Summer Days PromiseMartin Chandler |
Author: Edwards, Paul
Publisher: Fairfield Books
Rating: 4.5 stars
There are some things you begin to think you will never see, no matter how obvious the need for them is. A book by Paul Edwards is one such. His name is one that is familiar to anyone with an interest in reading about cricket online, a good deal of his work being for websites, particular Cricinfo. He has also written for newspapers, and has been doing so for thirty years, but other than being one of the joint writers of a book celebrating 150 years of Lancashire cricket, and a slim booklet on the subject of Jack Shantry, he is not a man who takes up space on a bibliophile’s shelves.
Which is strange given that Edwards has been scribbling about cricket for three decades now, and that he is very, very good at it. It’s not as if Edwards doesn’t appreciate decent cricket literature either, as is made very clear in the section of Summer Days Promise devoted to that subject. Much of it is taken up with paying homage to the great Alan Ross, but there are honourable mentions also for David Foot, Alan Gibson and Stephen Chalke, and reviews of fine books by Chris Arnot, Christian Ryan and Andrew Renshaw.
From which it starts to become obvious what Summer Days Promise is, that being a selection by Edwards from the many pieces of work he has produced over the years, gathered together under a number of broad headings. Fortunately there is some new material as well, not that that is particularly important in itself but because one of the things that Edwards does do is give something of himself in the introductions to the various sections. Two other fine writers who anthologised their own work, Neville Cardus and John Arlott, did not do that, the one frustration in their collections of their own work.
With one exception, that I will come on to, the emphasis of Summer Days Promise is the county game in England. That is reflected in the not inconsiderable number of match reports that crop up, but also in a section entitled Matches From The Day, a collection of short pieces written during lockdown about county cricket of the past. The earliest dates back to 1925 and the match during which Jack Hobbs went past WG’s record of 126 centuries. Amongst other trips back in time are the first County Championship successes of Essex, Glamorgan, Hampshire and Worcestershire, as well as Sussex’s exploits in the season of the first professional limited overs tournament, 1963 and the Gillette Cup.
The exception is that remarkable Test at Headingley in 2019 when Ben Stokes, with the help of Jack Leach, secured that stunning Ashes victory. As I used to bemoan, until I got used to the idea, there are no tour books anymore, but Edwards does make me wonder whether there is perhaps a place for them after all. Clearly not enough people want to read a ball by ball account of something they can watch online to justify a traditional account of a Test series, but the sort of discursive reports that Edwards provided for the Yorkshire website for that game do make me wonder he should not do something similar for a whole series.
Any book of this sort has to contain a few pen portraits, and it is interesting to note who a writer selects for that, before even thinking about what he produces, and Edwards’ choices are certainly an eclectic lot. There is the Somerset amateur of the ‘Golden Age’, Lionel Palairet, to start things off. The two biggest names featured are John Edrich and VVS Laxman.
Two more who make the cut are Lancashire scorer Alan West and David Essenhigh, groundsman/cricket coach at a school Edwards taught at in the Cotswolds in the 1980s. The others are the maverick Gloucestershire left arm spinner Charlie Parker, umpire Frank Chester, Sussex batsman George Cox, and a man whose star briefly shone as bright as anyone’s, the New Zealander Martin Donnelly.
And then there is the finest piece of writing in the book, and something that I see originally appeared on Cricinfo in 2016, which means I’d never before seen it as it was just before that time that (probably for reasons that are entirely my own fault) I suddenly found that site to be virtually unusable and defected to the much more straightforward BBC site to keep up to date with scores. The essay in question concerns Lancashire’s Ian Folley, who Edwards clearly knew well. Folley was a decent left arm seamer with the county who turned, for a couple of seasons, to orthodox left arm spin with great success until a serious case of ‘the yips’ ended his career. He was still only 30 when he died in tragic circumstances in 1993, and Edwards’ tribute is a masterpiece.
There is one cricketer who gets a chapter himself, and deservedly so in my view even though I know some will raise an eyebrow when they learn the identity of the man concerned. But however completely he lost his way in 2017, and the number of false starts there have been since then, the 2016 version of Haseeb Hameed was a beguiling sight. He fully merits the extended look that Edwards takes at him, together with the references to the still only 25 years old Boltonian in the context of the celebration of Alan Ross that I have already mentioned.
A distinct advantage of books that are a collection of essays of a variety of lengths, many of them just a handful of pages, is that a reader can dip in and out of them for just a few minutes at a time. Such is the display of quality in this one though that I do hope that Paul Edwards next book is a full length study of a single subject. I shall look forward also to his second selection from his existing oeuvre, but that one can wait a while
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