Why the World Cup Campaign was Always Going to Fail

Selections

Hashim Amla

Last November I said that he should not have been selected for the World Cup, and I take no pleasure in being correct.  While his record pre the World Cup was still impressive, there was a host of reasons he should not have been selected. His fielding has been woeful for some time, dropping several catches for both South Africa and his franchise Cobras. Off field, he had problems with his father’s illness, which sadly affected him on the field.

Sometimes you have to look beyond the numbers when selecting a squad, which we did not do.

Dale Steyn

Dale Steyn should not have been selected as he was not fit the beginning. He was not fit when selected and rushing him to fitness was never going to work in a competition that is best vs best. With two of our opening three games against England and India we needed a fully fit side.

Tabriaz Shamsi

This selection was based on our obsession with having a second spinner. He is an inconsistent bowler and when we are already carrying several mediocre fielders, he is not an option. T20 is his format but that is it.

Kolpaks

This is something that will continue to hit us until we find an acceptable solution.

I am sure many are asking with whom I would have replaced Steyn and Shamsi and my answer is that Morne Morkel would have been a certainty as would Kyle Abbott. If both had been told the plan for them was 2019 World Cup, they could have retired from Test Cricket and gone to the IPL.  One retired barely a year ago and the other has been getting wickets in England for fun.  Rillee Rossouw should have been part of a two-year plan in 2017.  At 27 years of age and with an average of 38, he was primed to take his game to the next level.

  • Jan 5 2017 – Rillee Rossouw announces his retirement from all forms of international cricket
  • Jan 5 2017 – Kyle Abbott announces his retirement from all forms of international cricket
  • April 2018 – Morne Morkel announces his retirement from all forms of international cricket

I think all three players could have rather been approached about playing in this year’s World Cup and rather put the longer format to one side for the last two and half years. Otis Gibson’s contract stipulated that he MUST win the World Cup and these three players should have been part of the forward thinking for 2019.

 

du Plessis, 2019 World Cup
Faf du Plessis, Captain, World Cup 2019

Picking injured players before the World Cup and not replacing them when injured

We went into the World Cup with, as Faf said, a player of Steyn’s quality “60 percent fit”.  As much as he is a great bowler, you cannot do that in a World Cup, especially one with no freebies without the likes of Canada, Kenya, etc. He not only went injured but with a similar shoulder injury that had him out for eight months in 2016.

Lungi Ngidi did his hamstring during the SL game, missed the India, Afghanistan, West Indies matches and he had a side strain injury prior to the start of the competition. He missed the IPL because of the injury.

JP Duminy’s shoulder was a problem before the World Cup with Ashwell Prince saying in April “CSA don’t feel his shoulder is where they would like it to be in terms of strength”. It looked to me that his shoulder was still a concern with his throwing.

Kagiso Rabada apparently was a few centimeters from a serious back injury during the IPL but really the 25 wickets in 12 matches did the damage. He was a shadow of what he could have been in this World Cup. I do not remember him ever bowling 145 kph or higher which is his norm. One commentator said that at one time it was as if he was protecting his back, bowling within himself.

Four weeks before we played England in our first game the CSA doctor passed Ngidi, Duminy and Rabada fit but their performances in the field and with the ball suggest otherwise.

Poor bowling plans

Whenever our bowlers were asked to step up they failed and miserably so. For a man who has a good reputation as a bowling coach it seemed his approach was to bowl short.  This pains me because it seemed to be our only plan. No slower balls, no Yorkers, very little variety from anyone from a so-called world class pace attack. I was so confused considering the progress our bowling attack has made over the last 2 years. It was telling that our best pace bowler was Dwain Pretorius who barely ever touches 130 kph and that his economy was better than the others were.

Lack of energy on the field

This was probably the most concerning aspect and is perhaps why we will see many changes coming up in the coaching setup. In every game our bowlers lacked any sort of energy and purpose and while we never had enough on the board when batting first it was still a major concern to see us as lethargic as we took to the field and that continued throughout the tournament. It suggested that things were not well within the camp, although you did not get that impression from press conferences or from the SA journalists at the ground. I have never seen an SA team so low on energy and showing so little intensity in 35 years of watching us. Faf was quoted as saying; “I want to win cricket games, but I don’t need to win them”.  While that is a cliché, it was difficult to watch us in the field this World Cup and in some way think that they took those words literally.

The AB factor

May 23 2018 – AB De Villiers announces his retirement from all forms of international cricket.

I am not going to dwell on this too much but not having arguably the greatest ODI batsman in the world was a hammer blow and it was very avoidable. There has so much been so much said and written about the saga but at the end of the day the two parties CSA and AB should have come to an agreement?  AB had had problems with his back for a good couple of years and yet he was still playing all three formats, why? If he had been told that we want him for the World Cup it might have been a good swop to have him retire from the longer format.  I think all Proteas fans would have accepted series losses at home to India and Australia for a win at the World Cup.

Both CSA and AB are both to blame for not coming with a solution prior to our 2019 summer vs Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Once a decision was made by either party prior to the home summer of 2019, CSA were right not to pick him at the last minute as he asked. No player, however good, is bigger than the team.

 

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Ian Peebles’ Spinner’s Yarn: A Review by Tim Dale Lace

This review was first published on www.cricketweb.net

I have a special interest in cricketers from The Golden Age, but I must confess that I knew very little about Ian Peebles aside from his being a cricket journalist for The Times and an international cricketer. He is very humble about his international cricket achievements and although Spinner’s Yarn is an autobiography, the spotlight is seldom just on Peebles.

Spinner's Yarn by Ian Peebles
Spinner’s Yarn by Ian Peebles

Peebles is proud to be Scottish and his book starts with his rural upbringing in Scotland and is full of nostalgic cricket stories from that time.  He describes the day his father took him as a thirteen-year-old, to see the 1921 Australians, as “the most memorable day” of his “young cricketing life”.  In 1923 he acted as a tour guide to a few players from the county team, Leicestershire.  His father was a club cricketer who, on the day his first son was born in Aberdeen, made a hundred on the Aberdeenshire cricket ground, Mannofield, that incidentally, is the last ground in Britain on which Don Bradman made a century. When Peebles was two the family moved to Wick in Caithness where his first recollection is of his mother telling the family there was going to be a great war. Little did he know then the effect that a quarter a century later the Second World War would have on him, both physically and mentally!

In the mid 1920s Peebles moved to London and took the job of personal secretary to the famous South African all-rounder, Aubrey Faulkner. He paints a picture of a complex relationship between himself and Faulkner that I find very interesting. Faulkner is famous for his cricket school, the Faulkner School of Cricket, where Peebles worked with him.

Master and servant were contrasting people with different views on life, but it is clear that Peebles had a great respect for Faulkner and that his employer had a positive and lasting influence on Peebles’ playing career.  Their friendship was tested at times, particularly when they had a fall out over differing aims for the school; Peebles wanted to make the school financially viable whereas Faulkner was in it for the love of the game.

