Book review: Diplomatic ruckus in Pakistan is highlight of stirring memoir

At The Heart of English Cricket, by Stephen Chalke
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The great, the good, the bent, the brilliant, the witty and the wise – cricket books have been published this year that run the gamut. From Blofeld and Botham to Turnbull and Waugh, all cricket life is there, as are the facts and the figures.

The list begins with diplomatic tensions in Pakistan, a border incident in the Khyber Pass, unhappiness over home umpiring decisions, and a doom-laden report predicting "some counties being forced to leave the County Championship." It could have been written about 21st century happenings, but it wasn't.

They still had problems half a century ago and Geoffrey Howard, the man who witnessed and was embroiled in much of it at the time, has finally put his memoirs down on paper.

Howard became involved in cricket just after The Great War, first as a 10-year-old spectator, then as an amateur playing for Middlesex before holding in turn the secretaryship of Lancashire then Surrey, in between managing a couple of MCC tours and the notorious MCC A party to Pakistan in 1955-56 which caused a diplomatic ruckus. It is all here in At The Heart of English Cricket by Stephen Chalke (Fairfield Books, £16.00; available by ringing 01225 335813).

It is a cracking read, studded with invaluable historical insight and laced with anecdote, it cannot be recommended too highly. And the same can be said of Turnbull – A Welsh Sporting Hero by Andrew Hignell (Tempus, £19.99) a sensitively written, thoroughly researched and moving record of a fine sportsman -- Test cricketer, Welsh rugby and hockey international and Wales squash champion -- who died a hero in the Normandy landings of 1944.

But Dr Hignell, the honorary statistician of Glamorgan, does not merely allow the reader to see Maurice Turnbull at play, he also presents us with Turnbull the administrator, Turnbull the fund-raiser (as secretary of the county he turned a £5,000 deficit in 1930 into a substantial surplus by the time he enlisted with the Welsh Guards in 1939). It is yet another well-fashioned piece for the mosaic of cricket's history.

So, too, is Henry Blofeld's Cricket and All That -- An Irreverent History (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99). Although the word irreverent seems to have been used rather more loosely than its proper meaning suggests, the one thing that shines throughout an entertaining and witty read is Blofeld's marked respect for the game of cricket and its composite parts. The research is detailed and the narrative is sprinkled with a host of delightful and rarely heard titbits.

In contrast with the heroes, Simon Wilde's learned study of the Hansie Cronje affair, Caught – The full story of cricket's match-fixing scandal (Aurum, £16.99) sheds further light on the villainy in the game. It has been painstakingly put together and explores a couple of new avenues.

Ian Botham has come up with something different. Do not be fooled by its title, Botham's Century (Collins Willow, £18.99), this meaty offering gives the former Somerset and England all-rounder's own (sometimes quirky) view of the 100 characters who have had some sort of influence on him during his career.

They are not all players, not all cricketers, but they most certainly are characters, which is why dotted among the Ambroses, Arlotts, Gattings, Lambs, Sobers, Stewarts, Thomsons and Warnes, can be found the likes of The Fishermen, specifically Charlie, the ghillie on the river Teith, and his friend Willie Carmichael (aka the Old Celt), who make an appearance as well as golfers, journalists and politicians.

It is a highly personalised book, but not as self-indulgent as the title might suggest. A fascinating A to W (Ian Woosnam completes the ton) of Botham's people.

While Botham will always be remembered for his Ashes in the summer of 1981 there can be few England supporters who want to recall the series of 2001, but Christopher Martin-Jenkins clearly felt that it was a rubber to be stamped indelibly on everyone's memory so he has recorded it for posterity in Men For All Seasons (Simon & Schuster, £16.99).

It begins optimistically enough with England's winter series victory over Pakistan, but summer is the thing. However, just as it records England's trials and tribulations, so tribute is also paid to the awesome Aussies, on the field of play and the fields of war as The Times Cricket Correspondent reminds the reader of Steve Waugh's band's stopover at Gallipoli as a mark of respect to the Anzac heroes who died during the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign.

The main journal is punctuated from time to time with thoughtful profiles of players from both sides, and the book finishes as it started on an optimistic note with a look at the Academy under Rod Marsh, although there is a cautionary finish as CMJ closes the innings with a quote from Housman's Shropshire Lad.

There are also the usual suspects and hardy annuals with which to pass the winter. The eminently readable Benson & Hedges Cricket Year (Bloomsbury, £20.00), the fourth edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack Australia (HGB, £22.50), and for stattos in general and Surrey fans in particular David Sawyer's A Century of Surrey Stumpers (available at The Oval and Lord's shops as well as Sportspages for £18.95) is well worth the money and a worthy addition to the sporting bookshelf.