|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
Is there to be found anywhere in these magical islands of ours a lover of the summer game who does not adore a quiz?
I think not. Over the years how else did we manage to survive the dog hours of a television commentary by Mr Tony Lewis? How else have we coped with high summer afternoons in Lytham St Annes and spring evenings in Headingley with their attendant Irish Sea monsoons and bitter mistrals from the draughty side of Dewsbury? Through quizzes, of course.
And so, without further ado, let us commence with a quiz. Who are the following, and what do they have in common: Pat Murphy. Brain Scovell and Peter Hayter?
You are allowed an answering period slightly longer than the average time it takes for the collapse of the England middle order batting against a team of adequately clothed, fed and watered citizens (of either sex and unblemished character) who can tie their bootlaces without the aid of an instruction manual.
Splendid. In reading the above paragraph you have used your allotted period and your time is up. The answer to our poser is that the three gentlemen are all ghost writers and, more excitingly, are all responsible for the autobiographies of three cricketers of contrasting characters, age groups and achievements.
Ah, instantly I have attracted the interest of the undisputed patron saint of ghost writers, Mr. H. C. Dickie Bird, who has never, I can reveal on the highest authority, used a ghost umpire to stand in his stead in any Test match played under the auspices of Sky Television and Mr Bob Willis...
That is by the by. We shall return to this fascinating subject later. First things first.
Let us consider the most provocative, stimulating, thoughtful and scholarly work on cricket to have been published in a decade or more. Thoughtful and scholarly are sadly not words readily associated with contemporary cricket, whose administrators and establishment divas too often resemble, when confronted with the problems and sicknesses of the contemporary world, an outing of forlorn manatees stranded in a Kilburn launderette.
The two-volume Development of West Indies Cricket by Hilary McD. Beckles is an outstanding, notable and important antidote and purge to the stultifying caucus of cricket literature which too often has been crippled with sycophancy, whimsy and crushing blandness. Confrontation is avoided like the plague. The game is treated as though it exists in a smug, snug, Wodehousean orangery isolated from the rigours and beastliness of the world beyond the pavilion tradesmen's entrance by screens of scented, rambling platitudes.
West Indian cricket is in a mess. It has been in a mess for many years. And it is in danger of continuing to be in a mess for many years to come. Professor Beckles does not flinch from tackling these issues. Rather, he launches himself into a bold and lucidly researched head-on attack. Consider the headings of three of his chapters in the first volume: Popular Art and Cultural Freedom; Political Ideology and Anticolonialism; The Anti-Apartheid Struggle and Home and Abroad.
You can hear the deafening boggling of minds and the grinding of aged teeth at aching Thursday morning county grounds. You can see the weary battleflags being hoisted above the battlements of Lord's and the windows of the media center steaming over with the rheumy breath of the massed ranks of cricketing hackdom.
Art? Culture? Ideology? What have they to do with cricket? Colonialism? What the devil is the man babbling about? He must be one of those leftie chappies, who wear their baseball caps back to front and show the tops of their underpants in North country shopping malls.
But there is more. Mr Beckles actually has the effrontery to write: West Indies cricket, therefore, was born, raised, and socialised within the fiery cauldron of colonial oppression and social protest. In its mature form it is essentially an ideological and politicised species and knows no world better than that of liberation struggle. There. The unthinkable has been uttered.
Cricket was not the means for bringing generations of lovable and simple forelock-touching blacks into the fringes of civilised society. Cricket was bang in the forefront of some of the most bitter racially driven political battles of the millennium.
This is the constant, hammering theme of the book as it traces the rise of West Indian cricket from the humble days of Karl Nunes, through the great and glorious days of Worrell and Weekes, Hall and Griffith, Lloyd and Richards to the sulking, brooding doldrums of the Richardson and Lara eras.
Nationalist jealousies, commercialisation, the gluttony and feeding frenzy of sponsorship, globalisation of economic and political power, poverty and social deprivation have all had debilitating effects upon the game in the Caribbean. The threads and themes of the peaks and troughs are explored with insight and relentless honesty by Professor Beckles, whose scope of scholarship is breathtaking.
Is there hope for the game of cricket with young West Indian sportsmen looking towards, among others, the siren lands of North America for the vast rewards dished out to practitioners of games invented by simpletons and played by robots? Professor Beckles writes: The poor will not stand still and do nothing about their condition. That is not in their historical nature. In the next two decades or so there will be a major modification and rejection of traditional beliefs. And will West Indian cricket survive this revolution? According to the Professor, it will be a narrow squeak.
