Questionnaire: Sir Derek Birley

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The Independent Online
How does it feel to have won the Sports Book of the Year Award [for `A Social History of English Cricket']?

It naturally feels very good.

Have you read any of the other books that were shortlisted?

Not yet, I'm afraid. But having read so much about them, I'm sure I will soon. The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro by Joe McGinniss looks particularly good.

What is the best book you have ever read?

As an English Literature graduate, I've read quite a few books in my time. To be honest, I prefer plays and poetry to prose. I love Shakespeare - I've seen them all and love them all, although either Hamlet or Macbeth is my favourite. As for sports writing, I would probably say The Sweet Science by A J Liebling.

What do you think of the English cricket side?

I think they're are trying too hard not to lose. Because England are so scared of losing, they are not giving themselves a chance of winning. They should play in a more relaxed manner and try to enjoy it.

Do you think England have a chance of winning the series in South Africa?

It's difficult to say. They are up against good opposition. There are some great international sides around. Pakistan are strong, even though they are getting slated at the moment, and Australia are a good side. South Africa will be very difficult to beat. I certainly wouldn't bet on England to win.

Part of your prize is a free pounds 1,000 bet. What will you be putting it on?

I'm not sure. Not cricket, anyway. It's too unpredictable. Anyone can win a Test nowadays. Maybe I'll have an each-way bet on Cambridge in the boat race.

What was the highlight of your own cricketing career?

At the age of 12, in 1938, I was picked for my House First XI. I came in last, and I scored 10 unbeaten. At the other end, our captain was making a century, and we went on to win the match.

And the lowest point?

Oh, there's been any amount of those - a fair collection, anyway. There is no more sickening sound than of a cricket ball splitting the stumps as you step forward and take a swing.

Interview: Simon Lelic

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