Non-U but first-class
In the foreword to this book Stephen Fleming recounts how delighted he was on being told his county, Nottinghamshire, had signed Mark Waugh. He was a bit surprised, too, as the Australian had retired two years earlier.
Fleming had to mask his regret when he found out it was actually the Mark Wagh from Birmingham, the one without the "u". But while Waugh was one of the most graceful batsmen of his generation I'd be surprised if he could write as elegantly as he bats. Wagh from Birmingham, on the other hand, is one of only a handful of county cricketers to have written an intelligent and informative book about the game without recourse to a ghost writer.
The result, on the surface, is a straightforward diary of a batsman's season during a year in which his county, Nottinghamshire, came within a sliver of winning two trophies. But delve in and you are taken deep into the psyche of the journeyman county cricketer, a place of fear, paranoia, self-loathing, and just occasionally joy. All of which is unsurprising coming from a psychology graduate from Oxford.
Wagh intersperses the short accounts of the matches and practice days that make up the body of the season with longer reflections on the psychology of the game. What is mental strength? What makes a good captain? These are interesting enough, if a little studied. There are moments of fun in the dressing room: a banana-eating contest to stave off boredom on a rainy day; coach Mick Newell's almost schizophrenic strops; any event involving Mark Ealham.
But it is the refreshing candour with which Wagh analyses his own performances and his interaction with team-mates that is the real heartbeat of the book. He is a one-man testament to the theory that cricket is played 90% with the mind and only 10% with the body. Time and again the reader is transported into the mind of Wagh as he takes guard with myriad negative thoughts thundering past. Batting is indeed a "mental ordeal".
Wagh takes you on this journey of self-discovery with disarming honesty. Accounts of seemingly innocent events on and off the pitch are laced with self-reproach. A misdirected throw that costs his team a run during a comfortable victory haunts him for days, and a visit to a children's orphanage on a pre-season tour of Uganda leaves him feeling awkward when he finds he has "virtually no ability to relate to kids". His humility leaves you rooting for the man as he wades through the mire of a long county season.
Fleming eventually enjoyed watching the stylish batting of his new team-mate as well as his company in the dressing room - just as cricketing enthusiasts should enjoy spending time in the mind of one of the county game's most underrated batsmen of recent times.
Pavilion to Crease… and Back
by Mark Wagh
Fairfield Books, hb, 159pp, £15
This article was first published in the June 2009 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here