Because Faulkner had respect for him as a player, he coached Peebles in the nets. Without this friendship and guidance, Peebles is certain he would never have played for England. Once picked for England he never convinces you he was actually quite good enough and this is further testament to his modesty because, if you read quotes from none other than Bill Woodfull and Don Bradman, who both spoke highly of his bowling, you will gather that he was far better than he would have you believe.  Whilst  I knew that Peebles had played Test Cricket before reading his story, I did not know that he troubled a great like Woodfull and dismissed The Don in 1930. I was pleased to read that after that success, and following their fallout in 1928, Peebles and Faulkner patched things up before the latter’s tragic suicide in 1930.

All in all Spinner’s Yarn follows a satisfying sequence from its author’s childhood in Scotland right through to the end of his time as a cricket journalist for the Times.  Personally, I feel modern autobiographies rush in to the playing days and come to an abrupt end at retirement but Peebles’ book does not do that. It gives us a full picture of the man.

Sadly, Peebles’ own First Class career effectively ended when he lost his eye during the blitz.  This came about when his office took a direct hit from a bomb as he stood on the pavement with a small crowd of people.  He suffered ongoing leg pain in the left leg and the right foot from the blast.  Peebles however, is characteristically matter-of-fact about this and the other times when things went against him and as always, turns attention away from himself.

Much of the book is concerned with Peebles’ career with Middlesex, who he captained in 1939, and work as a cricket reporter for various publications.  This was in an era when with the press box was full of cricket journalists who give me the impression that they had some classical journalism education!  The eloquent reporting from John Arlott, Neville Cardus and ‘Crusoe’ Robertson-Glasgow, for example, are synonymous with classic cricket writing. I doubt that the reputation of the writing from many of today’s journalists, chosen from the pool of ex-players, will ever reach the heights of those greats.

Overall, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read, full of surprises and with that in mind, I give it four out of five stars.

Interview with Cricket Author Neil Manthorp

What is your earliest memory of cricket?

Watching my father player for Amanzimtoti Cricket Club. He was a soccer player, really, but had to keep busy in the summer. They were a very social club as I recall, very good at having weekend braais which lasted as long as the game itself. I finished High School in the UK starting in 1981, the year of ‘Botham’s Ashes’ so that made a pretty deep impression on a 13-year-old.

Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp

Did you ever play the game?

Very much – I was an addicted teenager, always trying to have nets. If I couldn’t find anyone to bowl at me I would throw a ball against a wall and hit the rebound with my bat. I was fascinated with the mental side of the game, even at a young age. I was curious about how – and why – I could be such a good batsmen in the nets and then fail in a bundle of nerves in the middle. It’s fair to say that I was born with SMT = “small match temperament.” The smaller the match, the better I was. It’s the main reason why I try to be sympathetic towards young professionals who struggle when the ‘big moments’ come along in a game.

Anyway, it turned out that my cricket brain was more of an asset than a liability when used off the field and I was fortunate enough to get my first commentary job when I was 20. I would have loved to carry on playing but you can’t commentate and play at weekends.

How did you get into radio cricket commentary with the SABC?

I travelled around north Africa for a year after High School and then did three seasons of commentary on English county cricket in the late 80s before returning to SA to look for work at home. I worked on a few games with my dear friend, Gerald de Kock, and he introduced me to the right people at SAfm (Radio South Africa back then). Martin Young was close to retirement covering Western Province matches at Newlands so I was very fortunate to take over.

Books by Neil Manthorp
Books by Neil Manthorp

What is your take on Duanne Olivier effectively retiring from international cricket and the Kolpak situation as a whole?

Initially I was understanding  – and I still am to some degree – but stating that he wanted to play for England a month after stepping out of the Proteas change room for the last time was crass, insensitive and, frankly, stupid. After everything South African cricket had done for him the least he could do was walk away and keep his mouth shut, just get on with the job of playing for Yorkshire. But leaving South Africa for more money and a ‘better life’ elsewhere is not frowned upon in other professions so people shouldn’t be so quick to judge simply because he is a sportsman. Similarly, he might have been well advised to make sure it was a ‘better life’ before slamming the door behind him.

In Through My Eyes, Mark Boucher mentioned that the players felt let down during the fiasco about their commercial rights vs UCBSA’s President Percy Sonn, in 2003. He was also dismayed (although not surprised) when the 2009 CSA bonus scandal came about when Gerald Majola took  money taken away from the players too.  Recently Morne Morkel suggested that CSA may lose more players because of lack of communication from the board.  Do you think that there is a good relationship between the players and CSA?

It’s an ongoing, ever-changing relationship. There have been good times and bad times. Absolutely crucial, however, is the role played by SACA in mediating between the players and CSA. I believe SACA, its chief executive Tony Irish and his staff have been excellent in keeping things stable.

Seeing as you were in the Caribbean recently, what do you make of the new look West Indies?

Brilliant. I loved seeing the Windies play such compelling and forceful cricket. There have been a few false dawns in the rebirth and resurgence of West Indies cricket but this may be the real thing. Finally the WICB have realised that they cannot fight the economic realities of IPL and all the other domestic leagues so, if they want the best players in the Caribbean to be available to play for the region, they have to compromise and allow them to earn the big bucks and play international cricket when they can. Jason Holder is also an immensely impressive captain, and person.

I really enjoyed the vivid descriptions in your Caribbean tour diaries.  What prompted you to start writing tour diaries?

I’ve been writing Tour Diaries for Supersport.com for over 20 years. The archive is gradually being uploaded to my own website “Manners-on-Cricket.com”. There are some good memories in there. Have a look! When Supersport.com no longer had the budget, I decided to carry on writing them anyway. One day somebody might see a small sponsorship opportunity…

What do you make of the idea of the ECB decision to introduce the new format in The Hundred?

I’m naturally an optimist and I don’t fight change or progress for the sake of it. The game has changed immensely over the last 30 years and almost all of it has been good. But I hate The Hundred and everything it stands for. It will be held in the prime of the UK summer, it marginalises at least 50% of the country’s professional players during that time and at least half of the country’s cricket lovers. The new rules and regulations are a nasty compromise of T20 cricket which actually works rather well around the world – in over 100 countries.

While you were writing Gazza with Gary Kirsten and Through My Eyes with Mark Boucher, did you anticipate that they would move into coaching careers?

Gary yes, although nobody – least of all himself – imagined he would be a World Cup winner…and with India! Bouch no. Not that Mark didn’t have the makings of a coach…he was always helping his fellow professionals. The job he did coaching the bowlers to survive against Glenn McGrath and Brett on the 2008-09 tour of Australia was instrumental in winning that series. I just didn’t think he’d be interested in a full time job. But good on him…at least we know he’ll never stop fighting to save our rhinos, as well.

What separates the Brian Johnstons of the cricket world from the current crop of radio commentators?

