Captains argue the toss

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The Independent Online
It must have been the Year of the Captain in the publishing world. No fewer than five past and present England alumni as well as an accomplished Australian leader of men went into print. Amazingly just about all the England captains professed themselves to be private individuals. How fortunate we are then that they should have gone public with their thoughts.

In the light of his second Test heroics in Johannesburg it is only fitting that Mike Atherton's A Test Of Cricket: Know The Game (Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 16.99) should lead it all off. Actually, Athers would have done well to have referred to page 36 of his estimable tome, in the section on captaincy where he deals with the toss.

Atherton says: "Test match captains like to bat first, get a good score on the board and use it to put pressure on the opposition." And he even quotes a ghost of cricket past, WG Grace: "When I win the toss on a good pitch, I bat. When I win the toss on a doubtful pitch, I think about it a bit and then I bat. When I win the toss on a very bad pitch, I think about it a bit longer and then I bat."

Atherton applauds the doctor's sentiments, "His advice is as sound today as it was in the last century," asserts Atherton, who promptly went and inserted South Africa in Johannesburg last week. Still at least it all turned out OK.

Graham Gooch in My Autobiography, with Frank Keating (Collins Willow, pounds 15.99) still smarts over Ted Dexter's comparing his captaincy to being slapped in the face with a wet fish. But, interestingly, in Alan Lee's well-crafted biography of the swashbuckling Dexter, Lord Ted - The Dexter Enigma (Gollancz Witherby, pounds 16.99) the quote appears as a reference to Gooch having "all the charisma of a wet fish".

Gooch is remarkably forthright, Keating fleshes out certain scenes thus avoiding a too frequent intrusion by the personal pronoun and there is one hilarious valedictory cartoon on Goochie's retirement. Nine drawings of his face in classic lugubrious pose but under each drawing appear the words "runs, ducks, wins, losses, joy, despair, laughter, tears, more runs." And the expression never changes. It says more about the man than the 100,000-odd words, but it is an interesting read.

Dexter, in contrast, loses much of his public image of the vague buffoon running English cricket. There are sides to the man that were never revealed while he was in office as chairman of selectors and Lee probes skilfully and writes quite beautifully and with feeling about his subject.

Rob Steen's authorised biography of David Gower A Man Out Of Time (Victor Gollancz, pounds 16.99) is not a book too far, even though, as the witty Steen muses, half of Brazil's rainforests have been felled to accommodate the volumes already published - including the paperback reprint (with a new chapter) of Gower's Autobiography (Collins Willow, pounds 5.99).

But Steen has managed to add to the perception of the man and has done so in an entertaining and informative way. Gower's laid-back approach to life is summed up rather neatly as being "a ratepayer on Cloud Nine". Steen has researched his subject well and this is a welcome addition to the library.

Ian Botham has gone soft as well. Like Gower, his life story Botham, My Autobiography (Don't Tell Kath) (Collins Willow) is another bargain at pounds 5.99 and also includes a new chapter, a Frank Sinatra-ish "I wanna run England my way". But like Gower's own effort (with Martin Johnson) Botham's book has guts and gets you going and has an openness which at times is startling.

Richie Benaud's The Appeal Of Cricket (Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 15.99) is like a refresher. His own life has been well charted, now the canny Aussie produces a fascinating and thought-provoking analysis of the modern game.

No cricket library can be called comprehensive if it does not contain a copy of Wisden (John Wisden, pounds 23.50). It is quite simply the sport's Bible. But if Wisden is the Bible then the Benson and Hedges Cricket Year (Headline pounds 19.99) has to be regarded as the New Testament of the game.

Also recommended: South Africa versus England: A Test Cricket History by Ray Knowles (New Holland, pounds 19.99); Glory In The Cup and Bound For Glory by Bob Cattell (Red Fox, pounds 2.99 each); More Than A Game A Classic Cricket Anthology edited by David Rayvern Allen (Victor Gollancz pounds 16.99).

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