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

There are even more books about Sir Ian Botham than about Sir Geoffrey Boycott. Sir Beefy went through 12 Tests as skipper without tasting victory once before Brearley was put back in charge in 1981. It is a grim record, although the opposition were extremely strong. There are three Botham autobiographies. The Autobiography: Don’t Tell Kath appeared in 1995, followed by My Illustrated Life and Head On, both published in 2007. There are plenty of biographies too. In Botham’s pomp Patrick Murphy, Dudley Doust, Dave Bowler and Don Mosey all had a go, and in 2012 Simon Wilde wrote Botham: The Power and The Glory. For now Wilde’s is the best of what are, on the whole, a decent selection, but the definitive story of Botham’s life is yet to come.

After the Brearley era ended the first man England tasked with building on the legacy of 1981 was Keith Fletcher. Fletcher turned town a rebel tour to South Africa to take England to India and Sri Lanka in 1981/82 but, after losing 1-0 in India was deposed in favour of Bob Willis, a job that Willis retained for two years. He remains the last specialist opening bowler to lead England. Fletcher has written two autobiographies, Captain’s Innings and Ashes to Ashes, in 1983 and 2005. Willis wrote one, Lasting the Pace in 1985 and, following his untimely death at the end of 2019, has been the subject of Bob Willis: A Cricketer and a Gentleman, a wonderful book.

David Gower was next, leading England 26 times over the next four years. He then lost the job to Mike Gatting before getting a further opportunity in 1989 when he lost four of the six Tests England played against Australia that summer. The most recent Gower autobiography appeared as recently as 2014 (Endangered Species). Before that we had With Time To Spare (1980), A Right Ambition (1986) and Gower: The Autobiography (1992). David Goodyear with The Genius of Gower (1993) and Rob Steen with David Gower: A Man Out of Time (1995) have written biographies.

As for Gatting he led England 23 times and won only two of them. At least those two were in Australia and enabled England to complete a rare Ashes away victory. On Gatting there is, so far, just a single autobiography, Leading From the Front, published in 1988.

Gatting’s tenure ended after the first Test of the 1988 series against West Indies, a series in which England famously had four captains, John Emburey losing twice and Chris Cowdrey once before Graham Gooch started his time as captain, one that would last five years and include 34 Tests. Emburey: An Autobiography had appeared in 1987, and Cowdrey’s Good Enough had been published in 1986.

Gooch’s name appears on the spine of a number of books, mainly tour accounts, but in 1995 Gooch:The Autobiography, written with the assistance of the brilliant Frank Keating appeared. There are also a couple of biographies, Gooch: The Biography by Ivo Tennant and Gooch of England by David Goodyear, in 1992 and 1993 respectively. There were a couple of Tests that Gooch missed through injury, and that is when Allan Lamb stepped in. Lamb wrote My Autobiography in 1996, and before that Peter Smith had written Lamb’s Tales in 1985.

After Gooch the 1990s were, essentially, the decade of Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton. In fact Stewart, briefly, had the first chance when he stood in for Gooch for a couple of Tests on the sub-continent in 1992/93, but when Gooch finally handed over the reins during the 1993 Ashes it was Atherton who got the job, and the Lancastrian stayed in post for 54 Tests. Atherton’s post retirement autobiography, Opening Up, published in 2002, is one of the best books of its type. Prior to that David Norrie had written a biography, Athers, in 1997.

Stewart’s reign, taking over from Atherton in 1998, was shorter than that of his long time opening partner but largely comparable in terms of success achieved. Stewart’s autobiography, Playing for Keeps, appeared a year after Atherton’s.

The successor to Stewart was Nasser Hussain who, in tandem with a new coach, Duncan Fletcher,   started the improvement in England’s fortunes which Michael Vaughan built on with that famous Ashes triumph in 2005. Both published chunky autobiographies once their tenures were over, Hussain with Playing With Fire in 2004, and Vaughan with Time To Declare in 2009.

Both of Hussain and Vaughan had stand ins, Hussain once and Vaughan twice. In Hussain’s case the man concerned was Mark Butcher, about whom nothing has yet been written (but surely will be?) and Vaughan’s deputy was Marcus Trescothick, whose 2008 published Coming Back To Me marked a sea change in the way sporting autobiographies are written.

Although Vaughan had two distinct spells in charge it would be unfair to describe Andrew Flintoff as a stand in given that he led England through three series, culminating of course in that hugely disappointing defence of the Ashes in 2006/7. A major celebrity Flintoff has been the subject of a raft of books both biographical and autobiographical none of which are the definitive account of his life that will doubtless one day appear. The only one I have read is the most recent, Second Innings, published in 2015.

And that, leaving aside the current incumbent and his stand in leaves three, Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Alistair Cook, all of whom have written autobiographies. Strauss’s Driving Ambition appeared in 2013, Pietersen’s KP The Autobiography in 2014 and Cook’s The Autobiography last year. Both the latter two had written earlier autobiographies, Pietersen’s Crossing The Boundary in 2006 and Cook’s Starting Out: My Story So Far in 2008. Pietersen in particular has also attracted other writers, most interestingly Simon Wilde whose On Pietersen, published in 2014, is a thought provoking read.

Joe Root has just turned 30, and Ben Stokes is a year younger. Root’s first book appeared in 2015. Bringing Home The Ashes is, essentially, an account of England’s successful 2015 Ashes campaign but it amounts to an autobiography. From Stokes there have been two books. Firestarter, published in 2017 is a straightforward ghosted autobiography, albeit one that is rather better than it sounds, and Stokes not unreasonably cashed in on his heroics in 2019 with On Fire, which again is worth a read.

Having mentioned, Part 1 of this feature, Alan Gibson’s acclaimed 1979 book on England captains I shall end by making mention of a similar book, published just this year. Mark Peel’s The Hollow Crown, sub-titled England Cricket Captains From 1945 To The Present. The book has not yet reached the top of my ‘pending pile’ but, having read several of Peel’s previous books including his recent biography of Mike Brearley I am sure it will be a good one and might, I suppose, mean that readers do not have to read this and last week’s posts, which is why I’ve only mentioned it at the end.

Thank you, good night, and happy reading!


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