I don’t know, really. There were a lot more radio listeners in his day than there are now. One thing I would say is that, the more ‘natural’ a commentator sounds, the more work and preparation he or she has probably done. You can’t just sit down and talk. Believe it or not, commentary is a real job and the harder you work at it the better you’ll probably be.

Neil Manthorp, Commentator
Neil Manthorp, Commentator

 

Is there a new book planned for the future?

I’m hoping to do a book with Dale Steyn. I’d really enjoy that, he’s a special guy. But I’ve always had little ‘rule’ about not doing a biography with a player until they have retired. And I’m not sure Dale will ever retire! For a while Jacques Kallis and I were contemplating a book but he decided against doing one. He’s basically a pretty private person.

With Imran Tahir’s imminent retirement from the 50 over game after the World Cup do you think we have enough bowlers in the spinning department to take his place?

Yes, I think we probably do, although nobody as good as Tahir! We won’t appreciate how good he actually is until he’s no longer around. Shamsi is a rare talent and will always take wickets so he’s an excellent immediate replacement. I’m not sure why he isn’t a little fitter…

What is your overall opinion on the job Ottis Gibson has done as the South African coach?

“He’s done a very good job within the confines of the contract he signed. He was only offered an 18-month deal with any extension basically conditional on winning the World Cup, so he couldn’t afford to relocate from the UK. It’s hard doing any job at your best when you are metaphorically if not literally living out of a suitcase.

Are you as worried about the future of Test Cricket, as many seem to be?

No. Sadly there will be less and less of it played in the future but it will survive. The first reports of Test cricket’s impending ‘death’ appeared in about 1908 and they’ve rarely stopped. But it has found a way to refresh, reinvent and stay relevant. Soon it will be played over four days with more day-night games.

If there was one law in cricket that you could change, what would it be?

Might be time to revisit the lbw law…? If the ball is hitting the stumps, no matter where it pitches or where it strikes the batsman’s pads, it’s out. And it still doesn’t seem right after all these years that a direct hit following a brilliant piece of fielding can cost the fielding side five runs in overthrows. But I think the MCC and its Cricket Committee actually do a great job with the Laws and Playing Conditions so I’m happy to leave it to them!

 

Interview with Cricket Author Vijay Lokapally

Book Cover of "Driven"
Book Cover of “Driven” by Cricket Author, Vijay Lokapally

1) What is your earliest memory of cricket?

A: My earliest memory is of knocking a tennis ball around as I batted in the backyard of our house with my sister bowling to me. The very first match I watched was at the Ferozeshah Kotla and when I was eight my father took me to watch a Ranji Trophy match. What a delight it was to see the field positions and the pace generated by the fast bowlers! This was where I learnt that batting takes place from both ends, quite unlike the neighbourhood Test matches I played as a child.

2) Did you ever play the game?

A: Of course! I played lot of local cricket tournaments and I still have some of the news clippings…Lokapally grabs 6 for 9 is my favourite newspaper headline from a major daily.

3) In an interview you did in 2016 you said “…the biggest myth in Indian cricket is that they can play spin bowling,” do you still think that is true? If so why?

A: I still believe it is true and history shows how India’s batting collapsed to spinners like Richie Benaud, Lance Gibbs, Derek Underwood, Iqbal Qasim, Abdul Qadir, Saqlain Mushtaq, Nathan Lyon and many more.

If we look at the number of successful spinners in India’s domestic cricket, it simply confirms my view because India’s star batsmen hardly play in the domestic cricket circuit where they can encounter these wily spin bowlers.

4) What do you make of the BCCI vs PCB situation at the moment? Do you think there is a chance the group World Cup game will be forfeited?

A: India’s cricket with Pakistan is always dictated by the respective governments. The situation today is quite similar to the period from 1989 to 1999 when the two did not play Test cricket each other. India’s last Test against Pakistan was at Bangalore in December 2007. It is 12 years since they played a Test. Tendulkar did not face Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis for a good ten years. The same is the case with Virat Kohli. In 11 years since his debut, Virat has played a mere 18 matches, including six T20 games, against Pakistan. As for the World Cup, I do not think India will forfeit the match.

5) In your book you mention that it was Gulu Ezekiel that “got you onto writing” this book on Virat Kohli, I would like to hear more about how it all came together.

A: Gulu is a dear friend. He is a true cricket fanatic with a fantastic knowledge of the game and a great collection of books and memorabilia. His home is a cricket museum. He was the one who got me the assignment to pen a book on Virender Sehwag and then on Virat. He convinced me to write the book and he helped me through the process. I owe it to him!

6) India has had a long list of iconic captains down the years, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev to name a couple. Do you think Virat is in the same category in terms of captaincy?

A: Among the iconic captains, other than you have mentioned, should be Lala Amarnath, Tiger Pataudi, Ajit Wadekar and Sourav Ganguly. They all made stellar contributions. Gavaskar and Kapil brought respect back to Indian cricket, just as Virat is doing now. Virat has led by example and looks to emerge as the greatest of them all when he finishes his career.

7) In your book on Virat Kohli, it is clear to see that his coach Raj Kumar Sharma had a big influence on him and his career. Do you think he could have made it to the top without him?

A: Yes, he most certainly would have, but we have all also seen that the two have a fine understanding!  Raj Kumar instilled discipline in to Virat’s game and guided him more as a father figure. Virat has said repeatedly how Raj Kumar has influenced him and not a day passes on tours when Virat does not speak to his coach. He has great respect for Raj Kumar.

8) It is clear to see Virat Kohli is out on his own with his record run scoring over the last two years, so what do you think it is that separates Virat Kohli from the rest of the top quality batsmen?

A: Virat’s hunger for runs and amazing fitness distinguishes him. You can excel as an athlete only if you are fit and disciplined. These are two strong characteristics of Virat’s personality and he does not compromise on discipline and hard work. Not forgetting his incredible talent, which seems to grow with every match.

Cricket Author, Vijay Lokapally
Cricket Author, Vijay Lokapally

9) In the years to come do you think India will still be finding international cricketers through the grass roots like they found Virat Kohli, or are they going to find more players picked up by the IPL academies and become internationals through T20 cricket first?

A: The BCCI has a superb cricket structure for juniors. IPL may throw a new face in every now and then, but the junior circuit and the well-planned domestic cricket is what stands out. Now that cricket is attracting youngsters from lesser-known areas, I expect the talent pool to grow enormously. First-class is what allows the players to showcase their talent.

10) In the book, you say that Test Cricket faces an uncertain future; do you think it can survive in the long run? If not, what do you think needs to happen to save it?

A: Test cricket, as Virat has said repeatedly, needs to be protected and also prioritised. It is the best form of cricket and it certainly needs to be preserved. However, the proliferation of private T20 leagues is not a good sign for the future of Test cricket. Of late, we have seen some great results in Test cricket but that does not guarantee a great future for this format.

11) If there were one law you could change in cricket, what would it be?

A: The leg-bye law should be removed. Why should the batting side gain runs when the batsman has not played a shot and only attempted to play a shot?