I salute too, The Willow and The Cloth by Christopher J. Gray, which is a stupendous piece of unadulterated fun and pleasure. No contrast could be greater from the previous book.
Nothing could illustrate so glaringly the breadth and humanity and beauty and inspired absurdity of the game itself compared with the strident vulgarity and relentless seedy arrogance of its rivals - notably the squalid doubloon-grabbing of professional soccer. This splendid book, described as a compendium of cricketing clergymen from the 18th century, is one long, joyous, wonderful journal of comic delight.
Here is a cornucopia of canons and rural deans, of impoverished bibulous parsons and wild-eyed venerables united, one is convinced, not by the baldachin and crozier of the church but by the bail and stump of our glorious summer game. Let us dip.
Moir, the Reverend J. He was out for a duck playing for Chipping Sodbury against Tebury at Worcester Lodge, Badminton Park, in 1896. That's all. Nothing more.
A man would pay a King's ransom to be worthy of such an epitaph. A life's work. A life's long winding wend of sorrow and despair, of fleeting happiness and flickering doubts. And all summated in a duck for Chipping Sodbury. Truly magnificent.
I should leave the matter here but I cannot resist a further dip. But whom shall I choose?
The Reverend Abraham Hume, perhaps, who as a batsman was hardly successful for Cambridge University. In his eight matches he collected six ducks and averaged under four an innings?
Or how about the single-line entry for the Reverend Cox? He was out for a pair when playing for Peteworth against Eashing in 1847.
And I cannot resist the Reverned C. T. Lewis. Wisden lists him as making 117 not out at Easterbourne in 1876, no details given. Ah, the mystery of it all. Has our precious cricketers' bible boobed in its meticulous record-taking? Or does it know something about the Rev Lewis, some dreadful scandal not to be repeated to sensitive, innocent readers like ourselves? Did the reverend gent, perhaps, make his ton using patent self-righting trombe and a ball made from polecat scrotums? Anything is possible. The imagination soars and lingers.
This is a book of glorious batty scholarship. It is a treasure chest of high comedy and nostalgic daftness. I wish, oh, how I wish, I had written it. A lovely, lovely book.
Continuing the dipping in theme, let us turn to The Cricketer's Bedside Book, compiled by Julian Bedford. This is a carefully crafted, skilfully compiled anthology of the very highest quality. Mr Bedford has not been content to churn out the old-established pot-boilers of the standard collection, but has read widely and inventively to assemble a fine mixture of the old and the familiar and the new (well, relatively new) stable of modern writers. This latter category must have caused Mr Bedford considerable trouble, for the present standard of cricket journalism is truly at an all-time abysmal low. The tabloids, of course, have long since abandoned sports writing for the realm of malignant graffiti, and the broadsheet journalists have subsided into a writing style that would not look out of place in publicity material extolling the virtues of mangles and portable puncture outfits.
Modern cricket journalism, is indeed in a sorry state. How reassuring, therefore, to find in these pages the incomparable E. W. Swanton; the delicious sage of Longparish, John Woodcock; the mischievous, old cynical groaner, Frank Keating; the claret-ripe, prolix burrings of John Arlott and some pleasantly promising and highly readable contributions from Vikram Seth and Simon Hughes.
There are two splendid poems to savour. Alan Ross's Watching Benaud Bowl is a classic gem of miniaturism and made me long for the criminally neglected Dylan Thomas masterpiece Taking a second-hand Alka Seltzer with Tony Cordle at Ebbw Vale.
And, of course, the extract from John Betjeman's Summoned By Bells is sheer joy:
Oh where's mid on? And what is silly point?
Do six balls make an over? Oh, help me, God.
I have two quibbles, one minor and one major. On the minor point, I groan to see the Charles Dickens Dingley Dell v All Muggleton extract. How overrated. How overpraised. Such turgid, laboured comic writing it would be hard to match, let alone surpass. I would sooner sit down to an evening's reading of the official collected dry cleaners' tickets of Mr Derek Randall.
The major grouse concerns Mr Denzil Bachelor. Why is this brilliantly witty, lively and perceptive writer so neglected?
