Sussex in PrintMartin Chandler |
Cricket in Sussex can be traced back as far as 1728, albeit the current county club is somewhat younger than that. Having been formed in 1839 it nonetheless remains the oldest of the eighteen First Class counties.
An early history of the county, which ran to three editions (themselves the subject of a 2006 published bibliographical examination by Nicholas Sharp), first appeared in 1923 from the writer/collector/dealer AJ Gaston, better known then by his soubriquet, Leather Hunter. A modest paperback of 86 pages Sussex County Cricket 1728-1923 is an authoritative booklet nonetheless.
The cover of Gaston’s book contains a photograph of Arthur Gilligan, then the county captain, and it was Gilligan who authored the next history of the county, Sussex Cricket, in 1933. A generation later in 1959 and John Marshall’s Sussex Cricket: A History was published.
Moving forward the next substantial book is from 1978, and was an early contribution to the literature of the game from a man who was to become a prolific cricketing biographer, Alan Hill. The Family Fortune is not a comprehensive history and nor does it purport to be, the sub title describing it as A Saga of Sussex Cricket.
A major history of the club appeared in 1992, Christopher Lee’s From The Sea End, and that was that until 2014 and the club’s 175th birthday which was celebrated by the Sussex Musuem with the publication of the excellent A Pictorial History of Sussex County Cricket Club.
Moving on to biographies the first man to feature bears one of the most famous cricketing surnames, certainly in Victorian times. Lillywhite: The First Modern Bowler is a biography of William Lillywhite who was the first bowler to develop round arm bowling and did so with such success that he was known as The Nonpareil. Noted historian Martin Wilson was the author, and the book was published in 2011.
In 1874 Walter Humphreys made his First Class debut. A useful batsman and underarm bowler Humphrey was the subject of a flimsy ten page booklet, A Short Biography of Walter Humphreys, back in 1889. The booklet is not quite unprocurable, but is certainly a tricky one to find.
Sir Aubrey is the title of a biography of the England and Sussex bowler Charles Aubrey Smith known, because of a somewhat eccentric approach to the wicket as ‘Round The Corner’ Smith. Smith was a capable quick bowler, but not really of international class although he did play one Test, as captain, being the inaugural Test between England and South Africa in 1888/89. Ultimately however Smith’s greater fame came as a star of stage and screen and it was for his prowess in that field that he received the knighthood. The book was written by David Rayvern Allen and first appeared in 1982, with an enlarged second edition being published in 2005.
‘CB’ Fry is one of the most versatile sportsman who has ever lived and has been the subject of many books. I will suggest just three for my purposes those being his 1939 autobiography Life Worth Living, and two biographies. The first is CB: The Life of Charles Burgess Fry by Clive Ellis, which was published in 1984 and the second, the definitive account of Fry’s life, CB Fry: An English Hero by Ian Wilton, published in 1999. A couple of other particularly interesting items on Fry are Ronald Morris’s biography of his wife, The Captain’s Lady (1985) and Pauline Berry’s 2004 publication CB Fry: His Golden Years at West End (1898-1908).
A year after Fry began his Sussex career, in 1895, he was joined by his great friend, the equally legendary Ranji. The Indian prince has been the subject of even more books than Fry, albeit there was never an autobiography as such. The first full biography of Ranji was published as long ago as 1902, Percy Cross-Standing’s Ranjitsinhji: Prince of Cricket, but there have been many others. The next, published the year after Ranji’s death is Roland Wild’s Ranji, a book authorised by its subject in his lifetime. It is a rather tedious read however, something that is something of a shame as it has a spectacular limited edition and, if you can find a copy with it, the standard edition has a most attractive dust jacket.
Much better books are Ranji by Alan Ross from 1983 and, the best of the lot, Simon Wilde’s Ranji: A Genius Rich and Strange that was published in 1990. Other books have dealt with specific aspects of Ranji’s life. Batting For The Empire: A Political Biography of Ranjitsinhji by Mario Rodriguez appeared in 2003, and a year later Ranji: Maharaja of Connemara by Anne Chambers was published, a book which dealt with his time in Ireland. From India Vasant Raiji published two books about Ranji. Neither were biographies as such, but Ranji: The Legend and the Man from 1963 and Ranji: A Centenary Album from 1972 have an unmistakeable Indian flavour to them.
The county career of batsman and off spinner Maurice Tate began in 1912 and over the next ten years Tate slowly established himself until, in 1922, he famously decided to bowl a quicker delivery at his skipper Arthur Gilligan in the nets. Gilligan was completely beaten by the speed at which the ball came off the pitch and a great medium pace bowler was born. Tate wrote an autobiography in 1934, My Cricketing Reminiscences. Two biographies have followed, Maurice Tate by Gerald Brodribb in 1976 and Then Came Massacre by Justin Parkinson in 2013.
Only two men who debuted for Sussex between the wars have been the subject of full biographies. The first is the seldom remembered Tommy Cook, who played soccer for England and can’t have been to far away from being a double international. His eponymous biography was privately published in 2020 by Phil Dennett.
The second is the much more famous name of Ranji’s equally gifted nephew, Duleep, whose career was sadly cut short by reason of his less than robust health. Duleep: The Man and his Game was published in India in 1963. It is a collection of tributes more than a biography. Eventually in 2005 a biography did appear, Duleep by Barry Rickson.
