above: WG Grace is one of David Frith’s subjects in the past
Ben Roberts reviews Frith on Cricket
Within a few pages of reading this compilation, my feeling was that I would struggle to put this book down – in fact, I may have been happy reading this forever. Lovers of cricket would find it hard to not be swept away by the passion and eloquence for the game that David Frith has, and has had for over half a century.
Frith is one of the greats of cricket writing, so highly regarded that even Sir Donald Bradman was led to highlight his passion and dedication to his craft. Having written for a number of publications throughout his career, this book centralises his career to the benefit of the reader. It is a journey of cricket; not just over the 50 years of Frith’s writing career, but owing to the great passion and love Frith has for cricket you are taken back to test cricket’s earliest days.
Not all of the writings are explorations of the past, though of course even his comment pieces are now read with the benefit of hindsight. But true to his expertise it is hard to fault the logic of the writing compiled at the time without this benefit. As Frith writes you are taken into past when events happened, and you go as close to being able to watch the matches yourself as if you were there. In addition Frith for the compilation has added an explanatory note on each piece that helps paint the picture further.
So involved with his subject and immersed in its culture Frith was able to compile what was one of my favourite pieces where he conducted a mock interview with the youthfully deceased golden age master batsman, Victor Trumper. I have very little doubt that the message of astonishment at the modern game he conveys from Trumper would be true of the man.
Frith has a fierce protectionist attitude owing to his love of the game’s history and desire for its betterment. He was, and still remains, never one to temper his opinion on matters cricket and the writing is better for it, though he does admit to at least one lost relationship because of this strength of opinion. Interestingly his first piece included in the book is a school essay on his meeting with the former England bowler Alec Bedser at age 13. The style and character of Frith’s writing we observe has not changed significantly in the ensuing years since his youth.
One personality trait that always fails to endear itself to me is that of name dropping. The difficulty is with Frith that when he name drops, and he does regularly, I am torn between the distaste for the habit and severe envy for the company he has kept since even his earliest years. Imagine as a youth having to make the choice whether you purchase your cricket equipment from either former Australian wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield’s or former Australian batsman Alan Kippax’s sporting goods stores.
Perhaps cricket is the only sport where great figures of its history include not just those playing or coaching but those working in the media. The famous cricketing names of Cardus, Johnston, Arlott, and McGilvray are not recalled expressly for on-field feats. I envisage Frith being added to them in the future.
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