Delightful, insightful and scandalous
"You're a virgin! Excellent!" said David Green, and his eyes widened in anticipation of six hours' innocent fun.
Already a word of explanation is necessary. The former Lancashire and Gloucestershire opening batsman was speaking in the Old Trafford press box sometime in late August 2004. He was addressing this writer, who, after years of writing about cricket in comparative obscurity, had decided to make an honest woman of his craft and try his hand working for a national newspaper. To his astonishment the Guardian had engaged him to cover Lancashire's home game against Kent and here he was, a 21st century Holly Martins, "happy as a lark and without a cent".
The next four days were something of an education as well as being priceless entertainment. In the morning sessions Green would roam the box, watching the cricket, telling anecdotes and commenting on his colleagues' efforts. "Edwards has written 5000 words already!" he exclaimed one noontide, knowing fine well that such industry is rarely helpful when a desk says you have 300 words maximum and maybe 250 if that story about Steven Gerrard's manicure comes to anything.
Green rarely seemed to make any notes and yet - here's the rub - when the next day's papers appeared, his copy was accurate, analytical and plainly the product of acute observation. And now those who have been held in Green's thrall on those sweet summer mornings will welcome the publication of A Handful of Confetti, even if the book defies classification, being partly an autobiography, partly a collection of essays, partly a collection of portraits and partly a few - apparently recorded - conversations.
The result is an engaging volume, written by a man who scored 13,381 runs in his 13-year first-class career before, at the age of 42, beginning a new life writing about cricket and rugby. Green is self-effacing about his own ability and frank about both his successes and failures. For example:
"In 1964 I got 1500 runs and then got 2000 in 1965. I thought it would go on from there but in 1966 I managed only 1200 and played like an idiot in the second half of the season. Moreover, I then called the chairman a prat, which he was, and found I couldn't get into the team at all. At the end of the 1967 season I left Lancashire to join Gloucestershire."
Supporters of both Green's counties, and indeed of the period so lovingly celebrated in Stephen Chalke's early books, will find much to enjoy here. There are richly detailed character studies of players like Geoff Pullar, Tommy Greenhough, Tony Brown and Arthur Milton, the last clearly being one of the author's favourite cricketers and most perceptive critics. There are warm anecdotes from an era when drinking after a day's play was considered almost de rigeur; the account of the brief duel between a hungover Alan Brown of Kent and the similarly handicapped Green is quite hilarious. This is not a sober book, thank god.
Yet it is far, far more than a retelling of drunken escapades. For one thing there is detailed technical analysis - Milton is much to the fore here, too - as Green explains the development of his method and considers the technical accomplishments of the cricketers of his time. And for all that the author disparages his own writing when compared with that of, say, John Woodcock, there are more than a few telling phrases. For example, a conversation about the late Brian Statham, whose accuracy was unparalleled, ends with the following: "Rather than Geoff Boycott's 'corridor of uncertainty' Brian aimed at a hairline crack."
Even the title of the book is evocative, since the phrase "handful of confetti" celebrates those "whole hearted fellows… who rush up as if they are aiming for the pace of Larwood or Trueman but only manage to propel the pill some 20, 30 or even 40 miles per hour slower than England's two greatest fast bowlers. That title, Green eventually decided, was better than another contender, A Bucketful of Snot. Those readers who are intrigued as to why the latter was considered at all will need to buy this most entertaining of cricket books. Is it repetitious at times? Certainly. Are some of the tales rather scandalous? Oh, to be sure, they are. But is it also a lot of fun and one of the most informative reads likely to appear on bookshop shelves frequently dominated by the dull autobiographies of Test cricketers? The answer to that is yes, as well. Nice one, Greeny, and thanks for changing my nappies.
A Handful of Confetti
Available through mail order (£12.99, including P&P). Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org to order a copy