Which are the finest cricket books?

Cricket probably boasts the best writing in all sport. We asked five writers to pick the cricket books they love most

November 5, 2012

Comments: 78 | Text size: A | A

Cover of <I>The Archie Jackson Story</I> by David Frith

The Archie Jackson Story
by David Frith

Mike Coward: In this very series David Frith noted that of the 10,000 or so books that have been written on cricket, he had read about half of them. He concluded that this represented one a week on average over 60 years. Suffice it to say this is an addiction way beyond therapy.

This strike rate is all the more remarkable given Frith is a prolific writer who has made a substantial contribution to the literature and, indeed, the history of the game. His personal archive at Guildford in Surrey is a veritable treasure, as his published catalogue of 2009 attests.

Frith, an Aussie Pom, has often felt conflicted when the game's greatest rivals have been at each other's throats. Having migrated to Australia with his family at the age of ten, he returned to England to work, and until the last few years always spent some time Down Under during summer. Indeed, he rarely missed the traditional opening Test of the season in Brisbane in November.

His body of work is notable for its extraordinary scope - from biography, tour accounts and photographic pageants to comparative studies of the greatest bowlers, to the dark sorrowful subject of suicide within the game's elite and then some.

Frith's finest work, to my mind, in part deals with premature death but not by the subject's own hand. The Archie Jackson Story is a gentle, loving account of a remarkable cricketer who succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 23 in the white-hot summer of 1932-33.

This season sees the 80th anniversary of the infamous Bodyline series, about which Frith has also written with distinction. And it was during the fourth Test of the series in Brisbane that Jackson died in the Ingarfield Private Hospital in the very same city. Indeed, the mail train that took the grieving cricketers of Australia and England to Sydney for the final Test match also carried Jackson's body towards its final resting place.

Five others

  • It has been my good fortune over the past 40 years to have worked alongside the authors of three other volumes that remain atop my reading order. Ray Robinson's endearing studies of Australia's Test captains in On Top Down Under will always stand the test of time. The indefatigable Gideon Haigh's fascinating appraisal of Australian cricket of the 1950s and 1960s, The Summer Game, is rightly celebrated, as is Irving Rosenwater's forensic Sir Donald Bradman, A Biography. To round out the five, the incorrigible Arthur Mailey's 10 for 66 and All That is a joyful and timeless romp with elements that remain as relevant today as when first published in 1958, and Arlott, The Authorised Biography by David Rayvern Allen is a memorable study of the wonderful broadcaster and writer John Arlott.

It is the humanity of Frith's work that makes this book so utterly compelling. The death of a young person is always troubling. In this case it caused a nation gripped by economic depression and deeply offended by the bolshiness of Douglas Jardine to grieve en masse. Even the devout felt compelled to question their faith. Such was the veil of sadness across the island continent.

Jackson's death was all the more poignant as to so many he was the reincarnation of Victor Trumper. Jackson was just five years old when Trumper died of Bright's disease at the age of 38, but by the time he scored a century in his first Test match, at the age of 19, he was already hailed as the second Trumper.

It was, however, the frailty of his body and not the weight of expectation of being compared with the immortal Trumper that so cruelly crushed him. While his mind was willing, his body only allowed him to play eight Test matches.

Don Bradman, who batted with Jackson and helped carry him to the grave at the Field of Mars cemetery in Sydney, believed him to have been a batting genius.

By this memorable account Jackson was a beautiful man, a thoughtful, god-fearing soul with an abiding love of his fellow man, of music, and of an ancient game that gave him a precious and timeless identity.

Few portraits of a cricketer of any age can have been so sensitively and beautifully drawn.

Mike Coward's books include Cricket Beyond the Bazaar, Caribbean Odyssey, Australia v the New South Africa, The Chappell Years


10 for 66 and All That
by Arthur Mailey

Australian legspinner Arthur Mailey, circa 1910
Mailey: would rather have been hit for four than have bowled a straight one at a batsman © Getty Images

Suresh Menon: Today the most prized cricketer might be the one in coloured clothing who hits a ball into the dinner basket of a spectator near third man while intending to clear the fielder at midwicket. But not so long ago, it was the "character" who was the most popular. Of one such, Neville Cardus wrote: "The most fascinating cricketer I have known was the Australian [legspinner] Arthur Mailey, an artist in every part of his nature."

The writer and the cricketer were firm friends; both emerged from slums (though thousands of kilometres apart), both taught themselves to write well, each had a personal manner of demonsrating he had climbed out of the past to walk among kings and prime ministers. Cardus wrote on classical music, while Mailey threw champagne parties.

Mailey once said, "I'd rather spin the ball and be hit for four than bowl a batsman out by a straight one." And on another occasion, "If ever I bowl a maiden over, it is not my fault but the batsman's."

Yet the line he is best known for is the one he wrote in his autobiography, 10 for 66 and All That. He had just dismissed his great hero Victor Trumper, stumped off a googly, and the batsman walked back, pausing only to tell the young bowler, "It was too good for me." Mailey captured that moment thus: "There was no triumph in me as I watched the receding figure. I felt like a boy who had killed a dove." This most glorious of lines in all cricketing literature has, in recent years, had doubts cast upon its authenticity. Yet character is revealed as much by what a man has said as by what he would have said. If it is not factual, it is still truthful, and that's what matters.