12) What do you make of the England Cricket Board decision to implement a new format of cricket in The Hundred? Does Cricket need a new format?

A: The Hundred is another format and maybe it will overtake T20 in popularity. Someday we might see The Fifty.

13) Is there a new book in the pipeline?

A: Not currently.

 

Interview with Cricket Author Jonathan Northall

  1. What is your earliest memory of cricket?

My earliest memories of cricket are around the Ashes series of 1981.  I was eight years old and I remember bits of Terry Alderman causing all kinds of trouble for English batsmen.  I have racked my brains to recollect anything from Botham’s exploits, but I fear that they would be false memories.

Book cover of Ruling the World by Jonthan Northall
Ruling the World by Jonathan Northall

Having lived in the UK for most of my life, cricket was experienced through BBC TV coverage and TMS on the radio.  People like Peter West, Brian Johnston, CMJ, Blowers, John Arlott, Tony Lewis, ‘the Alderman’ Don Mosey were the ones who helped me to form my early opinions about cricket.  The TV graphics were primitive compared to modern day, but they enlightened a game that I was learning to love.

  1. Did you ever play the game?

I played socially all through my childhood. I loved to just go out and play all days with friends; pop back home at lunch time for some food then rush back and play for the rest of the day until the light gave way.  Sometimes, we could play past sun down if we could play near a car park and use their lights or car headlights.  They were great days.

I did represent my senior school, but the team was generally awful. One lad had a trial with Worcestershire CCC, but he was not selected.  He bowled far quicker than anyone else did but we were not good enough to hold onto any chances when he induced an edge.  I top scored in one match but the fact that it was just 19 runs indicated how bad we were.  I remember one match where we travelled to Ludlow School to play.  We knew we were in trouble when we noticed that they had cricket nets.  They were also in whites whilst we were in white polo shirts and tracksuit bottoms.  Suffice to say, we were slaughtered.

The following year, we went back to play them.  We were out for revenge and Andy, the person who got the trial, opened the batting with our wicketkeeper, Spencer.  Before going out to bat, Andy turned to Spencer and said, ‘Spenner, leave anything outside off stump. Don’t play at it’.  Andy took strike and managed to get a ball away for a single.  Spencer was now on strike and waited patiently for his first ball.  He duly followed Andy’s instruction and left the ball like a pro.  Unfortunately, he misjudged the line of the ball and the off stump cartwheeled out of the ground as if Allan Donald had bowled it himself. We were in hysterics as Spencer trudged back forlornly for a duck. As I said, we were bad.

  1. Where did the idea to write a book on the 1992 Cricket World Cup come from?

 Since watching the tournament back in 1992, I have loved it. It was so colourful in more than just the clothing.  Sky Sports were covering the tournament in the UK and showed many of the games.  I had just dropped out of university so had plenty of time on my hands. I would get lots of sleep during the day and be ready for the 9pm for coverage to start. It would be later for games in Australia, but I did not care because I was so emotionally invested in the World Cup.

Fast forward to 2015 where I had been in Australia for a few months.  My job was taking me all over Australia and I started to notice that some of the places I went to were venues for the 1992 Cricket World Cup. With plenty of flights to endure and the endless boredom of air travel, my mind turned to writing and ways to utilise this fortunate travel schedule.  The book was easy to plan and I made sure that I used my spare time away from home to do research. I dragged my colleagues to various cricket venues to take photographs. I am not sure they appreciated it but I loved it.

  1. Why do you think this particular World Cup is remembered so fondly and in some cases as the best ever?

 People have many reasons why many, as the ‘best’ Cricket World Cup, consider 1992.  To be fair, the bar is low as some of the Cricket World Cups have been forgettable.  There are many individual moments but 1992 is littered with them.  The kits provide almost enough interest for many. I found them so iconic that I chose them for the cover of the book.  I see many people wearing replica kits at games and bringing them back in 2015 for fans to buy was a smart move.  I wish I had bought one of each!

There are so many legends in 1992 (Imran, Botham, Kapil, Crowe, Wasim, Javed, Boon, Jones, Gooch, Richie Richardson). Both Lara and Tendulkar showed that they were destined for greatness.  The comeback of South Africa is a whole story in itself.  Many of us were seeing players like Jonty Rhodes, Hansie Cronje, Meyrick Pringle for the first time.

  1. If you could choose one story from your book that you enjoyed the most, what would it be?

 There are so many to choose from but the one I would pick is the walkout of Gooch and Botham from the pre-final banquet.  I enjoyed researching this one immensely and to speak to Gerry Connolly about it, who was the ‘protagonist’ in this international incident, was gratifying.  I wanted to tell the story from his angle as well as the more traditional reporting, so that I could present a more objective view.

  1. What is your opinion on The Hundred?

It is ECB messing about with T20 for the sake of marketing and income generation.

Picture of Jonathan Northall
Jonathan Northall, Author
  1. How will the Australian public react in general when Steve Smith and David Warner return to the test squad?

 Relief!  If the Australian batting line-up was working well, it may have been difficult for Warner however; he is a requirement now.  The bigger question is how the players will react to Smith and Warner returning.  Warner’s side of the story is still to come out and I think it is going to re-open wounds when he finally tells.  The possibility of wearing the idolised Baggy Green is the only factor stopping Warner.  If he puts this in a book, I will be one of the first to pre-order a copy, and if he is looking for someone to ghostwrite it…

  8. If you could change one law in cricket, what would it be?

 Law 37 – Obstructing the field.  It was always an innocuous law as far as I was concerned until last year’s BBL.  Alex Ross of Brisbane Heat was given out obstructing the field and I felt that it was a harsh decision.  The law states that if a batsman ‘wilfully attempts to obstruct or distract the fielding side by word or action’ then they will be given out.  Unless the deliberate obstruction is blatant, which these decisions usually are not, then an umpire is making a decision on someone’s actions.  Bowlers can hold their ground and make a batter deviate on their running line whilst a batsman, doing that of their own volition, are exposed to Law 37.  I would like to see a rewrite to adjust the balance. There is an argument to remove the law completely when you consider that there has been just one instance in Test cricket where a batsman was given out for obstructing the field.

 9. Do you think that lack of attendance at Test Cricket is a problem?

I think it is a problem for the new ICC members.  Cash rich Full Members, such as Australia, can take a hit to a certain degree, whilst nations such as Ireland need punters through the door to make Test cricket commercially viable.  One way for these countries would be to get matches against the larger nations.  Perhaps the proliferation of T20 cricket is diluting the fan base. With much cricket available for fans to go to, families need to prioritise based on financial considerations.  The longer form of the game is probably going to suffer in this scenario.

  1. Do you think the Cricket World Cup will ever go back to a 16-team tournament?

I hope so.  Opening up the Cricket World Cup to more nations should be a natural progression.  However, the ICC don not see it that way.  ACB, BCCI and ECB need to do more to make this happen.  ICC are using T20 as the enabler to grow the game.  That is a positive but not having Ireland or Scotland or Nepal, for example, in the tournament is not.  I am not advocating a 32-team competition but there are at least 16 teams that are both worthy and play at a high enough standard to warrant a place.

