Category Archives: Good Reads

Batting for Time by Ben Bloom

Another book questioning the future of county cricket? This year’s offering from Ben Bloom is a successor of sorts to Graeme Wright’s Behind the Boundary, organisational matters prominent but brought to life by the people he spoke to. Against a background of proposed reforms to the playing schedule, to the surprise of some blocked by county members, Batting for Time is an answer to  the question who are  these people?

Opening overs on the most invested includes mention of  the love-lives of those in high office at the Oval, Brenda Lower at Hove, a very long-standing member respectfully known as ‘keeper of the balls’; at the end of the book David Griffin, who last missed a day of Derbyshire playing in 2009, flags the game as a coming together of disparate individuals.  Over a 100  were interviewed, as a matter of attitudes towards other people, life, Chris Nash comes across well, as does Kemar Roach, Lancashire media management does not.

But a world set to  be  swept away by franchises, global financiers incoming? Change started at Hants, who as a members’ club lost their way developing the Rose Bowl; baled out by Rod Bransgrove, who iirc took control in exchange for an offer of up to £4mn, and subsequently sustained by Eastleigh taxpayers who by 2015 had filled in with £40mn.

A tale of mis-calculations,  though it is a bit surprising that in 2024 15 counties are still, formally at least, bodies in the hands of their members. Part of the explanation for this lies with the ECB standing behind as well as above the counties,  a funder of last resort, most recently backstopping  for Yorkshire. Some reason for thinking that the 18 will continue, and not to doubt Richard  Gould’s comments on not formalising more separation between the haves and have nots.

The final chapter asks what purpose counties? Good question, Ben Bloom’s book gives the opinions of others, although not his. Stephen Chalke is quoted making the point that county cricket gets the blame when England perform badly, a place to receive exhalations from up above. 2022 was different in that the exhalations went both ways, a better year for those of us who see it as a decent part of English culture and think it worth supporting.

 

Ashes 2023 by Gideon Haigh

In the high sporting calendar of  2023  personally the Ashes came top;  ahead of Manchester City’s treble (hanging on at the end of the  Champions League final) and the Rugby World Cup,  games with  a lot of tactical kicking to the opposition. Test cricket the winner: margins of 2 wickets, 43 runs, 3 wickets, a D and 49 runs; not quite the plot line of 2005, but entertainment that at times was off the scale.

From an England point of view why did they declare on the first day? It was the first first day declaration in Ashes history, Gideon Haigh calls it the ‘Bazballsiest moment of all’. High confidence in four overs of bowling, two bites at the cherry in exchange for two wickets and if trying to to impact the psyche of the Australians was understandable, it’s not difficult to imagine them having given a mental thank you at the close.  In the end the result of the 2005 Edgbaston epic, which England won by two runs after Ricky Ponting had decided to field, reversed.

Freddie Flintoff and Brett Lee shaking hands at the end of that Test is one of the best Ashes photos, and  Gideon Haigh gives solid praise to the players for their conduct, reflecting the maturity of some, maybe seeing their last series. The desire of the Australian fielders  to shake the hand of Ben Stokes at the end of his  heroic effort at Lord’s another standout. Not so good was the author’s experience (an England supporting Aussie) of the the cricketing public, England a nastier place than in 2019;  disorder among MCC members maybe just the most high profile instance of it.

The book also laments rather the shrunken place of the Ashes: a series not a summer; The 100 the guilty party: ‘a 10th rate knock-off of the IPL’,  a cricket schedule ‘that disgraced all those involved in designing it’.  Well quite; as to whether England will be competitive in Australia next time,  they haven’t won a Test down under in the last three series (13 L’s out of 15); it might be different in 2025, but at the start of 2024 it’s hard to think systematically why it will be.

 

 

Back from the Brink by Ivo Tennant

As I remember it Hampshire’s 1987(8?) AGM was when  members were first informed about the possibility of a new ground,  Northlands Road too small and in the not-so-green 1980s parking a problem. It became a project with a long run-up, dependent on the sale of the ground to help fund a new one, and as  the property market boomed, slumped and recovered to an extent the idea passed through cold storage before taking hold.