Mailey, the only Australian to have claimed nine wickets in a Test innings, was an accomplished cartoonist, and his cartoons, which tell of a time and a place, enrich his autobiography. Even if it were merely a well-written story of an unusual life, 10 for 66 And All That might still have made the cut among the best books on the game. But it is more, its insights and predictions both startling and original.

And another five

  • Jack Hobbs: Profile of the Master by John Arlott A warm and affectionate story of a great batsman, the highlight for me a letter from Hobbs to Arlott that ends: "Thank you for everything John. You have been very kind and good to me over many years."
  • It Never Rains... A Cricketer's Lot by Peter Roebuck Comparable to the great mathematician G H Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology, this takes you inside the heart and mind of the cricketer and his futile search for perfection.
  • Pundits from Pakistan by Rahul Bhattacharya The cricket tour as excuse for history, travel writing, biography and cultural commentary.
  • A Corner of a Foreign Field by Ramachandra Guha A historian and cricket nut brings his two passions together in this story of a man, his time and the consequences of the events that took place then.
  • On Top Down Under by Ray Robinson: An incredibly detailed story of Australian captains, most of them even more interesting off field than on.

Like those who go against the grain by temperament rather than planning, Mailey displayed a combination of authority and empathy that was unique. He was the one Australian who was sympathetic towards Douglas Jardine and Bodyline. What the series did, according to Mailey, was, it changed the face of cricket reporting. "On the next tour of Australia came an army of 'incident-spotters'," he writes, "just in case there were repercussions that were too newsy... it was then we saw a blast of criticism about umpires' decisions, about playing conditions, about the advisability of players having two or three eggs for breakfast, and of fried liver being on the menu... some of us viewed the future of cricket journalism with apprehension."

Mailey was an accomplished painter too. At an exhibition of his works in London, a royal visitor told him he "had not painted the sun convincingly". Mailey's response was: "You see, Your Majesty, in this country I have to paint the sun from memory."

Mailey, who played his last Test in 1926, was 70 when he wrote this book. And there was nothing wrong with the memory then of the man described by Cardus as an "incorrigible romantic".

Suresh Menon is editor Wisden India Almanack and author most recently of Bishan: Portrait of a Cricketer


Cover image of 'The Willow Wand' by Derek Birley

The Willow Wand
by Derek Birley

Gideon Haigh: "The appearance of a completely fresh and unpredictable cricket book is a rare event," began John Arlott's review of The Willow Wand in the November 1979 issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly. It set the cogs ticking in the mind of a 13-year-old in country Victoria, who decided it was a book he simply had to have.

These many years later, Derek Birley's peppery survey of "cricket myths" remains for me a benchmark book, as much for its voice as its content - provocative, sceptical, independent, holding no brief for anyone. It belongs to perhaps the tiniest of all cricket sub-genres - not literature, not history, not reportage or anecdotage, but genuine critical inquiry.

Birley's particular target was the association of cricket with "not cricket": the game's self-legitimising claim to the occupation of a special, rarified and inherently English moral universe. Of this he made both utter mockery and delicious fun, concluding that "not cricket" could only be translated in circular fashion as "not the kind of thing which those who claim that cricket observes exceptionally high ethical standards happen to approve at any given moment".

In the course of his travels, the then-Rector of Ulster Polytechnique scourged almost every reputation precious to cricket's establishment: Lord Harris was a punitive reactionary; Lord Hawke was a tiresome braggart; Sir Pelham Warner was a brazen hypocrite; Sir Neville Cardus was a snob, a sycophant, and a "blatant purveyor of debased romantic imagery", capable of "shameless if sometimes skillful assemblages of emotive language". In his essay "Cardus and the Aesthetic Fallacy", Birley argues that it was Cardus "as much as anyone who created the intelligentsia of the game, giving respectability to attitudes that would otherwise have remained inarticulate or seemed merely snobbish special pleading".

For good measure, Birley took to task both CLR James, for his guileless effusions about WG Grace ("drawing a distinction between the sort of thing WG was reputed to go in for and real cheating'), and EW Swanton, for his majestic condescension toward cricket north of Watford ("'The North' is all the same to Swanton - accents, social standing, smoky chimneys - and all quite different from the leisured and gracious south").

The condition of my copy - battered, yellowed, dog-eared, annotated - is testament to its inspiriting qualities. I'm bound to say that here and there, it has worn less well. Birley's jeremiad against the "virility cult" of short-pitched pace bowling seems dated, for something has gone from the game with the lack of physical threat to batsmen. Birley was also probably too indulgent of his fellow Yorkshireman Geoff Boycott, and unduly hostile towards Tony Greig. But Birley was among the first to identify the implications of the game's infiltration by "the values of show business", noting its abiding tension: "The needs of cricket as a contest have always been to some extent at odds with the notion of providing entertainment." He thought also that cricket's survival depended on the emergence of a "new and more astringent literature" - and provided a sterling example.

Gideon Haigh is the author of The Summer Game, The Big Ship and other cricket books


Jack Fingleton, September 1936
Jack Fingleton: humorous, sensitive and combative © Getty Images

Cricket Crisis
by Jack Fingleton

David Frith: It's a real conundrum. Well over 10,000 books have been written on cricket. I've read about half of them. That's over one a week on average since the first (Elusive Victory, EW Swanton's 1950-51 Ashes book). I was further weaned on the little Cardus books, after which has followed some truly wonderful reading, alongside much junk on which (too late) I regret wasting precious time. Publishers are a mixed bunch.