  1. Is there a new cricket book in the pipeline?

I have about 40,000 words written for an Ashes related book.  Not sure when, or if, that will see the light of day.  I have another project on which I have started to do some preliminary research.  I have not spoken to my publisher about this project.

Interview with Cricket Author Rob Kelly

What is your earliest memory of cricket?

When I was about 11 my friend Alan gave me his old pair of Grasshopper batting gloves and some Ken Barrington whites, I also remember entering a competition to win an Ian Botham bat in a competition run by The Eagle comic but sadly wasn’t the lucky winner. There wasn’t a local club for me to join and my interest waned until 1989 when I started watching the Ashes on the BBC and was hooked. For some reason I became fascinated by the England tail (John Emburey, Gladstone Small, Nick Cook etc.) and their rearguard efforts to avoid the follow on; it seemed to happen in every Test in 1989, that and Graham Gooch being lbw to Terry Alderman.

Photograph of cricket author, Rob Kelly
Cricket author, Rob Kelly

Did you ever play the game? 

Only at very average village level, I didn’t start playing until I was 18 which is way too late to be any good unless you’re a natural sports person. I did score a 50 once, took a few four wicket hauls but never managed a five-for. My son Paddy started when he was eight and naturally I’ve taken great pleasure in watching him play, he’s 15 now and has already taken several five-fors. For about six years I was a youth team manager at Horsford Cricket Club and derived a great deal of satisfaction from organising and running games for youngsters; seeing them get the opportunities that I wish I’d had at that age. I guess it allowed me to live vicariously through them to a degree.

What inspired you to write Hobbsy: A Life in Cricket and how did it all come about?

My son Paddy is a leg spinner and so my interest in leg spin has grown since he started playing and then in 2015 I read a great book called The Strange Death of English Leg Spin. I help to organise talks for the Norfolk Cricket Society and invited the book’s author Justin Parkinson to come and do a talk for us in Norwich. Robin Hobbs was one of several English leg spinners covered in Justin’s book and I just found his story really fascinating and wanted to find out more. Having only seriously got into following cricket in 1989 I’d missed Robin’s playing days, he’d retired from the first class game in 1981. I remember Ian Salisbury making his Test debut for England in 1992 against Pakistan and I’m sure I must have heard Richie Benaud or someone mention Robin’s name – it was quite a thing with Salisbury being the first leg spinner to play for England since Robin had played his last Test in 1971 – but it didn’t really register at the time. Twenty-odd years later it was Justin’s book which led me to Robin and I’m very grateful to him for sparking my interest.

I was really surprised when I found out that Robin was on Twitter, initially Paddy contacted him to ask for a few bowling tips and then I asked if he might fancy doing a talk for Norfolk Cricket Society. Up until that point I’d never harboured any thoughts of writing a book but having discovered that there wasn’t one about Robin I felt compelled to do it. I put the idea to him and we met up early in 2016 to discuss it; initially he wasn’t sure anybody would be interested but once we got going I think he really began to enjoy sharing his story. It would have been a lot easier if someone else had already written a book but then I would have missed out on the amazing experience I had working with Robin, it was a lot of fun. I was fortunate that Patrick Ferriday at Von Krumm Publishing took the book on, he was also good fun to work with and was instrumental in knocking the rough edges off the manuscript and shaping the finished work.

Photograph of 'Hobbsy - A Life in Cricket' book cover
‘Hobbsy’

What would you tell an aspiring writer who wanted to write his first book? 

If you find a subject that sparks your passion then go for it. There’s still an incredible appetite for all sorts of cricket writing so if you think you have a good story the chances are that there’s an audience out there who’ll enjoy reading it.  It’s quite daunting when you haven’t written a book before but there are plenty of friendly people in the cricket community who will offer help and advice, Twitter is particularly good for this. Research which publishers would most likely suit the subject you’re writing about, approach them and get feedback on your ideas early on before you get too far into it. One other thing I’d advise would be to make sure you check your facts and then check them again, it’s surprising how often you find mistakes in photo captions, scorecards and newspaper reports.

Seeing that this is your first cricket book, do you think you will write another cricket book in the future?

Maybe… I’m not sure if I’d ever be able to recapture the fun I had working with Robin on ‘Hobbsy’ but never say never!

If there was one story from the book you would tell someone who hasn’t read it, what would it be?

There are so many I could choose from; the Test match Robin played in without batting, bowling or fielding, clubbing with Princess Margaret in the West Indies, disturbing Geoff Boycott’s beauty sleep on the 1964/65 tour of South Africa but I think I’m going to go for a story of bowling against Viv Richards.

Robin first encountered Viv Richards in 1974. Essex were playing Somerset at Taunton in the County Championship and Robin was captaining the side in place of Keith Fletcher. Having just dismissed opener Mervyn Kitchen, Robin watched as the ‘Master Blaster’ made his way out to the middle; even then, in his first season in county cricket, the swagger was unmistakeable. Richards took guard and to the first four balls he faced played crisp strokes straight to fielders. The fifth ball Robin bowled was an over-spun leg break; Richards played back, was on hit on the pad in front of middle stump and given out by the umpire. As he walked past he simply remarked “Well bowled” to the well-contented leggie.

Fast forward to 1981 and Robin, now playing for Glamorgan and in his final season in first class cricket, hadn’t bowled at Richards since the previous occasion. Glamorgan had set Somerset a target of 322 to win with four hours play remaining on the final day and Richards had a long memory, as Robin was about to discover. Richards strutted to the wicket, he hadn’t forgotten his duck from seven years earlier and as he passed Robin on his way to crease he ominously declared “Hobbs, the day of reckoning has come!” Boundaries flowed but, fortunately for Robin, so did the rain and he managed to escape the encounter with only light damage sustained to his average!

What is your opinion on the England Cricket Board’s new competition, The Hundred

I’m not a fan, like most others I’m scratching my head and wondering where the idea came from and why? Really can’t see the need to add another format and mess with the three we already have.

If there was one law you could change in cricket, what would it be? 

This is really tough, not sure I can think of a specific one to change… The Hundred to be declared illegal!

[Please ask Robin Hobbs] If you were Adil Rashid’s coach, what aspect of his game would you work on?

Rashid is highly successful in one day cricket but his captains do not have great faith with him in the longer game. He is a bit too slow to bother good batsmen in Test cricket so the main aspect I would work on would be to get him to try and bowl it a shade quicker, on occasion he should bowl around the same pace as Jack Leach.

Why Wanderers Should be Hashim Amla’s Last Test

I think we can all agree that the Hashim Amla of 2018 is closer to the man of 2004 when he made his debut with a host of technical deficiencies, than at any other time of his career. At 35 years old to have an average of 26.84 for 2018 and having not scored a hundred for at least 23 innings’ suggests he is very much on the downward spiral.

