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EW Swanton reviews Assault On The Ashes by Christopher Martin-Jenkins
Assault On The Ashes by Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Macdonald & Janes, 1975, £3.50
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Martin-Jenkins' task was difficult because he had to marry his writing on a highly eventful, at times stormy, tour with his principal job as the BBC's cricket correspondent, visiting Australia for the first time. He is only 30, and has not played first-class cricket, though as it happens he is a reputable player. (If a man has never been, it shows through without a doubt.) If he had ex-pressed his opinions in too subdued a key the book would have had only limited value and success. If he had strained after sensation and spattered it with superlatives of praise and censure it would have carried no permanent weight after an initial splash. Martin-Jenkins has avoided both extremes, and given us a frank, well-balanced and highly-informative account which among tour books will surely be accorded an honoured place.
His first chapter, Ordeal by Fire, gives a general analytical picture of the tour that would be hard to better. He thought that the umpires, Brooks and Bailhache, were "occasionally weak in failing to implement the law firmly enough". It is easy, however, to criticize the umpires. Cricket should be played not at the discretion of umpires but at the discretion of the players. This has always been one of the hall-marks of cricket, indeed the one characteristic that sets the game apart from others. It should be played toughly but fairly, and the tradition of cricket, its spirit, ought to indicate to players what is fair with-out their having to be told by the umpires. Appealing for catches behind or close to the wicket when everyone knows the ball has not hit the bat, needling players by taunting or swearing, and showing dissension when appeals are turned down or batsmen are given out, are various aspects of the game which have become increasingly apparent in recent seasons. It all smacks of cheap commercialism rather than sport...
On this subject of pressurization of umpires later in the book he quotes pertinently from Sir Walter Scott: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!" And we have a sidelight on what one of the umpires thought of it all in this snatch of talk at the end of the Sydney Test: "`Another day's work over, Tom," said an acquaintance to him as he walked away. "Another series over, I hope", was Brooks' sardonic reply. He clearly had not expected to be asked again, and equally clearly had had enough of the histrionics of the players."
Let me not suggest that Martin-Jenkins over-plays this aspect of the tour. He does not, neither does he shy from an evil which, unless checked by the authorities of both countries while there is still time, will reduce the game immeasurably as the generation growing up sees and imitates what it sees with its own eyes or through television.
The narrative of the tour underlines the basic points of difference between the sides --chiefly, of course, the dominance of Lillee and Thomson. The strengths and limitations of Michael Denness are fairly weighed, the English misfortunes regarding injury put into perspective. If the captain was at fault in not using Titmus at Adelaide he wonders why the experienced men around him did not suggest it, as happened when Trevor Bailey - dubiously, maybe - saved Len Hutton's bacon at Headingley in '53.
Greig is duly admonished for his irresponsible innings at Sydney but for which England might well have saved the match, and he gets rather grudging plaudits for his astonishing hundred at Brisbane. I doubt, however, whether any of the players will feel, after reading this book, that they have not been fairly done by.
The special photographer of The Cricketer, Patrick Eagar, has supplied most of the 24 pages of pictures, and we may take a little reflected glory in their high quality.
© The Cricketer
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