Since this is not the first time I've had to deal with this challenging question of selecting the "best", my chief concern is the risk of inconsistency, for the nomination some years ago of Jack Fingleton's Cricket Crisis could easily have been superseded by now.

But it hasn't. It is much to do with time and place. That volume went onto my bookshelves a long time ago. Fingleton, an unusually interesting man, although extremely sensitive, inscribed it for me at Lord's in 1968, and we became quite close - either side of a rift. Nobody became a true friend of his unless there'd been a rift along the way - although the long-term and deep-seated animosity between him and Don Bradman was beyond healing.

So what makes this book so appealing? It is not solely about the 1932-33 Bodyline series, in which Fingleton played a major role. While there is much about that most famous of Ashes battles in the first half of the book, there are also colourful profiles of other great Australian cricketers, such as Bill O'Reilly and Stan McCabe and Clarrie Grimmett, all highly skilled and, equally importantly, strong of character. Let no modern-day cynic doubt that these men would have dominated in the modern cricket world as they did in the 1930s.

Fingo dug into his detailed diaries to recall Australia's tours of South Africa and England in the 1930s, shrewd observation blended with keen humour. One wicked crack: passenger asks railway guard why they've stopped so long in the tunnel. "This is no tunnel," comes the reply. "This is Manchester." And when I read again of his twin ducks in the stormy Adelaide Test of 1932-33, I think of the hilarious on-air exchange between broadcaster Fingleton and scorer Bill Frindall many years afterwards. Bill innocently referred to Fingo's "pair", only for the proud Australian to snarl back: "And did you ever make four consecutive Test centuries, Bill?"

That combative spirit, usually garnished with mischievous humour, echoes through this compelling book, his rasping voice rising from the pages.

David Frith's books include Bodyline Autopsy, The Archie Jackson Story and Silence of the Heart


Cover image of <i>Masters of Cricket</i> by Jack Fingleton

Masters of Cricket
by Jack Fingleton

Ramachandra Guha: Although weaned on the English romantics, as I grew older I grew to appreciate Australian cricket writers more. They had a knowledge of the game's history and of its technique that men like Neville Cardus and AA Thomson lacked. For someone who had played some decent cricket himself, this mattered - the English knew to turn a phrase (if also to mix a metaphor), but reading them, one rarely got a sense of how an innings was crafted or an over bowled. This preference, once established, has stayed with me. My favourite contemporary cricket writer is Gideon Haigh, my favourites among writers of the past, Ray Robinson and Jack Fingleton.

Robinson had an economical, witty style and a capacious internationalism. While his style was not the equal of Robinson's, Fingleton was not a narrow nationalist either. And where he scored over his compatriot was in the fact that he had played 18 Test matches himself. His writing thus carried an authority that the work of a club cricketer, or even one who had played Sheffield Shield cricket, could not convey.

Fingleton wrote four top-class cricket books. One was on the first Tied Test; a second on the Bodyline series; a third a report on Don Bradman's last tour of England. These I have read and re-read, but my favourite "Fingo" book remains Masters of Cricket (1958). A much-loved teacher, Vijayan "Unni" Nair, loaned it to me when I was in college, and I must have read it half a dozen times before I graduated. Years later I came to possess a copy of my own, in the handsome green-and-yellow hardback reissue from Pavilion Books.

Top six

  • Twelve years ago, in the appendix to The Picador Book of Cricket, I listed 50 of my favourite books on cricket. The editor now asks me to pare this down to six - Masters of Cricket and five others. These might be Ray Robinson's From the Boundary (a study of cricketers of the 1940s and 1950s), Sujit Mukherjee's Autobiography of an Unknown Cricketer (whose title says it all), Alan Gibson's Cricket Captains of England, RC Robertson-Glasgow's 46 Not Out (another charmingly whimsical cricketing memoir) and Ralph Barker's Ten Great Bowlers (since batsmen hog too many headlines anyway).

Where Fingleton's other books are on a single theme, Masters of Cricket ranges widely. There is a wonderful portrait of Victor Trumper, a essay in which not a word is wasted (years later, Fingo returned to the theme in a full-length book, which did not work); fine sketches of Warren Bardsley and HL "Horseshoe" Collins, and a superb short study of SF Barnes, whom I still think, Shane Warne and all, to be the greatest bowler who ever played. These portraits paid tribute to cricketers of a generation before Fingleton. A brilliant cameo, called "Cricketing Farewells", saluted English cricketers of a generation after his.

I recently read Masters of Cricket again after a gap of about a decade, and it still moved and educated me. Fingleton was the least chauvinistic of writers, more ready than the rest of us to praise foreigners, and youngsters too. His own cricketing expertise and experience informs every page, albeit very subtly. Although he had a reputation for being gruff in person, on the page he was unfailingly generous, and even, when the occasion demanded, tender and sentimental.

Like most others who write on the game, I would have to name, as my favourite book on cricket, CLR James' Beyond a Boundary. It is sui generis - simultaneously a memoir, a sociological study, a literary-critical exercise and a work in cultural studies. Asked to choose my favourite "cricket book" (rather than "book on or around cricket") I nominate Fingleton's Masters of Cricket.