Time enough for those who ran the Hospital Broadcasting service then to comment, if only  to each other, that for spectators Northlands Road only occasionally had a capacity problem and, if the aim was Test cricket, the Oval was not so very far away.  Time enough also  for committee ambition for the new ground to grow apart from the  funds for it, and  Ivo Tennant’s book is candid, and quite detailed on this, on those who were directly involved: ‘we were a little bit delusional’.

A financial barometer was put on the wall by the entrance to the old pavilion to show progress with funding, it didn’t move and the end  beckoned. At which point Hants got decidedly lucky with Rod Bransgrove who stepped in:  Back from the Brink portrays a personable cricket-loving man, blunt at times, kind to those in need, not snobbish to those less articulate than himself, unusually for those at the top someone who had held down a manual job.

The  machinations of allocating Test Matches at the ECB are gone into in some detail and the author remains sympathetic to his subject through them, although fundamentally six TMGs becoming nine this century has been too many, the building of the Rose Bowl one part of the problem. There are some good stories about his relations with players, appreciation for the role played by Robin Smith in bringing him and Shane Warne to the county. There  are no concessions to diplomacy when on the growing pains of the ground, when on things that got acrimonious with some; Ivo Tennant’s accounts of what went on seem admirably clear.

So in the end  a success story, with four years to look forward to an Ashes Test? To this reader it’s a rather qualified one:  a big upgrade in facilities, greater capacity for T20 crowds and so on, yet the Rose Bowl also fits into a general picture of much centralisation, a game that has been heading up-market. The book mentions that in the 1960s Rod Bransgrove was a bus-ride away from watching professional players, in 2023 cricket has a problem with the numbers  growing-up for whom that isn’t true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disappearing World by Scyld Berry

Once past the opening I  warmed to this book, plain speaking at times  but written by one with a soft spot for all 18 counties. Scyld Berry’s career, life, has taken him watch county cricket at 50 grounds; Abergavenny near the Welsh border a favourite, host  to Glamorgan games in the 1980s and 90s. Wherein, of course, also lies the rub, or at least part of it: in 2023 county cricket is mainly played at main grounds; so  a book to celebrate its heritage and hopefully readers of it will include a decent number of under 50s.

Each county is given a solid chapter; literary references, Jayne Austen in the cause of Derbyshire, high exaltation of Kent CCC  in Canterbury Cathedral and also a  history of the county’s glove-men.  Essex of the smaller counties gets a, or maybe two, thumbs up; nomadic at home for a long time and a first Championship in 1979, Graham Gooch, Nasser Hussain and Alastair Cook major figures of English cricket in the years since.

Among the larger counties the chapter on Lancashire is approving of Old Trafford as now is, a year-round commercial venue; a long historical view of the county taken, an advance from its origins as a gentleman’s club in the 19th century. Likewise positive on Nottinghamshire, high praise for  William Clarke, a bricklayer born in 1798 who layed out the Trent Bridge ground, created the All England Eleven of the Victorian era and was an influence on the early career of  WG Grace.

And the big question: will the 18 first-class counties continue disappearing until such time as….?  There is no epilogue, readers are left to make up their own minds on the future. As to the suggestion the game is over-centralised, a problem with too many TMG counties for the needs of Test cricket,  comment there is on  Sofia Gardens (mistake acknowledged by the ECB),  the Rose Bowl (built in the middle of nowhere, although somewhere may get closer) and Chester-le-Street (better if  Durham’s development had been more like Essex).

Yorkshire CCC keeping up with the TMGs in the 21st century has tied it  to a board with problematic tendencies. The book also mentions Malcolm Marshall’s comment that the only ground in England where the West Indians were racially abused was Headingley (on the terraces). Cricket’s openness, capacity to integrate is a long standing issue, and gets attention in various places in Disappearing World; county success ratings a variable, Essex seemingly  a better story than Leicestershire, at least in the past. Hopefully with  fresh supplies of common sense now at the ECB county cricket will make progress on this.

