Cricket / Books for Christmas: Auras, odes and labours of love: Derek Hodgson inspects a festive blend of memories, statistics and controversy

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The Independent Online
DAVID GOWER is in danger of becoming more than a cricketer. He is already a cause celebre in world cricket, as the artist seeking freedom of impression in a uniform game of uniform players performing on uniform pitches. He seems likely to become also a lost cause, attaching to himself that romantic aura that attends such ventures and will find himself, like Bonnie Prince Charlie, written about forever more.

Gower: The Autobiography (HarperCollins, pounds 14.99) is in fact the fifth such chapter in his life so far and as this one was written while he was still under contract to the TCCB you can be sure there will be another, perhaps Gower: The Next Generation, written with Gene Roddenberry.

The Autobiography, a joint effort with the Independent's Cricket Correspondent Martin Johnson, raced into the best- seller charts for two reasons: it was brilliantly timed to take advantage of the selection and ball- tampering controversies, by accident or design, and because Johnson 'reads' Gower better than his previous collaborators.

The two careers are entwined. When Gower was a Leicestershire starlet, Johnson was the Leicester Mercury's cricket reporter; the two have shared many a long night drive, bottle of wine and dinner. They have a similar sense of humour and a shared perception of attitudes. Johnson picks up the nods and winks unfailingly, and Gower knows his targets. The partnership has produced a readable book that would have succeeded even without the help of the England manager and captain.

The year's most delightful publication has to be The Rothmans Book of Village Cricket (Bloomsbury, pounds 16.99) in which Pat Murphy of the Pebble Mill XI puts words to beautiful photographs by Paul Barker. Graham Gooch, would you believe, writes a foreword in which he commends Murphy's parameters for the village game: 'no car noise, the chiming of a church bell, plenty of quality real ale in the nearby pub'.

The villages range from Adlestrop, of Edward Thomas fame, through Brockhampton, Hambledon, John Woodcock's Longparish, Pott Shrigley, Saltaire to Stanway and Wighill Park. For historical reasons alone Lascelles Hall ought to have been included. If Nasa's prediction comes true, that this will be the most severe winter for 70 years, then this is the book to hole up with and dream.

The Benson and Hedges Cricket Year (Headline, pounds 19.99) is changing its image as a well-illustrated if confusing record of cricket around the world in the previous year. In the past two or three years (this is the 11th edition) a more acerbic note has crept in.

David Lemmon, the editor, has come out strongly against four- day cricket, the covering of pitches and the belief that all other cricket must be subordinate to the needs of the England team: 'Even those in the media who have been ardent supporters of the new format for next season freely admit that some four or five counties will cease to exist within the next few years. Ironically some of the first to go may well be those who have most fervently supported the the four-day game.'

Lemmon is echoing what many fear: that four-day cricket on covered pitches is the last throw of the dice for first-class county cricket. Robert Eastway has done an effective and amusing job in explaining the game's most esoteric terms in What is a googly? (Robson Books, pounds 6.99), a neat little stocking filler for the young person who has just been bitten by the bug. Be warned, however that Eastway himself is confused over the chinaman, for what he is describing as such is the left-hander's googly.

The year's most comprehensive production is The Kingswood Book of Cricket (Kingswood, pounds 6.99), which older readers may remember as The Cricketer's Companion. This edition is again edited by Alan Ross and includes several new pieces, all of which are to be recommended, the only criticism being that Ross seems to have selected from a rather narrow field.

There are many old favourites here and this remains as all-embracing a collection of cricket verse as has been published and worth buying alone for little gems such as Norman Nicholson's 'Millom'. The eyecatchers in the final chapter, 'Extras 1992' are two works by Gavin Ewart, 'A Pindaric Ode on Headingley 1981' and 'The Sadness of Cricket'. I looked for but could not find Ross's own fine piece on Hutton's retirement.

The Lancashire League, who could make a reasonable claim to have advanced West Indian cricket faster than almost any other body, celebrated their centenary this year and two books salute the achievements of this huddle of village and town clubs of the West Pennines in becoming world-famous: See the Conquering Hero by Dave Edmondson (McLeod Litho Ltd, pounds 12.95 or pounds 5.95) is an orthodox history with records, while Noel Wild's The Greatest Show on Turf (Amadeus Press Ltd, pounds 2.95) is more of a series of reminiscences by a newspaperman who has been writing wittily about the League for more than 50 years.

In 1949 the League attracted 325,000 paying spectators and, looking at the roll of professionals, from Constantine and Holding to Lindwall and Lillee, (Bradman came within days of joining Accrington) there must be scope for a third book: Only the Best Need Apply.

Mike Burns follows his highly successful Yorkshire history with a labour of love, The Official History of Surrey on video (Dolphin, pounds 11.99) which will be of interest to many beyond The Oval, containing as it does film of Hobbs, the Bedsers, Barrington, Edrich, Laker and Lock and previously unseen footage of a county match in the 1930s.

Surrey went on strike in 1896, elected a captain by mistake in 1946 and found a world-class bowler, Waqar Younis, almost by accident. It will make a pleasant change from the usual Boxing Day dross on television.