would not go amiss, although sadly none of those originally involved remain with us. The main writers were the prolific David Lemmon, and retired shipping company director and lifelong Essex fan Mike Marshall. They were assisted by Leslie Newnham who had privately published a less ambitious but thoroughly researched booklet a decade earlier.

Perhaps surprisingly as many as three of the men who appeared for Essex in their very first First Class match have been the subject of biographies. The first was the legendary fast bowler and, lest it be forgotten, useful batsman Charles Kortright. A true amateur whose finances were such that he never needed to work Kortright was the subject of Korty, a book written by Charles Sale and published in 1986.

Three years after Korty Cheerful Charlie appeared from Jan Kemp. Charlie McGahey was another amateur all-rounder, albeit one whose batting was a rather stronger suit than his leg spin. Unlike Kortright however McGahey was capped twice by England, in Australia in 1901/02.

Captain of Essex in that first match was the former Surrey and five times England player AP ‘Bunny’ Lucas. Already 37 by the time Essex secured First Class status Lucas had left his occasionally effective slow round arm bowling behind him, but he was still a useful batsman and, as he played more than twice as many games for Essex as he did for Surrey, he is rightly mentioned here. His biography, written by David Pracy, appeared in the ACS Lives in Cricket series in 2010.

Johnny Douglas was still a teenager when he made his Essex debut in 1901 alongside Kortright, McGahey and Lucas. He later led the county for 17 years as well as England in most of his 23 Tests. It is somewhat surprising that it was as late as 1983 that his life story, Johnny Won’t Hit Today, was told by David Lemmon.

Between 1902 and 1904 EHD Sewell played as an amateur for Essex without ever really establishing himself. Sewell became a prolific writer on the game and two of his books were essentially autobiographical. They were The Log of a Sportsman and An Outdoor Wallah, published in 1923 and 1946 respectively.

Only two Essex players wrote autobiographies between the wars. Tours and Tests was the title chosen by the schoolmaster and fearsome fast bowler Kenneth Farnes. Killed during active service as an RAF pilot in the Second World War Farnes is also the subject of a biography by David Thurlow, Ken Farnes – Diary of an Essex Master that appeared in 2000.

For a number of years the man who had to keep wicket to Farnes was Roy Sheffield. In 1932/33, whilst the most controversial cricket tour of them all was taking place, on the other side of the world Sheffield took a trip to South America. Whilst there he took a break from his employment as a gaucho in Argentina to make his way, by canoe, to Paraguay where, arriving during a war with neighbouring Bolivia, he found himself arrested by the local authorities. His 1935 book Bolivian Spy? is an account of that episode and isn’t really a cricket book at all. But it is an autobiography from a professional cricketer and therefore warrants its place here.

At this point, as I am taking matters in chronological order, I will mention Norman Borrett, who played a single match for Essex in each of the summers of 1937, 1938 and 1946. Borrett is the subject of Master Sportsman by Richard Sayer. His greater sporting achievements were as an England hockey player and a Great Britain squash player. He also played cricket for a number of years with Devon in the Minor Counties Championship. The book was privately published in 2010.

In the immediate post war years the best known Essex player was all-rounder Trevor Bailey. For those wanting to know more about Bailey they have a choice of his own autobiography, Wickets, Catches and the Odd Run, published in 1986, or two biographies, Trevor Bailey – A Life in Cricket from namesake and former teammate Jack Bailey, or The Valiant Cricketer from Alan Hill, published in 1993 and 2012 respectively.

Another man who was a fixture in the Essex side after the Second World War was TC ‘Dickie’ Dodds. A dashing opening batsman and member of Moral Re-Armament in 1976 Dodds wrote Hit Hard And Enjoy It, and an excellent read it is too.

Doug Insole was an amateur batsman who was capped nine times by England and whose career coincided with Bailey and Dodds. An autobiography, Cricket From The Middle, was published in 1960.

