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Micky Stewart and the Changing Face of Cricket Hardcover – 1 Jul 2012
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Stephen Chalke has written an outstanding, exceptional book about a player who was part of the great Surrey side of the 1950s and stayed in the game long enough to become England's first coach 30 years later. There are few witnesses who have so much of value to say about the game and how it has changed, and the author has captured Stewart wonderfully. The tone and texture of the narrative is absolutely engaging and flows so smoothly. What is clear is that Micky Stewart is a man of substance and principle; a thoughtful man with belief, courage and humour.
Stewart's character was shaped by his race-track bookie father in South London who taught him that life was not about taking short cuts, even if what you are doing is unfashionable. Micky's childhood and development as a footballer and cricketer fill the first half of his biography and Chalke completely nails that world of cricket and society in which Micky grew up; readers cannot help but find it totally believable and genuine. To me it was a delightful education. The school years, the football chapters, the Surrey years and the observations about the amateur and professional branches of sport are brilliantly done. I should also say that the balance between the narrative of Micky's life and the subtext of what it all meant more widely is completed so deftly with considerable skill. These chapters are complete, revealing and humorous, that I was totally satisfied when I reached the point of Micky's professional retirement. What happens after - the modern chapters - are a brilliant encore, almost unexpected.
As a 'younger' reader, I found that the England manager section explained and answered so much that I suspected but didn't really know; the players' dissatisfaction, the lack of a grand plan, the difficult egos. These pages bring a fine balance to a book which is not all about Micky being a star, not all about living happily ever after.
Stephen Chalke and Micky Stewart have completed a complicated assignment brilliantly. Without hesitation, I would recommend this fine work to anyone who has an interest in the development of Engish cricket in the past half-century. And anyone who hungers after the endangered species of intelligent, thoughtful and perceptive cricket writing will relish this book.
Few cricketers can have seen such change in their professional lives as Stewart, a stalwart of Surrey through most of the 1950s and 60s. He led them through a difficult period in their history, when their outstanding side of the 1950s, one that had won seven successive County Championships, was breaking up. No side could survive the loss of such players as Bedser, Laker, Lock, Loader and May intact, yet Stewart oversaw a period of gradual improvement that culminated in championship glory in 1971, his final season as a player.
He led a pretty good side himself, of course. Geoff Arnold and Robin Jackman to open the bowling, Pat Pocock for off spin, Pakistan leg-spinning all-rounder Intikhab Alam and underrated all-rounder Stewart Storey made up an attack for all conditions, while Stewart, John Edrich, Graham Roope and Younis Ahmed ensured they rarely lacked runs.
Micky Stewart was an underrated cricketer, earning Test caps but never quite doing enough to cement a regular opening berth. Two half centuries in eight appearances perhaps did not reflect his true ability, although those old enough to remember his playing days will do so as much for the brilliance of his fielding close to the wicket. The Surrey side of the 1950s were renowned for catching what others wouldn't consider chances and, as Stewart explains, they fielded closer than anyone else, such was their confidence in the bowlers not to drop short and leave them in danger.
Stewart's passion for cricket shines through in the book and his return to cricket in a coaching role, first at Surrey and then with England, came as no real surprise to those who knew him. He introduced greater professionalism to the national team and memorably led them to success in Australia. It was a tour in which success was a result of forging strong individuals into a fine team, all of them coming to appreciate their role in and importance to the side. A subsequent tour was less successful, the off-field activities being highlighted by the infamous "Tiger Moth" incident featuring David Gower and Derbyshire's John Morris.
Nor were series against the West Indies especially successful, although given the strength of that nation's cricket at the time it was hardly a surprise. Yet Stewart and successive captains introduced new training methods and much of his work has become accepted practice in the modern game.
A fifty-year career is always going to witness change and Stewart's is no exception. Perhaps the greatest was around the role of the media. Things happened on tour and around the county circuit back in the 1950s and this book has plenty of amusing anecdotes that are always one of the delights of a book by the author. His question to a team mate about how to play during a follow on was met with amusement, before the realisation dawned that such was Surrey's dominance that in three seasons of the first-class game he'd never had to do so...
Characters abound, from former Surrey masseur "Sandy" Tait ("I could really hurt you with these hands, son...") through Jim Laker "...you heard the snap of his fingers then the zzzzzzz of the ball coming down the pitch" to spectators "Call theself a selector? Tha couldn't pick a fine day..."
It is, yet again, a joy to read Stephen Chalke's work. While Stewart comes across as a man of cricket par excellence, the author makes you feel that you are sitting across a table in a local pub listening to him recount his tales, which is no mean feat. Having established a niche in cricket writing with his outstanding oral histories, Stephen Chalke has moved seamlessly into biography, this book following similar worthy efforts on Tom Cartwright and Bob Appleyard.
I have no hesitation in recommending it for a Christmas purchase.
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