Sunday, 9 October 2016

Book Review: Test of Character: The Story of John Holder, Fast Bowler and Test Match Umpire by Andrew Murtagh

John Holder was the sort of journeyman professional who 'makes' the game of cricket.

His was not a stellar career, where he travelled the globe as a 'gun for hire' and made money in every continent. He had an in and out career for Hampshire, where he took 139 wickets over seven seasons, punctuating periods where he was out of form with occasional displays of brilliance.

Ironically, his best displays came in his final year on the staff, before a back injury ended his career. 13-128 in the match against Gloucestershire, followed by a hat trick against Kent. Afterwards he became a popular and successful professional in the Lancashire League.

'Popular' perhaps best sums up a man who was in the second wave of Caribbean immigrants recruited by London Transport after the war. While working on the Underground, he went for a trial with Hampshire who were so taken with his pace that they recruited him on the spot.

The book tells of his struggles on arrival in the country, trying to make a mark in the first-class game and his enjoyment of his professional and league career. It also tells of his popularity among supporters and team mates, a smile never far from his lips and always happy to talk to supporters and sign autographs. There have been plenty who were less willing over the years...

Then came umpiring, a job he fulfilled with considerable skill for 27 summers. There are plenty of tales from the circuit, as one might expect and it is the kind of cricket book I enjoy. We all know the stories around the biggest names, but it is a pleasure to get a different perspective from someone who became the first black man to officiate in a Test match in England.

Holder officiated in 11 Test matches and 19 ODIs and another claim to fame was in being the first neutral umpire in a Test series (Pakistan v India, for the trivia buffs).

It is a fine read, as befits the author, who has several strong titles to his name. I enjoyed Andrew Murtagh's biographies of Tom Graveney and Barry Richards, far bigger names, with respect, than John Holder.

Yet this was a tale that deserved to be told and who better to tell it than Murtagh, a former team mate of the player and best placed to write in an informed and, as usual, enjoyable manner. It is the story of a man, as well as that of an era on which many look back with considerable pleasure.

Heartily recommended and another fine title from Pitch Publishing

Test of Character: The Story of John Holder, Fast Bowler and Test Match Umpire is written by Andrew Murtagh and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available through all good book shops.

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