By SB Tang
Martin Smith (ed), The Promise of Endless Summer: Cricket Lives from The Daily Telegraph (2013)
[Note: The Promise of Endless Summer’s publisher, Aurum Press, sent me a free review copy of the book and provided a discount book offer for readers of this blog (see below). However, they have neither influenced nor sought to influence the contents of this independent book review in any way. Aurum Press have not paid me to write this review and I am not receiving any proceeds from the book’s sales.]
At first glance, the basic concept of The Promise of Endless Summer (2013) was entirely alien to me. A collection of obituaries of cricket figures from London’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper? I didn’t even read The Daily Telegraph growing up — I was raised in Melbourne, not London — and, since moving to London in the late 2000s, just about the only thing in The Daily Telegraph that I’ve read on a regular basis is Warnie’s cricket columns.
But, after reading this book for about 45 minutes, I jotted down the following in my notes: “The best cricket book I’ve read this year not written by Gideon Haigh or Duncan Hamilton”. Indeed, after finishing the book, I realised that it is best approached as something akin to one of Haigh’s many, many fine books (see, eg, Game for Anything (2004); Silent Revolutions (2006); The Green and Golden Age (2007); Inside Out (2009)) which anthologise a bunch of his essays and articles about cricket into one book. This happiest of resemblances would not have occurred but for the eminently sensible decision of The Promise of Endless Summer’s Editor, Martin Smith, to arrange the obituaries “not in chronological order by date of death, or even alphabetically, but in a way that juxtaposes and dovetails with contemporary team-mates, opponents, matches and events.” Thus, the obituaries of the two fine county keepers of the ’50s kept out of England’s Test XI by the brilliance of the incumbent Godfrey Evans — the economical, “supreme technician” Keith Andrew of Northamptonshire and the ever reliable Arthur McIntyre of Surrey — appear just after that of Evans himself.
I expected the language in this book to reflect The Daily Telegraph’s reputation — staid, conservative and, well, kinda stuffy. I was wrong. The language is certainly erudite in a determinedly old-fashioned way at times, but there is a surprising amount of playfulness and humour. Even more surprisingly, much of this can be found not just in the contributions by the heavy-hitters with perhaps greater licence to thrill — the likes of Michael Parkinson, Mark Nicholas, Scyld Berry and Michael Henderson — but in the unsigned obituaries which make up the majority of the book’s chapters.
Ray Robinson himself would have been proud of this unsigned description of Ray Lindwall’s bowling run-up: “so smooth that he gave the impression of being pulled on wheels by a wire.” This unsigned depiction of the famously heterodox Australian keeper Gil Langley is just as good: “His girth was more than ample; his shirt tails invariably disengaged themselves from his trousers. One commentator, seeing him at Lord’s, wondered whether an apple farmer had strolled into the hallowed precincts.”
That narrative-friendly structure is not the only virtue that this book shares with Haigh’s anthologies. Like those anthologies, the chapters can be read individually as the self-contained story of one subject, or en masse, in which case they form a broader narrative. Both methods of reading offer equal pleasure to the reader. Thus, The Promise of Endless Summer possesses a rare and valuable quality in these busy modern times: it can be enjoyed just as much on a 15 minute tram ride as on a bitter winter night curled up on the couch with a glass of red. That’s not a quality shared by works by the likes of George RR Martin and Jonathan Franzen who, regardless of the unmistakable literary merit of their work, write exclusively for the Friday night lavender-scented bubble bath.
The Promise of Endless Summer’s historical sweep is broad. It features the lives of cricket figures from the ’30s through to the ’90s. This breath does not come at the expense of the well-selected historical minutiae so beloved by avid readers of cricket books. I’m one of those readers and I am delighted to report that there are some 24 carat gold nugget historical anecdotes in this book which, once read, will go straight into any cricket lover’s high security memory vault, to be removed only on the occasion of pub trivia nights. Here are three of those nuggets: in Sir Donald Bradman’s opinion, the finest six he ever saw was Sam Loxton’s straight drive off the medium-pacer Kenneth Cranston at Leeds in 1948; the secret of how to bowl the lethal leg-cutter was passed from S.F. Barnes to George Pope who kept his promise to Barnes to not tell anyone else the secret until he (Pope) retired, whereupon he passed it onto a promising young lad named Alec Bedser; and before Pakistan’s victorious 1992 World Cup campaign, the great Imran Khan arrived at the Lord’s nets wanting to bowl at full pace and the only batsman available to face him was the actor Peter O’Toole who, in the words of the then MCC Head Coach Don Wilson, ended the net session “bruised from head to foot, but he loved it. It was like he was Lawrence of Arabia all over again.”
