Late Cuts: Musings on Cricket

Published: 2021
Pages: 282
Author: Marks, Vic
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 4 stars

I decided a few years ago that if I planned to review a book it was a good idea not to read anyone else’s opinion of it until after I had committed my own thoughts to paper. This has occasionally led me to make incorrect assumptions, and I certainly made a big mistake with Late Cuts: Musings on Cricket.

A couple of years ago former England off spinner and long time journalist and broadcaster Vic Marks published an autobiography, Original Spin, a book which I much enjoyed, so I was a little surprised to see another title from him appearing just two years later.

I blame the title and sub-title for what happened next. Clearly the book couldn’t be another autobiography so, Marks only ever having been an occasional author over his writing career, it must be an anthology of his newspaper opinion pieces? Words like ‘Cuts’ and ‘Musings’ reinforced what I still believe was a reasonable assumption. At least that’s my excuse for being a bit slow on the uptake with this one, but ultimately the reasons for it matters little, but I was completely wrong. Had I read anyone else’s review I would, of course, have realised.

In fact the book consists entirely of Marks’ writings during lockdown and, not for the first time, we have an author who has spent his hours confined to barracks very wisely, working from home and ignoring the temptation to attend casual business meetings.

Anyone who has read Original Spin, and/or listened to Marks’ commentary, will know just what Victor is like. His knowledge and experience of the game is huge, but at the same time he is modest and self-effacing, with a ready wit and a fine sense of humour. Everything about his personality is carried into his writing.

There are twelve chapters in Late Cuts, with simple chapter headings that clearly announce the contents; Selection, Captains, Partnerships, The Spell, Declarations, Crowds, Failure, Food, Twelfth Man, Press Conferences, The Library, and Somerset.

One thing that is immediately clear is that those chapters are self-contained, which means that they don’t have to be read in any particular order. Notwithstanding that I did read the book from front to back save that, like any good bibliophile, I did start with The Library.

As a man who has made his career in the media it is no surprise to learn that there are a large number of cricket books in the Marks household, but he is not a collector, well not in the sense that The Mac and I are, and in truth that is probably a good thing. That is not to say there are not a large number of titles mentioned in his chapter, and a number of them come with a weighty recommendation.

The real joy in the chapter, as in many of the others, are the discursive insights. An excellent example of that is when Mike Brearley’s seminal Art of Captaincy is mentioned. There is no doubt that Brearley is one of the great captains, but he and fellow Cambridge graduate Phil Edmonds famously did not get on. What I hadn’t realised was that Geoffrey Boycott, cut from very different cloth and nothing like so highly rated as a skipper as Brearley was, unlike the man with a ‘degree in people’, able to get the best out of the maverick left arm spinner.

The reason why Marks is such an interesting writer is because he knows all the men he writes about, and what makes them tick. In addition whilst some of them might be close friends, and others people he would prefer to avoid, he is always objective. His writing displays all the guile and variation of spin and pace that you expect from an England off spinner, but his observations always, always land right on the spot.

Nowhere in his musings is Marks more interesting than in relation to captains, a subject where opinions can become polarised. For all modern England captains, and a few from elsewhere, their strengths and weaknesses are laid out and some interesting examples quoted. With no apparent axe to grind anywhere Marks’ views are important and go well beyond the aside in The Library that I have already referred to.

Each of the chapters contain plenty of Marks’ subtle humour, and indeed those on Food, Twelfth Man and Press Conferences are primarily a vehicle for that and are also, of course, areas that other books generally ignore, or mention only in passing.

There is much recent cricket history in Late Cuts and, particularly in the Selection chapter some rather more ancient history as well. The stories of men and matches that comprise these are necessarily fairly short but despite that with impressive regularity Marks manages to convey everything that is important over the space a few paragraphs. It isn’t always possible though, and a couple of examples of games where he might have written more are a couple from the Caribbean, Garry Sobers’ infamous declaration at the Queens Park Oval in 1968, and the match eight years later at Sabina Park when Bishan Bedi’s Indian side were blasted out by an early incarnation of Clive Lloyd’s four pronged pace attack.

All in all Marks’ musings are thoroughly worthwhile and highly recommended, but I will add one last piece of advice. One of the most variable features of cricket books, and indeed I am sure of books on any subject, are prefaces. If lengthy they can be off-putting and/or unnecessarily self-indulgent. That in Late Cuts is a long one, running to as many as 16 pages. It is however an excellent piece of writing and a splendid introduction to what follows. Part of it involves Marks looking back fondly over his career, but it ends with the consolatory observation that at least now there is now no compulsion to watch The Hundred, which I’ll try not to mention again in whatever follows here. Amen to that.

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