Reviews of Our Books
Book of the Month, January 2018.
A memento from another age. A collection of player portraits that reminds us of a time when cricketers walked the same common clay as ourselves.
David Frith appears on the cover of his new book in the top left-hand corner in front of a shaded window and a piercing desk lamp, looking a little like a detective about to administer the third degree. I dare say that few cricketers have felt like that over the years, meeting someone who seems to know more about them than they do themselves. My favourite Frith story concerns him attending a reception at the Houses of Parliament and being accosted by a supercilious MP. “You know so much about cricket,” said the MP. “But I bet you don’t know who scored the fastest fifty in the history of Test cricket?” Frith took a deep breath and replied evenly: “JT (Jack) Brown of Yorkshire, Melbourne, 1895, 28 minutes – though he claimed it was only 27 – and I’ve got the bat at home!” Touche!
Read the full review here.
Which are the greatest bowling performances of them all?
A few years ago, Patrick Ferriday and Dave Wilson took it upon themselves to rank the 100 greatest Test hundreds. It was a meticulous and exhaustive exercise, one that provoked much debate. More importantly, whatever your view on matters ordinal, it was a collection of fine writing on some unarguably great batting. Now they have laboured lovingly over a follow-up, Supreme Bowling: 100 Great Test Performances, and the discussions can begin again.
As with Masterly Batting, the original book, this is an immensely thorough and (as least as far as possible) scientific attempt to list cricket’s best Test-match bowling. Ferriday sets out the methodology in the opening section, taking into account seven key factors, such as wickets/runs (converted into “relative value”), opposition, conditions, and match and series impact. Of these, match impact is considered the most important – reflective of the adage that it is bowlers who win games – which is a notable tweak from the Masterly Batting formula, where the conditions and opposing attack took on greater significance.
Read the full review here.
Below: Curtly Ambrose is the only bowler to figure twice in the top ten; his one-time team-mate Malcolm Marshall does not feature in the 100 at all.
– 1912 Triangular Tournament
The first part of the book is superbly crafted. It cannot have been an easy task to decide how detailed this should be, and indeed just what aspects of the histories of cricket, and of the three competing nations should be covered. What was of particular concern to me was that the narrative might simply travel down a similar path to that taken by other authors in the past. I should have had more faith – Ferriday successfully accomplishes his mission and while some of the cricketing aspects of the story were, inevitably, not new to me, the knowledge that I acquired about the prevailing social, economic and political issues in Great Britain, Australia and South Africa, was of enormous assistance in appreciating the book as a whole.
Part two has clearly been as painstakingly researched as Part one, and while Ferriday is inevitably indebted to EHD Sewell, who wrote the only contemporary account of the Tournament, he has gone well beyond Sewell’s writings in his efforts to gain additional insights into the events of the summer. The match descriptions themselves are certainly thorough, and while they do not come to life in quite the manner that David Frith achieved in Stoddy’s Mission, they are far from bland and, in fairness to Ferriday, Frith did have some rather more exciting cricket with which to work.
In many ways the final part of the book is the most interesting. Ferriday’s reflections on the Tournament are well thought out and eloquently presented, and the glimpses into the future
are all relevant and help to put all of the events that the book
covers in context. In particular the brief sketches of the remainder of the participants’ lives, a number of which were, tragically, destined to be fairly short, answered the few questions that had occurred to me, and not been dealt with as I read the preceding chapters.
– 1912 Triangular Tournament
‘A self published book comes with an implicit question – why was it not taken up by one of the established publishing houses? Cricket is not short of chronicles but with this book Ferriday has immediately earned first class status.’
- Simon Redfern
– 1912 Triangular Tournament
– 1912 Triangular Tournament
– 1912 Triangular Tournament
Two hundreds this week by England batsmen in the warm-up games before the Ashes series starts in Brisbane on 21 November. But they will soon be forgotten, whereas to score a Test century is to be remembered forever.
