September 17, 2013

What autobiographies tell us

Each era of cricket gets the autobiographies that reflect its culture. So what are the current crop of cricketers saying?

How far will Andrew Strauss' book go in exposing the realities of a professional dressing room? © Getty Images

Jonathan Wilson and Samir Chopra last week blogged on the state of the cricket novel. The notion of cricket's literary hinterland in both fact and fiction has also had plenty of attention. But what about the cricketing autobiography? Exactly where are we with that, these days?

Just as every man at 50 has the face he deserves, so each era of cricket gets the autobiography that reflects its culture. By their titles shall we know them. England's modest record and off-field trauma during the gory decade of the 1990s saw its wares pitched in a minor key, with a tentative hint of revelations within: Mike Atherton went for Opening Up, Alec Stewart Playing For Keeps, Graham Thorpe Rising From The Ashes, Nasser Hussain Playing With Fire. One of Phil Tufnell's was called simply You're Having A Laugh, a bravura hook dripping with sardonic potential.

The race to frame the still-nascent lives of the 2005 Ashes heroes resulted in a combination of bullish triumph - Michael Vaughan's Calling The Shots (how long we'd yearned to do exactly that with the Aussies) and Kevin Pietersen's Crossing The Boundary - and the more esoteric creation of a modern myth - Andrew Flintoff's Being Freddie (followed a mere year later by Freddie Flintoff: My World and three years after that by the valedictory Ashes To Ashes), and Duncan Fletcher's Behind The Shades.

The sunlit uplands inhabited by the current side have led to a kind of frictionless banter suggestive of content that must, contractually, have passed through the doors of their employers. Alastair Cook offered Starting Out, Matt Prior The Gloves Are Off, James Anderson Jimmy: My Story. Graeme Swann's publishers were somehow persuaded that The Breaks Are Off was a pun of suitable gravitas for the story within, while Stuart Broad trumped everyone with My World in Cricket, an arrangement of words rather than a meaningful title, and a statement so utterly gnomic that it is almost certainly pinned up on the ECB HQ notice board as an example for future generations.

It was not always this way. One of my favourites as a kid was an ex-library copy of Fred Trueman's Balls Of Fire, a double-entendre worthy of Sid James, and a book that bulged with earthy anecdotes and heavyweight score-settling. Ian Botham's first autobiography was called, with a nod and a wink, Don't Tell Kath. Brian Close produced I Don't Bruise Easily, a book that I remember as a melancholic lament for an only partly realised talent.

Not all are cobbled together by a desperate ghostwriter trapped between his shifts on the sports desk. Atherton and Steve Waugh wrote their own, and they are elegant records of their times, thoughtful books by thoughtful men. Hussain's Playing With Fire is turbulent and heartfelt, while Marcus Trescothick's Coming Back To Me was a brave confessional.

Such books necessarily waited until the end of a career, or at least its international phase. Contemporary publishing is not that patient, because the culture it exists in is weekly, daily, hourly in its demands. The autobiography as a form has suffered from that, and from the desire to create and retain an image. It will be interesting, for example to see how far Driving Ambition, to be published by Andrew Strauss next month, goes in exposing the realities, both explosive and quotidian, of a professional dressing room.

Until then, there is a new generation of English lives to consider. In a few short years we might be reading What The Buttler Saw, Taking Root, Through Thick And Finn, Stoking The Fire and of course It's (Not ) Trott's Fault.

And Michael Clarke is probably signing the contract for the Australian rewrite of Playing With Fire as soon as he gets home.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • emmersonne on September 17, 2013, 16:22 GMT

    At some points during Nasser's, I had to check I hadn't picked up "And when did you last see your father?" by mistake! The insight is all the more poignant as Nasser honestly doesn't seem to find any fault with his father's parenting, nor see what a profound effect his upbringing had on his confidence and self-esteem. I honestly found it quite upsetting in parts.

  • Nutcutlet on September 17, 2013, 12:32 GMT

    As a genre, cricketing autobigraphies can best be regarded as entry-point cricket book reading to be undertaken by boys & girls in their early teens. The vast majority of these offerings are ghost-written; very few survive mature adult scrutiny. Those written mid-career, like Matt Prior's The Gloves are Off, can be dismissed. Prior is under contract with the ECB & therefore what he may have wished to say (the interesting stuff we, on the outside, seldom get to hear about) will have been prevented by the terms of his contract; therefore it cannot be anything other than anodyne. Better books, more thoughtful & reflective, come after players have retired; for instance, Steve Waugh's Out of My Comfort Zone is an interesting read & much more detailed than any others I've come across. Undoubtedly, the best books about cricketers are proper scholarly biographies, often written long after the subject has passed away. My current reading includes one such: Ian Wilson's CB Fry: King of Sport.

  • RockcityGuy on September 17, 2013, 11:08 GMT

    @rajiv does not matter dude...Hayden and Langer have left greenidge and haynes far behind...He's been there he's done that...if he feels it helped it must've helped cuz he thrashed the bowlers not any armchair expert.

  • FreakyGood on September 17, 2013, 10:41 GMT

    You've missed out my favourite sports title, written by a great stalwart of Sussex cricket: "There's Only 2 Tony Cottees"

  • dummy4fb on September 17, 2013, 9:13 GMT

    I have read the autobiographies of Gower, Gooch, Botham, Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe and Hussain, and the English players do not delve too much into their families, which is great. I never read about Mrs. Botham having a rapport with Mrs. Gooch, or how well Hussain looks after his kids, nor do I care. Their books revolved around their cricket for 90% of the time.

  • dummy4fb on September 17, 2013, 9:11 GMT

    I have recently read Matthew Hayden's autobiography and, for the most part, it is an excellent read. However, the last chapter written by his wife made me want to throw up, as did some of the parts Hayden wrote himself.

    I have noticed that Australian cricketers of the last generation are desperate to tell the world how matey they are with each other, and that they are part of this mystical clique along with their family members.

    Hayden is so desperate to tell about his strong bond with Justin Langer, how they always spend Christmas together and used to dine with each other before the Perth Test at the Langers' household. What is he trying to prove to the reader? He writes about how "connected" he was Langer when opening the batting for Australia, and how they understood each other. Surely, is it not just a case of calling "Yes, No, Wait" loudly? I don't recall Greenidge and Haynes dealing in this "bro-mance" rubbish.

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