Ramachandra Guha's books include A Corner of a Foreign Field and The Picador Book of Cricket

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (November 7, 2012, 12:45 GMT)

I have seen many encyclopaedia's of ESPN, but never on Cricket, Field Hockey, and very unusually, not one on the Summer Olympic games. I look at Amazon, to see how the readers like the books available to other readers. The book on Australian Cricket seems the best, but I don't think anyone in Amazon has reviewed it. I refer to the book published by Hardie Grant. I must buy it. And, if I wait unusually, the book will not be available to buy, perhaps.

Posted by maddy20 on (November 6, 2012, 8:35 GMT)

10 for 66 and all that seems to be an intriguing read, but I cannot seem to find a a published copy, atleast on ebay India. I have always been fond of cricketers with a humble personality and as such would be the first among these 5 that I would love to read. @BoonBoom What was the need for you to troll on such a wonderful article about what seem to be 5 of magnificent pieces of cricket writing? Seriously may be you Pakistanis would want to read about the great Afridi and all that but we Indians would love to read anything thats great, whether its about our folks or not.

Posted by InsideHedge on (November 5, 2012, 21:37 GMT)

@Yogi108: You can hope but let's be honest, there's almost no demand for any of the books in these lists. While no-one is doubting the quality of the works, almost all the books cover subjects from many generations ago. How many of the current generation of readers - who are into Kindles, Androids, etc - would want to read about Archie Jackson?

There is one silver lining, the cost of e-books is incredibly low, so perhaps your wish will come true.

Posted by YogifromNY on (November 5, 2012, 19:07 GMT)

Sad that not one of the great books listed here is available as a Kindle edition. Indeed, some of them are out of print or unavailable in the US. I am aware that a lot of these books were published long before e-books were even contemplated, but I sure hope publishers of these volumes will see fit to publish them in e-book format soon.

Posted by BoonBoom on (November 5, 2012, 18:58 GMT)

No book on tendulkar???? Millions will disagree with this list!!

Posted by InsideHedge on (November 5, 2012, 14:02 GMT)

I'd like to see all the columnists state their "Top Five".

Posted by IckiIqbal on (November 5, 2012, 10:17 GMT)

A belated entry of my favourite books. Unusually they do not relate to my early reading experiences

1. David Frith: The Bodyline Autopsy 2. Alan Ross: Australia 1955 3. Stephen Chalke: At the Heart of English Cricket 4. David Frith: Caught England Bowled Australia 5. Ray Robinson: Between Wickets

Posted by   on (November 5, 2012, 9:12 GMT)

I have David Frith's book, and while the story itself is riveting, and desperately sad, I was particularly impressed by the photographs. The pictures taken during his debut test century are remarkable, particularly that late cut played miles outside the off stump with a horizontal bat inches above the wicket. beautiful, unique

Posted by InsideHedge on (October 30, 2012, 16:52 GMT)

@Bull Narayanswamy : There's no point looking for brick and mortar cricket bookshops, most of these books are readily available from INTERNET bookshops. Many can be found on Ebay too, and in most cases the internet bookshops sell on Ebay too, typically they are a tad cheaper when purchased from their own website. The challenge is to find a copy in acceptable condition, most of these sellers display a "stock photo" rather than a picture of the actual 2nd hand book. Your ability to find a NEW/unread book from this series is very difficult.

Posted by   on (October 30, 2012, 9:57 GMT)

It says on the cover of Gerald Brodribb's Next Man In, "Quite one of the best books on cricket ever written". Rings true even if the words 'on cricket' are taken out of the sentence.

Posted by aus_trad on (October 30, 2012, 1:43 GMT)

Nice piece: Mailey was certainly a character. I am astonished, however, that the article mentions neither the match to which the title refers (Australians vs Gloucestershire in 1921, in which Mailey took 10 for 66), nor the secondary allusion (to Sellar and Yeatman's 1066 and All That, a tongue-in-cheek survey of English history - 1066 being, of course, the year of the Battle of Hastings). When all is said and done, my two favourite cricket books are probably Neville Cardus' Autobiography (not, strictly speaking, a cricket book: but the cricket passages are marvellous), and Catch! by R.S. Whitington, with Keith Miller. The latter concerns the Australian tour of South Africa in 1949-50, and, in more detail, the MCC tour of Australia In 1950-51. Superb sketch of the end of a triumphant era in Australian cricket, immediately post-Bradman.

Posted by   on (October 29, 2012, 13:19 GMT)

Brilliant book of cricketing short stories: "The Demon Bowler and other cricket stories" by Dal Stivens

Posted by   on (October 29, 2012, 12:43 GMT)

ray robinson on ausie captains is nice as are guha and clr james. The problem is that there are few cricket bookshops and fingelton is impossible to get. It would be nicer if these guys at cricinfo could tell us where we could get copies of these books at a reasonable price

Posted by InsideHedge on (October 29, 2012, 12:39 GMT)

A beautiful review by Suresh Memon, thoroughly enjoyable. Some of us will now look to add these books to our collection.

Posted by   on (October 29, 2012, 11:44 GMT)

It's lovely to read book reviews by Suresh Menon. I recently read RUN N RUINS by S.M. Gavaskar about 1983 Tour of West Indies in India. It really recalls how the power struggle played wicked in the team selection and the arrogance of the Selectors and Captain Kapil Dev.

