Cricket Books for Christmas: Harte's radical review of game: Derek Hodgson on historic legends and cricket controversies

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The Independent Online
CHRIS HARTE, the author of A History of Australian Cricket (Andre Deutsch, pounds 19.99 until 31 December, then pounds 25) has produced a major work, made all the more distinctive in that he lists neither Jack Pollard's monumental previous history nor Wisden among his references; any cricket writer who can go into bat without a quick dip into the old yellow pages is a brave man.

Harte's views are radical. He defends Kerry Packer as 'far from being the pariah the cricket establishment makes him out to be - and in certain cases still does - it can be seriously argued that he has been the saviour of the game'. He cites the rise in status and income that Packer brought about for Test cricketers everywhere and adds, writing of Australia, that 'proper cricket in the bush, instead of the patronisingly given one-day match against a touring team, created a huge growth in cricket suport'.

My memory of one-day up-country matches where England were still called MCC, where the local ladies cooked and brought home- made food, where the kids had a day off school, is one of great warmth and affection where it could also be said that the last thought on anyone's mind - players, media, the crowd, the ACB and local cricket association - was of making a profit. Where can that be said of professional cricket today?

Much of that up-country ambience can be found in David P Demelvan's A Village at Lord's (Lizfran, pounds 19.95), a discursive ramble through one of the good news stories of the past quarter-century. The competition started as an idea by the late Aiden Crawley who, keen to attract a higher profile for the National Cricket Association, mused one day upon seeing two village teams play at Lord's.

His listeners were E W Swanton and Ben Brocklehurst, both directors of The Cricketer magazine. Brocklehurst, as an exercise, went through the AA handbook listing villages with populations of 2,500 or less; invitations to the local pub, or garage, followed, 1,000 replied and 800 teams went into the first draw.

Brocklehurst shrewdly called the launch conference at Lord's and was gratified to find MCC volunteering the ground for the final. A brilliant idea became a great concept once sponsors - Haig, Whitbread, Norsk-Hydo, Rothman's, The Cricketer - had come forward.

So it was that names such as Freuchie, Sessay and Goatacre impinged once a year on the public consciousness before fading, like Brigadoon, back into their own history. Apart from providing a fund of excitement and good fellowship every year the competition also uncovered that lovely man and fine batsman, Wilf Slack, who first emerged for the Buckinghamshire village of Frieth.

The biography of the year is Jack Bailey's story of Trevor Bailey, A Life in Cricket (Methuen, pounds 14.99) in which the great Essex and England all-rounder (he has been a BBC commentator for only the past 25 years) is rightly positioned in the archives of the game by a man who also bowled quick for Essex, and was seven years his junior. Trevor Bailey, an amateur, was an astonishing cricketer who 17 times passed 1,000 runs and nine times took 100 wickets, (he also took 97 in another season) but is mostly remembered for his obdurate defensive technique in England's cause; an outraged Australian press, foiled of victories, dubbed him 'The Barnacle'.

There were times, too, when Bailey seemed to block for the pure hell of it, a deliberate provocation of his critics in a manner redolent more of Barnsley than Westcliff-on-Sea. Jack Bailey, as might be expected, is also skilled at exposing the political nuances of Trevor's career, explaining why, despite his background, the face rarely fitted into the Establishment of his time.

The toe-breaker in what has been a lean year for cricket books is undoubtedly the second edition of Who's Who of Cricketers (Hamlyn, pounds 40), by Philip Bailey, Philip Thorn and Peter Wynne-Thomas. In the first edition (1984) Graeme Hick was not listed. He is now among 700 new names in the 11,718 cricketers listed, many of whom have an intriguing note attached to what may be their dry statistics.

For instance, it had escaped me that the great Tom Emmett had a son, Arthur, who played club cricket in Leicestershire and three matches for the county club in 1902. Old Tom, quick left arm, was renowned in the golden age for a delivery known as the 'sostenutor', described by W G Grace as 'one of the most difficult I ever faced'.

Son Arthur may have made little impact on history with his right- arm medium, but one day in 1905 he bowled out the first four Oakham batsmen with his first four deliveries. Tom had died the year before.