BETWEEN INNINGS


One of the great writers on the game himself. a compliment is paid by Growden, who has written a superb study of a complex man. None were ever prouder to wear the Baggy Green and none stood up to both the Bodyline and Bradman juggernaut more effectively. The man who holds the Australian record for the most hundreds in consecutive Test innings (4 of them: 3 v South Africa and 1 v England in 1936), he grew to dislike Bradman as a player and as a captain, despite respecting his great ability. It was Fingleton that Bradman blamed for the dressing room leak which gave the press the famous Bill Woodfull quote during the Adelaide Bodyline Test, where as the facts strongly suggest it was Bradman himself. There were many slights, including his omission from the 1934 side to England when his form in the Sheffield Shield indicated otherwise. Fingleton was the first Test player to use body protection but despite this, came up black and blue against Larwood and Voce during Bodyline. He was always a man of words, being a journalist, later a speech writer for Ben Chifley and a superb writer of books about the game. Growden has done an excellent job with his research and paints the man as he was - a dour batsman, a man of sharp wit, strong character and a beautiful turn of phrase.

Ponting: At The Close Of Play (Harper Collins 2013)
I embarked on this book just so I could understand the context in which the challenging statements released from it in pre-publicity were. I also opened the first page as an anti-fan, believing that for all his greatness as a player, that his attitude had done much to erode the image of Australian cricket. By the end, I'm not so sure. Ponting is a man of great passion toward the game and even greater passion to winning. That has always been clear. What comes forward in this book doesn't confuse that understanding - it enhances it - but there is so much more to this very complicated man from working class background. He was raised to believe that you can't trust the boss and that suckers don't get an even break and he has lived his life along those lines. He treasures the relationships he has formed with his closest mates and he adores his wife and children. In the mix, he is largely in denial about the incidents which have provided a darkness to his shadows. Clearly, some have been exaggerated by an Australian media which loves to rip and tear away at its successes ... to bring the tall poppies back to size. However, too often he shrinks important mistakes he has made where no shrinkage is allowable. At other times, he owns up ... just not often enough. His reported comments about others in this book hardly make it a kiss and tell special, rather the application of a directness that has been there all along but refused permission to speak by "the boss". I found it refreshing, honest and informative ... and yes, my opinion of the man has been changed - improved - by it. Its a compelling read.

The Meaning Of Luck - Steve Waugh (Steve Waugh Book 2013)
This isn't Tim Winton or even Peter Fitzsimmons quality writing but in terms of passion, it can't be faulted. Waugh concludes that whilst luck exists in life - as it does in sport - its the hard work, determination and strength of character which puts you in the position to benefit from luck. His examination of Steven Bradbury's famous last man standing win at the winter olympics is the best case ion point. Many remember it as luck that the other four competitors fell down and Bradbury won the gold but few know that six years earlier he had his thigh opened by a skate, lost two thirds of his body's blood and almost died on the track. 111 stitches and three years later, he fell trying to avoid another fallen skater and broke his C2 and C3 vertebrae in his neck. Waugh tells other inspirational stories that will move you and offers much in the way of advice as to how success can be found. He makes little of the relationship with Shane Warne, certainly not feeling the need to attack his former team mate. It's a light but interesting read by a constant diarist. Waugh published this himself, entering into an exclusive marketing deal with Big W for distribution and has set a price much lower than it might have been. All of which makes up for the rather simple style.

Cricket Between Two Wars - Sir Pelham Warner (Chatto & Windus 1942)
Pelham "Plum" Warner was a former English Test cricket player and national selector many times between the first and second world wars. As such, he served his country during high and lows, particularly during the contests with Australia. He is most notable for being the manager of Douglas Jardine's 1932-33 touring side - the infamous Bodyline series.
The book is broken into year segments, each of which deals with English Test matches, the university match, the Gentlemen v Players match and some details of the county championship. Occasionally, he delves into restaurants and post season tours he has led.
Of keenest interest are his comments about Bodyline, which he terms fast leg theory bowling. Whilst making it plan he was at variance with his captain Jardine, he also praises his captaincy and expresses regret that Jardine passed out of the game so quickly after the tour. Of less interest to him was Harold Larwood, Jardine's lethal weapon, but then, Larwood was a professional cricketer and seen as expendable by the gentlemen cricketers of independent means and public school education.
The descriptions of the English public horror at watching the West Indies employ Bodyline tactics against the English the following season are apparent in his accounts, as is the unhappiness with county sides when Nottinghamshire employed the tactics against them. Notts had as their opening bowlers Larwood and the other demon of Bodyline, Bill Bowes.
He also explains his perspective on the famous statement by the Australian captain, Bill Woodfull, made in a bruised and battered state from a table in the Australian dressing room at Adelaide in 1933 - "Mr Warner, there are two sides out there today and only one of them is playing cricket" - and how it led to an exchange of cables between the Australian and English authorities which lasted nearly three years.
Fairly dry in parts, its an important read never the less, especially if one has read Jack Fingleton's "Cricket Crisis", itself an immensely better read from a lovely wordsmith. It also clearly shows the class structure of England and how thoroughly it was reflected in the game of cricket.

