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The class of 1998

Book cover: Following On by David Tossell Pitch Publishing

In 1998, 15 young men, slightly wet around the ears, slightly cocky, lifted the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa. No one had anticipated that they would be English, and it emerges no one quite knew what to do with them.

Eleven years later David Tossell decided to track them down, from the fields of Northampton's County Ground, to the offices of Gray-Nicolls, to the London sanctuary of a property investor. Each one spoke openly and what emerges is an ode to the joy, cruelty and terrible loneliness that can come with being a professional cricketer.

Only seven of the 15 still play first-class cricket: Stephen Peters, Paul Franks, Chris Schofield, Owais Shah, Robert Key, Graham Napier and Graeme Swann - the undoubted star of the book. Swann's vivid memories from the World Cup, his astute reflections on his team-mates, his self-awareness and his own bizarre career path make him a wonderfully quotable subject.

There are thoughtful reflections from passing coaches and selectors. The cosseted lives of today's players are discussed by David Capel, the Northants coach, who tells Tossell that, "...[my generation] were like old men compared to today's players. We all looked 40. We were a more life-hardened set of people. Many had been labourers since 16 years of age."

But the soul of the book comes from the broken dreams of those less fortunate. As Angus Fraser said to Owais Shah, the U-19 captain and outstanding batsman of his generation, who has only played four Tests, there are more bad days than good. Chris Schofield, who at one point was reduced to ferrying my next-door neighbour and his friends from Littleborough to Manchester United games, tells of how he turned up for his Test debut to find no one had seen him bowl; Stephen Peters, once tipped for England, talks of seeing grown men crying in the dressing room; and Jamie Grove, whose career finally floundered on one over that went for 20 runs on Twenty20 finals day in 2003, tells a horrendous story of mistreatment by club and supporters.

"After that game I had death threats. I had people saying they were going to rape my wife. I went to the club's office and said I want to call the police but they refused to let me. In the end they said they would put a line on the website saying, 'We fully back Jamie Grove in everything he has done and he is a professional person.' It was not really the support I was looking for."

Following On is painstakingly researched and is perhaps slightly lumbering in format simply because Tossell has so much to fit in. But the incidental gems - that during an England's Under-19 World Cup game, "Lady in Red" came on in place of Australia's national anthem - outweigh the slightly preachy moments when Tossell gets bogged down by his own opinions. Perhaps any 18-year-old dreaming of the smooth and sunny path ahead should read this before contemplating the dotted line.

Following On: A year with English cricket's golden boys
by David Tossell
Know the Score
240pp, 14.99