Stephen Chalke's Runs in the memory, a most beautifully and lovingly created, highly personal account of county cricket in the 1950s, was one of the peaks of high nostalgia in the cricketing canon. I read it avariciously. The cockles of my heart crooned with pleasure. The names of the shadowy past called out to me, whispering and beguiling. Oh, these gorgeous, glorious names of my late youth and early manhood. Colin Dredge had not yet appeared on the scene, but Bernard Muncer and Hugo Yarnold and Captain J. H. G. Deighton were surely flourishing in all their pomp and prime.
I thought as I revelled shamelessly and luxuriously in the book that Mr Chalke could never repeat his success. He has. Triumphantly. Caught in the Memory: County Cricket in the 1960s is a delight.
The formula is the same as in the first volume (and why not indeed?). Mr Chalke selects 12 matches from the decade and through the words and observations of cricketers who took part in them paints pictures so vivid and memorable, so riveting and compulsive that - well, why not use the blurb? - it is as if the reader is sitting and watching them with the old cricketers talking away alongside. It is an appealing and highly original method, which I applaud with some envy.
I approached the highly pleasant task of reviewing this book with awful simplicity. I was lucky enough to see several of the matches covered - most notably the red rose county of my birth beating our preciously cultivated rivals by two wickets at Old Trafford in 1960. (Oh, J. B. Statham, come back, come back. And you can bring Ken Cranston with you.)
However, I shall resist the gloating and turn my attention to my beloved Glamorgan, the county who over the years have given me even more unrestrained pleasure and provoked such rampant emotion - typified in all its potency in Glamorgan v Essex, Swansea, late August 1969.
St Helens is one of the most delectable grounds in the country. The great sweep of Swansea Bay, the tawny fangs of the Bristol Channel, the faint and distant hills of Somerset and the nearby watering holes where you can linger over two pints of Brains Dark and, in the old days and with a bit of luck, listen to the bon mots of Mr Alan Gibson. What more can a man ask for?
I shall tell you - watching a match in which Glamorgan go flat out for the Championship and sitting beside my chum from way way back, Mr Peter Walker.
And this indeed is what Mr Chalke offers. I remember every detail of those three days of the match against Essex. I have the scorecard still. I look at it now with awe and pleasure and excitement and the odd tear or two. Those players! The skipper, Tony Lewis, so elegant, so deft, so remote. The great, the truly great, Don Shepherd, tonker supreme. The willing war-horse and unfailingly enthusiastic Malcolm Nash; the faithful, wonderfully Welsh, brothers Jones; Ossie Wheatley, as mobile as a hayrick; and the imperious Majid, as approachable as a satrap's smelling salts. And, above all, but not on the scorecard, the immortal, the nonpareil of virtue and veracity, Genghis Khan of Sophia Gardens and all points west to Splott, the patron saint of grumpiness, Mr Wilfred Wooller, prowling round the boundaries, scowling, snarling and grinding his teeth like a glorified Brigadier Ritchie-Hook.
There. I have shown my cards. Dear readers, I wanted Glamorgan to win. And reading Mr Chalke's little masterpiece I relived every precious second of that stupendous match. Peter Walker comments on the play and gossips about the participants. Magic! Mr Chalke skillfully builds up the tension and fleshes out the background, and colours the narrative with tact and discretion. And then we reach that final over! Essex batting.
Seven to win. A single first ball, another second. Then Barker strolled two yards down the wicket, missed and was stumped. A single for John Lever, a single for Ray East, and there were three to win with one ball to bowl.
Even 30 years later my heart is pounding. My elbows are quaking. My arch supports are whirring uncontrollably.
We could have blocked it out for a draw, Ray remembers, but because the game had been so exciting, we met halfway up the wicket and decided to go for it. Such an attitude is scarcely conceivable now in these sledging, ungenerous, humourless days of drabness and uniformity. But there it was. Essex went for it. Gallantly and bravely John Lever struck the ballâ¦ andâ¦
No, my friends. I cannot continue. I cannot risk another attack of the galloping Nawabs or a fainting fit in the rascally public bar of The Cricketers. Read the book. Read the book, I beg you. I commend it wholeheartedly - and not least for the splendid illustrations by that fine Yorkshire stalwart of the 1960s, Mr Ken Taylor. He won't remember, but once he trod on my toe in the tea interval at Bramall Lane. He could grind my whole body into the ground without trace if he compels Mr Chalke to produce another volume about the 1970s.