Another man who began his Sussex career in 1924 with Duleep was Jim Parks Senior. Parks has not been the subject of a full biography as such, but he is the subject of an extensive booklet that was published by the Sussex Museum in 2017 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of his 1937 summer, in which he scored 3,000 runs and took 1,000 wickets as well as winning his only England cap. James H Parks and his 1937 World Record was written by Norman Epps.
A decade after Parks remarkable summer David Sheppard, in time to become a Bishop and then take his place in the House of Lords, began his cricket career. In 1964 he wrote an autobiography, Parson’s Pitch, and thirty eight years later another one, Steps Along Hope Street. In 2019 he was the subject of an excellent biography by Andrew Bradstock, Batting for the Poor.
As Sheppard made his debut so too did all-rounder Alan Oakman, who enjoyed a 21 year career before retiring in 1968. There is no detailed account of Oakman’s life available but he did write an autobiography aimed at young people in 1960, How I Became A Cricketer.
Hubert Doggart, like Sheppard, studied at Cambridge although not at the same time. Doggart first appeared for Sussex a year after Sheppard and has written two books, Neither of them are autobiographies as such but both give much of the man. They are Reflections In A Family Mirror and Cricket’s Bounty, published in 2002 and 2014 respectively.
Jim Parks Junior began his career in 1949. He started as a batsman who bowled a bit of leg spin but later took up wicketkeeping, and whilst he was never the best wicketkeeper in England his skills behind the stumps were sufficient, when taken with his batting, to earn him 46 Test caps. He wrote two autobiographies, Runs In The Sun and Time To Hit Out, in 1961 and 1967 respectively. A biography by Derek Watts, Young Jim: The Jim Parks Story, appeared in 2005.
Sussex and England captain Ted Dexter was another Cambridge Blue and came into the Sussex side in 1957. Ted Dexter Declares was a 1966 autobiography. In 1995 journalist Alan Lee wrote a biography, Lord Ted, before in 2020 Dexter himself produced the definitive account of his life, Eighty Five Not Out.
The Sussex career of controversial fast bowler John Snow began in 1961 and ended in 1977. To England supporters of a certain age Snow will always be a hero and whilst we do have his 1976 autobiography, Cricket Rebel, the world is certainly ready for another effort at a telling the story of Snow’s life.
In the mid 1960s Tony Greig arrived on the south coast and in time was just as popular as Snow with the younger generations of cricket fans, although the role he played in World Series Cricket which signalled the end of his playing career alienated many of their seniors. Greig wrote an autobiography, My Story, in 1980. Subsequently Greig has proved popular with biographers all of David Lemmon, David Tossell, mother Joyce and son Mark and Andy Murtagh all contributing with respectively The Cricketing Greigs (1991), Tony Greig (2011), Tony Greig: Love, War and Cricket (2013) and If Not Me, Who? (2020).
One teammate of Greig, Snow and Dexter has proved to be a fine writer and former skipper John Barclay’s output includes an excellent autobiography, Life Beyond The Airing Cupboard, that was published in 2009. A later book, 2013’s Lost In The Long Grass, is not another autobiography but, containing as it does Barclay’s thoughts on many of his contemporaries, it adds much to his story.
The next and so far last three Sussex players to go into print all began their careers around the turn of the millennium. Firstly there was a book from the man who kept wicket for England for several years, Matt Prior, whose The Gloves Are Off appeared in 2013. His story was followed by that of Chris Adams, the man who finally led the county to their elusive first Championship, and his story was told in 2015 in Grizzly: My Life and Times in Cricket. One of Adams’ successors was Michael Yardy, who wrote The Hard Yards a year later.
Sussex had to wait until 2003 before they finally lifted the County Championship, and having done so won it again in 2006 and 2007. The 2003 triumph was celebrated in two books, Glorious Summer from John Wallace and The Longest Journey from Paul Weaver and Bruce Talbot. There was just one book on the 2006 victory, Nicholas Sharp’s Year of the Magical Martlets, but it was back to two for 2007 with another Sharp celebration, Good Old Sussex By The Sea, and a Weaver/Talbot collaboration, Flight of the Martlets.
The long history of the Sussex club has also given rise to some scholarly looks at the distant past. Pre Victorian Sussex Cricket by HF and AP Squire appeared in 1951, and Timothy McCann’s meticulously researched Sussex Cricket in the Eighteenth Century in 2004. A rather more statistical volume is George Washer’s Complete Record of Sussex Cricket 1728-1957, published in that latter year.
There is a Sussex volume in each of the three Tempus series, 100 Greats, Images of Sport and Fifty Classic Matches. All three books were put together by John Wallace and appeared in 2000, 2001 and 2003 respectively. There have also been a couple of books celebrating famous Sussex grounds, firstly Cricket at Hastings by Gerald Brodribb, published in 1989, David Boorman’s history of the Horsham Festival that appeared in 2008 and Michael Marshall’s Cricket at the Castle, concerning that beautiful ground at Arundel, in 1995.
And it is there that I think I will stop, although there are a number of other Sussex related publications that have come from the Sussex Museum. To set them all out would make this piece unwieldy to say the least, but they are an excellent selection, many of which have been reviewed on the site and in the fullness of time I will perhaps dedicate a future article to them.
Which in closing brings me to my two selections for project for the future. There is plenty of scope with Sussex and the choice is not an easy one. In the end however I have gone for a couple of families. The first is the Gilligan brotherhood, of whom Arthur and Harold both captained Sussex and England, and Frank who kept wicket for Essex. Then there are the Relf brothers, primarily Albert of Sussex and England and Robert of Sussex, albeit a third brother also turned out a few times for Sussex with his siblings.