A gamble that didn't pay off
Ashes Frontline: The Ashes War Diaries of Steve Harmison and Justin Langer Green Umbrella, 190 pp
In the aftermath of the epic Ashes of 2005 hardly a day went by without a book being published about the series. Almost every England player either released their own account or contributed to others. By the end of the year, what happened behind the scenes was almost as familiar as what went on in the middle.
It's not quite been the same after the 2006-07 Ashes, partially because the series was so woefully one-sided that there was far less interest. And given that England is a much bigger book market than Australia, publishers there have been far less eager to rush into print with offerings that only masochists and Aussies in London are likely to savour.
One of the few to buck the trend is Ashes Frontline, The Diary of Steve Harmison and Justin Langer published by Green Umbrella. The idea was interesting. Two key players, one from each camp and very different characters, offering insights into what was going on as the series developed. The original intention was to have Marcus Trescothick pen the England part, but his departure from the tour meant a hasty rejig and Harmison was drafted in.
Whereas Langer has published a diary before - From Outback to Outfield was a candid account of his season with Middlesex in 1999 - Harmison, a quiet and introverted individual had not. It was a gamble by Green Umbrella. Sadly, it is one that has not paid off.
The book is lavishly illustrated and very reasonably priced. The format is also good, with a general overview of each day - albeit one that often could be crisper - and then around a page each for the two players to air their views. And this is where it goes wrong.
Langer enters into the spirit of the enterprise, offering candid comments and insights into what was going on within the Australian camp. There is enough to be of interest without ever straying into indiscretion, even though he's retired and so might have broadened his boundaries. But he's always been a true team player, and so that was never likely.
The real problem is Harmison's wedge. The whole point of a diary is that it is about the moment. Sometimes that means what you write on day one is made to look ridiculous on day two. That's the appeal of it. But Harmison's ghosted entries look for all the world that they are written with the benefit of hindsight. His calamitous first ball, for example, is described but qualified with comments that give every impression of being added later.
Only occasionally do we get fleeting insights into the England team, what they were actually thinking and what was going on behind the scenes. Otherwise it's almost a first-person account of what we all saw with our own eyes.
Perhaps the best indication of the appeal of the book came in an interview in The Wisden Cricketer last month when Harmison admitted that he had not read the book. "The impression he gives is: why would he want to waste his time actually reading a book that he has put his name to?" wrote Simon Hattenstone, the interviewer. What's more, by the end of the series he did not want to talk to his ghostwriter, admitting: "I had to because that's what I had signed up for."
If the co-author thinks like that, why on earth should anyone else be bothered? Which is a shame for Langer, who has entered into the party spirit, and the publishers, who deserved more for their attempt to be different.
But at least Harmison is giving the proceeds to a children's charity, Bubble Foundation UK. As he confessed: "There's no way I could make any money out of a book after how I performed."
Buy it here