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The Stories of England’s Captains, Part 3 of 4

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In 1951/52 England sent an understrength side to India. With their leading players left at home the team were led by two men with no previous Test experience, and indeed who were to both gain their only caps on the trip. The skipper was the Lancashire batsman Nigel Howard, and the vice-captain the Derbyshire batsman and occasionally effective orthodox left arm spinner Donald Carr. There is no book devoted to Howard, but there is a biography of Carr in the ACS Lives in Cricket seriesDonald Carr: Derbyshire’s Corinthian by the experienced writer John Shawcroft.

For the return series in India the selectors finally broke with tradition and appointed a professional captain for a home Test, Len Hutton. Over the next three years Hutton led England in 23 Tests, winning eleven of them including Ashes series home and away. The life of the great Yorkshireman is well chronicled. He wrote three autobiographies. Cricket is my Life appeared in 1949 andand that and Just My Story in 1956 are relatively pedestrian but his 1984 effort, Fifty Years in Cricket, is an excellent read. There are biographies too, by AA Thomson in 1963, David Lemmon in 1980, Gerald Howat in 1988 and Donald Trelford in 1992, although none are as good as Fifty Years in Cricket. For the statistically minded there is also a volume in the ACS Famous Cricketers series.

During his tenure Hutton missed only two Tests, at home against Pakistan in 1954. His deputy on both occasions was David Sheppard, not then ordained. There are two Sheppard autobiographies, Parson’s Pitch from 1964 and Steps Along Hope Street that appeared in 2002. There is also a fine biography from Andrew Bradstock, Batting For The Poor, published only last year.

Hutton was followed by Peter May, who led England as many as 41 times, winning 20. The first book about May appeared in 1960. It is a rather odd 109 page book in a series of Living Biographies For Young People. Peter May by Robert Rodrigo, who to the best of my knowledge never wrote another cricket book, is an oddity. Subsequently in 1985 May himself published an autobiography, A Game Enjoyed, and a year later a biography by Alan Hill was published. There is also a volume in the ACS Famous Cricketers series.

Between 1959 and 1969 Colin Cowdrey captained England on 27 occasions, without ever really being able to call the job his own. Cowdrey’s first autobiography, Time For Reflection, was published in 1962 and is nothing special. His second, from 1976, MCC – The Autobiography of a Cricketer, released soon after his playing career ended is much better. Other books are an ACS Famous Cricketers effort, a limited edition monograph, Sir Colin Cowdrey, written and published by Richard Walsh in 1995 as well as biographies from Mark Peel (The Last Roman from 1999), Bernard Black (The Test Match Career of Colin Cowdrey from 2005) and Andy Murtagh (Gentleman and Player from 2017). There is also a 1990 book from Ivo Tennant on The Cowdreys but despite the existence of all of those titles I am far from convinced that the whole Cowdrey story has been told nor, sadly, that it ever will be.

In the period spanning Cowdrey’s first and last Tests as captain no less than four other men led England. The first was Ted Dexter who was in charge for 30 Tests between 1961 and 1964. Dexter won nine and lost seven, so slightly inferior to Cowdrey’s eight/four record. Ted Dexter Declares was published in 1966 and a biography by Alan Lee, Lord Ted, in 1995. There is also an excellent little limited edition publication by Nicholas Sharp and Roger Packham from the Sussex Cricket Museum, Ted Dexter: A Celebration that appeared in 2012 and from 1989 The Test Match Career of Ted Dexter by Derek Lodge.

The Dexter era gave way to MJK ‘Mike’ Smith whose 25 Tests as leader in the mid 1960s achieved a record of five wins (three coming against a weak New Zealand side in 1965) and three defeats, which meant that as many as 17 of those Tests were drawn. There is just one book about Smith, and we had to wait until 2013 to get it, but Douglas Miller’s MJK Smith: No Ordinary Man is one of the best books in the ACS Lives in Cricket series.