Posted by   on (October 25, 2012, 2:57 GMT)

@Rowayton, the Perry book of Miller is a lift-off of a whole pile of stuff, with lots of data errors. I counted about 50 factual errors in the chapter on the Invincibles tour alone.

Posted by   on (October 24, 2012, 20:20 GMT)

For purely fictional cricket writing, P.G. Wodehouse has a bunch about English public school cricket. They are great read. I would recommend "The Gold Bat" and "The Prefect's Uncle" for anyone interested in a taste of Wodehouse humor on a cricket setting.

Posted by Vivek.Bhandari on (October 23, 2012, 10:45 GMT)

Pundits from Pakistan by Rahul Bhattacharya. It has everything a cricket fan (especially from the subcontinent) needs to read about: a bit of history, politics, cricket, food, people, and what not.

Posted by   on (October 23, 2012, 7:13 GMT)

@ Landl47 - Willow Wand is one of my favourite books on any sporting subject.

@ Gideon Haigh - good point about Birley's overly high regard for Boycott, it might have been worth acknowledging that Birley recognised this himself in later editions.

Posted by   on (October 23, 2012, 2:47 GMT)

Haven't read so many but CLR James' Beyond The Boundary remains my eternal favourite.

Posted by Dolphinboy on (October 23, 2012, 2:33 GMT)

My favourite is by Les Favell simply because it had the best ever title "By Hook or by Cut" which epitomised the man.

Posted by Rowayton on (October 23, 2012, 1:34 GMT)

I agree with Arun Masilamoni about Cardus - whether Cardus could describe how to play a shot or construct an over was irrelevant. Cardus's books were about watching cricket, not playing it, and he was the nerdy cricket spectator par excellence. I like books that tell me something I didn't know, which I doubt too many modern books do. Roland Perry's biography of Keith Miller was a recent good one. I also used to have a history of West Indian cricket written by novelist Christopher Nicole that I read again and again. My favourite? Haven't got one, there are too many. I am, however, a bit put off Fingleton by having met him! He could be difficult.

Posted by ynotlleb on (October 22, 2012, 18:08 GMT)

Best. Sir Donald Bradman - Irving Rosenwater. Fred - John Arlott. 500-1 - Rob Steen. Worst. Netherland - Joseph O'Neill

Posted by landl47 on (October 22, 2012, 14:03 GMT)

'Willow Wand' has (deservedly) long been forgotten. Gideon Haigh's style is so different to that of Birley I can only conclude it must be some kind of sentimental attachment that causes him to pick this malevolent rant as his best cricket book. I can pretty much guarantee it won't be on anyone else's list.

Posted by cricketalk on (October 22, 2012, 13:12 GMT)

there are some excellent cricket books across sub-genres.. i love tour diaries and (auto)biographies the most. when it comes to the former, 'cricket wallah' by scyld berry is an old favorite. so is 'sachincredible', a compendium of pieces written by harsha bhogle for 'mid-day' on the 1990-91 tour of England. somehow, his writings never reached the same lofty heights again. when it comes to biographies and memoirs, i love 'supercat', clive lloyd's biography and sunny days by sunil gavaskar.

Posted by   on (October 22, 2012, 10:32 GMT)

My two favourite Cricket books.

Golden Boy, Kim Hughes and the bad old days of Australian Cricket by Christian Ryan ... and The Cricket War, The inside story of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket by Gideon Haigh.

Both amazing insights into significant era's of Australian Cricket.

Posted by Anuranga_Gunathilake on (October 22, 2012, 8:15 GMT)

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka is one of the best modern era cricketing novels.

Posted by D-Ascendant on (October 22, 2012, 6:34 GMT)

Gerald Brodribb: Next Man In. A book I would read and re-read until the pages disintegrated within my fingers. Among new books, Golden Boy.

Posted by   on (October 16, 2012, 16:42 GMT)

The Best Loved Game by Geoffrey Moorhouse is up there with any book written on cricket and I've read Beyond a Boundary.

Posted by aus_trad on (October 16, 2012, 0:52 GMT)

One of my favourite cricket books is Fingleton's "Fingleton on Cricket". Among other gems, this contains a thrilling account of the tied test, and a wonderful piece about the match between Yorkshire and the Australians in 1938 ("A Yorkshire Gesture") - maybe my all-time favourite piece of cricket writing. There is also a piece on Don Bradman. Anyone with revisionist tendencies regarding Bradman i.e. doubting that he was far and away the greatest batsman ever, should read this piece by someone who played frequently both with and against the Don, and saw all of the greats, from the 1930s to the 1970s, anyway. It is especially convincing in that, as mentioned by David Frith, Fingleton was no friend of Bradman's. That being said, Fingleton quotes extensively from a lengthy letter Bradman wrote in response to one from Fingleton - full of insights on cricket and sport in general. I'm wondering if their relationship did eventually become more cordial...

Posted by   on (October 16, 2012, 0:30 GMT)

"They had a knowledge of the game's history and of its technique that ... Neville Cardus ... lacked ... one rarely got a sense of how an innings was crafted or an over bowled" It is obvious that Guha either hasn't read much of Cardus or that he didn't understand most of what he read of Cardus. "Fingleton was the least chauvinistic of writers" Fingo was just jealous of Bradman, he even wrote that Bradman ought to have let himself get hit more often during Bodyline, so that the other batsmen (incl. one Fingo) didn't have to take medicine meant for Bradman!