The early 1960s saw three youngsters start their Essex careers, leg spinner Robin Hobbs, batsman Keith Fletcher and, a couple of years later, orthodox left arm spinner Ray East. Hobbs, for years the last English wrist spinner standing, was the subject of a splendid biography, Hobbsy, in 2018. Fletcher was to lead Essex to their first trophies and had a long Test career and was later England team manager. He wrote two autobiographies, Captain’s Innings in 1983 and Ashes to Ashes in 2004. East, a noted comedian, published  Funny Turn: Confessions of a Cricketing Clown in 1983. Some of us would have preferred a more serious cricketing narrative, but East’s book is not without merit.

Two integral parts of Fletcher’s team were the South African batsman Ken McEwan, denied an international career by his countries self-inflicted isolation, and left arm seamer John Lever. David Lemmon published Ken McEwan in 1985, and Lever’s autobiography, JK Lever: A Cricketer’s Cricketer appeared four years later.

Few would seriously argue with the contention that the most successful Essex cricketer to date has been Graham Gooch, and not only has he scored more runs than anyone else he has also inspired more books. There have been a diary (1981) and three tour books as well as the end of career My Autobiography in 1995. Plenty of others have tackled the subject of Gooch however, Ivo Tennant, David Goodyear and Phil Stevens amongst them. His first one hundred centuries are also the subject of For Essex and England, a handsome limited edition book written by Gooch and publisher Michael Down.

A man whose career at the top coincided with that of Gooch was Derek Pringle, who after many years as a journalist treated the world to his autobiography in 2018, and Pushing the Boundaries is a hugely entertaining read.

One of Gooch’s successors at the helm of the England side was Nasser Hussain, and his autobiography, Playing With Fire, came out in 2004 and, at a shade under 500 pages, is one of the English game’s bulkiest reads.

Rather more lightweight in size and content is Ronnie Irani’s No Boundaries. The man who took over from Hussain as Essex captain was forced out of the game by injury in 2007 and two years later, by then a talkSPORT presenter, the chatty autobiography appeared. I think on reflection I may have been a little harsh on the book in this review, but it was a missed opportunity nonetheless.

And finally in the biography department we have, of course, the last man of Essex to lead England and the country’s highest run scorer, Alastair Cook. Cook has written two autobiographies. In 2008 Starting Out: My Story So Far cashed in on his early success, and after his international retirement My Autobiography appeared in 2019, along with the The Alastair Cook Story by Ollie Brett.

In terms of other books about Essex cricket the first to mention is, once again, by David Lemmon. Summer of Success was published in 1980 and concerned the events of the previous summer when, not having previously won any trophies at all, Essex lifted not only the Benson & Hedges Cup at Lord’s but ended the summer with the Championship to go with it. Thirty years later Ian Oxborrow and Rob Pritchard revisited 1979 again and a second book appeared, Fletcher’s Aces and Jokers.

I haven’t been able to find a book on Essex in the Tempus 100 Greats series, but have located one book of collected biographies, Famous Cricketers of Essex by Dean Hayes, published by Spellmount in 1991. There is also a largely pictorial book, published by Sutton Publishing in association with the club in 2002, Essex County Cricket, by William Powell.

Also worthy of mention is the 2000 published The Rise and Fall of Percy Perrin, a book I mentioned in relation to Derbyshire, Essex’s opponents in the remarkable 1904 fixture between the counties that the book describes.

One last book on Essex cricket, and with this one there is certainly an element of leaving the best till last, appeared in 2018 and was written by Paul Hiscock and Tony MacDonald. I reviewed it here, and having got the book out to look over as I prepared this post, I think that perhaps four stars was a little mean. It really is a very special effort.

And my two choices for the future? A pair of biographies methinks. The first will be of Barry Knight whose story is a fascinating one and, very possibly, already written but if so and done properly it will doubtless have fallen foul of its proposed publisher’s libel readers, so it is unlikely to see the light of day during Knight’s lifetime. The second would be a biography of Doug Insole, if I thought it were possible for any further light to be shed on the machinations of the D’Oliveira Affair, but with Insole’s passing in 2017 that seems improbable, so my second choice would be a biography of the greatly underrated West Indies fast bowling all-rounder Keith Boyce who was, for a decade from 1967, an integral part of the Essex side. 

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