Martin Chandler | 7:48am BST 20 September 2020
Next Man In was described in The Cricketer in 1952 as quite one of the best books on cricket ever written. It’s subtitle is A Survey of Cricket Laws and Customs, and that is exactly what it is, a brief introduction and then a law by law look at the history of the laws of the game, how they had changed over time and what might happen in the future.
The first edition, which I have to admit to not having seen, was based on the 1947 version of the laws. The copy I have is a second edition, that appeared in 1985, and was therefore based on the 1980 laws. Another and, to date, final edition appeared a decade later in 1995.
Using the 1985 book I will, to give a better picture of what the book is about, take a look at the then Law 22, ‘The Over’. Over time the number of balls in a over has variously been four, five, six or eight. Brodribb gives a timeline for the changes and sets out the arguments for and against each figure.
But there was a bit more to the law. How no balls and wides are treated is one, and what happens if the umpire miscounts another. What is the situation about changing ends, and what if a bowler is unable to complete an over? All are issues that are explored.
When does an over end and when is the ball dead? Does it matter? Of course it does, as one of the featured incidents, Tony Greig’s infamous running out of Alvin Kallicharran in the Caribbean in 1973/74 aptly demonstrates.
The duration of an over, nor the length of bowlers’ run ups have never been directly dealt with by the laws of the game, albeit many different playing conditions have attempted to regulate them, so these important and interesting issues are also examined at length.
What is remarkable, and what gives the book its appeal, is the many examples and illustrations of what he is describing that author Gerald Brodribb had culled from the history of the game. It is, in some ways, remarkable that in a quarter of a century no contemporary writer or team of writers has sought to update this classic tome, although another line from that 1952 review of the first edition perhaps goes some way to explaining why not.
Never forget the amazing industry of the author, to whom very sincere congratulations are due on a superb effort.
Brodribb was a most diligent researcher, always seeking out original scorebooks and sources and never afraid to visit the scene of incidents that he uncovered in order to check the veracity of what he had found and to protect the integrity of his work. In truth there has never been another Brodribb, and even if there were the amount of cricket now played, assuming normality ever returns, would simply mean that there would not be enough time available for one man to approach such a task again.
So who was Gerald Brodribb? One of the more overused words in the English language is ‘polymath’ but, in the case of Brodribb, it seems an entirely appropriate description. Born in Sussex in 1915 Brodribb came from a family that produced a famous Victorian actor, Sir Henry Irving. Brodribb’s immediate family came from a medical background.
As a child Brodribb was a junior member at Sussex and saw his first county match at Hastings in 1924 an occasion when, on entering the ground, he was almost struck by a big hit from the bat of Maurice Tate, something which, as we shall see, no doubt influenced his future writing and researches.
Brodribb was educated at Eastbourne College before going on to University College Oxford where he read for a Degree in English and, subsequently, a Diploma in Education. His tutor at Oxford was no less a literary figure than CS Lewis and, unsurprisingly, Brodribb became a schoolmaster himself, teaching at a number of schools before, in 1954, he bought Hydneye House Preparatory School near Hastings, his own alma mater. In 1969 the school merged with a school in nearby Battle but a decision by the Local Education Authority to build a comprehensive school on the site persuaded Brodribb that teaching was no longer for him.
As far as cricket was concerned Brodribb was hooked that day at Hastings and even the notes on the dustjackets of his books reference the keenness with which he followed the 1924/25 Ashes series in Australia. Brodribb also played the game to a reasonable standard, albeit some way below First Class level.
The name Brodribb first appeared in the pages of The Cricketer as a fourteen year old in 1929 when the editor printed a response to a request for information he had submitted on the subject of the Sussex all-rounder Ted Bowley. His first letter that was published in the magazine appeared four years later, and in 1934 he made his first two contributions, one on the taking of four wickets in four deliveries, and the second on the subject of double centuries. His byline started to appear more frequently after the Second World War, but the fascination with six hitting was apparent from letters that were printed in 1935 and 1936.
Having been instrumental in the formation of what soon became the Cricket Society Brodribb then went on to join Roy Webber in his short lived Cricket Book Society venture and contributed a couple of pamphlets to that before, in 1948, his first book, dedicated to his old tutor CS Lewis, appeared in print. It is an anthology entitled The English Game.
In 1951 All Round The Wicket appeared. This was classic Brodribb. It contained some new material but was essentially an updated and enlarged collection of his essays that had appeared in magazines over the previous decade or so. Its subtitle, A Miscellany of Facts and Fancies of First Class Cricket sums up what it is very well. Many of the essays arise out of a variety of statistical quirks, but they never become mired in the numbers which are, essentially, just a peg on which Brodribb hangs his research.
The following year was that of Next Man In, and there was another Brodribb anthology in 1953, this one of poetry with The Book of Cricket Verse. This broad sweep of Brodribb’s interest in cricket and literature had also been illustrated by a slim bibliography of cricket in fiction that had been published in 1950.
