FirestarterMartin Chandler |
Author: Stokes, Ben
Rating: 3 stars
I have to confess to not approaching Firestarter with any great enthusiasm. Before I had even opened it I was thinking to myself how ridiculous it was that a 25 year old cricketer, less than three years into his Test career, should feel able to produce a 293 page autobiography. The opening chapter didn’t, initially, much impress me either. Despite a growing acceptance of and even, dare I say it, enjoyment of T20 cricket, it certainly struck me as inappropriate that a man who has put in some towering performances in Tests should base his book on that spectacular end to the 2016 World T20 final when Carlos Brathwaite rescued what seemed to be a lost cause by striking him for four sixes in the final over.
But then Stokes is box office, and not just in England. The bids generated for him in the last IPL auction are testament to that. He is doubtless already set up for life financially, but sporting careers are never long and can, of course, end abruptly, so it would be unfair to criticise him for taking advantage of his popularity. Above all there is no reason why he need concern himself with those who care more about cricket’s history and its literature than the current incarnation of the game.
Had I therefore chosen to have a snipe at Firestarter in this review I don’t suppose Stokes would care one jot. However I have learnt the lesson before that, to use a dreadful cliché, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It is one that is entirely applicable here as whilst the dust jacket is not the worst I have seen, it did nothing to suggest to me that Stokes’ book was going to be anything other than mundane.
In fact however Firestarter is well worth reading. There are a few reasons for this, not least amongst them the excellent job done by Stokes’ ghostwriter, Richard Gibson, and of course Stokes himself. However good a ghost is if he doesn’t get enough time with his subject he is going to end up writing a pretty dull book. It is clear however that despite the many and varied demands on his time Stokes and Gibson have put the hours in.
In addition to his time Stokes has also given much of himself to the book. Ghosted autobiographies, a generation or two ago the bane of any reviewer’s life, do now give up much more of their subjects than they used to and this is no exception.
So what of Ben Stokes’ effort? The disappointment of realising what his first chapter was about did not last very long. It becomes an interesting glimpse into Stokes’ mind set. Although some might not have had the mental strength to be unaffected by the chastening experience Brathwaite inflicted it is clear that, the immediate aftermath excepted, Stokes was not unduly troubled. As importantly he has clearly learnt much from the experience.
In producing a book at this stage of his career Stokes is helped by the fact that a good deal has happened to him in his short career that has grabbed the headlines. It is remarkable really that even before the third anniversary of his Test debut he had achieved so much. He had scored three Test centuries, one in his second Test against Australia, and another that glorious 258 in South Africa. In addition there were two six wicket hauls, both in Ashes matches.
It hasn’t all been success of course. At the other end of the scale there is being sent home from a Lions tour in 2013, and being dropped from the Test side against India in 2014 after a run of three ducks. Then there are the on field incidents, the obstruction dismissal against Australia in 2015, and in complete contrast that remarkable catch at Trent Bridge from Stuart Broad’s bowling. Inevitably the enjoyable selection of photographs contains a shot of that, and I am pleased to report it is not the image that we are all familiar with.
It is a relief that there is none of the sourness towards teammates that has characterised one or two recent autobiographies from England players, although hardly surprising given that he is still in the dressing room and is hopefully there to stay for a few years yet. There is one current player he does have a pop at, although to be fair that is one of the more interesting parts of the book. Anyway everyone knew there was a bit of history with Marlon Samuels, so he could hardly ignore it. All in all Firestarter is a decent read, and a perfectly acceptable way of whiling away a long train journey.