The Summer Game June 21, 2008

The forgotten years

Contrary to popular perception, the 50s and 60s were not Australian cricket's wasteland decades

Gideon Haigh is one of the most accomplished contemporary writers on cricket and in this outstanding work he is also revealed as a dedicated and meticulous researcher. The Summer Game examines Australian cricket in the 1950s and 1960s - a period often dismissed by critics as being of little consequence in the overall scheme of things. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Haigh points out in a book brimful of fine writing, thoughtful analysis and revealing interviews. And from the clarity of their reflections and reminiscences, the host of luminaries who spoke with Haigh were plainly keen to ensure their era was not consigned to obscurity.

The bookends for the work are the visits to South Africa by Lindsay Hassett's team in 1949-50 - the first tour of the post-Bradman era - and by Bill Lawry's exhausted and disillusioned party 20 years later, the last tour before the birth of the tumultuous Chappell years, and ultimately, revolution. Hassett's team triumphed 4-0 and Lawry's was defeated 0-4.

While the dullness of much Anglo-Australian cricket in the 1950s alienated the romantics, it was nevertheless a period of significant development for Australian cricket, with the first official tours of the West Indies, India and Pakistan. Invariably these were challenging undertakings for often isolated and unworldly souls and Haigh examines the exploration of new horizons by teams led by Ian Johnson and Richie Benaud. Indeed, ten men captained Australia in this 20-year period, and along with a host of champions, their hopes and aspirations and rich abilities are documented and discussed against a backdrop of a post-war Australia still largely beholden to Mother England.

Haigh is as much social anthropologist as cricket historian and he traces the game's often uncertain progress while examining defining events beyond the boundary. The Summer Game deals in forensic detail with the high dramas that surrounded the throwing and dragging sagas, and examines the decisive role played by Don Bradman as a visionary and interventionist administrator on the world stage. It also provides a wonderful insight into the renaissance summer of 1960-61, when Benaud and Frank Worrell pooled their resources to give the kiss of life to Test match cricket.

In his review in Wisden Cricket Monthly the distinguished writer Matthew Engel wrote: "Outstanding... This book ought to change the writing of cricket history by setting new standards... The effect is evocative and powerful. Buy his book. It's brilliant." Hear, Hear!

From the book
The 1960-61 West Indians ran hot and cold as they traversed Australia west to east... Yet, despite their inconsistency, there was a breezy self-possession to them that precursors had lacked. The most palpable change was in leadership. After years of campaigning, culminating in a deafening series of articles by C.L.R. James in the Nation (official organ of Dr Eric Williams' ruling People's National Movement of Trinidad), thirty-six-year-old Frank Worrell had belatedly become the first black man to lead the West Indies on tour. Worrell was educated, urbane, a model of the respectable Barbadian middle class, a Scout as a young man, a Mason when older, a Manchester University graduate with honours in social sciences. In the dressing room, he'd long been the coolest head. At Lord's in 1957, Alf Valentine had discovered Worrell bent over a book, reading intently. "You know you're next in, Frank," he said. "Just studying, Alf," Worrell replied. "My finals are coming up."

The Summer Game
by Gideon Haigh

Text Publishing, 1997

Mike Coward is a cricket writer with The Australian