Who Only Cricket Know by David Woodhouse

Who Only Cricket Know
by David Woodhouse

Published by Fairfield Books,
Wildfire Sport, Bedser Stand,

Pages: 447

Price: £ 25


Time, they say, heals. Time can also dim memories. A book on an England tour of West Indies in 1953/54 might not, at first glance, seem a likely subject to fill a whole book (and especially a tour so long ago) but David Woodhouse's outstanding new book, Who Only Cricket Know, is actually not the first book on the subject.

Many years ago - no, decades - I picked up E.W.Swanton's book on the same subject, West Indian Adventure, for £1, a good deal, I felt, for a parsimonious sixteen-year-old on an afternoon school's outing. I was quickly told by the teacher that I had paid far too much. I rather suggest that the book sells for far more now than I paid.

David Woodhouse's book is more than twice the length of Swanton's earlier book. The dimming memories which I mentioned earlier include my not recalling more of Swanton's book which I embarked upon almost forty years ago. There is no need now having thoroughly enjoyed and been much impressed by Who Only Cricket Know, a take on a quotation from C.L.R. James's famous social history of cricket in the West Indies, Beyond a Boundary. I have already read one commentator suggest that the Woodhouse book will likely collect literary prizes. Not only do I hope and trust that this will be the case but I would happily further endorse this view.

Let me start by saying that the five Tests played are written in a style which takes each match session by session with a decent statistical analysis at the end of the book. I am getting ahead of myself here because the lengthy setting of the scene (which includes pen-portraits of both teams as well as chapters on the captains, Len Hutton and Jeffrey Stollmeyer) is critical to gaining an understanding of the complexities surrounding the tour. The book actually starts with a resume of the 1950 tour which resulted in West Indies winning their first tour in England.

Important issues such as class and race both help to give a far better understanding of life in both England and West Indies at that stage. David has researched the book admirably and painstakingly over, I suspect, a lengthy period given that some of the interviewees have since died. One early point I noticed was that the, if you like, Dramatis Personae, include a good number of journalists. These people are a pivotal and essential part of the book, their reports adding a fascinating aspect and relevance to the story. Times change and the difference in the reporting styles is made both enjoyable and noticeable.

England cricketers, then travelling under the banner of M.C.C., were at that stage considered ambassadors as well as cricketers with good behaviour expected both on and off the field. It seems that the England party included some bons viveurs and exciting, forthright characters, let's say. Some readers may be surprised to find the manager, Charles Palmer, brought into action on the field for his sole Test appearance. Times, as readers will notice, were different then.

I have enjoyed David's maybe whimsical, possibly wry and certainly entertaining writing style. One such example includes " a brief visit to the Leeward Islands " which had been included in their itinerary because "…it was of symbolic importance, although it is questionable whether, on such a short visit, their contribution to technical development extended much further than Palmer teaching the wife of the Colonial Secretary to wolf-whistle." The masseur, Harold Dalton, on a later tour, received a mention even if "Almost every other player agreed with Howard that the masseur was just a 'pseudo-medic" in a white coat, a verdict supported by Dalton giving Bedser extra massages instead of diagnosing shingles. " There are many other such excerpts.

The whole picture is expertly brought together encompassing the scene, quite long before the tour began, to the characters on both the English and West Indian sides whilst the reader learns much of historical value about the islands which the tourists visited. We also discover that the decision to travel out by air was not met with unanimous glee, a lengthy sea voyage being deemed good for team spirit and a better way of nurturing friendships. Along the way, some off-the-field antics are mentioned and come over grippingly, reading at times like a whodunnit. For good measure, the cricket, though quite often dogged and which saw some crowd anxiety, wasn't bad either. They bowled many more overs than we are used to these days too. Although England came back to level the series, recriminations and the captaincy debate followed and this aspect is covered in great detail. The book finishes after Hutton was retained as captain and won the Ashes the following year in Australia.

The book is another fine example of Fairfield Books's high quality production and complements David Woodhouse's outstanding work. I wish David and Fairfield Books every success with this superb work.