Martin Chandler |
Author: Edwards, Paul
Publisher: Fairfield Books
Rating: 4.5 stars
There are some things that you start to think you’ll never see, no matter how obvious their need is. A book by Paul Edwards is an example. His name is known to anyone interested in reading cricket online, with much of his work being for websites, especially Cricinfo. He has also written for newspapers, and has done so for thirty years, but apart from being one of the co-authors of a book celebrating 150 years of Lancashire cricket and a small booklet on the subject of Jack Shantry, he is not a man who takes up space on the shelves of a bibliophile.
Which is odd considering Edwards has been doodling on cricket for three decades now, and is very, very good at it. It’s not like Edwards doesn’t appreciate decent cricket literature either, as is very clear in the section of Promise of Summer Days devoted to this subject. Much of it is devoted to paying homage to the great Alan Ross, but there are also honorable mentions for David Foot, Alan Gibson and Stephen Chalke, and fine book reviews by Chris Arnot, Christian Ryan and Andrew Renshaw.
From where it begins to become apparent what Promise of Summer Days that is, it is a selection of Edwards from the many works he produced over the years, collected under a number of broad headings. Thankfully, there’s new material too, not that that’s particularly important in itself, but because one of the things Edwards does is give something of himself in the introductions to the various sections. Two other excellent writers who have anthologized their own work, Neville Cardus and John Arlott, have not done this, the only frustration in their collections of their own work.
With one exception, to which I will return, the emphasis on Promise of Summer Days is the county game in England. This is reflected in the not inconsiderable number of match reports that crop up, but also in a section titled Matches of the Day, a collection of short pieces written during lockdown about county cricket from the past. The oldest dates back to 1925 and the match in which Jack Hobbs broke the WG record by 126 centuries. Other time travel includes early county championship successes in Essex, Glamorgan, Hampshire and Worcestershire, as well as Sussex’s exploits in the first limited professional tournament season, 1963 and the Gillette Cup.
The exception is that remarkable test at Headingley in 2019 when Ben Stokes, with the help of Jack Leach, secured that stunning win for the Ashes. As I used to lament, until I get used to it, there are no more tour diaries, but Edwards makes me wonder if maybe there’s a place for them after all. Clearly there aren’t enough people who want to read a bullet-by-bullet account of something they can watch online to justify a traditional account of a series of tests, but the kind of discursive reports that Edwards provided for the Yorkshire website for this game makes me wonder that he shouldn’t be doing something similar for a whole series.
Any such book must contain a few pen portraits, and it is interesting to note who a writer selects for this, before he even thinks of what he is producing, and Edwards’ the choices are certainly an eclectic lot. There’s ‘golden age’ Somerset fan Lionel Palairet to start. The two biggest names featured are John Edrich and VVS Laxman.
Two others making the cut are Lancashire striker Alan West and David Essenhigh, a gardener/cricket coach at a school where Edwards taught in the Cotswolds in the 1980s. The others are Gloucestershire left-hand maverick Charlie Parker, referee Frank Chester, Sussex batsman George Cox and a man whose star briefly shone like anyone else, New Zealander Martin Donnelly.
And then there’s the best writing in the book, and something I see originally appeared on Cricinfo in 2016, which means I’ve never seen it before because it was just before that time (probably for reasons that are entirely my own fault) I suddenly found this site practically unusable and defected to the much simpler BBC site to keep up to date with the scores. The essay in question is about Ian Folley from Lancashire, whom Edwards clearly knew well. Folley was a good left-arm spinner with County who turned, for a few seasons, to the orthodox left-arm spin with great success until a serious case of “yips” ended his career. . He was still just 30 when he tragically died in 1993, and Edwards’ tribute is a masterpiece.
There’s a cricketer who gets a chapter himself, and rightly so in my opinion, although I know some will raise an eyebrow when they learn the identity of the man involved. But as completely as he lost his way in 2017, and how many false starts there have been since then, Haseeb Hameed’s 2016 version was an enticing sight. He’s fully deserving of Edwards’ extended look at him, as well as the references to the Boltonian still just 25 years old as part of the Alan Ross celebration that I’ve already touched on.
A distinct advantage of books that are a collection of essays of varying lengths, many of which are only a handful of pages long, is that a reader can dip in and out of them for a few minutes at a time. The quality of this one is such that I hope the next book by Paul Edwards will be a complete study of a single subject. I will also be looking forward to his second selection of his existing work, but that can wait a bit