Posted by   on (October 16, 2012, 0:23 GMT)

There is hands down no greater cricket book than Beyond the Boundary by CLR James.

Posted by   on (October 15, 2012, 23:18 GMT)

Ha Ha hA !!! Have the authors ever read of the new blockbuster cricket Novel Cricket Maiden ???

Posted by hammad2000 on (October 15, 2012, 21:59 GMT)

My favorite book is Out of my comfort Zone. By Steve Waugh

Posted by   on (October 15, 2012, 21:07 GMT)

@ Naveen Boggarapu. That is a vey fair point. Maybe a good article would be the best books for each test playing nations. From nz. Id choose: The Last Everyday Hero: The Bert Sutcliffe Story.

Posted by Kaze on (October 15, 2012, 15:22 GMT)

The Summer Game by Gideon Haigh

Posted by Hammond on (October 15, 2012, 15:16 GMT)

I do remember reading a book from the Uni library about the 1928/29 ashes series written by Monty Noble. To me that was one of the greatest cricket books I've ever read barring WG Graces "Cricket" and an instructional book by Albert Trott that I don't own. But that Monty Noble book was incredibly gripping.

Posted by zoot364 on (October 15, 2012, 14:32 GMT)

The subtitle of the article says they asked cricket writers which books they "love most".

I really admire Fingleton's books. But looking at my shelves now, the ones I actually love, the ones I find myself re-reading time and again include Mailey's "10 for 66 And All That", Dickie Dodds's "Hit Hard and Enjoy It" and Gerald Brodribb's biography of Gilbert Jessop "The Croucher".

"Hit Hard and Enjoy It" is probably the one I'd champion most. A short book, simply written, but a wonderful tale of a man who found himself through playing attacking cricket.

Posted by AdityaMookerjee on (October 15, 2012, 13:21 GMT)

Good thing was, that Bodyline made Bodyline a piece of history. It seems, everyone felt bad, especially the England team manager. He couldn't stop the England captain, from practicing Bodyline, but he did perhaps, suggest, that it be outlawed. The England captain, was supposed to have lost the series, fairly, but he did win it, also, fairly. I don't think Bradman was the most important cricketer, in any era, for the English. The England captain, was supposed to have been more important, for England, than Bradman.

Posted by Beertjie on (October 15, 2012, 13:14 GMT)

I grew up reading Fingleton's syndicated reports of the tests in Oz since around 1960 (the time delay made for great evening reading in South Africa). Graduated to his books and just loved them. But there are so many different genres of cricket books: from Cardus, Robertson-Glasgow and Thomson to James, Guha and Marqusee that I don't have a favourite.

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (October 15, 2012, 12:18 GMT)

A lot of classic books have been re-printed by The Pavillion Library. I particularly treasure another Jack Fingleton book: "And the Ashes Crown the Year" about the 1953 Ashes series. Jack Fingleton is a wonderful writer who just brought the whole tour alive for me: it is my particular favourite.

Posted by   on (October 15, 2012, 12:05 GMT)

I have an entire cricket library but easily the best book is one that surprisingly no-one has mentioned yet. It is that brilliant book from Gideon Haigh, called "Cricket War" which describes the events of World Series Cricket. It is the most objective analysis of the most tumultous time in World Cricket. I could recomend it to anyone Arthur

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on (October 15, 2012, 8:33 GMT)

The art of cricket by Sir Don. I read that book when I was 13 years old. Learnt how to bowl a googly from that book in just one day. Priceless. RIP Sir!

Posted by Nutcutlet on (October 15, 2012, 8:33 GMT)

@jonas07: interesting assertion. Please construct your argument with specific references to the literature of both sports - unless you can do this there is no substance to your point of comparison. I sense that cricket's "quality library" is more (please excuse this!) voluminous & there can be no doubt that the history of cricket is longer, covers more ground in every sense as it's an international game, with Test cricket as its ultimate expression. It is also concerned with climatic conditions & what does part does the state of the playing area - 'wicket' - play in baseball, by the way? Captaincy? Please compare! That aside, my cricket books (sans Wisden) for a desert island would include: Basil D'Oliveira (Peter Oborne); Harold Larwood (D Hamilton); Fingleton on Cricket (1972); Cricket: The Golden Ages (AA Thompson); John Major's More than a Game (early history) & top of the list, CLR James' View.. Now, baseball fans, please come up with required reading. Give us a match!

Posted by   on (October 15, 2012, 7:59 GMT)

Heading should be: Which are the finest cricket books IN ENGLISH?

Posted by   on (October 15, 2012, 5:24 GMT)

The Playing Mantis .

Posted by landl47 on (October 15, 2012, 4:51 GMT)

@InsideHedge: Oops! Yes, sorry, you're quite right. I must have been daydreaming, because I've got it right here. Patrick Eagar with text by John Arlott- can't beat that.

Posted by Hammond on (October 9, 2012, 19:56 GMT)

@Walter H Persaud- sorry mate most of the authors mentioned here are Australian. Last time I looked Australia wasn't located in Europe?

Posted by InsideHedge on (October 9, 2012, 18:19 GMT)

@landl47: You mean Patrick Eager.....yes, a top photographer. I have that book, albeit a poor copy, time to go thru it again.