 

 

 

Cricketscapes by Andrew Hignell

Andrew Hignell argues that in an urban world cricket in England should move from its county-based structure to a city-based one, that this change is long overdue, that the game needs to connect with the places  people identify with in 2020.  An intellectual justification for The 100, or a competition something like it, wasn’t particularly sought in buying this publication from the ACS but it wasn’t any less of a good read for that, so, how persuasive is he?

The first ‘proper’ County Championship is dated to 1895; contested by 14, eight of whom played at one ground. From this for much of the 20th century the game, its geography, expanded to the point that by 1963 the then 17  counties played 32 3-day  fixtures, most of them  staged  on outgrounds. One-day cricket changed some of the dots on the map, over the years the Sunday League greatly increased their number, and by the time this one blogger had snapped Sir Viv Richards playing at Weston in 1978,  the number of grounds used that summer was as it had been in 1963, 72 in all.  Overall an era for the game when its geographic reach gave justification for its county structure:  boundaries that accommodated civic rivalries, rival supporters from other sports.

Andrew Hignell then traces the geographic concentration of games in the decades since,  wickets prepared to ECB standards and facilities developed to accommodate business interests at county grounds, the importance of  gate revenues and member subs declining. A game heading upmarket.  The open question that this leaves is the extent to which county supporters now are folks living in the urban areas of those grounds. Are the crowds at T20 games locals,  or not,  just a more mobile generation than when the Sunday League came to their (grand)parents?

The argument in Cricketscapes drives this to a logical conclusion if it is, or you think it is, mainly the first, then name domestic cricket  accordingly, Canterbury v Taunton and so on. To the question what’s in a name Andrew Hignell suggests  rather a lot, and sitting above Brighton, Southampton and the others in his future are the eight city-based ECB teams with ‘names that can be seen on road signs plus an urban identity’: Welsh Fire, Birmingham Phoenix, Manchester Originals, Northern Superchargers, Trent Rockets, London Spirit, Oval Invincibles and Southern Brave.

This all struck this one reader as exchanging one set of compromises, county names, for another; teams in the The 100 with urban names are not a majority and as the author points out forcefully in another context in one the association for the non-cricket going public is very much that of a tube station.  As for how much names matter,  for those heading to the cricket for a social occasion a moot point; although not especially surprising was the comment from Surrey’s CEO  that a quarter of the early ticket sales for The 100 were at the Oval, bought by those from much the same demographic as T20 goers.

The 100 is seemingly set to mean a big increase in the amount of white ball cricket at eight grounds, from 50+ to around 90 games, or if counting those played ‘between the eight’ from 20+ to around 60.  Financially it’s risky, something that Cricketscapes seems to skirt around, suggesting rather that the game can ease its way into a brave new world, county rebrands or not. He is though surely right to point to the role of social media connecting folks to the game in its various forms, and may be the export market for The 100 will justify its existence, or turn it into a hit, and help fund domestic cricket.

But maybe not, the financial expansion of the game in the ECB era has  been a bumpy experience: Channel 4’s departure from covering England, they were losing money on it, lead to 14 years behind a paywall, the stresses of expanding TMGs from 6 to 9 also problematic; a game left with an ageing support base and experiencing over-supply problems.

So is The 100 going to be just more over-supply? Some differences of opinion about it may be partly down to different world views: in the decades since Viv Richards was playing on public parks, economically the pendulum has swung a long way from those at the bottom, in the middle towards those at the top and imo a push back would not be before time. But this is not really to doubt the risk those pushing with the pendulum in cricket are taking.

Cricketscapes, part of the Cricket Witness series from the ACS, is a glossy, which was not expected. It has 20+ (black and white) photos from the game’s past, of interest although social media has raised the standard  when it comes to cricket’s landscapes. What it gave this reader was a thoughtful, alternative point of view, something which can be hard to find on social media, and for that, credit to its author.

