28 March 2008

David Frith provides top quality holiday reading

Having taken the implicit advice of Cricket Burbler Mark Davis to have a read of Ed Smith's book What Sport Tells Us About Life, I also picked a rather weightier cricketing tome to entertain me while sitting by the pool in Lanzarote - David Frith's Bodyline Autopsy. It's a brilliant book.

If you're into your cricket books being light in detail you won't like this book. Frith has managed to talk to many of those involved in the "bodyline" series - even those on the periphery of the controversy. Some of the documents from the time have mysteriously vanished - some claim that the war required the use of old papers but that doesn't explain why many older documents have survived - but Frith has got his hands on all the documents it's possible to look at it seems.

There are so many interesting details in the book that it's not possible to list them, but it gives a full account of the lead up to the series, and what followed prior to the 2nd World War and even mentioning some post war Ashes series. It has certainly changed my view of Bradman - a man who averaged 56 in the series but who was considered to have failed given the drop compared to his career average. Interestingly Larwood claimed at the time that Bradman was afraid of him but then retracted this many years later. But several of his team mates seem to have suggested that Bradman was perhaps not quite up for the fight which was why he tended to score rapidly in the series and then get out, to the dismay of the guys at the other end who were getting into line for the sake of their team.

What is clear from the book is how "bodyline" or "fast leg theory" was around before and after the controversial series....long after in fact as Frith makes the point that far more batsman are hit these days than used to be the case (although it is now illegal to use the field that stirred up controversy in the 32-33 series). Having said that of course, injuries were far worse in the pre-helmets era and reading the book you get a feel for just how painful batting was at times in the days before proper protective equipment - many broken jaws and bruised hips seem to have taken place holding up play (not surprisingly), and forcing many a batsman to have to retire hurt or even causing the occassional death.

I noted as well that there were several instances of noted wrong umpiring decisions even back then - Les Ames was given run out when a photographer captured the moment to show he had in fact made his ground. England also showed the same inconsistency of selection as they showed in the 80s and 90s - the Nawab or Pataudi scored stacks of runs coming into the series and averaged 40 in the 1st two Tests only to be dropped (possibly because he wasn't keen on the short bowling towards the body). Seeing the number of times the batsmen were being struck, someone decided to keep track of the number of times batsmen were hit with a view to pressuring the authorities to change the laws of the game - perhaps a similarity can be drawn with the Cricket Burble wrong decisions list?!?

If you like detailed cricket history, I couldn't recommend this book more highly. You can buy it now for the price of a couple of pints by clicking on the link to the right hand side of this page. And I'll be checking out David Frith's other books.

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