Cricket in MindMartin Chandler |
Author: Haigh, Gideon
Publisher: Haigh, Gideon
Rating: 4.5 stars
Of all the many cricket books I own two that I go back to time and again are Gideon Haigh’s Silent Revolutions and Game for Anything. Both consist of a fascinating selection of essays, generally short in length, on a bewildering variety of historical and bibliographical topics. Something else they have in common is that both are, unlike much of Haigh’s more recent work, readily obtainable in the northern hemisphere. Quite why it is that the larger Haigh’s reputation gets the less available his work becomes in England has long been a puzzle to me – the publishing industry is a strange one at times – maybe the forthcoming trade deal between the UK and Australia will change that in which case there will, finally, be a tangible upside to Brexit.
Perhaps Haigh shares some of my frustration (with publishing rather than Brexit I hasten to add), as Cricket in Mind, which is a not dissimilar collection to the the two previous books I have mentioned, is actually self-published. In an unusual experiment one of the game’s great writers has put out a signed and numbered limited edition of 214* copies of the book. For many self-publishers 214 would be more than enough to go round, but for Haigh, with virtually no marketing at all, he sold out in no time at all. Certainly I acknowledge that I have been fortunate to secure a copy via the circuitous route by which I eventually did.
It is perhaps inevitable that it is the bibliographical aspects of Cricket in Mind that I enjoyed the most. Some of the pieces are book reviews, and those include recent biographies of Ted McDonald, Herb Collins, Reg Duff and Charles Bannerman. There is something about a Haigh review which sets them apart from those penned by others, however keen we might be. It is difficult to pin the difference down, and if I could I would certainly take it on board. Ultimately however these reviews demonstrate very clearly why Haigh gets paid for writing them, whilst I have to earn my living by doing other things.
But there is much more in Cricket in Mind for the bibliophile than just a few reviews. For example there is an appreciation of David Frith who, whether they agree with his always firm views or not, all who read him accept is one of the best of all cricket writers. And on that subject Haigh has saved me a small amount of shelf space by removing the need for me to buy the anthology of the work of Neville Cardus that he edited last year. I have a whole shelf of Cardus in my library, so struggle to believe there was anything there I hadn’t read. Nonetheless the book** had been on my list for purchase simply in order to acquire the introduction and thus Haigh’s take on the great man, but then I discovered that introduction is here.
Cricket fiction is not and never has been a favoured subject of my mine, although I had heard of Dudley Carew’s Sons of Grief and Bruce Hamilton’s Pro, two novels that were published either side of World War Two and both of which I had thought I might one day seek out. I may do so yet, but am undecided whether Haigh’s look at the two books, one of the lengthier essays in Cricket in Mind, has on the one hand heightened my interest, or on the other told me all that I need to know. It is a fascinating look at a genre of cricket writing that rarely attracts attention.
For me the best piece in Cricket in Mind is one of the two, a memoir of the second tied Test being the other, that stretch to twelve pages. A Cricketer and his Demons is a thought provoking look at how attitudes have changed over half a century. We are all now used to cricketing autobiographies that highlight the mental health issues that professional cricketers face. Marcus Trescothick started it all off with Coming Back to Me in 2009, laying bare his demons in a way that a number of others have done since, examples being Michael Yardy, Jonathan Trott, Steve Harmison and Graeme Fowler.
But was Trescothick the first? In fact he wasn’t, and although its significance hadn’t struck me at the time I had, by the time I read Coming Back to Me, read the book which was the first of the line and not, if memory serves, all that long before I first read Tresco’s book. Ken Barrington’s ghosted 1968 autobiography, Playing it Straight, his second such venture into print, had not held back when describing the troubles that caused his mental health to implode. As Haigh skilfully illustrates however in 1968 the world simply wasn’t ready for such a candid memoir from a professional sportsman.
Lest I give the impression that Cricket in Mind is one for bibliophiles only I should perhaps stress that there is plenty more besides. The first part of the book has subtitles for each decade starting with the 1860s with up to three essays in each. Generally they are pen portraits, but not invariably so, and most touch on men and matters Australian, although RE ‘Tip’ Foster, Douglas Jardine, Russell Endean, Vivian Richards, Hansie Cronje and Virat Kohli feature as well.
The second and briefer part of the book bears the title Cricket Passim and is, perhaps, best described as a miscellany. This is where the Frith, Carew/Hamilton and Cardus essays appear. It covers a wide range of subjects across no less than 21 separate pieces. One here that I will single out for mention is a piece written in 2015 to mark Haigh’s quarter century as a cricket writer, in which he makes a very valid comparison between cricket writing and the subject of female erotica – I shall think on.
But whilst on the subject of having one’s grey matter stimulated the two essays that close Cricket in Mind also merit a mention. The first is, five years after his tragic death, a very personal memoir of The Prince, Phillip Hughes, and the closing few words concern, at the end of the summer, Haigh and his teammates from The Yarras CC putting the club into storage for the winter.
At least the act to mark the closure of another playing season allows Haigh to concentrate on his writing, which remains as good as any in the business. He himself draws a parallel between Cricket in Mind and his 2017 book An Eye on Cricket, one which I now see as essential reading and will therefore be purchasing, even if I have to import a copy from Australia. That will certainly be an easier task than tracking down an available copy of Cricket in Mind, but keep an eye open for it as, from time to time, copies are bound to turn up on the second hand market.
*One for each run in the highest Test innings of the legendary Victor Trumper.
**A Field of Tents and Waving Colours: Neville Cardus Writings on Cricket published by Haven Books in 2019.