Sunday, 7 December 2014

Book Review: Frith's Encounters by David Frith

One of the great thrills of my time in writing this blog has been the contact it has brought with former Derbyshire players. Having spent the best part of fifty years in watching, admiring and, in my callow youth, idolising them, it is a pleasure to now speak to them and listen to their wonderful stories of lives in cricket.

I am fortunate in that I've yet to meet one who was less than friendly, wasn't supportive of what I was doing nor keen to be involved. I am grateful to all of them.

David Frith has been meeting, interviewing and acquiring collections of memorabilia from cricketers for several decades. He is up there among my favourite half-dozen cricket writers and has produced some excellent work, especially on cricket and cricketers prior to the onset of the last world war. His Bodyline Autopsy remains one of my favourites on the game.

This book is a collection of articles that first appeared in The Wisden Cricketer and The Cricketer between 2007 and 2012. There are seven new pieces and the articles are, as is always the case with anything by the author, a delight. The names roll across the pages like a Who's Who of the game. Bowes, Compton, Cowdrey, Hutton, Larwood, Miller, O'Reilly, Rhodes...to have made the acquaintance of such people must have been a joy.

Or was it? Some of them appeared to have been awkward, a few cantankerous and a small minority worth neither time nor effort. Depending on your stance on the matter, the author's candour in reporting this, warts and all, is either refreshing or, at times, a little painful.

This is especially so in the first chapter, which is a run through those not quite worthy of making the book's final cut. There is an element of what appears to be score-settling in a couple of cases, while the author's honesty extends to remembering one former Australian hero for 'his pugnacious attitude and, alas, bad breath'. Whether the reader needs to know such things is open to debate; less so is Mr Frith's unerring ability to paint tiny, colourful vignettes that bring the subject to life.

As he says within the text, in shaking the hand of Wilfred Rhodes, one is a handshake away from W.G. Grace - and dismissed him, several times. In reading such a book by David Frith, one is immediately in the company of their greatness and all the better for it.

If you have the back copies of the magazines then you have much of what is here, though the convenience of them all in one nicely produced volume cannot be overstated. The new pieces, on the likes of David Bairstow, Tony Greig and Peter Roebuck are honest, even if the latter smacks somewhat of being wise after the event.

All in all it is a fine purchase. Some parts you will find controversial, but the great thing about the author is that he doesn't dodge subjects and it makes the reading far better than more anodyne, readily available material would have been.

A worthy Christmas purchase? Definitely.

Frith's Encounters is written by David Frith and published by Von Krumm Publishing. It is available through Amazon, priced £13.49 and from all good book shops.

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