He has come up against some world class bowling attacks in recent months with India and Pakistan and even struggled against a poor Sri Lankan team and a substandard Australian attack when his experience and know-how were sorely needed and sadly, not delivered. We all know that every dog has his day and I feel that Hashim has had his. He no longer oozes control and cool confidence when coming out to bat. He now seems to struggle against any sort of real pace and to me this is an obvious sign that age (at least on the cricket field) is catching up with him. He may have scored a 63 in the 1st Test vs Pakistan but he was dropped very early on. The SA top 6 has been on a downward spiral for a couple of years now, the team largely winning with its bowling attack. Sadly he is part of the SA batting demise which is a problematic trend that cannot continue any longer. Consider these figures: 28/4 at Lords in 2017, 12/3 vs India in Jan 2018, 40/4 at Sri Lanka’s 1st Test at Galle in 2018 and only luck saved him from being caught in this year’s first Test vs Pakistan where it would have been 19/3; are all just small samples of how we are struggling as a team and our rock of the past, Hashim Amla, is not the player he was. When was the last time you genuinely felt confident about him as he walked out to bat? When was the last time you were not sitting on the edge of your seat with your fingers crossed begging for the old Amla to come back? When were you last not shaking your head at his latest early dismissal? When did not wonder when he is going to retire? If you answer honestly you will probably say before the England tour in 2017, and that is 18 months ago. In the last 18 months he has only scored two hundreds and those were against Bangladesh. Is that good enough for a Test match number 3? While he will definitely go down as one of our best batsman and be remembered as much for his dressing room persona as on the pitch once he does retire, the question remains how long do you give someone before you drop them? Is 18 months not long enough? In reality the Hashim of 2018/19 looks more like the Gandalf in Return of the King at the end of the movie (without power) than Mr T of the A-Team of the 1980s.

Hashim Amla - time to retire? Photograph by Tim Dale-Lace. 2018 All rights reserved.
Hashim Amla – time to retire? Photograph by Tim Dale-Lace. All rights reserved.

There comes a time to look over one’s shoulder at the youngsters coming through and concede that it is time to step aside. The likes of Zubrayr Hamza, Reeza Hendricks, Rassie Van Der Dussen and Theunis De Bruyn (who has barely got his feet under the table), are all waiting for their turn and considering that Hashim is not the sort of character who would stand in another player’s way, why choose his experience over the new talent, who are all proving themselves, for the home vs Sri Lanka series next month.

I hope that the selectors are not going to be stupid enough to test the young talent against India in October, which is the number one team in the world rather than at home versus the less challenging Sri Lanka? When we did this before, we ruined the test careers of Simon Harmer, Dane Vilas and Stiaan van Zyl.

Putting aside how popular he is, when we consider the last 18 months successes and failures of the SA side, the only sensible conclusion that supports a drive to improve the performance of the SA top six, is the one that concludes that this is the right time for Hashim to go. Hashim himself has never been one to hog the limelight and he is quite simply the most selfless cricketer there is and for this he has my utmost admiration. Tendulkar was only kept on for another season to reach his 200th test, Ponting was kept on 12 months too long and Pollock the same. It is time to exit gracefully after a great career like Shane Warne and Jacques Kallis did rather than to be pushed out 18 months down the line by fans and selectors’ alike.

It’s time for us to take off our rose tinted glasses when watching him and see that he is a man who has lost his off stump and his wonderful career has come to an end, as do all good things.

Interview with Cricket Author Gary Cox

Cricket and Philosophy

What is your earliest memory of having listened to or watched a cricket game?

My book Cricket Ball: Heart of the Game is dedicated to my mother, Jane, who taught me the game. She took me to Test matches at Edgbaston in the 1970s. I know for a fact that on Saturday 11 August 1973 she took me and my brother to see England play the West Indies on day three of the second Test of the series, because it is in her diaries. The great Gary Sobers was playing. This was the first live, professional match I ever saw. As to cricket on the TV, the BBC had free, uninterrupted coverage of every home Test match back then, and every Test match was on in our house loud and proud all day.

As a philosopher what inspired you to write a book about cricket?

I wanted to write something other than philosophy, and you write about what you know about, and one thing I know quite a lot about besides philosophy is cricket. Having said that, Cricket Ball is, in its own way, quite philosophical in its contemplation of the ball as an object and in play. I always wanted to see if I could write a whole book about a single object and Cricket Ball is the result.

Being somewhat philosophical the book also explores the profound, even mystical depths of cricket as a deeply complex technical and psychological game, a language game, an art form, a metaphor for life and an illustration of ethical and legal principles.

The philosophical twist, which never gets too heavy, gives the book a unique flavour and I think Lawrence Booth, Editor of Wisden, is right when he says that it is ‘One of the most original cricket books you’ll ever read.’

I have heard many scientists argue about how they think swing comes about, be it conventional swing or reverse swing. From your perspective, what is the impact of the ball on the player and his game when the ball does start to swing a great deal?

I think swing has been extremely important in determining the results of Test matches in recent years, especially in England. Once the ball starts hooping around, as it can do a lot under certain conditions in England once it is a certain number of overs old, it is extremely difficult to read its line, and only truly world-class batsmen can cope with it. It is not least his mastery of both outswing and inswing that has made James Anderson, for example, the most successful fast bowler in Test history in terms of number of wickets taken.

I don’t get too technical and scientific about swing in the book, sticking largely to the basic theory that the rough side of the ball is usually subject to more drag than the smooth side, which causes the ball to swing towards the rough side. As any cricket follower knows swing also depends on the weather and the condition of the pitch. A lot also depends on the individual ball. No two cricket balls are identical, however hard the top manufacturers like Dukes and Kookaburra try to make them so. Top bowlers have an eye and a feel for a ball that is likely to swing. Recall Anderson against India back in the English summer of 2018 being unhappy because the new ball the umpires gave him was not the new ball he had preselected.

As to reverse swing I argue that it is not actually contradicting established swing theory. Reverse swing is elusive but not mysterious. It happens in the same way as conventional swing when a number of factors start to cause the shiny or smooth side of the ball to drag through the air more than the rough side. What those factors are is fully explained in my book.

We have come to love all the legends of the game who have played County cricket over the years which became a favourite past time for cricket fans during the English summer. With County cricket being sidelined from the summer holidays from 2020 onwards because of the new competition called the Hundred, do you think that interest will decline? 

A comprehensive answer to this question would have to be far longer than I can offer here as it touches on so many controversial issues relating to money in cricket, who controls cricket, the future direction of the game and so on.

Shorter formats of the game have their place but I never like to see longer formats sidelined because of them. I am primarily a lover of Test matches and don’t like to see Test series shortened in favour of more ODIs and twenty20s. As I argue in my book, I think only Test matches reveal the full depth of cricket, its full defensive as well as offensive aspects, its profound psychological warfare, its capacity for grand strategy as well as immediate tactics.

