Pen portraits (or, more recently, word-processor portraits) of cricketers are easily categorised. A colleague writing about a team-mate of long standing might give us a couple of anecdotes along the line of "I remember the time when we were travelling in the team bus and Joe (or Sam or Bob) decided to relieve the tedium by…" Sadly, most such portraits lack any insight into character, and are, frankly, boring. Especially when great care is taken to ensure that the writer does not give offence.
A second category comprises the passing mention of a significant event or reactions during an important match, and await the arrival of the future biographer or historian to join the dots and tease out a coherent picture.
Players from Sunil Gavaskar to Peter Roebuck have dedicated whole books to discussing those they played with and against or watched over a period. While Gavaskar's "Idols" is in the form of tributes to great players of his time, and those he admired while growing up, Roebuck's is a journalist's impression where assessment rather than description is the aim. The cricket prints of Robertson-Glasgow fall into the same category - a quick brushstroke that revealed character in 800 words or so. Cardus took longer, and brought in more elements, while Australian Ray Robinson connected the trivial with the significant in a seamless manner that almost made his subject jump out from the page at the reader.
The study of what makes a sportsman tick is a fascinating one. Would Viv Richards have been Viv Richards without the pride he had in who he was and where he came from? What made Gavaskar such a phenomenal accumulator of runs, dedicated to occupying the crease and denying the bowlers for long periods? Was there an inevitability about Ian Chappell's leadership that further emphasised the essential "Australianness" of Australian teams?
These are the kind of questions Frank Tyson attempts to answer in The Test Within with its unambiguous sub-title: "Talent and Temperament in 22 Cricketers".
The answers do not lie in statistics, but in something less tangible - something called "temperament". There are enough examples of hugely talented players falling by the wayside while those with fewer natural gifts have overtaken them on the world stage because they had the sounder temperament. Coaches are fond of speaking of the three "Ts - talent, technique and temperament", and how temperament alone can make up for deficiencies in the other two.
"He became the accountant and stockbroker batsman: a person capable of facing the challenges of batting crease and marketplace alike by assessing a problem and arriving at a solution"
Frank Tyson on Sunil Gavaskar
Two decades ago, Tyson, tearaway fast bowler, writer, teacher, coach and one of the most intelligent commentators on the game put together a team of 22 cricketers whom he analysed not from the technical point of view alone, but from the standpoint of temperament where the larger questions are examined. Till Mike Brearley (President, British Psychoanalytical Society) picks his 22 to profile from a mainly psychoanalytical perspective, this will remain the collection that looks at players from the third of the three Ts.
Here's Tyson on Richards, capturing the man, his cricket and attempting to discover what made him tick bringing together the best of temperament, history and anecdote: "He never turned his back on a brother or a sister. During the Oval Test of 1976 he was a weary 130 not out overnight en route to a superlative 291, yet he still permitted a party to continue in his room at London's Waldorf Hotel until 2.30am - he was not one to spoil the fun of those who wanted to join him on his triumphant roller coaster ride."
Of Gavaskar, Tyson says, "He became the accountant and stockbroker batsman: a person capable of facing the challenges of batting crease and marketplace alike by assessing a problem and arriving at a solution… (Gavaskar) was too much of a businessman to waste supreme effort on occasions of less than supreme significance."
Tyson's 22 begins with Len Hutton and takes us through the likes of Dennis Compton, Keith Miller, Fred Trueman to Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Kapil Dev. Tyson says in his foreword: "Sporting success emanates from the whole person within - his temperament, emotional make-up, thinking ability and even prejudices - rather than solely from the physical and cerebral capabilities of the athlete." There is a joy in the analysis that communicates itself to the reader.
Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore