IF there is one ray of hope after the death of Phillip Hughes, it is the consnesus that cricketers are overstepping the mark when it comes to standards of behaviour on the field.
“The sledging curse”, as Geoffrey Boycott describes it in his new book, The Corridor of Certainty, published prior to the death of the Australian batsman, has become an increasing stain on the game.
Hughes’s demise to a short-pitched delivery – the type so often followed with threats along the lines of “the next one’s going to knock your f****** block off” – could inadvertently prove a force for good if lessons are learned from the tragic event.
As Michael Clarke said so movingly at Hughes’s funeral, the same Michael Clarke who warned James Anderson to “get ready for a broken f****** arm” in last winter’s Ashes, “Phillip’s spirit, which is now part of our game forever, will act as a custodian of the sport we all love. We must listen to it. We must cherish it. We must learn from it.”
There would be no more fitting tribute to Clarke’s great friend.
As ever, Boycott was not pontificating with the benefit of hindsight, but looking out for the game that he loves.
Perhaps unique among pundits of a certain age, Boycott, 74, knows as much about modern cricket as he does about the era in which he played, one in which he scored 48,426 first-class runs and 151 centuries.
Hence the former Yorkshire and England batsman is rightly critical of Clarke’s behaviour last winter, and also that of coach Darren Lehmann, whom he admires greatly but blames for setting the tone for a spiteful series. After Stuart Broad refused to walk in last year’s Trent Bridge Test, Lehmann said he hoped Australia’s fans would make his life such a misery in the return series Down Under that he “cries and goes home”, the prelude to a winter of sustained abuse towards the Nottinghamshire bowler from public and press.
The reality, of course, is that all teams must work to improve their conduct, with such as James Anderson’s sledging so pronounced that he should really be leading a team of huskies as opposed to a bowling attack.
Hughes’s death has put the venom and vitriol into stark perspective; a cricket ball can kill, and the nastiness is nonsense.
Citing sledging as the greatest problem in cricket today, Boycott writes: “It has reached the stage that sledging has become a way of life for today’s cricketer, who sees it as being as normal as strapping on his pads or polishing the ball… These players think they are being clever, hard men, but it is crude, offensive and dragging cricket through the dirt.”
Boycott, who says he was never sledged by the likes of Australian duo Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, or the great West Indian fast bowlers, remains at the vanguard of cricketing debate.
He writes powerfully of his fears for the future of Test cricket and criticises the craven power-grab of the so-called “Big Three” – India, Australia and England, who earlier this year scrapped plans for a World Test Championship and marginalised the smaller nations in a crude carve-up of the International Cricket Council.
“It brings to mind Animal Farm by George Orwell,” writes Boycott. “We have three pigs who have re-written the rules to say ‘everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others’. The three pigs – England, Australia and India – are going to make squillions of dollars at the expense of the rest. It is a sad day for cricket.”
Boycott says administrators are blind to real issues and warns that international and county cricket will be finished should television ever get bored and find something else.
“Don’t be fooled into thinking television will be loyal to cricket. It doesn’t owe the game anything. If it finds tiddlywinks or poker attracts bigger audiences, then it will leave cricket tomorrow. It will not hang around.”
Slow over rates are a big Boycott bugbear and he continues to advocate four-day Tests, which would ease the pressure on a crowded schedule.
Boycott wants seven-hour Test days with a guaranteed 15 overs per hour, equating to 420 overs in a four-day game as opposed to the current 450 in a five-day match. He also wants day/night Tests in hotter countries where interest is waning.
The Corridor of Certainty could stand alone on such views and opinions but is so much more than a book about cricket.
Ghosted by the excellent Nick Hoult, deputy cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, it is as much about Boycott the person as anything else. He is searingly candid about his own faults. The opening paragraph of the book reads: “Throughout my cricketing life I have made enemies and I accept it has often been caused by my forthright character, which has sometimes rubbed people up the wrong way. For that I am sorry.”
Many of those enemies are still in Yorkshire, and Boycott writes of the opposition he faced on becoming Yorkshire president in 2012.
He documents the campaign to try to stop it happening led by the “bitter” Richard Hutton, who “struggled to live up to the family name”. Christmas cards, it is fair to say, will never be exchanged between their respective corners of Boston Spa and Wetherby.
Some of the old Yorkshire wounds that sparked Hutton’s anger are touched on, along with the healing of Boycott’s 18-year rift with Fred Trueman, while there is a moving chapter about Boycott’s friendship with the former football manager Brian Clough.
The cancer diagnosis that turned Boycott’s life upside down in 2002 – and his subsequent treatment and recovery – are poignantly detailed as he recalls “the greatest battle of my life”. Drawing on his cricketing experience, Boycott would “count off my sessions of radiation with the same determination I counted my runs on the way to scoring another hundred”.
Above all, though, this is a book of warmth and gratitude – not least to his wife, Rachael, and daughter, Emma, without whose love and support he might not be here to tell this tale. He says they made him realise “there is more to being on the planet than cricket and worrying about yourself”.
In the ever-unpredictable corridor of life, they are Boycott’s own greatest certainties.
Geoffrey Boycott: The Corridor of Certainty is published by Simon & Schuster priced £20.
Cricket books to treasure...
Yorkshire: A Champion Year by Myles Hodgson and Graham Hardcastle, published by Well Done Media (£30)
Tells the inside story of how the team overcame the disappointment of missing out on the Championship in 2013 to win their first title for 13 years.
Featuring emotional accounts of the season from players and support staff, it is complemented by stunning pictures from award-winning photographer Alex Whitehead of Yorkshire’s official photographers, SWpix.com.
Well-written and lovingly produced, it is the ideal Christmas gift.
William Clarke: The Old General by Peter Wynne-Thomas, published by the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians (£14)
This offering brings to life one of the great cricketing figures of the 19th century.
Clarke founded Trent Bridge cricket ground and the famous All England XI, which brought cricket to the masses aided by the expansion of the railways.
Wynne-Thomas – himself a Trent Bridge institution – expertly recreates the life of a man who took nearly 800 wickets in first-class games.
KP: The Autobiography by Kevin Pietersen, published by Sphere (£20)
Not surprisingly, this is one of cricket’s most explosive books.
A bit like the man himself, it plays shots left, right and centre and leaves an indelible mark on the memory.
Pietersen lifts the lid on what he describes as the bullying culture of the England dressing room and leaves no score unsettled.
Playing It My Way: My Autobiography by Sachin Tendulkar, published by Hodder & Stoughton (£25)
This is – as one might expect – a somewhat less combustible offering than that of Pietersen.
“The Little Master” plays few shots here as he takes the reader through an exhaustive innings-by-innings, match-by-match account of his career.
However, Tendulkar – Yorkshire’s first overseas player – could probably have written down what he had for breakfast each day and it would still have appealed to his millions of devotees.
100 Years of Hilltop and Valley-Bottom Cricket: The Centenary History of the Halifax Cricket League (1914-2014) by Peter Davies and David Normanton, published by Andrew Smith (£10)
This contains plenty of wonderful archive photos and lots of information about the league’s history and various clubs.
Davies, the league’s honorary historian, has also written 100 Not Out: The Centenary History of the Huddersfield Central Cricket League.
FORMER Blade on life at Lane, Hull City and dinner with Elton John
Ask Keith Edwards about one of his 289 career goals and he will invariably be able to talk you through the finish.
It is a trait that many goalscorers possess and one that shows just how much finding the net meant to him in a career largely played out in Yorkshire.
As justifiably proud, however, as Edwards is of his scoring exploits, this autobiography is much more than a look back at his 15 years as a deadly marksman.
No, this is a refreshing – and sometimes sobering – look back on a time in football before the big money arrived and players earning tens of thousands per week complained of being tired.
Edwards lived to play football and score goals, as fans of Sheffield United and Hull City in particular will attest. Ditto Leeds United, where he may not have enjoyed the same success but still scored on the bigger stages as the Elland Road club did battle in play-off finals and reached the last four of the FA Cup.
But his autobiography, written in conjunction with former Blades media manager Andy Pack, is so much more than that.
Edwards, now a respected expert summariser on BBC Radio Sheffield, is clearly a man who is not afraid to laugh at himself.
One awards night, in particular, is a hoot. The ‘do’ was in a posh London hotel and Edwards was due to pick up his award as the winner of the Fourth Division Golden Boot.
The then Sheffield United striker travelled to the capital with his Dad and, on arrival, the two men discovered they had been put on a table with Elton John and Freddie Starr.
All four men got on great so when presenter Lennie Bennett started talking to the audience and Edwards heard his name suddenly read out, he presumed the Fourth Division award was being presented first so set off towards the stage.
Only when he reached the steps and a startled Bennett hissed ‘Not now’ did the striker realise his mistake.
An embarrassed trudge back to his table followed, where he was met by Edwards senior quipping: “You made a right bleeding fool of yourself there, son.”
Starr fell about laughing, as did Elton and when United were at Watford the following season Edwards was stunned to discover the pop star had not only been waiting for his arrival but Dad was to watch the game from the Vicarage Road directors box.
Tales like this elevate this book above the usual autobiography fare, as does Edwards’s searing honesty when it comes to former colleagues and managers.
This book will be a worthy purchase for any Yorkshire football fan.
‘Edwards...One-Nil! The Keith Edwards Story’, by Keith Edwards & Andy Pack (Vertical Editions, £16.99)
City memorabilia fills pages of fan’s devotion
PERHAPS the best indication as to the power A History of Bradford City AFC in Objects can draw in the reader, came on the day it landed with a thud through the letterbox of YP Towers.
A couple of hours later, the weighty tome was sitting on this reviewer’s desk when a Leeds United supporting member of staff came wandering over.
Never one to miss the chance to run down a rival, he picked the book up, sneered and, without so much as opening the front cover, proclaimed sarcastically, ‘I bet this is a real page turner….’
A little over 20 minutes later, said colleague was still standing there, avidly leafing through and making approving noises as to the contents.
He was right, this really is a cracking publication that charts City’s history through all manner of memorabilia and souvenirs that author John Dewhirst has accrued in a lifetime spent supporting his beloved club.
As the YP’s sceptical Leeds fan quickly discovered, the book is a fascinating delve through Bradford’s football history with Park Avenue getting its fair share of coverage in the 344-pages.
Judging by some of the items featured, Mrs Dewhirst must be a patient woman to allow what must be every spare cupboard, drawer and loft space to be filled by these wide-ranging knick-knacks.
Everything from City officials begging for re-election from their fellow clubs by letter to hats, scarves and badges is featured during this enjoyable stroll down memory lane that should appeal to football fans beyond the boundaries of Valley Parade.
‘A History of Bradford City AFC in Objects’, by John Dewhirst. (bantamspast, £30).