Sunday, 22 March 2015

Book review - Lost in the Long Grass by John Barclay

John Barclay was a teenage prodigy who perhaps never lived up to that early promise. He first played for Sussex at the age of 16 and played for England Young Cricketers in the same side as our own Geoff Miller. Both went on to give sterling service to their counties, although Miller's off spin developed more and he had the international career that never came Barclay's way.

The latter developed into a gritty opening batsman and bowled his off spin well enough to take over 300 first-class wickets. The self-doubt that perhaps acted as a barrier to progress runs through this book, as does an endearing, self-deprecating style that sees him never take his life too seriously, though hinting at bouts of depression that have been more commonly acknowledged in recent years.

Barclay's strength was as a captain of considerable flair and skill, who got the best out of his team and was prepared to be unconventional and innovative to do so. He was, in short, a cricketer of considerable intelligence, who went on to become a respected administrator of the game; all of which makes the quality of this book no real surprise.

There are 24 sketches of people with who he came into contact in his cricket career; team mates, opponents, a groundsman, cricket writers and even a closing piece on his dog, Robert. They are far from conventional 'career by numbers' pieces: rather they are endearing character sketches that capture quite delightfully the essence of the subject. The subjects are brought to life for those who never met or saw them and are a delightful aide memoire for those of my age and older, transporting the reader back to a time when the game seemed less professional and in some ways the better for it.

There are anecdotes a-plenty and most of them new, at least to me and I've read a lot of cricket books. The author has a lovely turn of phrase ' Miandad still saw me as a long-lost friend, presumably because most of his friends had been lost forever over the years' as but one example. His piece on Peter Roebuck, written before the latter's tragic death, suggests a troubled soul, while the one on Viv Richards is a masterpiece 'As a bowler he was somewhat akin to a penguin padding about on the beach, whereas, as a batsman, he resembled the penguin's majesty of movement in the sea.'

There is a Sussex bias to the portraits, but that is to be expected as he got to know the likes of John Snow, Imran Khan, Tony Greig and Ian Gould so well. Yet this is a hugely enjoyable book that makes each turn of the page an eagerly anticipated pleasure, the 'cast list' thoughtful and well-chosen, each helping us to see the person within.

There are a few typos, including a surprising mis-spelling of Barry 'Duddleston' in both text and index, but this is a relatively minor point. In his third book, John Barclay has produced an admirable addition to cricket literature. Then again, coming from Fairfield Books, the company of my favourite modern cricket writer, Stephen Chalke, that is no real surprise.

One final point - the layout is excellent. The font size, unlike a few others I have read recently, is perfect, the drawings are appreciated and the book is perfect for 'dipping into' before bed.

Buy this - you will not be disappointed. I will keep my fingers crossed for a follow up.

Lost in the Long Grass is written by John Barclay and published by Fairfield Books. It is available from the publisher and is also currently on Amazon, priced £15.

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