David LarterMartin Chandler |
Author: Sayer, Richard
Publisher: Albert Publications
Rating: 4 stars
The name of David Larter is one that has always meant a good deal to me. His injury truncated career ended just a year or two before I was old enough to take a serious interest in the game, but over those formative years I often heard him mentioned. My father was a great admirer of Larter and on those regular occasions when we would sit together watching England’s pace attack searching for inspiration he would wistfully tell me about the giant Northamptonshire fast bowler who, had he been fit and firing, would have torn through whoever was holding England up at the time.
Like most small boys I hung on every word my father uttered, and the fondness with which I recall our many cricketing conversations increases with every passing year, but reading Richard Sayer’s excellent biography of Larter has tarnished my memories, if only very slightly. One of the things that stays with me from my childhood is that my father always referenced Larter being Scottish. He was not, strictly, inaccurate in that assertion but I know that he believed that Larter was as a ‘proper’ Scot – only now do I know that Larter’s first seeing the light of day in Inverness was a technicality of such proportions that despite the rigidity of their qualification rules at the time he could have played for Yorkshire had he and the White Rose so wished.
In fact I now know that in reality Larter is and always has been a man of Suffolk, where he attended Framlingham College. There, a few years his junior, was another keen cricketer, albeit one rather less talented and who was therefore obliged to embark on a career of some distinction in the field of mercantile law instead, Richard Sayer. In retirement Sayer has used his passion for the game coupled with the abilities as a wordsmith that his chosen profession gave him to tell Larter’s story.
Larter’s First Class career effectively lasted just six years, between 1960 and 1966. There was a brief comeback in 1969, but the ankle problems that surfaced in Australia early in the 1965/66 Ashes tour were never overcome. A career haul of 666 wickets at 19.53 supports my father’s view, and in the ten Tests that Larter was selected for he took 37 wickets at 25.43, although sadly for him none of those Tests were against Australia – in that respect he has the unique ‘distinction’ of being the only man to have gone on two Ashes tours without playing a Test on either.
In terms of how the book is written Sayer chooses to begin with Larter’s first Test, the last against Pakistan in 1962, when his 9-145 sealed his selection for his first Ashes trip. He then adopts the tried and tested chronological journey through his subject’s life. It is an approach that can prove to be a disappointing one but Sayer, who admits on the inside of the rear cover to living ‘surrounded by cricket books’ knows that only too well.
To bring his book to life the first thing Sayer has done is to spend many hours with his subject, who regularly contributes at length in his own words. As importantly Sayer has interviewed many of Larter’s contemporaries, both from England and Northamptonshire, and quotes extensively from their contributions as well. To supplement those memories he has also read many contemporary press reports, and has made judicious use of the comments made by writers and journalists in the 1960s in a way that makes it clear that the way in which hopes in and expectations of Larter developed in the way they have always been reflected in my childhood memories.
David Larter also serves as a reminder of some of the less endearing features that the game had in 1960s. The start of Larter’s career coincided with the last knockings of the old amateur/professional divide, but the end was just before the formation of the Professional Cricketers’ Association. Had it not been then perhaps Larter, career finished by injury, might have received some assistance from either the MCC or his county. As it was he received no financial or other help from either and it was entirely through his own efforts, not without the odd false start along the way, that he was able to build up a successful career in logistics.
The most important feature in any book is, of course, the narrative, and in the case of David Larter that is, as I have already indicated, excellent. Presentation does remain important however and in that respect, unusually for what is essentially a self-published book, that too is very well done and a specific credit has to go to Christopher Keeble for the innovative design he has provided Sayer with.
And for Richard Sayer’s next project? I sincerely hope he is planning one as I type these words, but if not I have a couple of suggestions. Two of the men who he interviewed for David Larter are two outstanding candidates for biographies. Peter Parfitt lives, I believe, not too far away from Sayer so hopefully he may be able to persuade the man who was undoubtedly the best after dinner speaker I ever saw to share his story. The other is a tad trickier, being in Australia and perhaps with a few too many skeletons in his cupboard, but that of Barry Knight is a story that really should be told and, if he can get the same level of co-operation that he did from Larter, I can think of no better man to tell it.
Richard Sayer has published David Larter in a limited edition of 500 copies and he can be contacted via email@example.com. For those in the southern hemisphere if not already en route a stock of the book will shortly be on its way to Roger Page