Let us remain, for the moment, swathed in the warm, reassuring fug of nostalgia. For people of my generation the name Martin Donnelly conjures up memories of what was certainly the last Golden Age of cricket. It was the era of post-war austerity when chapped toes and the wet-battery wireless reigned supreme. But what recompense we had for such inconveniences. The old heroes were still strutting their strut. I saw Bradman and Hammond, Voce and Bowes, and accepted it as my right. Compton, Hutton, Bedser and Godfrey Evans were enchanting and exciting us. And among this panoply Martin Donnelly more than held his own.
He was a hero, a true Corinthian in those innocent days when the Gents v Players match was one of the highlights of the season. Just before Donnelly died, Rod Nye in Martin Donnnelly produced a splendid biography of this wonderful all-rounder who played rugby union for England, cricket for his native New Zealand and for Oxford, and served with distinction and valour during the war. I can see him now, darting and twinkling in the field, batting with panache and elegance. It is a sight I shall never tire of and always cherish. Mr Nye chronicles his career sharply and crisply. There are no great and devastating character insights. Just a simple and clean narrative line and a lively, perky, chirpy, warm-hearted style which does great justice to its subject. This is a first book of considerable promise. I hope Mr Nye writes many more.
Now for another first book and another Corinthian. The writer is Iain Wilton, the book is C. B. Fry, An English Hero. I declare my position immediately - I believe Fry to be a supreme and humourless twerp. Of course you cannot deny his achievements - incomparable cricket all-rounder, soccer international, rugby union Barbarian, Olympic athlete, scholar, writer, diplomat, genuine good egg, etc., etc., etc. - but the character remains empty, shallow, profoundly silly, despite all Mr Wilton's worthy and comprehensive chronicling of the maestro's career.
The more details of his life are exposed, the more shadowy and elusive he becomes. Even the absurdities of his flirtation with Hitler and the spanking activities at his naval training-ship fail to bring him to life. He remains an uncomfortable freak placed on a creaking, stunted pedestal. Mr Wilton tries his best, but his hero remains steadfastly unattractive and chronically boorish.
Undoubtedly, Fry's greatest mistake was not to accept the throne of Albania when it was offered in the 1920s. Look what happened to Mr H. D. Dickie Bird, who did so without a moment's hesitation in 1998â¦
Alan Ross's essay on Fry in his lovely, elegant and bewitching anthology of his own writing, Green Fading into Blue, is incisive, revealing and flintily economical - the absolute perfect length for the subject. But of course, Mr Ross is as near perfection as possible as journalist, essayist, and poet laureate of the sporting scene. His tastes are catholic and his talents versatile and generous. The cricket pieces are sheer delight, the journalistic extracts reaching levels of poetic reportage to warm, succour and excite the stoniest of winter hearts.
And now, step forward the Ghost Squad. Don't be shy, chaps. Let us inspect your wares, show us your biographies of Messrs Walcott, Donald and Tufnell, and let us give credit where credit is due. First of all Mr Brian Scovell and his offering on Clyde Walcott: Sixty Years on the Back Foot. Like Martin Donnelly, Walcott was one of the giants of the post-war era. By gum, what a batsman, what power, what authority, what dignity.
Mr Scovell handles his subject with great respect and calmness. Fact follows fact from the rookie days as a fledgling Test player to the years as a deservedly well-respected administrator.
But where is the sparkle? Where is the verve? It's a decent enough book but how one longed for a spark of life, a hint of hot blood, a flash of temper, a whisper of discontent.
The same must be said of Pat Murphy's Allan Donald. How sad. Allan Donald is one of the classic fast bowlers: menacing, mean, combative, aggressive, a magnificent sight when in full flood. None of these characteristics appears in this book, which is totally at odds with the articulate and animated persona Mr Donald presents to the outside world. Happily, the book does fire up towards the end, and the episode of the famous Atherton confrontation is lively and refreshingly colourful. This is not a bad book. It is just infuriatingly woolly and bland.
You want to scream out: Come on, Mr. Murphy, tell me what Mr Donald really thought! Tell me what really happened! And this amazes me. Donald himself is never frightened of expressing his opinion forcibly. And Pat Murphy himself is a very fine broadcaster: lively, funny, informative, intelligent and versatile. What a pity he didn't bring these qualities to the book.