This is not to say that I don’t enjoy short format cricket but somehow, for me, unless it’s a World Cup, the result doesn’t matter that much, where as a Test result always seems to matter, always takes its place in ongoing Test history.

The shorter the format the more it is really just cricket junk food as opposed to the fine cuisine of Test-match cricket, although of course I recognise that cricket is show biz and needs to make a profit. Twenty20 is exciting theatre that brings in the crowds and therefore the cash, cash which helps subsidise Test matches. I also recognise that when you go to see an ODI or a twenty20 you get to see a whole match whereas one day at a Test match is obviously just one day. Who can afford to go to a whole Test match, and who has the time?

I am always interested to see how different cricket formats work so the Hundred will interest me, although I won’t take it too seriously and the cricket purist part of me will find all the razzmatazz and superficiality slightly offensive. It’s only 20 balls less than twenty20, so what’s the big deal? Answer: money.

The big danger, of course, is that these snack-cricket formats increasingly replace Test matches, first class cricket and even fifty-over cricket. As the film Death of a Gentleman featuring Gideon Haigh and others points out, there are those who are far more interested is screwing as much money out of cricket in the short term, than in its long term future and integrity. Test matches just don’t seem to fit in with the money spinning plans of some of the current movers and shakers of the game. As to sidelining County cricket in favour of yet another short order slog-fest devoid of the art of defensive play, it is important to note that County cricket is still the main breeding ground for Test quality players.

Obviously a balance needs to be struck between tradition and innovation, between the necessity of revenue and the long term future and integrity of the sport. Do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Someone on BBC Test Match Special recently made the excellent point that those who control cricket should stop trying to sell cricket so hard to people who essentially don’t like it – primarily because they don’t have the patience for it – while increasingly neglecting those who really do like it! I dare to say that people who only really like twenty20, because they only really like to see lots of sixes being smacked about or whatever, don’t really like cricket, or at least they have yet to appreciate the infinite, subtle depths of the game, depths that only longer forms of the game can truly reveal.

I talk in Cricket Ball about how cricket is far deeper than a visual spectacle. To claim that cricket is boring, or that longer formats are boring, is to fail to appreciate the ever changing tactical and strategic situation and the multi-layered intricacies of human psychology involved. This is not to say that the visual spectacle is unimportant. I also argue at length in my book, following C. L. R. James, Neville Cardus and others, that cricket is a highly aesthetic phenomenon, a true art form.

How has the sport in England been affected moving from a terrestrial to a paid subscription channel. Is there less interest or more interest among the fans? 

As someone who grew up with free, uninterrupted cricket coverage on the BBC (apart from the licence fee which everyone with a TV has to pay anyway) the move to paid subscription came as a real blow. But then, it was cricket itself that desired the move because it needed and wanted the hugely increased revenue.

I would like to see the cost of paid subscription reduce in price, not least because cricket would then reach more people. Can subscription view cricket not reach more people for less and still make a good profit? In the UK the subscription is pretty expensive, and what is really infuriating, far more than the expense if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford it, is that having paid your monthly fee, you then have to endure endless advertisements as well.

When cricket was on terrestrial TV – in the UK Channel 4 broadcast it for some years after the BBC lost it – a Test match felt more like a national event. The 2005 Ashes series broadcast by Channel 4 totally gripped the nation. It’s hard to see that same vibe happening now with cricket tucked away on subscription TV. There is always the radio, which I love, especially BBC TMS, and, as I say in my book, I can picture a match in my head from the commentary, but sometimes you just can’t beat seeing the TV pictures.

TV, in some ways, is better than actually being at a match because modern cameras are able to take you so close to the action. Cricket is also ideally suited to the endless replay and the superslowmo. Live cricket will never return significantly to terrestrial TV, but more, perhaps, could be done to make it cheaper and therefore reach a bigger audience. I should add for the record that in the UK Channel 5 broadcast a very good hour of home Test match highlights on terrestrial TV.

I don’t want to sound like a Luddite going on about how great it was ‘back in the day’ but fewer and fewer youngsters seem to be growing up with an awareness of professional cricket. Unless their parents subscribe they are just not getting exposed to it. Having said that, there are some very good initiatives to introduce youngsters to playing and watching cricket, such as the ECB All Stars Cricket participation programme. But such worthy programmes are themselves a recognition that interest in cricket among the young, certainly in England, is in decline.

Gary Cox Author
Gary Cox, Author

What was the most interesting thing about the cricket ball that you found out while researching this book?

The history of the development of the cricket ball is fascinating but I wouldn’t say I discovered one particular most interesting thing about the ball. What is most intriguing about the cricket ball generally is how a mundane sphere of cork and yarn tightly bound in leather becomes so dynamic, changeable, devilish, dangerous and controversial when delivered into play. As I say, ‘Its complex idiosyncrasies have determined the fates of many people. Each day around the world the cricket ball creates fools, villains and heroes. Occasionally it creates martyrs. It has ruined promising careers and destroyed lives. It has shamed entire nations while restoring the pride of others.’

Although the cricket ball is the heart of the game we love it is often overlooked in itself as we focus on the action, on the intentions of the players with regard to it, on their attempts at mastery with the ball or mastery over the ball. The ball is nothing much in itself yet it mediates everything. I have tried to write its biography, although there is always more that could be said.

Did you ever play the game and if you did were you a bowler or a batsman?

As I say in my book, in a brief biographical section, I played most summer days as a youngster with my brother and our friends, single wicket, every man for himself with the bat and everyone else fields. After a long absence I took the game up again for a while as an adult and although I had some successes I never really acquired the confidence to play consistently well alongside men who had played continually since their youth.

Cricket is ultimately about the players, but I have to admit I have always been more of a watcher and cricketologist. I was a bowler as I could never get enough net practice to emerge as a batsman. Established batsmen net first. By the time tailenders get a knock nobody wants to bowl to them for long.

From an ethical standpoint what have the recent match fixing revelation done to the wider world of cricket? Have we become so desensitised that we almost accept spot fixing as part of cricket?

Match fixing threatens to undermine all sports, not just cricket, as people have to be confident that the competition they are seeing is genuine, that the players are pursuing the objectives of the game within the rules; that they are not pursuing ulterior objectives. Otherwise there is no game, only the pretence of a game. Spot fixing betrays this principle just as much as fixing the result of the entire match.

If one thing in a cricket match is made artificially different by spot fixing then it is a different match from the one it would have been had all the players been acting all the time in good faith. Spot fixing is cheating and must never be accepted as a part of cricket. Culprits must be kicked out for good or at least suffer lengthy bans. There is absolutely no excuse for it. I don’t say much about match and spot fixing in my book as they are not as ethically complex as walking or not walking, bodyline and ball tampering, which are all considered in detail.

If you could change one thing in cricket what would it be?

I am torn between reintroducing live, free, uninterrupted coverage to terrestrial TV and halting the steady decline of sportsmanlike conduct, but then cricket has never been as sportsmanlike as nostalgia would have it and I’ve somewhat cheated myself in the way I have answered this question.

