Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book review: Bradman's Invincibles by Roland Perry

A re-post from our Book Review affiliate site, Books With Balls.

A number of cricket teams will live long in history, having books written about them and having their relative merits forever debated. The most recent of those, the Australians who dominated cricket for fifteen years to 2008 developed a storied reputation perhaps tarnished by a lack of quality lasting opposition. The West Indian team preceding them did the same for nearly twenty years.

Perhaps the most revered cricket team of all was the 1948 Invincibles, who completed an arduous six month tour of England without a loss. The tour was a perfect fusion of circumstances: Bradman's final First Class matches, a cricket-starved world following the Second World War needing non-combatant heroes and finally, a collation of talent probably unrivalled to that time.

In his work Bradman's Invincibles Roland Perry has created a work which, while perfunctory and informative, is also quite swayed by his own opinions. Perry, a renowned cricket writer who spent a number of years in conversation with Sir Donald Bradman and collaborated with him on several works, appears to think that Bradman's word on matters of cricket is absolute and completely true. He has taken every word he could trawl from The Don and turned it into a misguided four-hundred page tome with little point. What should have been a celebration has been turned into a trudging day-by-day commentary..

Bradman was undoubtedly the greatest cricketer of all time and even during the 1948 Invincibles tour where he turned forty, was Australia's best batsman. He has also suffered somewhat from revisionism, where posthumous revelations as to his character have begun to unfairly detract from his cricketing legacy. These "revelations" should only add to that legacy - of a genius batsman and excellent captain who wanted - and mostly got - his own way, often at others' expense. Any negative character traits are nonexistent on paper.

Relying on one source for the vast majority of one's sources is a mistake, both for one's credibility and entertainment. He has taken The Don's word as gospel in book which would have been much richer for an Old Testament, Letters and Apocrypha. Perry has little affinity for beautiful prose, writing economically, occasionally repetitively and with no flair for either detail or accuracy. His style expects the reader to be in constant wonderment at the achievements of that squad rather than providing the full picture demanded by such an seminal tour.

Neither has the skill of analogy, often comparing players across generations in a hackneyed and awkward style - even using the same comparison twice in three pages. There are several factual errors and those who opposed Sir Don Bradman's absolute rule are portrayed in an unflattering light. Though the book stretches to 430 pages, the last one-hundred and seventy of those is given over to potted biographies of the tourists and their vanquished opponents, which, while providing some interesting details is more an annoyance than enjoyable. This follows a passage where the author says it would be pointless to compare "Greatest Ever" teams and then proceeds to do so.

That's not to say that it is scarce of redeeming features. Bradman's Invincibles provides an interesting peek into some aspects of cricket in the late 1940s, where towels shoved under shirts and trousers became makeshift thigh and chest guards and breakfast in ration-enforced England consisted of half a piece of toast and a mushroom. The lack of "nets" was mildly surprising, but understandable given the amount of cricket played. Most surprising of all, perhaps, was that both Bill Johnston and Keith Miller often resorted to spin depending on the circumstances of the game; though this in itself is questionable given Perry's unfortunate failure to grasp the difference between leg- and off-cutters.

Bradman's Invincibles is hardly a revolutionary work. It holds interest - perhaps because it's the first cricket book I've read in months (years?) - but is disappointingly perfunctory and poorly rounded.

Golf balls - two stars - (hit repeatedly against a tank stand with a cricket stump).

Image courtesy the sadly departed

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