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Warwickshire in Print

First Class status came Warwickshire’s way in 1894 and, to date, the county’s history has been chronicled in full in three books. The first was a slim volume by Edgell and Frazer that appeared in 1946, Warwickshire County Cricket Club: A History, before Leslie Duckworth produced the magisterial Story of Warwickshire Cricket which, published in 1974, took the story to 1972. The Warwickshire volume in the Helm series was the last of the three, published in 1990, and written by former player turned writer/broadcaster Jack Bannister.

Three men who appeared for Warwickshire in their first summer as a First Class county have been the subject of books. One is the mighty SF Barnes, looked at under Lancashire. The other two are less well known today. The eldest, at 33, is John Shilton. Past his best by 1894 slow left arm bowler Shilton only played for the county at First Class level 19 times, but he was an interesting character and a 64 page ACS published booklet, John Edward Shilton’s Book by Robert Brooke appeared in 1984.

AFA ‘Dick’ Lilley was the county’s wicketkeeper in their first summer, and by the time he retired in 1911 had played 35 times for England, yet he is not much remembered today. His was a big name in 1912 however and Twenty Four Years Of Cricket, a very early autobiography from a professional, was an impressive production for the time.

Lilley’s successor behind the stumps for England was his county colleague ‘Tiger’ Smith. The Tiger played on until 1930, became a top umpire and later coached the county. He was the oldest surviving England Test player when he died in 1979 and lived long enough to co-operate fully with his biographer, Pat Murphy. ‘Tiger’ Smith of Warwickshire and England was published in 1981.

In 1911 Warwickshire unexpectedly won the County Championship. Their captain was a talented young all-rounder who went to Australia that winter and continued his fairytale by playing a major role in England recapturing the Ashes. Sadly for Frank Foster however his career was over at 25 and his life after that was an odd one. An autobiography, Cricketing Memories, was published in 1930 and an excellent biography, Frank Foster: The Fields Were Sudden Bare came along in 2011 in the ACS Lives in Cricket series, authored by Robert Brooke.

With Foster in Australia in 1911/12 was batsman Sep Kinneir, although he played in just a single Test. Along with ‘Big Jim’ Smith of Middlesex Kinneir is one of the two subjects of David Smith’s 2000 published Corsham’s Two Test Cricketers.

The Championship year marked the first full season for Jack Parsons. He began as a professional, went to war and won a commission and the Military Cross before returning to the county as an amateur. Parsons then turned pro again and, on being ordained, returned to the amateur ranks. In a career that lasted over a quarter of a century he was a fine batsman and in 1980 was the subject of a biography by Gerald Howat, Cricketer Militant.

Percy Jeeves, whose name was used by PG Wodehouse for his famous literary character, was a hugely promising all-rounder who enjoyed three seasons at Edgbaston between 1912 and 1914 before losing his life on the Somme in 1916. Almost a century later, in 2013, Jeeves was the subject of a fine biography by Brian Halford, The Real Jeeves: The Cricketer Who Gave His Life for His Country and His Name to a Legend.

Four men who made their debuts for Warwickshire between the wars have been the subject of biographies. All were international players, albeit one of them, Peter Cranmer, played Rugby Union for England rather than cricket. Cranmer was a good batsman, and led the county on either side of World War Two. His biography, ‘Tiz All Accordin’ by David Goodyear, was published in 2000.

Bob Wyatt also led Warwickshire and also, in fifteen of his forty Tests, England. One of the most durable batsmen of his era Wyatt was also a good enough medium pacer to take more than nine hundred First Class wickets. There was an autobiography from Wyatt, Three Straight Sticks, that was published in 1951. An excellent biography by Gerald Pawle, RES Wyatt: Fighting Cricketer appeared in 1985.

Reading born Tom Dollery began his career in 1934, and in time led Warwickshire to their second Championship title in 1951. His autobiography, Professional Captain, was published in 1952. 