Which, though, have been the very best three-figure Test feats? Impossible to answer, given the infinite number of variables, but the authors of Masterly Batting have a jolly good stab at it. They are not the first to do so but this attempt has far more analytical heft. A panel marked each candidate in 10 categories, including impact on match and series as a whole, quality of conditions and bowling attack, weight and speed of scoring, chances given, and runs scored as a percentage of the total. The panel then gave each category a weighting in terms of how they deemed its relative importance to create an overall score.
While it all sounds deceptively scientific, all the judgements are, of course, ultimately subjective, but the overarching theme gives the entries, written by various hands, a satisfying coherence. There is certainly plenty to argue about. Is Ian Botham’s astonishing 149 at Headingley in 1981 worth only 50th place? Does Michael Clarke’s 151 at Cape Town against South Africa in 2011 (in a match when, for the first time, a batsman from each side was dismissed twice in the same day) deserve to be as high as 25, as it was in a losing cause? And so on. Apart from some eccentric design decisions – no contents page, for instance – it’s all thoroughly enjoyable, and well executed. And the winner? Graham Gooch’s 154 not out against West Indies at Headingley in 1991, as remembered by his team mate Derek Pringle. Let’s hope that in the next few months one or more of England’s batsmen create the need for a swift update.
Cricket fans love making lists. Often, the lists are as eclectic as they are fanciful. Which is your all-time best XI comprising only No. 4 batsmen? How about the best leg spinners to have never played for Dunedin? We are indefatigable. We can make lists of anything, but few things make our eyes light up more than a list of great Test hundreds.
Masterly Batting: 100 Great Test Centuries, compiled and edited by Patrick Ferriday and Dave Wilson, arrives in the hands of list-making cricket obsessives like an early Christmas present. Combining the rigour in research befitting a scholar and the love for the game befitting of a true (list-making) fan, this is a book that will have followers of the glorious game debating, agreeing, and arguing.
Ferriday and Wilson have not merely mined the game’s archives and come up with any old list. The parameters used to judge the “greatness” of the “great” hundreds is impressive. Here is what they are: 1. Size of innings; 2. Conditions; 3. Bowling strength; 4. Score as percentage of team total; 5. Chances given; 6. Speed; 7. Impact on series; 8. Impact on match; 9. Intangibles; and 10. The compatibility of the bowling attack with the conditions
Veteran English cricket writer John Woodcock had cautioned the authors against the subtitle, ‘100 Greatest Centuries’. Hence, what we have is ‘100 Great Centuries’ as the subtitle. But it really is a list of what the authors consider to be the 100 greatest; were it not, what would be the point of ranking the innings?
Each of the centuries is accompanied by an essay: a brief one for the hundreds ranked 100 to 26; and long, mighty enjoyable ones for the tons that comprise the top 25. These 25 essays, the authors point out, are the heart of the book, and so they should be.
Spoiler alert: For those of you who can barely withstand the suspense, here are some nuggets:
Sachin Tendulkar’s 155 not out against Australia at Chennai in 1998 clocks in at No 100.
Three of Virender Sehwag’s centuries make the cut. Only Gordon Greenidge (4), Graham Gooch (4), Brian Lara (50 and Don Bradman (5) make more appearances.
VVS Laxman’s 281 not out at the EdenGardens against Australia in 2001 is at No 34.
Lara’s 153 not out against Australia at Bridgetown in 1999 ranks second. I won’t tell you which hundred comes out on top. Read the book and find out.
It is both an invidious and a beguiling task. The urge to rank things runs deep – in cricket, in sport, in life (though it is perhaps something males delight in more). Inevitably, the impulse to disagree is just as hardwired, a patellar reflex of the socialised human brain. “You think that is the best…?” In compiling Masterly Batting: 100 Great Test Centuries, Patrick Ferriday and Dave Wilson, assisted by an able band of co-conspirators, have struck up a pub debate liable to exercise pedants, inflame nationalists and, perhaps worst of all, provoke the Twitterati to fresh displays of mandrill pomposity. There could be broken glass.
