Cricket: Books for Christmas- The life and times of a master craftsman

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IT COULD not have happened to a nicer man. And what a way to wrap up a distinguished career - a century in your final County Championship match to help your team lift the title.

Hugh Morris was a popular cricketer, affable, intelligent and with a refined sense of fun. Three England caps in 1991 - two of them against the mighty West Indies - do not do justice to an impressive career in which he amassed almost 20,000 first-class runs including 53 hundreds,

His final season for Glamorgan, in 1997, began with a career-best 233 not out against Warwickshire and finished with 165; and the chronicle, not just of that season, but also of his cricketing life, is beautifully related in To Lord's With A Title - The Inside Story of Glamorgan's Championship, by Hugh Morris, with Andy Smith (Mainstream, pounds 14.99).

It is a book that slipped in to book stores earlier this year without much of a fanfare, which is a shame. To begin with it has not been set out in the ordinary way. Although Morris and Smith have taken the season match by match, they slide references to Morris's and the county's past into each chapter whenever the occasion warrants it. There are few wasted words, and the figures in the statistical section at the end are superb - the work of the meticulous county statistician Dr Andrew Hignell.

Morris could probably have played on into the 1998 season, but that would have been to fill his last days with bathos since they managed 13th place. No, he got it right. It was time for a change in direction. He walked out of the game to the relief of his creaking knees and into a job at Lord's as successor to Micky Stewart. He got another title - the England and Wales Cricket Board's technical director. Wrote the book, will now make videos and no doubt the T-shirt will follow. This is a great read.

So, too, although admittedly in far shorter gobbets, is A Century of Great Cricket Quotes, compiled by David Hopps (Robson Books, pounds 16.95). There are some old chestnuts - Fred Trueman in 1963 on facing Hampshire slow left-armer Peter Sainsbury: "I'm all right when his arm is coming over, but I'm out of form by the time the bloody ball gets here."

But there are also some present day one-liners which supply the pith in epithet including this thought provoking one from Vic Marks on England all-rounder Chris Lewis: "The enigma with no variation." Or how about Peter Roebuck's: "Batting is a major trial before an 11-man jury."

There are plenty of put-down lines as well. The late David Bairstow, the Yorkshire and England wicketkeeper, had a cute one which he would direct more often than not at journalists: "You know three- quarters of seven-eighths of sod-all."

The great Barry Richards summed up his time at Hampshire with the cutting: "I would have preferred fewer runs and more friends." The Independent's former cricket correspondent, Martin Johnson, is featured heavily in the book.

His description of the moustachioed macho man of Australian cricket, Merv Hughes, showed a scant regard for the author's personal safety when he wrote: "The mincing run-up resembles someone in high heels and a panty girdle running after a bus." There are some crackers among the 2,000-odd that Hopps has culled from all eras of the 20th century. This should give hours of pleasure.

It is doubtful that Angus Fraser's Tour Diaries (Headline, pounds 16.99) will grab the reader quite so readily, but it does attempt to be different. The lugubrious Fraser has kept a journal of his tours since his first to the Caribbean.

This is a distillation of five trips abroad and covers 10 Tests. But it is surely a matter of time before the world chokes on a surfeit of journals, even if they are a distillation. The problem is always that the author may well have been tempted to tinker with the entries with the wonderful benefits provided by hindsight.

The best of the genre has to have come from Fraser's Middlesex colleague Phil Tufnell, Postcards from the Beach (Collins Willow, pounds 6.99). For a start it is a lot cheaper being paperback; for another it is crammed with dry humour and wry observations. It takes the reader into the dark world of the cricket dressing-room on England's West Indies tour last winter. This is the way to produce a diary.

One of the more entertaining autobiographies to hit the bookshelves is Devon Malcolm's punchy You Guys are History (Collins Willow, pounds 16.99). It is a trip through one of English cricket's favourite characters, and Devon does not hold back. Forthright does not come into it. This gives it to you straight, however wayward the fast bowler has been in his time.

Other books: Wisden Cricketers' Almanack (John Wisden, pounds 27.50); NatWest Playfair Cricket Annual (Headline, pounds 4.99); Cricketing Falstaff; A Biography of Colin Milburn, by Mark Peel (Andre Deutsch, pounds 17.99); Number One - The World's best batsmen and Bowlers, by Simon Wilde (Victor Gollancz, pounds 16.99); We're Right Behind You, Captain - The Alternative Story of an Ashes Year, by David Hopps (Robson Books, pounds 17.95).

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