Posted by   on (October 9, 2012, 15:45 GMT)

Many of the comments here seem so Eurocentric...wow.... Pls read CLR James, Beyond a Boundary, then decide on the second, third and fourth place. R. Guha's own A Corner of a Foreign Field is a strong conder for second place, Br%man's Farewell to Cricket, Third, Sober,s Autobiography fourth.

Posted by rayinto on (October 9, 2012, 14:41 GMT)

CLR James "Beyond the Boundary" chronicles the early history of West Indian cricket and the challenges ( that would eventually engineer the team to its greatness in the 80s).

Posted by Hammond on (October 9, 2012, 11:48 GMT)

@JeffG- all I can say is that you haven't read enough cricket literature. I have plenty of books of that ilk, ranging from Neville Cardus through to Malcom Knox.

Posted by Headbandenator on (October 9, 2012, 10:04 GMT)

Dear Jonas007, you cannot trump a "probably" with a "does".

Posted by JeffG on (October 9, 2012, 9:39 GMT)

@land47 - I'm a big fan of both cricket & baseball and have many books on both sports - I think the best baseball writing does compare well with the best cricket writing. And the best book on any sport I have read is "The Glory of Their Times" by Lawrence Ritter, consisting of interviews conducted in the 1960s with baseball players from the early years of the C20th. How I wish someone had done something similar for cricket. For the record, my favourite cricket book is Bodyline Autopsy by David Frith

Posted by Hammond on (October 9, 2012, 9:09 GMT)

I actually love "The Art of Cricket" by D.G.B, but my favourite cricket book is just "Cricket" by W.G Grace. Fascinating stuff especially the advice on batting and bowling, and his descriptions on the early differences between Australian and English players (that still ring true today!) @ygkd- Of course of mean Archie! Actually the man that I would love to see in the baggy green now (no way HE would wear a helmet even today!) is Stanley Joseph McCabe- from the footage I have seen of this master he would slaughter any modern attack (including the modern spinners) with shots like the back foot on drive and the straight bat sweep, shots the like of which none of the modern bowlers would have ever, ever seen. A level of mastery of batting not matched today by anybody.

Posted by landl47 on (October 9, 2012, 5:20 GMT)

Incidentally, I don't think 'Masters Of Cricket' is Jack Fingleton's best book. 'Brightly Fades The Don', about Bradman's last tour of England, is better.

Posted by landl47 on (October 9, 2012, 5:17 GMT)

It's hard to pick a single cricket book, because cricket has a wide range of topics to cover and some writers are better at one thing than another (and with due respect to Jonas007, I live in the US and baseball writing doesn't hold a candle to cricket writing). My list of favorites includes '46 Not Out' by Robertson-Glasgow, mentioned by the reviewer, as the best memoir; 'On Reflection' by Richie Benaud for technical analysis; 'The Art Of Captaincy' by Mike Brearley for what the title says; 'Spinner's Yarn' by Ian Peebles for humor; 'The Cricket Match' by Hugh de Selincourt for fiction; 'The Ashes Retained' by Mike Brearley as an account of a test series; 'An Eye For Cricket' by Patrick Gallagher for photographs; 'Vintage Summer' by John Arlott for an account of a season and 'A Cricketer's Book' by Neville Cardus for atmosphere. If I had to pick one, it would be 'Vintage Summer', an account of the 1947 English season in which Denis Compton scored 3816 runs. A wonderful book.

Posted by ygkd on (October 9, 2012, 5:06 GMT)

Jackson as graceful as anyone today, @Hammond? I dunno, Gower's a commentator, VVS retired too - perhaps you meant more graceful.....??? Presuming you were talking about Archie not Jackers. Seriously, you're dead right about plenty, including only the fielding improving - except of course in relation to the forgotten art - wicketkeeping. That's gone backwards big-time.

Posted by ygkd on (October 9, 2012, 5:00 GMT)

I don't know what the best book is but anything with Victor Trumper on the cover gets my attention! However, I do know what the worst books are - modern tour, ghost-written, pulp, "auto"-biographies.

Posted by Chris_P on (October 9, 2012, 1:30 GMT)

@Hammond. Absolutely spot on statement. You add guys like Keith Miller, Alan Knott, Wes Hall who would be superstars in the new games. Although a young "feller" I can still recall Knott playing unorthodox shots against a rampaging Thomson that were a pre cursor to many of the one day shots done now. I know you have also said it, but I will add that I woiud LOVE to see some of the batsmen today batting without helmets to see if they have the you know what to pull off some shots.

Posted by InsideHedge on (October 8, 2012, 21:52 GMT)

@Hammond: Yes, it's the modern cricketers who mock players from the past. When Botham was playing, he readily mocked what he saw on the old footage. When Fred Trueman commented that players always looked slow on the old B&W films, he was laughed at. But if you watch footage of the Windies quicks from the 70s/80s, they don't look as quick as we remember. Strange. However, I will say that Larwood looked quick incredibly quick even in those old, crackly B&W Pathe-type films. I've no doubt that those players from the past were as great as the writers told us. Eventually everyone realises it as they age and their contemporaries fall under the label of "players from the past".

Posted by hoodbu on (October 8, 2012, 20:30 GMT)

The Art of Cricket by the Don himself The Art of Fast Bowling by Dennis Lillee

These belong in the top 5 surely.