England famously recovered the Ashes in 1953 for the first time in twenty years. Before securing the only result in the series at the Oval in the fifth Test England, or more especially Trevor Bailey and Willie Watson, had performed a famous rearguard action at Lord’s. For the denouement of that match they were joined by Henry Sayen, who flew in from the USA. Sayen was a First Class cricketer who, almost half a century before, had been a member of the Philadelphian side who toured England in 1908 and after Lord’s the England side looked on him as a good luck charm as he stayed in England for the rest of the series. Three years later Brodribb and Sayen collaborated on an interesting book, A Yankee Looks At Cricket, the bulk of which was concerned with the past, present and future of cricket in North America.
It was to be 1960 before a further Brodribb title appeared, Hit For Six, cementing his reputation as a man with a keen interest in the game’s most spectacular batsmen. The book consists in the main of 32 pen portraits of renowned hitters. Some, such as ‘Jock’ Cameron, George Bonnor, Albert Trott and Arthur Wellard were well known, but there are other lesser known figures as well, men like Guy Earle, Alan Watt and Cyril Smart. There is also a chapter on the biggest of the hits, one on examples of damage caused to persons and property as well as, to round off the study, a few statistics.
Up until this point Brodribb’s research had been geared towards short pieces of writing but, in 1962, the first single subject book appeared from him, and this was a piece of weighty research. Nicholas Wanostrocht, otherwise known as Felix, was a schoolmaster like Brodribb and he lived from 1804 to 1876. In addition however Felix was, for a few years in the 1840s, as good a batsman as there was in England, and in 1845 he was responsible for one of the first classics of cricket literature, the instructional book Felix on the Bat. The best part of a hundred years after Felix’s death Brodribb tracked down a number of members of his family and produced a detailed memoir of Felix, to which he added a complete reprint of the original Felix on the Bat, a title which Brodribb used for his book as well.
On that day in 1924 when he came so perilously close to being struck by Tate’s hit something that remained with Brodribb was a comment of an old man nearby, just like Jessop sonny. In the space of two years, 1974 and 1976, Brodribb added to his oeuvre biographies of both men. Jessop he had met in the 1950s when he realised he lived close by to where he was teaching in Dorset. By then Jessop was living with his son, who Brodribb also got to know and who agreed to allow Brodribb access to the family archive as well as his own memories in order to assist him in writing the book which, unusually for a cricketing biography, was republished a decade after its first release. The title of the book was The Croucher.
Insofar as the Tate project is concerned that must, as a lifelong Sussex supporter, have been a labour of love for Brodribb. It was published by London Magazines Editions, an imprint at that time run by Brodribb’s friend and fellow Sussex devotee Alan Ross. Again Brodribb knew Tate and once more he had the co-operation of the family. The book’s most impressive feature is the list of names in the acknowledgments section, which runs to no less than 85 names, including seemingly all of the great and the good of Sussex and England cricket. The book was dedicated to one of those acknowledged, former Sussex and England skipper Arthur Gilligan. The best part of half a century on Gilligan is still not the subject of a book. It is our loss that that was never a task that Brodribb set himself.
Although he was to return to cricket writing retirement from teaching brought Brodribb a new passion for Archaeology and in time he was to be awarded a Doctorate for work on Roman Building materials, a book published in 1987 being his one non cricket title. In his archaelogical work Brodribb was adept at using the pseudoscience of dowsing to discover what he was looking for although, perhaps surprisingly in view of his successful use of it, he never published anything on that controversial and often maligned art.
The subject that eventually teased another cricket book out of Brodribb was once more his fellow polymath Felix, who in addition to his cricketing and literary prowess was an accomplished artist. The Art of Nicholas Felix was a look at that side of his life and a catalogue of his work that was published by bookseller John McKenzie in a limited edition in 1985.
Four years after Felix tempted him out of retirement Brodribb was persuaded into print again, this time by the Trust that owned Hastings cricket ground. In 1988 the Trustees had secured planning permission to construct a shopping mall over the old centrally located Priory Meadow ground. Fortunately the need to preserve memories of the historic old ground were appreciated and a book was commissioned, Brodribb being the obvious candidate to write it. Cricket at Hastings; The Story of a Ground was published in 1989 in a standard edition and a limited edition.
In 1995 Brodribb turned 80, and would certainly have been forgiven for giving further writing projects a miss, but the lure of Felix was too strong, and he became involved with what became a joint MCC/Boundary Books project to produce a book about Felix’s involvement with William Clarke’s All England Eleven. Whilst that was being worked on he also involved himself in one of those quirky enquiries which characterised his earliest work and in 1997 that produced The Lost Art.
The Lost Art is a history of underarm or lob bowling, an integral part of early cricket but sadly now without a place in our great game. Brodribb charted the rise and fall and, in getting Mike Brearley on board to provide a foreword, enlisted the help of the one county captain who in modern times has ever given the subject any serious thought. The book was published by Boundary Books in paperback and also as a limited edition of fifty hardbacks, individually numbered and signed by Brodribb.
Sadly Brodribb died in 1999 at the age of 84, so he never saw Felix and The Eleven of England make it into print. In 2002 however the book finally saw the light of day as a leather bound, slip cased limited edition of 250 copies, all signed by Hubert Doggert, Ted Dexter and a descendant of Felix. The book is a fitting tribute to its author.
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