October 13, 2014

Controversy, they wrote

As Kevin Pietersen's autobiography hits the headlines, a look at some other books that proved controversial in their day

© Steven Lynch

Jim Laker
The great England offspinner Jim Laker announced his retirement during England's 1958-59 tour of Australia. The inevitable autobiography that followed, Over To Me, came out early in 1960. It contained stinging criticism of Peter May, Laker's captain at Surrey and England, and was also pretty rude about Freddie Brown, a Lord's grandee who had been the manager of that unsuccessful 1958-59 venture. Laker had been awarded honorary membership of MCC and of Surrey after his retirement - but these were summarily withdrawn, although he was reinstated a few years later.

Bob Simpson
An uncompromising captain - and later coach - of Australia, Bob Simpson adhered to the Aussie tradition of calling a spade a bloody shovel. His 1966 autobiography Captain's Story, was suitably frank, and contained a passage on suspect actions and throwing - a problem then as now - which led to legal action from Ian Meckiff, the Australian fast bowler who, Simpson suggested, "played first-class cricket for seven years and, to my way of thinking, threw the ball all the time and got away with it". The first run of the book was recalled.

Herschelle Gibbs
The 2010 offering from the South Africa opener Herschelle Gibbs, To The Point, called itself a "no-holds-barred autobiography", and it was certainly frank about his exploits on - and particularly off - the pitch. Gibbs discussed his team-mates equally openly. Most of them accepted it but, as Gibbs admitted recently, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis didn't like it much. Perhaps it is no surprise that, after upsetting the captain and the senior allrounder, Gibbs never played another Test.

Dennis Lillee
Arguably Australia's greatest fast bowler, Dennis Lillee made headlines with some of the assertions in his first volume of his autobiography, Back to the Mark, in 1974. Talking about his attitude to opponents, he wrote: "I try to hit a batsman in the rib-cage when I bowl a purposeful bouncer, and I want it to hurt so much that the batsman doesn't want to face me any more." Purists were appalled. Lillee was unconcerned.

Martin Crowe
Shortly after Martin Crowe's retirement from playing in 1995, two books appeared. One was his own official story, Out on a Limb, the other was the distinctly unofficial Tortured Genius, by Joseph Romanos. As you would expect, Crowe was dismissive of the rival book at the time - but, when he sat down to write Raw, which was published last year, Crowe asked Romanos to assist him, admitting: "His unauthorised book was more of an accurate story of my life than my own autobiography at the same time."

Godfrey Evans
After a Test career amounting to 91 Tests - a record at the time - the chirpy Kent stumper Godfrey Evans sailed into retirement with The Gloves Are Off, a title that has proved popular with keepers since (see later productions by Steve Marsh, Tim Zoehrer and Matt Prior). Evans' 1960 effort contained some criticisms of the MCC that seem mild enough now - but, perhaps with Laker in mind (see above), they withdrew their recent offer of honorary membership. Evans, like Laker, got his free pass back a few years later.

Douglas Jardine
In the aftermath of the rancorous 1932-33 Bodyline tour, several books came out. And they kept coming on a regular basis (although David Frith's magisterial Bodyline Autopsy, in 2002, should obviate the need for any more). One of the first was the captain's own story: Douglas Jardine's In Quest of the Ashes hit the bookstores in 1933. You won't find any mention of Bodyline in there - Jardine objected strenuously to the word - although there is a chapter on leg theory, "this most highly skilled form of bowling". And one on fishing (or, as Jardine elegantly describes it, "the gentle art of Izaak Walton").

Geoff Boycott
The BBC commentator Don Mosey, almost a professional Yorkshireman, produced some enjoyable autobiographical books, and a superb study of Jim Laker ... and a couple of hatchet jobs, on Ian Botham and Geoff Boycott. "Geoff set himself goals which demanded total application to the exclusion of all other considerations," concluded Mosey. "He achieved them, but somewhere along the road he lost his way as a person because he lost sight of what life is really about - even in Yorkshire."

Frances Edmonds
What goes on tour stays on tour, they said... until Frances Edmonds, the erudite wife of former England left-arm spinner Phil, came along. Her irreverent account of the 1986 visit to the West Indies, Another Bloody Tour, probably changed the good old tour book for ever.

John Arlott
After the death of the much-loved commentator John Arlott late in 1991, the publication three years later of his son Timothy's memories of him upset some, probably because the book was honest about Arlott's failings as well as his many fine qualities. "He could be morose and difficult," Timothy wrote (can't everybody?). But it was essentially affectionate, and ended with the widely held view that "we will never know his like again".

Chris Pringle
The 1998 book Save the Last Ball for Me by the workaday New Zealand seamer Chris Pringle would have been unremarkable, but for a chapter called "When in Rome", when he admitted carving up a ball with a bottletop during a Test in Faisalabad in 1990, as New Zealand strongly suspected the Pakistan bowlers were doing something similar. "One side was still shiny," he wrote about his handiwork, "but there were lots of grooves and lines and deep gouges on the other side. It was so obvious!" In that match Pringle took 11 for 152: in 13 other bottletop-free Tests he managed only 19, at an average of 65.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2014. Ask Steven is now on Facebook