Tractor's blog

Cricket at the Crossroads

Guy Fraser-Simpson’s Cricket at the Crossroads (Elliot and Thompson, 2011) was devoured in my household. Literally. The dog got hold of it before I did, and the fly-cover, first few pages and final chapter were gone. Nevertheless, I struggled on and read all that remained in my tattered and torn copy of this 2011 book.

The setup is that the book looks at three crises in 20th century English cricket: the 1967 Close affair, with Yorkshire’s Brian Close controversially relieved of England captaincy; the d’Oliveira affair, concerning the machinations of the ECB in their selection strategy; and the change in the game brought about by World Series cricket, including hyper-aggressive bowling. The book covers the decade 1967-1977 and looks at these incidents partly through the lens of class criticism.

Regrettably, thanks to the aforementioned dog, I had none of this blurb information and was expecting the book to come all the way to modern times, examining whether the ECB is still at heart a class-based institution, considering Strauss and Freddie and KP and Cook. With this expectation, I was with hindsight unfairly disappointed that the whole book focussed on such a short period of time in cricket, and that it often felt like reading match reports: ‘England were 276-4 when Bloggs came to the wicket and quickly hit 25 off 78 deliveries’ etc.

There were fascinating anecdotes, especially where social class and cricket were really looked at: The Duke of Norfolk’s benevolence in allowing his MCC (i.e. England) touring party to call him ‘Sir’ rather than the correct ‘Your Grace’; the 41 years old, recalled Colin Cowdrey’s Eton-esque introducing himself to Jeff Thomson mid-spell in Perth when he found himself at the non-striker’s end.

As a child of the 90s, it was also very interesting to read about Ray Illingworth and his leadership of England, although much of the book felt like a personal attack on Colin Cowdrey, in spite of the fact that his greatest crime seems only to have been being a thoroughly nice chap.

Perhaps the most striking point is the number of times, in discussing the onset of deliberately hostile fast bowling, particularly from the West Indies and Australian teams of the 1970s, Fraser-Simpson marvels that no batsman was killed at the crease. In remembrance of Philip Hughes, who died after publication of this book, this is incredibly poignant.

In great contrast, Michael Vaughan meets Jonny Bairstow (BBC TMS broadcast) was a much more sombre yet uplifting affair.

I didn’t know much about David Bairstow: although I knew he’d died when Jonny was young, and that the Boycotts had been immensely supportive family friends, I hadn’t been aware that he had taken his own life. It seems as if commentators and pundits were afraid to mention it, which is entirely understandable given their huge affection for him and his family amongst cricket journalists.

The TMS broadcast, available as a podcast, is humbling and emotional, but relevant beyond the confines of the cricketing community and I highly recommend it to you.


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