 

Test of Character by Andy Murtagh

Born in Superlative, blessed with stand out looks and given a moral compass, yet  Andy Murtagh’s warm-hearted biography of John Holder is also well-titled for a man who left Barbados for an English winter with no coat, just might have had his capacity to bowl fast coached out of him, and later, as Test Match umpire, declined a bribe and found that an attitude born out of straightforward honesty was an an attitude that didn’t fit.

John Holder has a first-class hat-trick to his name, took 13 wickets in a Championship match and stories from his playing days are fondly recalled by Andy Murtagh. The liking he feels towards his subject is very clear, although this part of the book also aches rather with the playing career that might have been.  As team-mate  Richard Lewis points out the key to bowling is the ability to repeat an action, from which rhythm and confidence, and while John Holder was seriously quick, attempts to rectify a problem with bowling no balls by changing his action from chest to side on proved problematic.

He left the Hants staff in 1972 without getting his county cap, but having been a presence in helping a young Gordon Greenidge mature, whose career at Southampton at one point survived by one vote. 15 years later with his playing career coming towards its end, John Holder was umpiring  him on the county circuit, his career as an official on the rise.  Promotion to Tests followed, England versus Sri Lanka in 1988  then Australia in 1989, a career that was going well until the end of the  series against the West Indies in 1991, the farewell of Viv Richards at The Oval. It turned out to be his last Test for a decade.

As to why, umpire Holder pointing out, reporting, ball tampering by England  unwelcome with an upcoming series against Pakistan is the context given. It is plausible enough as an explanation; reporting transgressions may, of course, have been unwelcome at other times as well, suggestive that  some of his colleagues  would simply have turned a blind eye as necessary.

And the experience of prejudice in his career? Episodes outside the game certainly,  also behind the decision-making that left him (very) disappointed after just doing his duty? Test of Character reasonably enough given the time horizon  does not try to probe the opaque processes of long ago, or the character, the mental suppleness, of those making the decisions, but it may have been a factor. Mistakes made with LB decisions in some games are given fair airing in the book, the explanation for him being dropped as a Test umpire seemingly not that, which leaves a man who was just ‘a bit too honest’.

More cheerfully there is fair recognition  that cricket gave black West Indians of his generation openings, three team-mates at Southampton at the start of the 1971 season, in an era when cricket was treated more as a game, and those involved felt that they were on to something that was a lot better than ‘real work’. A career in his case that lasted more than 40  years; an informed man about the laws of cricket, an educator, his ‘You Are the Umpire’ with Paul Trevillion, a success.  An attempt  to bribe him in Sharjah before an ODI fixture was recalled with something like disdain in interviews that have appeared on YouTube.

John Holder first appeared for Hants 2nds against Gloucester at Dean Park  in 1965, the scorecard a prompt about the large part luck plays in careers. Both Mike Procter and Barry Richards played for the visitors;  as did fellow umpire to be David Shepherd, ‘Shep’, remembered for hopping on to one leg when the score was 111, and for whom an MBE for services to cricket. And John Holder, for services to careers made with a good conscience? If presented with a re-run hopefully he would do it again.

The Unforgiven by Ashley Gray

The 2013 film on the West Indian cricketers who toured apartheid -era South Africa, Branded a Rebel, has an interview with the then SACU president Joe Pamensky  in which he  remarks  the  tourists were ‘made an offer they couldn’t refuse’. Clive Lloyd is interviewed and mentions that he could have made himself a rich man, but put his principles first. The consequences for three players who went are brought into view: an unwell David Murray,  Collis King, from whom words of defiance and the independent-minded Franklyn Stephenson, who makes the argument that mercenaries are paid to fight other peoples’ wars, that what t(he)y did was to give white spectators at matches an education through cricket.

Ashley Gray’s impressive book The Unforgiven certainly adds a lot to what this one reader knew about this. He attempted to speak to all those who went- 19 players and in most cases he succeeded -and the book is all the more readable for the candour, the straight way in which the character portraits are drawn and weaved into context. It is no simple morality tale.