The historical breadth of the obituaries included in this book allows it to illustrate the cultural and socio-economic differences which have long separated English and Australian cricket. The first and foremost difference is encapsulated in one five letter word: class. Australian cricket has never embraced the amateur v professional, gentleman v players divide which English cricket observed until November 1962. In England, the amateurs were gentleman of means who could afford to play first-class and Test cricket without pay. Professionals, on the other hand, were men of working-class stock who were paid to play cricket as a job. Historically, in England, the privilege and power of captaincy was reserved for amateurs, and amateurs and professionals even entered the field of play via different gates! By contrast, Australia’s cricket captains’ callings have, as the late, great Ray Robinson taught us, “ranged from accountant, solicitor, bank officer, grazier, postman, dentist, clerk, whisky agent, boot salesman and bookmaker to schoolmaster, stockbroker, shopkeeper, pharmacist, crime reporter, investment consultant, plumber, sales-promotion officer and company director.” England didn’t appoint a professional captain until Sir Leonard Hutton got the job in 1952 and their “first captain to graduate from a university other than Oxford or Cambridge” was Nasser Hussain, a graduate of Durham University appointed England captain in July 1999.
This inescapable pervasiveness of class is evident throughout The Promise of Endless Summer. Kenneth Cranston, an amateur with “matinee idol looks” had the means “to give the summers of 1947 and 1948 to playing cricket for Lancashire” and was “appointed captain of Lancashire before making his first-class debut.” Lancashire’s first professional captain, Cyril Washbrook, was seen to possess something of an independent streak because, after being informed by the chairman, Tommy Higson, at close of play one day when he was on 135 not out, “that he would be obliged if he would wear his cap straighter; also, he did not like to see players wearing belts, especially schoolboy coloured ones”, Washbrook turned up the next day sans belt but with “his cap … worn at the same jaunty angle, as it continued to be ever afterwards.” What a rebel.
The unsigned obituary of Washbrook’s Yorkshireman Test opening partner, Sir Leonard Hutton, scorer of 6971 Test runs at an average of 56.67, opines that Sir Leonard’s “[m]ore significant” feat was his “appointment as England’s first professional captain” and his performance of that role which “proved that exemplary captaincy could come from outside the officer class. It was for this, as much as for his batsmanship, that he received his knighthood.” Class, it seems, as that hoary old cricket cliché goes, is permanent — no less so in English society than on a cricket field.
The most cutting class-conscious anecdote is reserved for the amateur we Australians love to hate the most, the architect of Bodyline gazing haughtily at us from beneath his Oxford Harlequin cap — Douglas Jardine. Just after the Second World War, a promising young leg-spinner by the name of T.C. “Dickie” Dodds was playing for a Service XI captained by Jardine. Dodds, as young leggies are wont to do, was getting smashed out of the park, so he asked his captain if he could move a fielder on the boundary. Jardine’s furious response: “You and I are amateurs. It is only professionals who ask to have their field shifted when they are hit for four.”
The permanent state of financial insecurity suffered by good honest county professionals is another theme which runs through The Promise of Endless Summer. After 22 years of faithful service to Sussex, during which he played 592 first-class matches (including a record “423 consecutive appearances in county championship matches”) and scored over 28,000 runs for the county, Ken Suttle “turned up at the beginning of the 1971 season only to be informed that he would not be needed — ever again.” More disturbingly still, Suttle’s unsigned obituary observes: “The episode recalled Sussex’s appalling treatment of Maurice Tate, their greatest bowler, who was summarily dismissed in 1937 after a quarter of a century of strenuous service.”
