The Tale of the Scottish DexterMartin Chandler |
Author: Bee, Andrew
Rating: 3 stars
Some books are trickier to review than others, and this recent biography of Mike Denness is certainly one such. Reading it took up most of my Boxing Day morning, something which I intend as a compliment. The story of the rise and fall of Mike Denness is, to me, one of particular interest. I was 13 when Denness was elevated to the England captaincy from, seemingly, nowhere, and his was a tenure that seldom went to plan. I remember the events well, and much enjoyed reliving those formative years.
Is it enough to enjoy reading a book? I think in many ways it is and for that reason I certainly believe that The Tale of the Scottish Dexter is going to be enjoyed by a number of its readers. That said it is not without its flaws, many of which were avoidable despite the limitations that self-publishing imposes. As I have said on many occasions those who self-publish have my blessing, and my expectations of them are tempered by my appreciation of the challenges which they face, but this one does have its faults.
Almost by definition self-publishers do not have editors, but it is a shame that a number of misspellings could not be picked up. Similarly there are a few passages where the grammar goes slightly awry and there are a few occasions when something that Bee tries, entirely laudably to avoid traditional cliches, does not really work as intended. The font size and spacing and the fact that the text has a tendency to run into the gutter are also a little frustrating.
The title of the book is also a strange one, and I did fear a hagiography given that Bee acknowledges that ‘The Scottish Dexter’ is not a soubriquet that was ever give to Denness by anyone else. It is very clear that Bee is a great admirer of his subject but, other than that comparison with Lord Ted (and even with that even if I don’t agree I can see where he is coming from) he retains his objectivity.
In terms of the content of the book retired teacher Bee has made a great deal of use of his own memories, and the books written by or about Denness’s contemporaries as well his subject’s own 1977 autobiography. He has also referred extensively to Wisden and Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ books on the tours of the Caribbean in 1973/74 and Australia in 1974/75, although he seems not to have consulted Frank Tyson’s book on that series, nor ‘Dicky’ Rutnagur’s on Denness’s first overseas trip, to India and Pakistan in 1972/73.
Some will doubtless criticise the extent to which Bee has relied on secondary sources rather than speaking to those involved directly. It is a fair point in some ways, but at the same time it is difficult to imagine that the two most important people in the Denness story who might have been available, Geoffrey Boycott and Raymond Illingworth, would have had anything of note to add to the many words they have written in the past. In addition whilst primary sources may have been few there were some important ones.
In relation to cricketing matters Bee spoke to Charles Rowe and Graham Gooch, both of whose input must have helped greatly with those parts of the narrative that deal with Denness’s county career. In relation to the man himself Bee was assisted by an old school friend, Denness’s elder daughter Lizanne, as well as by her mother. Molly and Denness divorced in the 1980s but, as would be expected from a man like Denness, the split does not seem to have been an acrimonious one.
The reminders of the uneasy relationships with men like Boycott and Illingworth are in many ways the most interesting aspects of The Tale of the Scottish Dexter, but also of value is the account of the most controversial aspect of Denness’s post retirement career when, as ICC Match Referee, he decided to give a one match ban to Sachin Tendulkar for ball tampering in a match in South Africa in 2001. I had quite forgotten just what a furore followed that one.
All in all The Tale of the Scottish Dexter is not a perfect book. It has the issues I have already highlighted, there is no index, no season by season career statistics and the photographs are a disappointment, not so much for what they show but for the way they are reproduced.But despite all that if the life and times of Mike Denness interest you then this is a book that is well worth buying.