Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 26, 2013

The Ashes Match Of My Life – Sam Pilger and Rob Wightman

AshesI confess that I wasn’t entirely looking forward to this book in which Sam Pilger and Rob Wightman interview fourteen Ashes Legends and asked them to relive their greatest Tests.  I felt that I would know both the players and the Tests too well. As usual with cricket, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

The book works primarily because its structure of extended first person narratives allows its subjects – off the leash of the media liaison officers and without a “My Story” autobiography to sell – free range to explore what the Test (and The Ashes) meant to them. One can almost hear the pregnant pauses in the conversation, as the interviewers must have leant forward and, like a psychoanalyst gently insisted that their subjects “go on”, wait for the nugget. It’s an approach that makes for a riveting read about events previously thought so well known.

By presenting the narratives in chronological order, one can trace how players’ behaviour modified over the years. Until relatively recently, a touring party appeared to be much like any other party of young men away from the discipline of home – with all that connotes – just one that happened to comprise excellent cricketers. Not much room for high jinx any more, of course.

Neil Harvey opens as the kid amongst the 1948 Invincibles, awed by the likes of Miller and Lindwall (and especially The Captain) and not fitting in too well with the ex-servicemen who filled the ranks on both sides. Harvey could play a bit and soon found his place.

The timeframe then jumps to the 70s, when The Ashes’ gladiatorial dimension is as central as any time since Jardine’s series in 1932-33. England captain, Ray Illingworth, gives his account of fighting fire with fire on the field, before having to leave it, as bottles and cans were flung from the crowd. Jeff Thomson is the larrikin of course, loving the combat, but not too interested in the technicalities – he didn’t need to be. He drops plenty of hints at a fullish life when the day’s play ended too – what a glorious time to be young and successful! Geoff Boycott, like Ashley Giles later, reveals the torment of perceived individual shortcomings with so much at stake; for Boycott, it was the running out of hometown hero Derek Randall at Trent Bridge; for Giles, the press reaction to the first Test defeat in 2005. Both find redemption.

There’s the anxiety and attention to detail you would expect from Justin Langer, describing his fight to establish himself in so strong an XI and then his insistent need to prove himself once selected. There’s Merv Hughes and Mark Taylor, just four years apart with their Tests, but so different in their narrative styles. Hughes’ account of playing through pain knowing that his career was over, is the poignant highlight of the book.

There’s plenty more – seven on each side – and every one of them reveals something new about themselves and about the extraordinary place The Ashes holds in the hearts of English and Australian players. You see, it’s not just us cricket tragics after all.

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Responses

  1. Sounds like just the book and rattled touring party should read.
    While I have no idea what the question is, it is clear that the answer is Justin Langer.
    Not Justin Langer the coach, but Justin Langer the young cricketer who had to fight so bloody hard for a place in the team that he refused to let it go once he got it.

    • That’s a good point Jim. And Martyn waited six years for a second chance.


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