It appears that the only form of financial security available to a young, aspiring English professional cricketer of humble, working-class stock was to be employed by the MCC as a member of the Lord’s staff, a job which mostly requires one to be skilled in the art of lobbing half-volleys to elderly gentlemen before they retire to the members’ pavilion for their afternoon G & T. Bill Bowes’s obituary records that, back in the ’20s, the MCC gave a young Bowes “a nine-year contract” to perform that exalted job, which they were kind enough to release him from when Yorkshire came calling.
A second substantive historical difference between English and Australian cricket well-illustrated by The Promise of Endless Summer is the different natures and objectives of the domestic first-class teams. In Australia, the six states who field first-class teams in the Sheffield Shield competition are selected and run by the six state cricket associations who are the six constituent member associations of Cricket Australia (previously named the Australian Cricket Board which, in turn, was previously named the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket) which selects and runs the Australian Test team. The objective of the Shield is to produce Test cricketers for Australia, the greatest financial rewards are reserved for Australia’s Test cricketers, and no Australian cricketer or supporter would ever contemplate placing their state’s interests before the nation’s. By contrast, in England, the 18 counties are clubs, therefore, they need to make money if they are to survive and, historically, giving up their most valuable employees to the England Test team in no way helped those clubs achieve that basic, practical objective. Moreover, those clubs’ supporters, many of whom were fee-paying members, were keen to see their clubs’ best cricketers (whose wages their fees helped pay) play for their club as much as possible.
Thus, when after his fourth Test for England in July 1964, Jack Flavell, “the formidable fast bowler for Worcestershire”, “broke down … and never played for England again”, the Worcestershire supporters were “relie[ved]” as they were “keen to have him in the county attack at all times.” When Victoria’s last great batting hero, Dean Jones, was jettisoned from the Australian Test team in November 1992 despite averaging 55.20 in Australia’s preceding Test series, Victorians weren’t relieved or pleased to see him back plundering Shield attacks for Victoria — we were outraged that he was unjustly dropped and publicly campaigned (unsuccessfully) for his restoration to the Test XI.
Like any collection of obituaries, The Promise of Endless Summer is, in a strict temporal sense, backward-looking. But it is far from irrelevant to modern cricketing matters and figures. Indeed, reading this book in 2013 in the middle of an Ashes series, I found it replete with contemporary resonances.
As Cricket Australia’s “informed player management” continues to produce a crop of potent but perennially injury-prone fast bowlers, it is impossible to ignore Alec Bedser’s dictum that: “Bowling as often as possible is how you become a proper bowler”.
Whilst English moralisers sermonised from their mounts about Stuart Broad’s decision not to walk after smashing a ball to first slip, most Australians couldn’t have cared less and were more concerned with Broad’s sudden obsession with his conveniently malfunctioning shoe in the minutes before lunch on the final day when Brad Haddin and James Pattinson had taken Australia to within 20 runs of a famous victory — a shameless, cynical act of time-wasting which was well and truly outside the spirit of the game. This, sadly, is nothing new: the English, the self-appointed moral guardians of the spirit of cricket, have long hypocritically engaged in similar behaviour when Ashes series have been on the line. In the last innings of the fourth Test of the 1953 Ashes series at Headingley, Trevor Bailey “prevented Australia from winning against the clock by bowling six overs down the leg side off a long run.” England escaped with a draw leaving the series deadlocked at 0-0 heading into the final Test at the Oval which England duly won by 8 wickets to regain the Ashes, “after a record wait of 18 years 362 days”, in a coronation year.
Whilst Australian cricket culture can quite fairly be criticised for its hardness (for example, not walking and “mental disintegration”), it is, at very least, free of this virulent strain of hypocrisy which infects English cricket. Australian cricket teams have always done what they say they’ll do — play to win. English teams like to say that they are the moral guardians of the game, a cut above the colonial riff-raff, but then routinely engage in cynical practices such as time-wasting when Test matches are on the line. Indeed, they are doing just that as I type this sentence — on the fourth day of the third Ashes Test at Old Trafford, England, 2-0 up in the series and staring at a 159 run deficit in the Test with less than two days to play, moved more slowly in the field today than the UN Security Council confronted by a genocide in Africa.