There are those who didn’t go but might have done, flight tickets were bought for Desmond Haynes and Malcolm Marshall. There is plenty of believable comment on the rivalries between those competing for a Test place: the importance of individual relationships with Clive Lloyd and Sir  Frank Walcott  in the whys some didn’t make the Test side, or didn’t think they were going to, and went. And the social pressures involved: in the case of Everton Mattis, talented, but without it seems the necessary  graces at the dinner table, given advice to get a haircut.

As for the Franklyn Stephenson take on things the strength of West Indian cricketers in England in the decades from the 70s on  certainly impacted a generation of predominantly white supporters of the game.  Black cricketers walked out to polite, at times reverential, applause, Cyrille Regis ran out to be greeted with bananas incoming playing for West Bromich Albion. So did the rebels have at least some influence on the small white minority in bringing change to South Africa or the management post apartheid?

Maybe they did, it’s a more plausible suggestion with the benefit of hindsight although it is also questionable how much moral force there is in it. The general feeling from reading The Unforgiven  is that for several of them given the decision again they wouldn’t have gone, almost 40 years later Lawrence Rowe forgiven to an extent, but not elevated  in terms of social esteem.

And the messages for 2020?  In England there is the what ought to be an unsettling  question about how much involvement, interest there is in the game by and among black people.  Perhaps at some point the remaining numbers in the table below will be made public, but in the commercial era of the ECB it is the south Asian communities that have been described as ‘the holy grail’ by those who see franchise fortunes on the horizon. It is a direction of travel that might leave some wondering  how serious the game’s establishment really is about its expressed support for black lives?

Ethnicity Cricket Supporters % E&W Population%
White British 82.0 80.5
Asian 7.5
Black 3.3
Mixed 2.2
White Other 4.4
Other 2.0

ECB figure on cricket supporters. Census (2011) for England and Wales population.

 

Vintage Summer & The Meaning of Cricket

John Arlott’s gentle nostalgia for the pleasures of a postwar summer strikes something of a chord now for those of us wondering, at least a little bit, what cricket, normal life, will feel like as and when it returns. Quite what a generation who had come through six years of war were  feeling as they watched cricket again  is  something known by those who were there; but in other respects Vintage Summer relates a  season with a rhythm largely familiar to those when the book was published twenty years later.

Much of it is a comforting, happy,  narration which starts with the South African tourists at Worcester. A five test series, won by England, and a 26 game county Championship won by Middlesex followed, with Dennis  Compton and Bill Edrich dominant. Arlott saw cricket almost every day that summer, which he described as the happiest of his life, reaching its finale at the Oval bar in September; from which the book’s epilogue:

‘We had known and felt the untrammelled delight of cricket and, if we could not define it  – and who has ever been able to do so with precision?  – we knew it the more surely for our realisation that it was too richly complex for analysis.’

Something of this sentiment  comes across in Jon Hotten’s book, albeit that his appreciation of the game, the wonder of it, comes from knowing how hard it is, rather than anything especially dreamy or poetic. It is a lively read, largely post the Arlott-era; the author’s  playing experiences, which advanced to the point of a trial net with Hampshire, a starting point for his understanding of the stresses faced by the game’s pros. A take on the inside if not an insider’s take.

Mark Ramprakash finding ‘redemption’ in 100 first class centuries, the difficulties faced by Graham Hick in adjusting to Test Match cricket, bowlers with yips, flag up how  brutal it can be psychologically for those who are, or who become, anxious and then rather ambivalent about their career trajectory heading downwards.

This is not always an easy read, although it is not difficult to sympathise with those experiencing personal agonies . More happily there are of course the careers that went the other way after difficult starts. Graham Gooch bagged a pair in his first Test, was dropped after his second and might have been dropped again, quite possibly ending his England career. At the end of a series in which he struggled Ian Bell made no runs in the epic Ashes finale in 2005: eight balls in the match, one on the last day with England aiming to bat out time.

In analytical,  micro-managed times, the book prompts well on what part talent what part chance, luck, plays in careers, and brings to mind Richie Benaud’s 10-90 ratio. There is a lot else in it, a primer on the game’s early development, amateurs, humour in various places:  a key bowling machine carried round in the back of a horse box en route to an Ashes series win. Those for whom Arlott was a formative influence in taking to cricket were lucky to be sure; and from one who did a stint on the May’s Bounty scoreboard, 330/7 at the close.