One of the most important members of Dollery’s side, and the man who famously bowled Don Bradman in his last Test innings, was leg spinner Eric Hollies. Hollies, who had debuted in 1932, like Dollery penned an autobiography, I’ll Spin You A Tale, in 1955. He was later the subject of a biography by Norman Rogers, Eric Hollies: The Peter Pan of Cricket, that appeared in 2002.

In 1946 the New Zealand born pace bowler Tom Pritchard joined Warwickshire and stayed for ten seasons. His commitments to the county meant that Test cricket was not an option for Pritchard and his name is a forgotten one today. He was a top class bowler though and a biography, Tom Pritchard: Greatness Denied, was published in New Zealand in 2013, when Pritchard was 97! 

Another Tom, this time Cartwright, started at Edgbaston in 1952. A supremely effective medium pacer and more than useful batsman we are fortunate that Cartwright’s life appealed to the greatest modern cricket chronicler, Stephen Chalke. The Flame Still Burns was published in 2007.

Future England captain Mike Smith, generally known just by his initials, MJK, first played for Warwickshire in 1956. His second and final retirement came in 1975 and, eventually, a very good biography appeared. MJK Smith: No Ordinary Man is one of the best of the ACS Lives in Cricket series. Written by Douglas Miller it was published in 2014.

In 1958 a fifteen year old batsman arrived at Edgbaston. It would be 29 years and 102 centuries later before Dennis Amiss left, and even then he rejoined the county as CEO in the 1990s. Amiss gave his name to a modest autobiography, In Search of Runs, in 1973. Later he was the subject of a book by David Goodyear in 1985 and, just a few months ago, a very good follow up to the 1973 book arrived, Not Out At Close Of Play.

Bob Willis moved to Edgbaston in 1972 after spending his earliest years with Surrey. His best days almost invariably came when he had the three lions of England on his chest, but Willis was always popular in Birmingham. He published an autobiography, Lasting the Pace, in 1985 and before that there had been three diaries, one of the 1979 season and two covering his tours in charge of England in 1982/83 and 1983/84. All were put in the shade by an excellent appreciation published in 2020 in the wake of Willis’s untimely death, Bob Willis: A Cricketer and a Gentleman, edited by brother David.

All-rounder Paul Smith spent fifteen summers with Warwickshire between 1972 and 1987 and has had an interesting and, for a cricketer, unconventional life. He wrote a very readable autobiography, Wasted?, published in 2007. A possibly more tortured soul and contemporary of Smith’s was Dermot Reeve whose book, Winning Ways, appeared in 1996 a time when life was still going well for him. 

Batsman Wasim Khan spent three summers with his native Warwickshire, three with Sussex and one with Derbyshire without ever quite fulfilling his early promise. He seems an unlikely candidate for an autobiography but in 2007 Brimful of Passion was very well received, his work in the community as CEO of the Cricket Foundation’s Chance To Shine campaign bringing him rather more recognition than his batting had done. 

The last Warwickshire player, to date, to be the subject of a book was Jonathan Trott, whose 2016 book Unguarded is testament to Trott’s honesty and integrity, and to George Dobell being one of the very best of today’s writers on the game. 

The Tempus 100 Greats book on Warwickshire was published in 2001. The fact that it was written by Robert Brooke means it is, perhaps, a cut above the rest of that estimable series. A couple of single season books are Brian Halford’s The Year of the Bear, which covers the county’s title winning summer of 2004. A decade earlier, in 1994, the county had come within the toss of a coin of landing all four of the trophies that the counties then had to compete for. Pat Murphy’s The Greatest Season, published in 2019, is a splendid retrospective on a remarkable year. Finally in the catch all category is a little known gem, A Warwickshire Cricket Chronicle, a book published by Barry Griffiths in 1988, and which amounts to a history of the club from its formation to the outbreak of the Great War.

And my two choices? Despite the modern game not being my favourite cricketing subject I would like to read an autobiography from Ian Bell, so that would be one. The other would be a nod back in time to 1911 and an account of the men and the matches that produced that unexpected County Championship. Having written Tiger Smith’s biography, and The Greatest Season that one must surely be a retirement project for Patrick Murphy?

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