Sunday, 2 August 2015

Book Review: A Flick of the Fingers - the chequered life and career of Jack Crawford by Michael Burns

To the uninitiated, Jack Crawford burst onto the Edwardian cricket scene like a meteorite, a teenage all-rounder who bowled deadly off spin and produced a full range of sumptuous shots. He became Surrey's youngest centurion and England's youngest player.

Yet, as so often happens in a meteoric rise to fame, things didn't quite adhere to the script afterwards.

A row over captaining a weakened side against the Australians, something that is commonplace today, resulted in a fall out and ultimate life ban from his county. He emigrated to Australia and established himself as one of the game's great all-rounders, then moved to New Zealand, but his career and life were dogged with controversy.

He married and deserted a teenage Adelaide beauty, dodged involvement in the Great War and returned to England to divorce, re-marry and fade into middle-aged obscurity, but also produced some astonishing feats on a cricket field, two of his greatest innings coming in his thirties.

A strong candidate for the greatest cricketer produced by Repton School, Crawford could play innings that dazzled and could bowl out the best of batsmen. A career batting average in the thirties and a bowling one of twenty runs per wicket confirms his talent, but the overriding feeling from Michael Burns excellent book is of a talent wasted.

Crawford played his last first-class match at 34, having settled his dispute with Surrey after the war. His innings of 144 against the Australian Imperial Forces side of 1919, which largely became the great Australian side of 1921, was widely regarded as the innings of his life. The last wicket stand with Tom Rushby, which added eighty runs, saw the tall, bespectacled Crawford score all but two of them, so well did he 'farm' the bowling. Playing for an Australian XI in New Zealand in 1914, he made 354 (14 sixes, 45 fours) and added 298 in 69 minutes with the legendary Victor Trumper.

This book is admirably researched and is one of those rare ones that you learn from. Crawford's father was chaplain of a mental hospital, set up after William Gladstone's now horrifically titled Idiot's Act. This divided the insane into lunatics, idiots and imbeciles, something I never knew and that made me read further on the subject. A book that does that has always served its purpose.

Crawford is a worthy subject of such a book. The term 'flawed genius' is perhaps apposite when considering his talent, but then many of us aspire to moderate success on a cricket field and never hit the heights attained by a man who was one of the greatest of his age.

It is a fine book and a worthy addition to the excellent output of Pitch Publishing, one of the leading sports publishers in the country. If your interest in the game extends to the people who helped to make the modern game, then I would strongly recommend buying a copy.

A Flick of the Fingers: The Chequered Life And Career of Jack Crawford is written by Michael Burns and published by Pitch Publishing.

It is currently available from Amazon at £15.58 and can be ordered through all good bookshops.

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