Posted by   on (October 8, 2012, 19:26 GMT)

The Art of Cricket by Bradman. Lost my copy somehow!

Posted by Biggus on (October 8, 2012, 18:14 GMT)

@MFNadeem-In your opinion, but have you read ANY of the other books that have been mentioned? If not how can your opinion have any great validity?

Posted by AJ_Tiger86 on (October 8, 2012, 14:49 GMT)

"Cricket probably boasts the best writing in all sport." -- wrong. Baseball does.

Posted by   on (October 8, 2012, 13:35 GMT)


Posted by Hoggy_1989 on (October 8, 2012, 13:09 GMT)

Jack Fingleton's other book 'The Cricket Crisis: Bodyline and Other Lines' is also a pretty good read for the full story on the whole Bodyline saga, including his own take on who leaked what to the press about Woodfull's rebuke of Plum Warner. It has some other amusing tales of cricket at the time...well worth it imo.

Posted by AdityaMookerjee on (October 8, 2012, 12:08 GMT)

The book to purchase, today for me, is the book published by Hardie Grant publishers on Australian Cricket. It is regretable, that I do not know the occasion, why the book was published for the first time. It must be, because it marks the day, when Australia played Test Cricket for the first time. The Australian authors write on Cricket as their team plays the game, in the perception.

Posted by MFNadeem on (October 8, 2012, 11:43 GMT)

Its unfair to not to include "All Round View, by Imran Khan" in top 6.

Posted by Kemcho on (October 8, 2012, 11:32 GMT)

This is one of my favourite books as well. I am fortunate to own all books written by J Fingleton, Ray Robinson, CLR James and most other top authors in my library of around 1,200 cricket books. Some books written by Plum Warner on cricket between Australia and England are also good reads. Amongst Indian writers Rajan Bala and Mihir Bose have written a some excellent books.

Posted by chin-music on (October 8, 2012, 11:31 GMT)

Ray Robinson remains my favourite cricket author too. Long ago as a 10-yr old , I remember going thru one of his books whose title I forget - but it's theme was test matches across the world that had been interrupted by crowd distrubances ! Each story was a masterpeice where Ray really dug deep into the larger conext in which the cricket was played - & how that fed into what actually happened on the field.

Posted by frost on (October 8, 2012, 11:14 GMT)

A book written by one of your regular writers, On and Off the Field (Ed Smith) is my favourite, with Steve Waugh's Autobiography a close second.

Posted by   on (October 8, 2012, 9:12 GMT)

The best book Ihave read about the love of cricket is Marcus Berkman's Rain Men. The funniest description of a match is in AG McDonnell's England, Their England. The saddest book about cricketis David Frith's By His Own Hand. And the greatest writer on the game is still Cardus. No one reading his stuff could fail to fall in love with the game

Posted by WiltonStHill on (October 8, 2012, 8:51 GMT)

Hammond, you are right.

Jack Hobbs managed to adapt his game to suit so many generations, decades and changes in the game that he would easily change to the game today. Trumper would put any of today's batsmen in the shade. It is my belief, that had it not been for Bradman, Trumper would still be regarded the greatest ever batsman. And Albert Trott, well, anyone who could hit a six over the Lord's Pavillion, and still be the only one to do it ever had some talent.

With regards to my favourite book, I would have to choose T.W. Reese's volumes on the history of New Zealand Cricket.

Although Tom (The elder brother of international cricketer Dan) was not the most eloquent of writers, and did not have the same memorising penmanship as Neville Cardus, the two volumes are the only true histories of New Zealand's forming cricket years. Without those two volumes, we would today know nothing of our roots in the game.

Posted by   on (October 8, 2012, 8:45 GMT)

Seeing Larwood bowl - I know they say "dont actually lean backwards" to yong bowlers, but Larwoods "bow" was almost as extreme as Thommo's 45 years later, and the pace! Man that was some SERIOUS velocity. Looking at the techniques of some of those old timers batting you are surprised they scored runs - essp on uncovered pitches. Playing with the bat miles away from their body, the "flick through mid wicket" or backward cut you see played in newsreels looks flipping awful by modern coaching standards, head back, playing it early rather than late, never still for s single moment all "twitch and fidget". Then you see the very best cricketers today. 50% of them are absolute orthodoxy (Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis) others are the complete opposite (Lara, Gayle, Pietersen). More than one way to skin a cat!

Posted by Hammond on (October 8, 2012, 6:21 GMT)

Funny that those people that actually study the history of the game aren't as blinkered as the "those people in the old films were fat and slow" brigade. I think Trumper would astonish even people who are used to Gayle and Warner going ballistic, SF Barnes would still be cleaning up batting line ups with ease and let's not even bring Bradman into this. If you actually watch the footage and read the books, you will realise that Larwood was just as quick as anyone today, Jackson just as graceful and Jessop could hit the ball just as far. The best of these old cricketers was just as good, and in many cases better, than anyone playing the game today. Only fielding has improved in my opinion.

Posted by sifter132 on (October 8, 2012, 5:39 GMT)

Cool idea for an article. Will have to make some notes!

Posted by Udendra on (October 8, 2012, 3:59 GMT)

one of the best cricketing novels is 'Chinaman' by shehan karunathilake.

Comments have now been closed for this article

Email Feedback Print
News | Features Last 3 days
News | Features Last 3 days