Bradman's War - Malcolm Knox
In this outstanding book, Knox has returned to source material to bring out the truth behind the 1948 Invincibles tour if England. Long hailed the best Australian side of all time, Knox peels back the gloss of the achievement of going through a long tour of the UK undefeated to reveal the captain's avarice for revenge and honours. Revealed in books such as Fingleton's "Brightly Fades The Don" and others, plus news articles of the time and other reputable references, the unhappiness of key members of the squad, including vice captain Lindsay Hassett, becomes obvious. This was, pure and simple, Bradman crushing the English and taking the opportunity, now armed with the lethal dual spearheads of Lindwall and Miller, of atoning for Body Line. It wasn't enough that the game was restructured after the 32-33 English thrashing of Australia to favour batsmen and hence the games best batsman ... no, he wanted them to grovel. Miller and Hassett were most unhappy about the tactics and ruthlessness approach of Bradman to the opposition, especially as the pair were servicemen based in England during the just finished war. Bradman's first and only care appears to have been in servicing his legacy. Know finds it interesting that of all of the players who would go on to be household names from that tour, none subsequently named it as the happiest or favourite overseas assignment in the Baggy Green. Based on true and original sources, its a book none but Fingleton or O'Reilly would have dared write before Bradman was dead. As it is, Knox has made sure he is long gone. A terrific read.

"Tom Wills - First Wild Man Of Australian Sport"
Greg de Moore biography of Tom Wills lost its way in the final chapters. Where the first two thirds of the book maintained an interesting narrative gathered from source material such as family letters, the book read like de Moore had tired of the task toward the end. Then there was the odd inclusion, right at the end of the book,  of an interview of a distant relative who said he knew nothing much of the book's subject, the family didn't discuss him and he was a stranger. The first two thirds of the book told the story of a man who thrived in sports and found himself caught between the two conflicting worlds of being a professional or remaining a gentleman. He polarised opinion about him, with his great prowess in cricket and football, offset by his heavy drinking and temper. He was an elegant and constant correspondent to the newspapers. de Moore, a psychiatrist, paints the portrait of a man gripped by consequences of unmedicated bipolar disorder, although he doesn't say as much in the book. He did, however, make that assumption when he appeared on "Conversations" on ABC radio. Its an interesting read if you nothing of Tom Wills and a sympathetic reading of his life. The mental anguish that culminated in his death by suicide - plunging a pair of scissors into his heart three times - allows him such latitude.

"Chappelli - Life, Larrikans and Cricket" - Ian Chappell
This series of anecdotes was a perfect companion fro breaks in the cricket. Essentially a series of anecdotes which are only poignant or funny or interesting because of the identity of the author, it is a quick, light read for those of my age group. Unfortunately, anyone younger would find little to engage them.

"Amateurism Endures Mightily" - Bradman Oration by Gideon Haigh
Australia's leading cricket writer presented the tenth Bradman Oration and enthused about the value that club cricket adds to the Australian game.

Cricket Crisis (Jack Fingleton 1946)
First published in 1946 (I read a 1947 edition), the focus of the book is the Bodyline tour by England in 1932-33. It indeed occupies the first half of the book but references to it are sprinkled through the second half as well. Fingleton's candour dropped him into controversy throughout both his playing and writing career and this book was one of the chief reasons for his opponents' attacks. Not surprisingly, given his robust criticisms of the demigod Bradman, the former captain was the most upset by this volume. Fingleton questioned Bradman's ability and fortitude against the short, fast bowling of England during that summer and backs his assertions with other incidents when he struggled against that form of attack. His claim that Bradman  ran whilst others stood and took it stirred a hornets nest but the evidence he presented to defend himself against the claim made by Bradman that he leaked the famous Woodfull line to the press is not only refuted here but played straight back at Bradman.
The second half delivers player portraits and descriptions of other matches he both played in and observed. All is penned in his wonderful prose which stands through time. With a foreword by Sir Neville Cardus and the observations of a man who still holds the record for the most consecutive Test 100's (5 in 5 innings), his legendary toughness and durability shine through in his writing.
This is probably the best book written about cricket by an Australian author and set a standard which others such as Gideon Haigh have measured up to but never surpassed. Essential reading for a balanced view of Bradman's impact on Australian cricket and society.

It Isn't Cricket (Syd Barnes - 1953)
Syd Barnes life story, growing up in Annandale and rising above an impoverished background to play cricket for Australia. The story will hold your interest as he becomes a flashy dresser, always wearing tailored suits even when skint. He was known for his outlandish acts as much as his brilliant batting and fearless close to the wicket fielding. His increasing bouts of paranoia and extroverted behaviour eventually saw him dumped from the Australia side in 1953 for "matters other than cricket", where upon he successfully won a lawsuit against the Australian Board of Control for libel.
Barnes was an extremely gifted but flawed character and it shows in the latter chapters of the book as he explains away his odd behaviour as though hard done by.
Following this autobiography, he wrote weekly columns for the Daily Telegraph, always caustic in their attacks on players and the Board.
In the 1960's, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and despite trying treatments as diverse as electroconvulsive therapy and a variety of prescription drugs, he committed suicide at his Collaroy home by taking an overdose of barbiturates and bromide. His is one of the saddest and most misunderstood chapters of Australian cricket ... something that could not happen today, although ... look at Andrew Symonds, for instance.

These are the most recent books to pass across my reading shelf.