The final paragraph of John Major’s justifiably celebrated tribute to Denis Compton, penned in April 1997, mentions that: “It gave him huge pleasure two years ago to watch his twelve-year-old grandson, Nicholas, on tour in England with his South African prep school.” One wonders what the “convivial”, “loyal” English batting hero would have thought of the current England selectors’ decision to axe his now 30-year-old grandson from the England Test XI on the eve of his maiden Ashes series, just three Tests after he scored back-to-back hundreds in New Zealand.
One cannot help but admire the 23-year-old England batsman Jonny Bairstow, currently fighting hard to adapt to the rigours of Test cricket in the cauldron of an Ashes series, for having the guts to contemplate a career in professional cricket at all, after his father, a Yorkshireman and a wicketkeeper like him who played 459 first-class matches and four Tests, committed suicide in 1998. The final line of the obituary penned by Michael Parkinson sums up the tragedy of this and all suicides: “Now all I can think is, ‘Why, old lad, why?’”
Fortunately, in recent years, professional sports, including cricket, have become more aware of mental health issues and have devoted time and money to ensuring that those who suffer can get the help that they need. That is just one of many ways in which things are much better today than they ever were in the good old days. But some things were better in the good old days — like people’s appreciation of cricket history. In June 2000, Michael Henderson lamented in his obituary of Brian Statham:
Times change quickly, and reputations fade. The generation growing up today may not be familiar with men like Statham. Indeed, on England’s tour of South Africa last winter, one (admittedly young) member of the party failed to recognise Colin Cowdrey in a group portrait. Laugh if you like, but it’s true.
Things have gotten worse in the 13 years since. In May this year, just two months before the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, Jimmy Anderson, Graeme Swann and the young star BBC radio presenter and self-proclaimed cricket fan, Greg James, hosted an edition of their popular radio show Not Just Cricket where they asked their live audience to help them select an all-time best Australian Test XI. When James asked the audience for suggestions for a wicketkeeper, a gentleman named Chris possessing a soft, kindly, elderly-sounding voice — my mind imagined him to be dressed in a sky blue cardigan, crisply-pressed grey trousers and a cloth cap — got up and said: “Don Tallon”. James, honest to a fault, admitted: “Now I don’t know who that is.” The conversation devolved slightly from there:
Chris: That’s why I picked him.
Greg James: What, just to trick me?
Chris: No, to see whether anyone’s as old as me and can remember Don Tallon.
Greg James: What’s his name?
Chris: Don Tallon.
Greg James: Don Talloner?
Unidentified voice one: Don Tallon.
Unidentified voice two (possibly Jimmy Anderson or Graeme Swann): Tallon.
Greg James [to someone other than Chris]: Do you know him? No?
Greg James [to Chris]: Ok, what makes him so special, maybe more special than Gilchrist or Healy?
Chris: Because he was in the great Australian sides of the late ’40s.
Graeme Swann: The Invincibles as they were known.
Graeme Swann: Well, could you spell it for me? And I’ll put him in. Honestly, I’m more than happy to get rid of all the Gilchrists and people like that because you know everyone’s just going to throw them in.
Graeme Swann: That’s in. Tallon’s in. Well done.
Greg James: Tallon is in. Ok, let’s get some bowlers now. Great Australian — thank you Chris — great Australian bowlers?
Two months before an Ashes series, two current England Test cricketers and one of the most prominent young cricket lovers in England had no clue who Don Tallon — one of Australia’s finest wicketkeepers and the undisputed first-choice keeper in the Test team many regard as the greatest that Australia has ever produced — is, much less how to spell his surname. That’s just depressing. And, no, I don’t care if that makes me sound like a prematurely old man.
On a brighter note, if you would like to avoid such mistakes of honest ignorance, then I can heartily recommend The Promise of Endless Summer. The book’s publisher, Aurum Press, kindly got in touch with me to provide the following offer for this blog’s readers:
To order a copy of The Promise of Endless Summer (9781781310489) for £11.99 including p&p, telephone 01903 828503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, and quote offer code AUR344. Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to: Littlehampton Book Services Mail Order Department, Littlehampton Book Services, PO Box 4264, Worthing, West Sussex BN13 3RB. Please quote the offer code AUR344 and include your name and address details. *UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.