BOOK OF THE WEEK : Six, six, six: Wellard a devil with the bat

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Arthur Wellard: No Mere Slogger by Barry Phillips (Leisuresolve, pounds 15.99)

It is surprising the devotion cricket inspires in its supporters. To write a book is one thing but to publish it yourself is another, and to be rewarded with a consistent place in the top 10 sports sellers a blessed bonus.

It is a labour of love for Barry Phillips, a life-long Somerset member but, unlike some works of devotion, outsiders can share in the enjoyment. An accountant by trade, the author naturally gives due respect to Arthur Wellard's statistics but not so much that the dialogue is too dry. Anecdotes are placed entertainingly amid the figures.

Wellard, one of the characters in county cricket in the 1930s, provided plenty. Coming into the first-class game with Somerset late, at 26, and with six years removed from his career by the Second World War, he nevertheless took 1,614 wickets at 24.35. A fast, medium bowler when England had the breed in abundance, he played in only two Tests, although he was also picked for the cancelled tour of India in 1939.

Today his ability to swing the ball both ways would ensure many more caps, particularly as his bowling was backed up by ferocious hitting. At 6ft 2in and with the frame of the village blacksmith, his batting was considered one of the wonders of the age. One-day cricket could have been designed for Wellard but, regrettably, he was an all-rounder ahead of his time.

Twice, in 1936 and 1938, he hit five sixes in an over, a record that would hold for 30 years until Garry Sobers went one better. In a first- class career that spanned four decades from 1927 to 1950, he accumulated 561 sixes which accounted for more than a quarter of all the runs he scored.

The carnage that was inflicted on T R Armstrong the first time Wellard hit five sixes is almost too gruesome to examine. The Derbyshire left- arm spinner had two dot balls as he began two fateful overs, but 10 deliveries later he had been dispatched for 47 runs. The analysis of 0,0,4,6,6,1,0,6,6,6,6,6 was all the more unhappy given that Wellard had earlier been dropped off his bowling.

A heavy drinker and a gambler, he would probably have been hounded by the tabloids had he performed today, particularly as he was estranged from his wife for several years after she had a war-time affair with an Australian.

His lifestyle was hardly exemplary but his performances did not seem to suffer. In his penultimate season in 1949 he bowled 1,020 first-class overs, a staggering total for a man of 48, and in total he turned his arm over for 14,684 overs. Compare that with the 300 or so overs a modern equivalent bowls in a season and the scale of his labour becomes apparent.

Wellard was no mere slogger and this book is no mere sketchy tribute. A gap in the story of the game has been filled.

Guy Hodgson