Sunday, 30 December 2012

Book Review: Grovel! The story and legacy of the summer of 1976 by David Tossell

It is apposite that I review this book the day after the sad and premature death of Tony Greig, who writes its foreword and is one of the main protagonists in an outstanding read.

I was eighteen years old that summer and remember watching Greig on Sportsnight in early June of that year making a flip comment that the West Indies were a fine team if you let them get on top of you, but less so if you get at them, as Lillee and Thomson had done so well in Australia. "But if they're down they grovel and I make them grovel".

Greig probably regretted the use of that word for the rest of his days. Had he only used 'struggle' or any number of other options it would have been fine, but the connotations of that word, used by a man of white South African background, caused ramifications that went way past that golden summer.

A golden summer it was, with parched, brown outfields testimony to endless, hot, dry days on which the touring side, brought up in such conditions, thrived. In many ways it marked their coming of age, with Gordon Greenidge emerging as a world-class opening batsman alongside Roy Fredericks, while Viv Richards gave the first true evidence of his greatness. With Alvin Kallicharran and Clive Lloyd to follow and Larry Gomes, Collis King and Lawrence Rowe fighting for the other batting slot, they had a galaxy of talent available.

They didn't have a spinner of note, but rarely needed one when the fast and nasty Andy Roberts was backed up by the raw, wild but very pacey Wayne Daniel and the smooth, lithe and scarily fast Michael Holding. Such a side would have been too much for most others in the history of the game, but against an England side that struggled with injuries to their (albeit slower) fast bowlers and persisted with a policy of experience, they were far too strong.

They cut a swathe around the counties that summer, with six players passing a thousand runs and a seventh, Rowe, only just falling short. No matter how hostile the attack, it always seemed to ramp up another level when Greig came in to bat. His brave century in the fourth Test at Headingley, followed by an unbeaten 76 in the second innings was in sharp contrast to the 51 runs in his other seven innings of the series.

As a spectacle it was a magnificent summer and David Tossell's excellent book takes you back there, aided by comments from some of the participants and others who, like me, only watched from afar. It is not simply a tour account, but as much a social history, the summer marking a sea change in the attitudes of supporters and players alike.

Over the ensuing years the West Indies dominated the world game as no side had ever done before,Aside from a 1-0, one wicket loss to New Zealand, they were unbeaten in a Test series until 1994-95, although an endless array of fast bowling talent saw accusations of 'bully boy' tactics levelled at them with good reason. This book considers these accusations and as a reflection on an era it is an extraordinary piece of work.

It is another excellent title from Pitch Publishing, who have produced some very good titles in 2012 and have much to be proud of.

So too does David Tossell, whose book deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in the history and development of the game.

I'll be reading this one again, that's for sure.

Grovel! The Story and Legacy of the Summer of 1976  is written by David Tossell and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available on Amazon for £10.39, as well as from all good book sellers

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