 England is hosting the Cricket World Cup next year, do you think they can win the competition?

I think they can win as they have a wealth of talent, more than enough to overwhelm any competition on a good day, but they can also lack consistency and be somewhat erratic. Home advantage should help them. That I think they can win doesn’t mean I think they will win, as logically and mathematically it is far more likely that a team that is not England will win. I’m looking forward to it anyway and in the true spirit of cricket I hope that the best side wins.

Interview with Cricket Author John Lazenby

I see that you are the grandson of Kent and England international, Jack Mason?  Could you tell us more about that?

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a cricket-mad family and knew from an early age about my grandfather. The house was full of his cricket pictures and photographs, his books and old, faded newspaper cuttings; I grew up on stories about him. Jack Mason has been described as one of the quintessential figures of cricket’s Golden Age. He was an amateur all-rounder, who captained Kent and played five times for England in 1897-98 against Australia.

My first book was written about him – Test of Time: Travels in Search of a Cricketing Legend – and published by John Murray in 2005. The idea for it was sparked after I found a cache of letters written by my grandfather and hidden away in chest of drawers at my parents’ house. They had been written on board the steamship, RMS Ormuz, bound for Australia. It was like finding a key to the past.

There is a fascinating story which I read in Test of Time: Travels in Search of a Cricketing Legend where you also find cricket gear belonging to your grandfather. Tell us about that and what happened to it.

I discovered my grandfather’s dusty old cricket bag after climbing into the rafters of my parents’ garage when I was about eight or nine. There was a lot of stuff up there, but it was the cricket bag that always stuck in my mind. I can remember opening it up and taking out his bat, pads and cap. The magic didn’t rub off on me until much later, of course. My parents sold the bag, and other items belonging to my grandfather, to the cricket collector, Roger Mann, a few years later. Roger has one of the most impressive collections of cricket photographs you could wish to see and has supplied many of the images for my books – along with much encouragement. There is a nice symmetry to that, I think.

John Lazenby, Cricket Author

Could you tell us about your experience doing the same tour as your grandfather did in 1897/98?

I traced his footsteps, using the tour itinerary as my guide. I was genuinely surprised to find so much from that era still existed – some wonderful cricket grounds, towns and hotels, just for starters. I even turned up a couple of unexpected discoveries. I had no idea, for instance, that Jack Mason had been approached to captain England, in somewhat secretive, controversial circumstances; or that I would stumble – quite by chance – upon a house in Stawell, Victoria, where the England cricketers had stayed and left behind several mementos – all of which have been lovingly preserved down the generations by the family. It is amazing what is out there when you start to look.

In your book ‘The Strangers Who Came Home’, I was amazed at the extraordinary amount of overs Fred Spofforth bowled. With that in mind, do you think that modern fast bowlers are mollycoddled?

 I don’t think you can compare eras but, having said that, Spofforth certainly bowled an astonishing number of overs during the tour of England: 1,677.3 in more than 30 matches, with 352 wickets; in addition, he bowled 630 maidens and captured 10 wickets 19 times and five on 41 occasions – some achievement. It should be noted that an over contained four balls in those days – we’re talking about 1878, after all. Nonetheless, it is a remarkable effort for a fast bowler, particularly when you consider that the Australians often had to travel miles by train through the night to get to their next match, and Spofforth was often sleep deprived when he took the field. As I say, they were different times …

 What inspired you to write your book ‘Edging Towards DarknessThe Story of  the Last Timeless Test’?

 I just thought it was a fascinating piece of cricket history. I’d been interested in the idea of the last timeless Test as a book for a while. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons I was drawn to it was its proximity to the start of the Second World War – that attracted me, and the history involved in it: the longest Test match ever played, the litany of broken records, the whole concept of timeless cricket, etc. I was also intrigued by the image of a Test being played out against the backdrop of impending conflict, the high-speed unravelling of events in Europe; it was an interesting contrast, that and the fact the Test, ironically, ran out of time.

I also wanted to lace some of the game’s great players and characters – Wally Hammond, Bill Edrich, Len Hutton, Hedley Verity, Ken Farnes, Alan Melville and Norman Gordon (the first Test cricketer to reach a century in years) – through the story and tell it from their perspective. I also wanted to write about what happened to those players during the war. Above all, I wanted to try to catch a remarkable moment in cricket history.

Did you play cricket at school or afterwards? 

I played a lot at school – bowled left-arm medium, batted right-handed – and was selected for a county trial at 18 but was nowhere near good enough. I played club cricket on and off for another 10 years or so after that.

Is there a new book in the pipeline?

 There are always ideas, but I don’t have any immediate plans for a new book. Hopefully, that will change at some point. When you’re as fascinated by the game and its history as I am, you’re always on the hunt for something new or different.

 

Interview with Cricket Author Steve Neal

You talk about David Frith’s book Silence of Heart as an inspiration for Over and Out, your biography of Albert Trott. Care to elaborate on that and tell me what exactly about the book inspired you?

David Frith’s essay ‘Turnip Head Trott’ in Silence of the Heart is sad and quite moving. It’s had that effect on other people too. When I read it, I wanted to know more about Albert Trott, this great cricketer, and why he did what he did. There was no full-length biography available, so I waited for one to come out. When no one wrote one, I decided to have a go myself. So, writing it was a way of finding Alberto’s story.

The decision to write a book of this kind tells me you have a passion for the game, did you play the game at any level?

In my twenties I lived in West Somerset, a real cricket area. There it was easy to play two or three games a week. I was genuinely keen and genuinely useless. Luckily, the games I played in were friendly matches.

Seeing that the domestic game in England is about to change significantly with the Hundred competition in 2020. What is your take on this competition?

We have three formats – T20, 50 over and the longer red ball game. They all provide brilliant entertainment in different ways. Why would you want to mess this up by introducing another format?

What do you suggest to someone who after your reading your award-winning book wants to become a cricket author?

Don’t hold back, get on with it. People involved with cricket publishing are helpful and encouraging.

If you could change one thing in cricket what would it be ?

Fielding side to bowl their 90 overs by designated close of play or a 50 run penalty. It can be done.

Photo_5b_400x400

Tell me what life is like for a cricket author. What goes into writing such an excellent book?

It’s no use telling people what they already know. What will be new about the proposed book? What research do you need to do? How will you structure it? The exciting part is the risk – how close can you get to the book you see in your mind’s eye? A bit of luck is helpful too.

If there is one cricketer you would like to write about who would that be?

Frank Tarrant was an interesting character– possibly the greatest non-test player. But he’s a bit too close to Albert Trott in time and postal address. So maybe that’s one for later.

Lastly with that in mind is there a new book in the pipeline?

There are a couple of things on the go. The one that looks the most promising is based around the game between 1968-92. Plenty went on – Packer, rebel tours, the growth of the one-day game. Over the next couple of decades that period will slip from view, so now is the time to ask the right questions and tell the story.

For Cricket Enthusiasts