Coming into Play by Andrew Strauss (Hodder & Stoughton, 304pp) £11.39
The prospect of yet another autobiography at the fag-end of the season is not cause for much celebration. Expectations are further dampened given the author has spent a mere 28 months in Test cricket. Nevertheless, his column in the Daily Telegraph has always been a cut above the usual dross - and I approached Andrew Strauss's Coming into Play with reasonable optimism.
Nicknamed Lord Brockett, Strauss's diffidence and privileged background is extensively compared to that of (most of) his team-mates. Frequent mention of the "jazz hats" (he and his team-mate, and later best-man, Ben Hutton) become a little weary. We get the picture, Andrew. An image develops of a man who - in spite of an upbringing geared to provide a golden, well-trodden path to the City - was unsure of his direction.
Cricket, we learn, wasn't a prominent feature of his future. In spite of the outstanding facilities afforded to public schoolboys, cricket was a bit-part to the "conveyer belt" of school, A-Levels, economics degrees and, ultimately, a city job. It's what his parents expected and wanted, and there is no shortage of barbed comments about the "sheltered" existence a public schoolboy leads. After visiting a Middlesex team-mate's flat on a council estate, his obvious pleasure in meeting someone from a different social and educational background was revelatory - for him, and us. Cricket levelled him.
Before long, he moves onto the crux of the story: playing for England. Curiosity, or jealously, stir our interest in the luxuries afforded to international sportsmen (mobile phones, cars, preferential treatment at airports and...blazers), but it's nothing we've not heard before. Likewise the nerves, tension and excitement he experienced are all superfluous and quickly forgotten. Fluently written, and clearly from the heart, the book is sadly let down by the minutiae. A near ball-by-ball account of his first few innings for England might make for a tear-jerking Jackanory session for his grandchildren, but it's tedious for the rest of us. A Middlesex supporter since birth, I celebrated like a buffoon when he scored his maiden hundred on debut against New Zealand in 2004. Even for me, though, the recount was too meticulous.
Thankfully, he was an important cog in England's Ashes victory and he devotes nearly a third of the book to the toppling of Australia. In a revealing conversation with Stephen Fleming (with whom Strauss formed a solid friendship under Fleming's Middlesex captaincy in 2001) Strauss's depression (and, we presume, England's too) following the defeat at Lord's is put into perspective by Fleming's straight-talking. Onto Edgbaston, and again Strauss depicts the trauma fondly and expressively - yet we learn nothing new. There have been half a dozen books dedicated to the Ashes, if not the Edgbaston Test alone, and Strauss's take on it doesn't offer anything substantially distinct or remarkably interesting.
Sadly, that remains the theme of the book. Although it is undeniably well written, something crucial is missing: the second-half of his career. In no sense is this a criticism of the author, nor Angus Fraser whose advice he sought - more a complaint at the trend of premature autobiographies, particularly among sportsmen. Strauss is a fine batsman and clearly possesses an eloquent cricket brain. However, he still has several good years ahead of him. His final story, whenever that will be, ought to be a broader and wiser account...and I'll buy it, but only then.