When Smith and Cowdrey lost three of the first four Tests in the 1966 series against West Indies the selectors brought in Brian Close for the final match. Close won that, and five of the six Tests against India and Pakistan in 1967 but then lost the job for disciplinary reasons. There are two Close autobiographies, Close to Cricket that appeared in 1968 and I Don’t Bruise Easily ten years later before, in 2002, Alan Hill produced a fine biography, Brian Close: Cricket’s Lionheart. That selection have only just been joined by the splendid Just a Few Lines, and there is also an ACS Famous Cricketers volume.

The great stylist, Tom Graveney, stepped into the captaincy for a single match in the 1968 Ashes series when Cowdrey was injured. There are many books about Graveney as well as a Famous Cricketers booklet. There are as many as four books that are essentially autobiographical, Cricket Through The Covers (1958), On Cricket (1965), Cricket Over Forty (1980) and The Heart of Cricket (1983). The better books however are two biographies, Tom Graveney: The Biography from Christopher Sandford in 1992, and more recently Touched by Greatness from Andy Murtagh, published in 2015.

England moved into the 1970s with another tough Yorkshireman at the helm, albeit a rather less abrasive one that Close. Ray Illingworth was selected over Colin Cowdrey for the successful trip to Australia in 1970/71 and altogether Illy led his country on 31 occasions with twelve wins and only five defeats. Slightly surprisingly there has been no full biography of Illingworth, but there are four books of an essentially autobiographical nature, Spinner’s Wicket (1969), To Yorkshire and Back (1980), The Tempestuous Years: 1979-1983 (1987)and One Man Committee (1996), and in addition Mile Stevenson wrote Illy in 1978.

After the 2-2 Ashes series in 1972 Illingworth decided not to tour India and Pakistan in 1972/73 and the Welshman Tony Lewis became the last man to make an England debut as captain. Those eight Tests on the sub-continent and one the following summer against New Zealand were the totality of Lewis’s Test career. He has written two autobiographies, Playing Days in 1985 and Taking Fresh Guard in 2003.

Illingworth’s reign finished at the end of the 1973 summer and, amidst some controversy, Kent’s Mike Denness was chosen to take England to the Caribbean in 1973/74 and the torrid winter that followed in 1974/75 in Australia. There is just one book on Denness, his 1977 autobiography I Declare.

Denness’s successor was Tony Greig, but before the giant blond South African took over another man briefly took the reins, for a single Test in 1974/75, John Edrich. Remarkably there is a but a single autobiography on the subject of Edrich, Runs in the Family, written with the assistance of David Frith in 1969 at a time when his career still had several summers to come. In addition Edrich  does, naturally, figure in a book about his family, The Cricketing Family Edrich that was written by Ralph Barker and published in 1976 and, if only some publisher were prepared to back Frith is (or certainly not all that long ago was) to update Runs in the Family.

As for Greig soon after ascending to the captaincy he became persona non grata for his involvement with Kerry Packer and in 1980, by then long retired from playing despite still being only 34, he published My Story. The next book concerning Greig was a double biography involving brother Ian, The Cricketing Greigs, written by David Lemmon and published in 1991. That was followed by David Tossell’s book, Tony Greig, in 2011, which is a fine read. A later book Tony Greig: Love, War and Cricketwritten by Greig’s son and mother is also a good ‘un and, for the reader with less time on their hands, there is a fine tribute from the Sussex Museum, Tony Greig 1946 – 2012: A Tribute. Both were published in 2013, and this year we have had another biography, If Not Me, Who?, by Andy Murtagh.

After Greig came the 31 Test reign, in two distinct stints, of Mike Brearley, with 18 victories and just four defeats. Brearley has written several books, but none of them are true autobiographies. Finally however we have a biography this year, Mark Peel’s Cricketing Caesar.

The first Brearley captaincy period was, briefly, interrupted by a broken arm and, for just two Tests in 1978/79, Geoffrey Boycott got the chance he had always coveted to lead his country. From Boycott there are several books including Boycott – The Autobiography and The Corridor of Certainty which, published in 1987 and 2014, are autobiographies. As for biographies Don Mosey, CD Clark, John Callaghan and Paul Booth (ACS Famous Cricketers) have written them but, with all due respect to them, if you’re going to read just one book on the subject of Sir Geoffrey then Leo McKinstrey’s Boycs: The True Story, published in 2000 is the one even if, as I believe to be the case, the subject himself does not entirely approve.

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