This is no back-of-a-beer-mat musing, however. The authors have come tooled up. The research has been rigorous, their soundings far and wide (former Wisden editor John Woodcock is one of the first to be credited in the acknowledgements). In setting out the project’s aims, Ferriday is awake to the difficulty, both rousing and daunting. Ranking the 100 greatest Test hundreds – for that is what they have done, or attempted, despite the enigmatic subtitle – is not a matter of irrefutable fact, but rather falls into the category “where no such certainty can bring the debate to a crushing and indelible conclusion. And it is precisely these latter cases that are the most stimulating; opinion is reinforced by fact, fact is questioned, opinion reinforced or, where open minds prevail, altered.”
The danger of having an open mind, of course, is that your brain falls out. But Masterly Batting should find the thoughtful audience it deserves. The methodology is explained in the introduction, with ten categories – size, conditions, bowling attack, percentage, chances, speed, series impact, match impact, intangibles, compatibility – weighed against each other. The precise formula is not revealed but we can assume it is quite exacting, as there are several tied positions. The prospect of sifting through over 2000 possible candidates would leave many to conclude that pure maths was the only way to go, but Ferriday and Wilson have brought humanity to the numbers by stirring in contemporaneous reportage and the wisdom of numerous cricket judges.
The order is, in many ways, subordinate to the higher purpose, which is to collate great cricket writing on great cricket feats. Measuring centuries against each other was settled upon as a “valid and achievable goal” but the effect is to paint vivid pictures of a different kind of century – more than 100 years of Test batting. This is particularly true with regard to the top 25 innings, which are given extended treatment and take up more than half of the book.
Never mind the run-making, the keystrokes are just as impressive. There are some fabulous pieces in the book by a variety of writers, including David Frith, Stephen Chalke, Telford Vice and Rob Smyth. Chalke provides a superb portrait of Herbert Sutcliffe, Daniel Harris on Gordon Greenidge fizzes and crackles with an apposite energy, while Vice’s essay on Jacques Kallis – “He has fashioned one of the great careers with the passion he might have brought to mowing the lawn” – is full of good lines. Ferriday himself worships thrice at the altar of Brian Lara, while the comic-book vitality of Kevin Pietersen’s 186 in Mumbai is another example of the multitudes contained within.
The result is richly satisfying, a kaleidoscope of dogged rearguards, effervescent counter-attacking and dreadnought destruction. Absence is what makes the heart grow harder. Each reader will come to Masterly Batting in search of particular favourites, some of whom are bound to be disappointed. No Atherton in Johannesburg, no Dravid in Adelaide? It is the relative dearth of Asian representatives that will cause most debate: seven Indian entries, five Pakistani and three Sri Lankan, plus Mohammad Ashraful. Virender Sehwag’s 293 in Mumbai is the highest ranked, at No. 15, while Ashraful comes well ahead of Sachin Tendulkar, whose single worthy effort – 155 not out against Australia in Chennai - is deemed “great” enough to creep in at No. 100. This may seem doubly controversial in the prevailing climate of Sachinalia, although it is interesting to note that a similar exercise in 2001, the Wisden 100, found no room for Tendulkar at all.
Perhaps a greater oversight is the lack of Asian voices – Rahul Bhattacharya is quoted in the opening pages, but that is as close as an Indian writer gets to the book. The subcontinent stretches far across cricket’s globe, however, and this might have been better reflected. On the matter of which innings did and didn’t make the cut, Ferriday is happy to engage and he would doubtless provide a sound argument for the inclusion of both Kallis hundreds in Cape Town in 2011 when Tendulkar’s in the same match misses out.
But they are still serving at the bar and argument will continue long into the night. In a publishing landscape that is dominated by turgid autobiographies and glossy compilations, Masterly Batting stands out like a Laxman cover drive. And where does Kolkata 2001 rank next to Bradman on a sticky MCG pitch or Mark Butcher’s Headingley heroics? Time for me to get my coat.
Masterly Batting: 100 Great Test Centuries
Compiled and edited by Patrick Ferriday and Dave Wilson
Von Krumm Publishing
290 pages; £15