 

 

 

 

Feeling is the thing that happens in 1/1000th of a second by Christian Ryan

‘One of the most startlingly original cricket books ever published’, wrote Matthew Engel, so picking up this book came with high promise and certainly there are some brilliantly written lead-ins to the photography of Patrick Eager in 1975; writing to heighten the senses, framing images seemingly to the point of intimacy with those performing at the top of the game then.

There is a wonderful panoramic photograph of the  World Cup Final that year:  Lord’s, its setting, the occasion, a reminder of cricket played  in a  less commercial era and a .001 moment in which Viv Richards, then a prince rather than the king is about to run out Ian Chappell; arm pulled back with ball,  Clive Lloyd, the bowler, in position at the wicket, Rohan Kanhai pointing to the other end and both batsmen looking at him with good reason for thinking I might not make this.

During a decade when TV coverage was free, but second chances to see were not many and the original films often taped over, Patrick Eager’s photographs are a large part of the visual record of the game then. Among the other brilliant images in the book are the possibly familiar photo of D.K. Lillee and his follow-through; Phil Edmonds bowling his hat-trick ball to Doug Walters in the same Headingley test, five close fielders crouching but Tony Greig still towering above all and umpire Tom Spencer informing Jeff Thompson, arms stretched out with ‘gunbarrel zeal’ that he had, in fact, just delivered a no-ball.

Quite what is observation, what reaction  pops up in several places and is something Christian Ryan rather wonders about again at the end of the book. As he puts it at one point

….faces in a photograph are sometimes exactly what they seem, sometimes not at all what they seem, and the trick and the hitch is not knowing which is which, or when and this is a part or a lot of the intrigue of photographs.

What is insight, a reveal, what a more or less synthetic pose for publicity not always easy to classify and when does it matter anyway is a question not far behind.  There are action shots in the book which can be reasonably classed as one, but the boundary between action and portraits blurs. FWIW  in 1978 this one blogger took the snap below of a relaxed-looking Geoffrey Boycott during a county game at Southampton, the picture of a man apart rather but also of one in his element. Quite who he is smiling at is a bit of mystery at first glance, not the lady to his right who is looking up at him, but at someone or somewhere in the middle distance.

The attention of the boy in the front row has been distracted, quite possibly by the photo being taken, boundary to wicket distance, prompted as it happened by noticing a serious and not entirely happy looking Geoffrey B fielding with his hands in his pockets, in front of a pavilion well populated with visiting Yorkshire members. As a simple observation this one snap f for failure, although the self-conscious response, looking away from the camera, has since made for a-things-were-better-then picture for Fred Boycott’s twitter followers; an early season warmer for those watching Championship cricket in April, even if it was taken in August.

Patrick Eager understandably enough mentions that he hoped that moving camera position in anticipation of a wicket falling didn’t actually trigger the event; or in the generality of things the opposite, given an intent to record the what had the photographer been elsewhere. More of an issue then than now maybe; with the limits of 1970s technology, he also mentions that it was a case of shoot tight or lose focus, possibly miss the .001 moment that day; but as seen now a tight focus can come at the expense of something of the wider social setting, and with it, arguably less or perhaps just a different feeling.

In the 1970s crowds were allowed on the outfield during intervals at Southampton, as elsewhere, and it was usual to see some taking a closer look at the players coming back out. The difference between his photo of  two West Indians, Bruce Pairaudeau and Everton Weekes coming out in 1957 and that of the two Chappell brothers in 1975 near where the Boycott photo was taken is striking: the first as a teenager, with a teenager’s  ground level view, three policemen helping keep order, unremarked upon; the second as a professional, a bit further in-field, spectators blurred images, their presence something of a problem.

While it would be wrong to say that Patrick Eager didn’t do crowd scenes, you do have to go looking for them a little bit, even at patrickeager.com where some 13,000 of his images have been uploaded. One of the more evocative images in the book is that taken at Trent Bridge showing a time when teenage boys attended Test match cricket in twos and threes, interested enough in the game for it to hold the attention on summer days sat on the grass. It is the photograph of an era when the sport was widely played in schools.

