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February 2009
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The weekend read – Sweet Summers: The Classic Cricket Writing of JM Kilburn

February 27th, 2009 by TWC in Miscellaneous

Every Friday we’ll be picking a classic cricket book that has been reviewed in TWC to help you pass the weekend. Make your recommendations in the comments below.

What is it?
Sweet Summers: The Classic Cricket Writing of JM Kilburn
Edited by Duncan Hamilton, (Great Northern Books, hb, 448pp, £15.29)

What’s it all about then?
Yorkshire cricket writer who adored the aesthetics of the game and deplored its commercialisation

What did we give it?

What did we say?
JM Kilburn treated cricket like an art form and wrote about it like a critic. He was cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Post from the 1930s until the mid-1970s and this collection of his writing could well have been subtitled with Harold Pinter’s epic poem: “I saw Len Hutton in his prime/ Another time, another time.” Kilburn was a respected but rather severe figure; a pipe-smoker addicted to a post-prandial nap and contemptuous of reporting “dressing-room tittle-tattle” in newspapers. Duncan Hamilton, who edited the collection, writes: “The aesthetics of cricket were paramount to him.”

Kilburn observed fundamental change in first-class cricket and he did not like it. He deplored player-agents, one-day cricket, the end of the distinction between amateurs and professionals and, worst of all, television. He condemned sponsors and TV as “money-lenders”; “televised cricket is, basically, not cricket but a television show”. He regarded virtually every change in first-class cricket as a soft option.

Maybe he was a curmudgeonly Yorkshireman but he had heroes and wrote well about players such as Keith Miller, Brian Close and Hedley Verity – “to dismiss a modest batting side was to him [Verity] no more than the routine of a bank clerk completing a simple balance”. He admired Bill Bowes, who bowled fast for Yorkshire and England and eventually became Kilburn’s friend and colleague. He uses Bowes’ example to malign other international cricketers who have sought to make the transition from playing field to press box: “The majority glowing briefly in the flattering light of the reception desk are soon elbowed aside to disappear with the consolation of an inflated fee.”

The curious thing about this book, which honours a man who was a member of the same league as Neville Cardus, RC Robertson-Glasgow and Jack Fingleton, is that it has become an instrument with which to beat modern cricket writers. It starts with a predictable gob of bile from Geoffrey Boycott, whose preface complains that journalists prefer to string together other people’s opinions rather than form any of their own.

Hamilton, who is deputy editor of the Yorkshire Post, agrees. “Newspapers,” he says, now rely on quotes, however anodyne or trivial, rather than judgement.” While it is true that a platoon of second-string cricket writers faithfully record what players say at the end of the day, Hamilton’s contention is nonsense. Do we turn to Mike Atherton, Mike Selvey, Angus Fraser, Derek Pringle or Vic Marks to read anodyne and trivial quotes? No, we expect lively narratives spiced with well-informed judgements. And we get them. These former players are now more concerned with the psychology than the aesthetics of cricket, but they are none the worse for that.

Cricket writers with experience in journalism rather than the England team sometimes regret the speed with which retired players smooth their way into the best jobs. The charge would stand if these gilded converts let down their readers by failing to provide thoughtful and accurate commentary. But they don’t. Indeed I suspect Kilburn would have enjoyed reading them.
Stephen Fay, October 2008

What did they say?
Yorkshire cricketers were not renowned for their lightness of touch or flights of fancy. Neither was their finest writer. Kilburn’s writing evoked Sutcliffe, Hutton and Boycott - sound, hard, correct, rather than flamboyant. Yet, like them he was capable of evoking the occasional gasp of surprise. His description of Maurice Leyland’s bowling is sheer joy: “Leyland’s bowling is mostly a joke, but it is an extremely practical joke.”
Suresh Menon,

He was undoubtedly among the finest of cricket writers, with echoes of Neville Cardus yet leaner, tougher. But it is impossible to imagine him being a cricket correspondent today, or even wanting to be one.
Harry Mead, The Northern Echo

Why not tell us what your favourite cricket book is, or which book you’d like to see in ‘The weekend read’ in the comments below …

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My Favourite Cricketer: Jim Parks

February 27th, 2009 by TWC in My favourite cricketer reader Derek Watts is the latest winner of our My Favourite Cricketer competition for his entry on Sussex wicketkeeper Jim Parks.

I watched my earliest first-class cricket at the Central Ground in Hastings around 1952. It would have been County Week or the Festival and I was at once captivated by the ebb and the flow, the grace and the power, the names and the history. Here indeed was a game with a glorious past, a thrilling present and an infinite future. Summer, it seemed to an eight-year old, would go on for ever.

I followed Sussex, of course, and Jim Parks was the one who excited me and my friends the most: the player who, like Botham or Flintoff, would empty the bars, who hit with joyous abandon, who pounced on a cover-drive like a cat on a rat and who, when he was out, still smiled at the cricketing fates.

Jim’s is a Sussex life born of the warp and weft of the Weald, his family part of that dynastic tradition enriching the cricketing past of the county which is the cradle of the game. “….the Weald, where cricket grew up, ” wrote Arlott, “has always produced cricketers in the original mould. Thence cometh the men to whom a cricket bat or ball in the hand is as natural as any implement of any other Wealden worker.”

Born of a family of Wealden workers Jim was “a young man of undoubted talents, even brilliance, who (needed only] to set his mind on wiping out one or two defects in his technique to have a good chance of bridging the gap to Test cricket” - so wrote Len Hutton in 1956. Keith Andrew told me, “here was a young man with the potential to be another Compton: he played all the strokes.” John Murray, perhaps his keenest rival, concurs: “When Jim did make runs he was so quick on his feet he made ‘em bloody quickly for you - that was equally as important as it bought you some time to bowl.”

John Woodcock joins me. “John was the better wicket-keeper - very stylish - but Jim never let England down.” More than that, “If you are the best keeper in the world”, says MJK Smith, “and you don’t know which end of the bat to pick up you won’t be the most valuable man in the Test team……You would have worried about Knott batting higher than seven, but you would have been happy to see Jim going in a bit higher.”

“You need your keeper to make runs,” says Boycott, a shrewd and demanding critic, “and he didn’t drop many.” For CMJ, Jim was “a much under-rated ‘keeper and quick, perky, smart, aggressive, fluent, entertaining and a beautiful driver.” Jim learnt much from Godfrey Evans, who believes “that if he had had the opportunity to keep regularly to top-class spin bowling he could have been a truly outstanding ‘keeper. His greatest qualities were his footwork against spin bowling - he was always able to get to the pitch of the ball and smother spin - and his delicate cuts and glides which were responsible for over 50 per cent of his runs off fast bowling.”

“Nobody in the English game”, says Peter Graves, “had seen a player put their left foot outside leg stump and hit it for six over extra cover” – but as David Allen reminds me, “He had this lovely grip at the top of the bat and he was so well-balanced - the sign of the great players. He was also, apart from Colin Bland, not far off from being the best cover-point in the world - he was certainly the best cover-point in the Championship. England class - no doubt about that whatsoever.”

Derek Watts wins a year’s free subscription to The Wisden Cricketer

To enter submit no more than 600 words on your favourite cricketer to [email protected], subject line ‘favourite’

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