And now for Peter Hayter and Tufnell. From the moment I picked up this book I was entranced and captivated. What a splendid joke. The dust jacket shows a moody, squint-eyed Tufnell, dragging at a cigarette, with a look of malign cynicism and unshaven meanness. I guess he is supposed to look like a mixture of a young Humphrey Bogart and a dyspeptic George Raft. In fact he looks like a renegade from Lord Snooty and his chums in the Beano.
Mr. Hayter captures perfectly the man's style. The schoolboy shocker who has only recently and reluctantly grown up is displayed shamelessly with all the warts and self-inflicted acne. The language and the style are racy. There are no punches pulled, no targets missed. It is brave and combative.
I love the chapter headings which give a full and perfect flavour of the content and humour of the book: Rebel... Headbanger... Haircut... Bad timing... Out of Control... Jesus Wept... Nutter... Leper... Hero to Zero... What Now? Tufnell is an infuriating, self-destructive character. But what a breath of fresh air. There is exaggeration aplenty here and, I suspect, a few harmless porkies laid out on the slab. But a real full-blooded, multi-dimensional character has been created and recorded.
This is an excellent account: it is sly and self-effacing, braggardly and uncompromising and thoroughly and constantly entertaining. Mr Hayter has done a brilliant job. This is ghost writing at its very best. He should next try his hand at writing a television situation comedy.
Hold on. Before we leave the ghosties, here's another one to savour - Mr Brian Murgatroyd's Alec Stewart, A Captain's Diary: The Battle For the 1998/99 Ashes.
If your taste is for literary and journalistic gems like Despite the fact it was a day off, seven of us - me, Chalky, Gus, Tudes, Ramps, Suchy and Nass - turned up for a session in the nets along with Bumble and Fizz, you will find this book a total knockout. As for Tinners, give me Rossy or Swanners or Woodie and Keatsie any day of the week.
Mr Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Mr Charles de Lisle are two of cricket scribedom's most distinguished toffs who would swoon with horror at any suggestion of ghost writers interfering with their personal laptops. An Australian Summer: The Story of the 1998/99 Ashes Series is most definitely all their own work. The title is self-explanatory, the content is comprehensive, the style is lucid and unadventurous, the end result is a book that will keep pigeons happy in their lofts the winter long and cluck fat broody hens soundly to sleep on even the harshest of storm-tossed nights.
Mr Justin Langer has no need for the Ghost Squad. Off his own bat, he has produced From Outback to Outfield: A Diary of an English Summer. I welcome this little gem to finish these reviews. The summer in question is 1998, when Mr Justin Langer of Australia played his first season for Middlesex. It is witty, moody, innovative and daring in style. The lively internal dialogues with himself written in italics are a joy and a revelation.
Reading this book, you really feel that there is a life outside county cricket. Within the daily drudge of the circuit you can smell the smells of the dressing room: the fetid socks and the rampant armpits. You can feel the frustrations, sense the spits of anger, the triumphs and the failures, the grind of the constant and relentless travel, the misery of navigating stenchful motorways. It is all here: dreary rain and wretched pitches, parking problems and dodgy catering, the joys and recompense of wife and family.
This is the chronicle of a rounded man. He tackles fearlessly and humorously everything that comes his way - his team-mates and his opponents, benefit dinners, thoughts on Hick and Fraser, on Atherton and Gatting, living in London, holidays in England, standing in the dole queue to get his National Insurance number, trips to the dentist.
This man observes acutely, takes it all in and is not afraid to make his opinions known. He is intelligent and constructive, funny and mischievous, a man of real character. Typical of the tone of the book is the passage from the Middlesex v Warwickshire game.
During our innings, as fast bowler Ed Giddins took the second new ball, Tuffers found himself in a state of panic as he couldn't seem to keep himself awake. 'I knew I shouldn't'ave'ad that extra lamb chop at lunch. You know I mean? I am an idiot, you know what I mean? I should have known better, you know what I mean? I just can't keep my mince pies open. You know what I mean? This is terrible. What if I fall asleep when Giddins is bowling to me, you know what I mean? I'll be dead meat, mate, you know what I mean?' Move over, Mr Pinter.
Peter Tinniswood was born in Liverpool. He has written 17 novels and many plays for TV, radio and the theatre. His work includes Tales From A Long Room, featuring the Brigadier, who fitted the popular conception of an MCC member far better than any real person.