Warren Bardsley: The First Mr. CricketArchie Mac and Martin Chandler |
Author: Lloyd, Peter
Rating: 5 stars
Archie’s view from Australia
The books written and published by Peter Lloyd are now the books I anticipate the most. They are almost a hedonistic pleasure. Lavishly illustrated, in colour throughout, and masterfully written, they are simply a cricket tragic’s beau ideal.
Unfortunately, they are a case of; if you want the rainbow you have to put up with the rain. In that to cover costs, books of this quality are expensive and also limited. In this case to just 100 copies and already there are only a few left.
Having already had the pleasure to peruse his last two offerings on Bradman and Trumper, there was no way I was going to miss out on Lloyd’s latest masterpiece and it was everything that you could want in a cricket book. I actually read it twice. Once from cover to cover and then I went back through it again just to marvel at the high quality illustrations.
Whereas the biographies in Trumper and Bradman had more of a collecting focus, Warren Bardsley is a truer biographical work. The book is a blend of deeply researched information, detailed but not obtrusively referenced, careful and lively discussion, and astute analysis with comprehensive imagery.
As there had never been a complete biography published on Bardsley, Lloyd provides an in-depth study of his subject. We start with Bardsley’s father, who had a momentous impact on the life of his son and his attitude to both cricket and life. This was an astute place to begin the story of Bardsley as it helps explain his personality as well as his drive to reach the top in cricket.
As the title indicates, Bardsley was indeed the first true Mr Cricket. He was not only totally besotted with the game, he was addicted. Training harder and longer than any contemporary and probably most of those who followed until cricket became a full time vocation in Australia.
Bardsley’s focus on cricket and the way he was raised equated to very little controversy in his life. He was what may be described as a company man. So even though some of crickets’ biggest controversies occurred during his playing career, Bardsley either avoided taking sides or was on the establishment side.
Most significantly during the 1912 dispute when the players were at war with the Australian Board of Control. Six of the biggest names in Australian cricket chose not to tour England in protest. However, Bardsley who was now an established senior player does not appear to have supported his fellow players in the dispute. His attitude at best could be described as ambivalent.
The lack of controversy has not stopped Lloyd providing an immensely engrossing story of his subject’s life. One part of the book I found most interesting was the prejudice Bardsley faced for not enlisting in the Great War. Lloyd indicates that Bardsley was overlooked for captaincy roles in Australian cricket due to his lack of a war record. This may explain why Bardsley, who was, as noted an establishment man, was overlooked for the Australian captaincy in favour of the six year younger Herbie Collins who had served in the armed forces.
This book has everything that equates to a five star read. Great production values, a complete index and comprehensive bibliography not to mention informative foot notes on almost every page. In the end, I was going to award it four and a half stars simply because Bardsley wasn’t a legendary subject such as a Trumper or a Bradman.
Four and half stars, is still impressive, however, it was the quality of the writing that elevated this book to five stars, and in the end that’s the real criteria for a good read.
I am reliably informed that Mr Lloyd’s next project will be a full biography on Monty Noble. I have already reserved my copy.
Martin’s view from England
Sometimes I wonder if I allow self-publishers a bit too much latitude. Over the years I have reviewed a few books or booklets of that type which have been, to put it bluntly, a little scruffy. Occasionally I will comment, but if I do in what I like to think is a kindly and constructive way. It has always struck me that the quality of the writing in a self-published book is a great deal more important than its presentation.
But then a self-published title like this turns up, and despite the fact that this review is written only on the basis of a pdf copy of the book, and that by its nature is going to be an inferior product to the print version, it is still a stunner. There is nothing that can be criticised in relation to the design, and the presentation is an object lesson in how a book should be set out. The text is easy on the eye, the book liberally sprinkled with photographs and other images, many of them in colour. The foot notes appear at the end of each page rather than at the end of chapters or, worse still, in a separate section at the end of the book. Finally there are some well-presented statistics and a comprehensive index – and I haven’t even seen the real thing with its leather binding and slip case yet!
Author Peter Lloyd does, of course, have a track record for producing high quality cricket books, his previous efforts showcasing Victor Trumper and Donald Bradman and co-written with Peter Schofield setting the standard for this one. Even before that an earlier book on the subject of some post war Australian sporting magazines had already demonstrated that Peter, flying solo on that occasion, knew how to present a book. The result is that Warren Bardsley: The First Mr.Cricket is most certainly a thing of beauty, but then does its content live up to the expectations its appearance creates?
As the book’s title makes clear it is a biography of Warren Bardsley. Bardsley was a left handed batsman whose Test career began in 1909. He was up and down the batting order in that series until, in the final Test, he became the first man to score twin centuries in a Test, and after that the opening berth was his for almost two decades. Oddly his first opening partner for Australia was fast bowler Albert ‘Tibby’ Cotter, but others included Syd Gregory and Trumper. By the time Bardsley’s Test career ended, at the close of the 1926 series, he was partnering Bill Woodfull. As with most batsmen there were one or two disappointments along the way for Bardsley, in his case most notably in the 1911/12 and 1924/25 Ashes series in the course of both of which he eventually lost his place. But Bardsley was good enough to play for his country as many as 41 times and he averaged a tick over 40, a mark that not even the immortal Trumper was quite able to exceed.
There is, as we all know, much more information readily available now than there was even a couple of decades ago and, it being his lockdown project, I would be surprised if there is anything available anywhere in the world that Peter Lloyd did not find in the course of his researches. The extent of his efforts are evidenced in the book’s bibliography which in itself fills eight pages, including reference to as many as forty newspaper and magazine titles.
Having married late in life Bardsley left no descendants to assist in the biographer’s task, but perhaps sometimes that is not such a bad thing, Lloyd, having had the opportunity to review so many words that have been written on his subject, was no doubt not unduly troubled by not having to contend with the almost always not exactly neutral opinions of surviving members of a family, and their wish to portray their long deceased relative in a light of their choosing.
It is only to be expected that Lloyd covers Bardsley’s cricket career at length, his performances in the game at all levels having attracted much comment and many reports. Perhaps more surprising is the amount of the book taken up with examining where Bardsley came from, and looking at the lives of his forebears and his brother Ray (better known as Mick). Mick was Bardsley’s junior by a dozen years, and was a good enough batsman to appear in eleven First Class matches for New South Wales. Six of those were on tour with his older brother in New Zealand in 1923/24, but Mick was never selected for a Sheffield Shield match. He nonetheless plays a not insignificant part in his brother’s story as well as being involved in the one story in the book I would rather like to know more about, that being the occasion on which Mick, a dentist by profession, was tasked in 1931 with treating Donald Bradman, a consultation that resulted in as many as six extractions being performed.
Cricketing biographies do not often run to 456 pages (and that is without the appendices, statistics and index) and I did wonder whether Warren Bardsley: The First Mr. Cricket might drag as a result. I am pleased to report however that it certainly doesn’t, something that in part must be a testament to the quality of Peter Lloyd’s writing. Other factors at work are the number and quality of the illustrations, which are not just of people, places and cricket matches but also of many items of memorabilia. All in all there is only one drawback to report that being that, I am afraid, this one is not going to be widely available. There are just a hundred copies, available from Roger Page in the southern hemisphere and Christopher Saunders in the north. Inevitably the cost of the book will deter many but, for any who are wavering, the quality of the book fully justifies the price – this one will be a very beautiful thing indeed.