on 4 November 2013
I won't repeat what previous reviewers have said - they've done a good job in summarising the book and Tate's career. But when the book arrived my wife said, "What an odd title for a cricket book!" Without the cover photographs you might indeed think it was about something like the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Immediately, I was taken aback by reference to the "infamous" Fred Tate. To me, and the dictionary, that word has meanings such as nasty or criminal. Thousands of cricketers have dropped a catch and/or been dismissed for next to nothing in a Test but poor, unfortunate Fred seems to be unique in suffering for it for the rest of his life and beyond.
After that, though, the book is a splendid biography. Parkinson has covered all the areas that one would expect and provided a lot of new information about a complex character - one who couldn't see that his time was up and that Sussex could hardly be expected to continue with a 40-year-old quick bowler who was clearly in decline.
I wasn't looking for errors but there is a glaring one about Jack Timms of Northamptonshire; he is said to have had a career average of 45 but in fact it was only 25.
on 31 August 2013
Maurice Tate is one of the great players. He made his Test debut in the same Test as Herbert Sutcliffe. He was the first man to dismiss Donald Bradman in Test cricket. He claimed 2784 first class wickets at an average of 18 and scored over 20,000 first class runs. In the mid 1920s he was universally considered to be the best bowler in England claiming over 200 first class wickets two seasons in succession. He claimed 155 Test wickets and scored a Test match hundred. Despite this record of success he is almost unheard of by most cricket fans. A new book by Justin Parkinson hopes to put that right.
"Then Came Massacre" is an affectionate portrait of Tate by a Sussex fan and we get an insight into Maurice Tate the person as well as the bowler. Tate made his first class debut at the age of 17 for Sussex but that is not where the cricketing story begins for the Tate family. Maurice's father Fred was a professional cricketer who become infamous in his only Test where he dropped a catch and was the last man out in a close run chase. Many blamed Fred for the loss of that game in 1902, most notably himself. It is suggested at the time that he said his boy would put things right, and Maurice certainly did.
As with any great cricketers biography it is all too easy to fall into an exercise of just listing numbers of wickets and runs scored, and Parkinson is careful not to enter this trap. While there is plenty of facts and figures to keep the cricket nerd happy these are always in context and aide in telling the narrative of Tate's career. We learn of his family life before and during his cricket career and how this shaped him as a man. We are told he endured the wrath of the Essex captain, JWHT Douglas, when he returned home early from a coaching job in South Africa that Douglas had secured for him. For a professional to so risk the wrath of a esteemed amateur says a lot about the character of Tate. It is always interesting to get an examination of the politics that the Amateur/Professional divide created in cricket.
The turning point in Tate's career from county journeyman to world class performer came when he made the decision to change his bowling style from off spin to pace. There are a few stories explored in this book, but without question one of those that had the biggest part to play in the decision and Tate's subsequent career path was his captain at Sussex, AER Gilligan. The change began in 1922 and was fully formed by the start of the next season where no took more wickets in first class cricket than Tate.
This book has an excellent pace to it and covers the key events in Tate's life and his career. Before I picked it up to read it I had heard of Maurice Tate but had no idea how big a part he played in cricket at this time. He was on the bodyline tour, be played with and against some of the greatest players of all time and was considered by them to be amongst their number. For a modern take on a criminally under told story Parkinson's book is a must read.
on 1 September 2013
Cricketing sons rarely live up to the reputation of their fathers. There are dozens of examples over the years and the struggles of such players have been well enough documented in cricket literature.
Few have matched the feats of Maurice Tate. His father, Fred, was a journeyman professional who took over 1300 wickets for Sussex at 21 with right arm spin perhaps at the pace of Derek Underwood. He is unfairly remembered by most for his role in the 1902 Test at Old Trafford against Australia, when, after dropping a catch in the deep, he was bowled with only four runs needed for victory.
It doesn't tell the full story, as Tate was in unfamiliar territory and more often fielded at slip, while expectation of number eleven, a batsman of modest achievement, bailing you out when a much-vaunted batting lineup had failed was patently unfair. Such was Tate senior's lot, but his son, as he predicted after the match, did him proud. While Fred subsequently became county coach of Derbyshire for a period, Maurice did considerably better.
From 1922-25, Maurice Tate was perhaps the greatest player in the world. If he wasn't, there were few better, as he took 852 wickets in three calendar years, including an Australian tour. He added a thousand runs a summer and took at least 200 wickets in each of them, bowling 38,000 balls in that time. All this after switching from bowling spin at his father's pace to fast-medium at the suggestion of his county captain.
The workload was colossal, even for a man of Tate's strapping build and probably cost him some of his long-term effectiveness. Yet his bowling was a model of getting the most from a run up and action. He only ran in eight paces, yet scores of batsmen were beaten for pace by a quicker ball that 'fizzed'; great players too. Tate was responsible for five of Donald Bradman's first thirteen Test dismissals, this at a time when Tate was past his peak and Bradman very much at his.
Tate was a celebrity in an era when such status came less easily than today. His ready smile and big feet, as regularly utilised by Daily Mail cartoonist Tom Webster, ensured that this would be the case and he was endorsed several products, including an energy supplement, chocolate, washing powder and cigarettes.
All of which suggests that Tate was a wealthy man, at least for the period, but that was far from the case. A succession of poor business ventures dogged his personal life and he flitted from pub to pub as landlord after his career ended, without making a success of any of them.
To some extent, history has forgotten him, although Sussex fans voted him their greatest-ever player in 2003. Rightly so, as he took 2784 wickets for them at 18, adding in 21,000 runs at 25 with 23 centuries for good measure. The figures are staggering, but Maurice Tate was far from an ordinary player. His 155 Test wickets came at a time when there were no opportunities to 'boost the stats' against lesser opposition and he should be judged alongside the greats of the game by any standards one cares to mention.
Justin Parkinson has done an admirable job with this book, which is beautifully researched, well laid-out and engagingly written. Too many books recount the major events of a career without helping you to get close to and better understand the subject. By the end of this one, I felt I 'knew' Maurice Tate and felt the better for it.
Once again, Pitch Publishing have come up with a worthy, eminently readable book that deserves to do well.
It certainly gets a Peakfan thumbs-up.
on 6 August 2013
Maurice Tate was one of English cricket's greats but is now, sadly, almost forgotten. The first proper seam bowler, Tate terrorised batsmen through the 1920s and 30s for Sussex and England, and was hugely popular with the public around the world. Justin Parkinson's fine biography brings to life this whole-hearted character, from his early days as an unremarkable spinner for Sussex, through his switch to fast-medium bowling and on to record-breaking Ashes success.
With clear affection for his subject and a keen eye for period detail, Parkinson recounts Tate's rise, and how he more than made up for his father Fred, whose dropped catch at Old Trafford in 1902 supposedly lost England the Ashes. It's a hugely entertaining read for anyone interested in a fascinating period in English cricket.