Feeling is ….is no-one’s idea of a coffee table book and the photographs are to be sure better seen in Kindle than the print edition.  Christian Ryan’s narrative does a fine job weaving its way round the images with sharp observations of small details and well-informed comment;  it is an impressive book that for this one reader pretty much lived up to the high expectation that others put on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sundial in the Shade by Andrew Murtagh

For those who saw him bat the talent of Barry Richards puts him with a small group who are mentioned after  Don Bradman: Sachin Tendulkar, Viv Richards and not all that many others. His Test career was almost entirely sacrificed in the cause of ending apartheid in South Africa and prompted, at least in part, by a feeling that cricket goers now are not as aware of him as they might be,  Andy Murtagh’s biography is  a  view of a team-mate that  reveals a fair bit about the man as he lauds the player.

Among the most interesting observations are those made by the author (and also Robin Jackman at one point) on what it was that made Barry Richards such an exceptional batsman: forensic powers of observation from his extraordinary eyesight that let him see which way the seam on a ball was rotating  (and so which way it would it would spin), his capacity to remain still until he had decided to play forward or back and the great speed of his reactions when he had. In short gifts from nature that go with being a cricketing genius; a master technician, an innovator who was temperamentally given to attack.

It was  characteristic that he really excelled when presented with conditions or circumstances that others would find difficult,  announcing himself in England with an innings of 70 made out of a total of 122 when he had just started with Hampshire on a rain affected (‘S shaped’) pitch at Harrogate. The innings that stand out in the memory of this blogger are one of great care, 37 not out, but getting the better of Bishan Bedi in a match that went a long way to deciding the Championship in 1973 and also a brilliant Sunday League century in 1975, against a strong Leicestershire team that anticipated rather the way the game would be played in the T20 era, giving the pavilion roof at Dean Park a difficult afternoon in the process. At his best the effect he had on spectators was electrifying.

His Test career was over by 1970, after a series in which the South Africans defeated Australia 4-0,  playing 4 matches in which he averaged 72,  some happy seasons at Hants followed in which he and Gordon Greenidge formed an opening pairing that might be thought to compare with any in the history of the game; his partner going on to establish himself in the West Indian team that dominated from the mid-late seventies onwards. Towards the end of his time in England it would be fair to say that he was not greatly motivated by playing seven days a week on the county circuit, and his mid-season exit in 1978 while a relief to him personally, could have been  made in happier circumstances than a rain-affected match at Grace Road (above).

Andy Murtagh does a good job making it clear that he was more at home in the Southern Hemisphere, that he had a certain liking for Adelaide that was not felt for 1970s Southampton. It is not a short book and there is quite a lot of detail about the development of his career, the 1970 Test series in South Africa,  his innings of 356 in Australia and later his performance in WSC  which hint at the career that might have been (5 supertests,  an average of 79). Later chapters  remind how good he was as a commentator-summariser, comparable to say Michael Atherton in clarity and sharpness, and also chronicle his career as a cricket administrator.

Those with exceptional talent that sets them apart do not always have easy lives and  the observation that Barry Richards is a private man is made more than once in Sundial in the Shade; at ease with his friends from Durban High School, someone who came to tolerate autograph hunters as part of the job, but who did not appreciate particularly those whose search for stardust or whose curiosity took them beyond the limits of the public realm. The point is made that he regrets not having made more friends in his time at Hampshire, although Andy Murtagh’s essentially sympathetic appreciation  gives readers some understanding of why he did not.

In other circumstances Barry Richards may or may not have scored more runs than Graham Pollock or Brian Lara, or given as much or greater pleasure to those watching as either of them. For those who didn’t see him at all, there is a lot in this book about what he achieved in first-class cricket and if Sundial in the Shade can only go so far in persuading readers about how good he was, the ESPN legends of cricket (on youtube) gives some sense of the extent to which he was respected, revered as a player, by those that did have full careers at the top level of the game.