There are only 12 days left till the non-start of the cricket season. What to do? Time – we have plenty of it after all – for a list. Today, a literary one, the best cricketing reads for an indefinite lockdown. A selection, in no particular order, of books The Spin has loved and, in some cases, lost. A confession: some are written by friends, though that’s not why they made the cut. If your fancy is tickled, some bookshops are still delivering and ebooks and audio books can be borrowed from the library. Happy browsing!
Golden Boy by Christian Ryan The Australian writer’s finest book – a brutal examination of the rise and fall of Kim Hughes and the breathtakingly obnoxious treatment of him at the hands of the bullying clique at the centre of Australia’s side. A classic study of power and weakness, it is heartbreaking to read as Hughes continually makes excuses for his tormentors’ behaviour. Characteristically intelligent and beautifully written.
Pundits from Pakistan by Rahul Bhattacharya Bhattacharya wrote this when he was only 25 and had been sent to cover India’s groundbreaking tour of Pakistan in 2004. It is a coming of age book really, an illustration of love, enlightenment, friendship across nations, and the power of cricket to transform. Page after page of beautiful phrases, images to bathe in, heat, dust and bat on ball.
An Australian Summer by Patrick Eagar and Alan Ross Pure 1985 nostalgia from an unbeatable double act. The pithy captions, the beautiful photographs, happy memories of one of English cricket’s loveliest summers.
Following on by Emma John This account of supporting England at their nadir is five parts memoir, three parts cricket and two parts easy-breezy charm. John peppers her teenage travails with literary references, names her teddy Steve Watkin and, as an adult, tracks down 11 members of that team and asks them … why? Utterly beguiling and cricket’s nearest thing to Fever Pitch.
Glory Gardens 1-9 by Bob Cattell This jolly romp of a children’s series follows the antics of an amateur cricket club as they stretch for world domination, featuring a cheerful cast of characters. Perfect for primary school cricket fans climbing the walls without a cricket season to play, a cousin’s hand-me-downs were read, and re-read, by the Spin’s children.
Tom Graveney’s Top Ten Cricket Book A niche choice, no longer in print (though available second hand), and simple in format – it essentially lists Graveney’s top-10 spin bowlers/ openers/ wicketkeepers etc. Quizzing each other from it in the back of the car was what passed for entertainment for four children in the 1980s. Ideal for the apocalypse.
The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearley The classic book on leadership in cricket and beyond by the man with “a degree in people”. Published in 1985, a couple of years after Brearley unbuckled his pads for the last time, it is thoughtful, jargon-free and empathetic, describing the complex relationships and responsibilities of captaincy and the myriad traps that await. Can someone please send one to No 10, post-haste?
Beyond a Boundary by CLR James Makes every cricket book top 10 as a matter of course but really is worth the effort if you’ve never got round to it. Can be a little dense in places but though James’s 1963 tome is a product of its time, examining the game through the gaze of class, race and fading imperialism, it still speaks to the 21st century.
Wisden This, of all summers, is your chance to wade further in than the editor’s notes. But which to choose out of all 157 “delectable primrose doorstops”, as Frank Keating described them? Wisden 2000 is a good starting point as an overview of the 20th century and includes the Five Cricketers of the Century. For a more up-to-date read, order the 2020 Almanack that will somehow hit its publication date in early April despite being printed in Italy.
The Judge by Robin Smith and Rob Smyth A frankly disturbing autobiography of one of England’s most loved players of the 1980s and 1990s. Illustrates what happens when masculinity becomes an inescapable mask, and the damage a parent can do, however well-intentioned. Sensitively written by the Guardian’s own OBO champion.
Mystery Spinner by Gideon Haigh It’s difficult to choose just one from Haigh’s rich back catalogue but this pips the rest. The king of research picks a relatively obscure yet intriguing subject in Jack Iverson and traces his journey to that short and sweet pinnacle of fame, and the tragedy that followed.
Steve Smith’s Men by Geoff Lemon This swept the awards season last year, named the Wisden, MCC and Cricket Writers’ Club book of the year. It deserved the accolade, a super read on Sandpapergate – a cricket story for the ages – a tale of what happens when cricket becomes a business, winning becomes everything, leadership is empty and the game exists in a moral vacuum.
Another Bloody Tour by Frances Edmonds The Spin loved this book as a teenager. It is irreverent, rude, very funny, if bumptious in places, and pricks all the right people in all the right places. Never was a writer better suited to her circumstances than Edmonds on England’s calamitous 1986 tour of the West Indies.
Fred Trueman by Chris Waters The Yorkshire Post’s cricket correspondent gets under the skin of Yorkshire’s most famous son in this cracking biography. He tells us Trueman’s story from cradle to grave, from the glorious side-on stallion to the cantankerous old bugger, examines his atrocious handling by England and, worse, by Yorkshire, who even asked him to pay £120 towards his own retirement present, which they didn’t bother to engrave. Surprisingly moving.
Rain Men by Marcus Berkmann Much copied, never rivalled, Berkman’s tale of his useless cricket team struck a chord with grassroots cricketers everywhere and was a surprise hit in 1995. Twenty-five years on, it still works, the rhythms of the circular year as familiar as ever – apart from this one.