Book Review: First Tests, Great Australian Cricketers & The Backyards that Made Them

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By Ben Roberts

As I sat on a winters Saturday afternoon with the football call in the background I delved into a work that for a long time I had been desiring to read. First Tests by Steve Cannane recalled in me dreams of hot summers and backyard cricket; of the innocent yet ferocious contests played out in country and city alike every Australian summer.

Premised upon the search for the reasons why our champions of today and yesteryear played the way they do/did the link between the backyard conditions and future technique can be tenuous at times, but in other instances you would have very little doubt as to its effect on the young champions. That Neil Harvey grew up dicing with the sideways movement of a cobblestone pitch, and the Chappells playing shots between many backyard items serving as fielders would be two examples of correlation to later skills.

The real story though in each of the chapters is the love of the game from a young age that our champions showed, and the unrelenting desire to play cricket at all available times. In a world where we are force fed information from different directions constantly it is refreshing to read of children simply pursuing dreams, dawn to dusk, for pleasure.

If you have read reasonably extensively on Australian cricketers and their lives you may find that the stories used by Cannane are repetitive and contain few new insights. We all know how Sir Donald Bradman hit a golf ball with a stump against a water tank. Also, the overriding rhetoric that it was better in the old days than today’s sterile academy based environment could detract from the beauty that is reading of Australian sporting culture.

A bonus however is you get more from this work than just a cricketing technique or history lesson, you read Australia growing as a nation through the window of probably the national sport of the country. You begin to understand the depths of despair and disease that the great depression brought. Yet through all this children still played, all day and all night if they could. This was more than the individuals too, remember our champions all needed someone to bowl to or bat against at one time or another.

Pick this one up and let it inspire you to reminisce about your own childhood and cricketing dreams. Let it encourage you to enjoy the most out of everyday. Once you have finished reading I can guarantee you will run straight outside and start playing like you used to. I did, but unlike Clarrie Grimmatt’s fox terrier mine won’t return the balls!

Ben contributes regularly to the following two Blogs:
http://balancedsports.blogspot.com/ – The thinking fans sport opinion and analysis site.
http://bookswithballs.blogspot.com/ – Reviewing the literature of a number of genres but definitely no Danielle Steele.


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