Between OversMartin Chandler |
Author: Savidge, Michele
Rating: 4.5 stars
A couple of years ago I decided that I wanted to put something in A Bibliophile’s Blog on the subject of female cricket writers. I can still recall the struggle I had putting it together, and the very short list of names and titles that I managed to find. Michele Savidge’s name was there, for her 1995 book, Real Quick: A Celebration of the West Indies Pace Quartets, co written with Alistair McLellan. For what it is worth the only other names I was able to come up with were Teresa McLean, Bridgitte Lawrence and Diana Rait-Kerr, and in the end the piece ended up as a look at the trailblazing Margaret Hughes, who was clearly followed around by a posse of firefighters extinguishing that blaze just as quickly as they could.
Back in 1995 I did know who Michele was, as I had seen her name and role as deputy editor of the short-lived Cricket Life International magazine, but the blurb to Real Quick didn’t tell me much more. That she and I are pretty much the same age I could probably have worked out then, but I am sure of that now as well as the fact that, if the photograph of the author that graces the final page of the book is a recent one, the passing years have been very much kinder to Michele than they have to me. I say this notwithstanding the fact that by the time I got to the end of the book I was only too well aware that Michele has had a much more difficult life than I have .
One of things that has made my life straightforward is that during the lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic my existence carried on almost entirely as normal, other than my walks to and from the office each day becoming eminently more pleasurable. This means that I had no time to sit down and pen my magnum opus. Many did of course, Michele amongst them, and the fruits of their labours have been appearing with some regularity in recent months, and we have had some immensely powerful writing as a result. Michele’s lockdown project has the cricket she has lived through front and centre, but in essence it is however an autobiography.
If called upon to do so I could probably fill a shelf or two in my collection with books written by cricket writers about themselves, even those who had no notable playing career at First Class level. The names trip off the tongue; Arlott, Swanton, Cardus, Chalke, Frith, Ross, Foot and Gibson are some. If I really put my mind to it I could probably find upwards of thirty names to populate that corner with but, as I type, the name of Michele Savidge would be the only female one.
There are several themes to Between Overs, some obvious and others not so. Clearly in the 1980s Michele was going to come up against some prejudices in seeking out a career as cricket writer. That she wanted to do so at all seems to have been in part inspired by her father, and in part by the former West Indies captain who gives the book its second sub-title; A story of love and loss inspired by Sir Viv Richards. For me Richards has always been something of an enigma, a wonderful batsman whose genius lost a good deal of its aura in what I will describe as the ‘Rob Bailey Incident’.
For Michele however there are no such reservations and, in fact, she has now wiped mine away. She is quite right that slamming a professional sportsman for being competitive is ridiculous, and rather more relevant is the way that Sir Vivian has always treated her, simply as a fellow human being, and in light of that I feel just a little embarrassed about some of my past rushes to judgment concerning the Masterblaster.
So how did Michele manage to find her way into the male preserve of cricket writing? The answer begins with a stroke of luck, in getting her first job with The Cricketer, and after that by dint of hard work. In places she makes a good deal of her academic prowess, or rather lack of it, but I think perhaps the lady doth protest just a little too much on that one.
I was a little surprised to learn that Michele did not find more overt sexism than she did, but clearly there was some along the line. Less surprising is the content of the #Who? Me? #Me Too chapter which contains some striking examples of male behaviour at its worst. The former England player with the Rolls Royce is a man particularly deserving of his reputation being dismantled, but there are others as well. It is to the author’s great credit that she makes the decision to allow such reprobates to retain their anonymity.
But in many ways cricket is not the main point of Between Overs, the clue being in the first sub-title, How Life Gets in the Way of Cricket. I wondered as soon as I realised the book had been published why such a talented lady had seemingly been so inactive for so long. I certainly learned the answer to that one as, following in the wake of Marcus Trescothick, Michele has laid bear her demons. The arrogant tosser in the Rolls Royce was, in the scheme of things, but a minor irritation.
After Michele lost a child she decided to give up her hectic job at the Evening Standard in order to go freelance. In the aftermath of that she has concentrated on bringing up her two daughters. She has also had some hammer blows, the loss of her beloved father first to dementia, and then to the grim reaper. If that were not enough she then had to watch her poor mother succumb to seriously failing health – that one was so painful that I have to confess that I couldn’t bring myself to read everything and there were a few paragraphs that I simply glossed over. I promise Michele now however that one day soon I will return and read them.
All in all I have to say that I hope very much that Between Overs is not the last book we see from Michele Savidge. A Nottingham lass whose first team is West Indies rather than England is an unusual beast at any time and, having seen first the heights scaled by the men from the Caribbean in her former life I would expect her thoughts now on the current state of West Indian cricket to be well worth reading.
I would not however like anyone reading this review to be put off Between Overs by the prospect of it being too serious. Much of it is, but the Savidge sense of humour is intact, something confirmed by the inclusion, after each of the substantive chapters, of a short interlude entitled For non-cricket speakers, dealing with a simple explanation of an aspect of the game for those who come to the book not as cricket tragics, but simply interested in Michele’s story.
But then there is one interlude which, despite still being entitled For non-cricket speakers again, really isn’t that at all. In fact this one, much, much longer than the others, should probably be titled For cricket tragics only, consisting as it does of the guest list at an imaginary lunch for, of course, eleven people plus host. There is no explanation as to why Viv Richards is overlooked for this one, but that apart Michele’s eleven are WG, Grace, CLR James, Keith Miller, Derek Randall, Garry Sobers, Ian Botham, Mike Brearley, Dennis Lillee, Sachin Tendulkar, John Arlott and Christopher Martin-Jenkins. It is difficult to disagree with any of those choices, but personally I’d have to drop two, as if it were my fantasy lunch I’d certainly want Michele Savidge there and, of course, Margaret Hughes.