Tom Cartwright - The Flame Still Burns May 12, 2007

Passing on county lore

Michael Billington
Michael Billington reviews Tom Cartwright - The Flame Still Burns by Stephen Chalke

Tom Cartwright - The Flame Still Burns by Stephen Chalke, £16, Fairfield Books, 224pp

Stephen Chalke has a rare feeling for cricket's post-war history; and he has here written a lovely, ungushing book about a man whom Dennis Silk calls "one of the great unsung heroes of English cricket." What comes across is not just the heroic nature of Tom Cartwright's cricketing achievements but the essential modesty, decency and shrewdness of the man himself. In the end it's not just a book about cricket but also about the English character.

Cartwright came from a Coventry working-class family that was solid Labour: something that explains his own later refusal to kow-tow to patriarchal county chairmen. But, as it charts the young Tom's rise through the local youth cricket to make his Warwickshire debut at the age of 17, the book turns into a touching testament to the camaraderie of old-style county cricket and the continuity of the game's wisdom.

It is also a celebration of the way cricket knowledge is handed down through the generations. "Pass it on," says the hero of Alan Bennett's The History Boys speaking of love of literature; and Chalke suggests the same applies to cricket.

The Warwickshire coach, Tiger Smith, who had played alongside Jack Hobbs and kept wicket to Frank Foster and Sydney Barnes, passed on sage advice to Tom Cartwright: that 90% of batting errors stem from the grip, stance and back-lift, that the secret of bowling is to aim with your head. And, playing and coaching for Somerset in the 1970s, Cartwright transmitted Tiger's tenets to a young Ian Botham.

Obviously the book describes in detail Cartwight's own extraordinary transition from fluently promising batsman to medium-pacer of nagging, metronomic, Glenn McGrath-like accuracy who could send down 1,000 overs a season. But Chalke also suggests that Cartwright's physical toughness was matched by spiritual obduracy. He left Warwickshire not long after its chairman prefaced a pay-discussion by saying, "I'm not going to tolerate any car workers' attitudes here tonight." At Somerset he had a similar encounter with the chairman, in a toilet at Weston, who told him to play when unfit.

The book ends with his thoughts on the modern game, many of which had me silently cheering: for instance, "sledging is infantile playground behaviour isn't it?" and "the England team is like an elite club within a country."

But there is nothing rancorous or mean-spirited about a man who embodied everything that is best in English professional cricket. Tom Cartwright deserved a fine book and he got it.

This article was first published in the May issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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