20140412

The Six Sixes Ball Mystery: a gripping whodunnit wrapped up in a cricket story

It is common to talk about legends in sport, whether in reference to great performers or the deeds they perform. But we use the word loosely sometimes and forget its original definition, as preserved in the Oxford English Dictionary: 'A traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but not authenticated.'

The story of cricket's most famous over, the one bowled by Malcolm Nash of Glamorgan at the St Helen's Ground in Swansea on August 31, 1968, has passed into cricket legend. It was the one in which Garry Sobers, then of Nottinghamshire, hit all six balls for six, a feat since repeated by four other batsman but at the time unprecedented.

Of course, there is no doubt at all that the iconic moment happened.  It is historical and authentic. Apart from all the eye witnesses present, and the official scorers, there is an any case footage in the BBC archives, the event filmed by chance as a camera crew underwent a training exercise.

But like all good legends, the story has been subject to exaggeration. In the most embellished versions, the great West Indian all-rounder's first two blows resulted in the ball being lost, either hit beyond the confines of the ground or into the crowd and not thrown back. In truth, it was only the last hit -- launched, in the words of commentator Wilf Wooller, 'way down to Swansea' - that propelled the ball out of the ground.

Poetic licence, you might say. But there was a more serious part of the story, a postscript, that was not authenticated.  It concerned an auction that took place at the South Kensington salerooms of Christie's in November, 2006.  Featured in the catalogue was the Six Sixes ball, which was being sold by Jose Miller, a former secretary of the Nottinghamshire Supporters' Association, to raise money for alterations needed to her house because of a medical condition.  The ball came with a certificate of its provenance signed by Sobers himself, so Christie's had no reason to doubt it was the real thing.  However, as journalist and broadcaster Grahame Lloyd explains in a skilfully crafted and highly absorbing book, they should have.

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Lloyd's story begins with a mysterious phone call as he was writing Six of the Best: Cricket's Most Famous Over, which was to mark the 40th anniversary of the pummeling dished out to the unfortunate Nash on that momentous August day.  It was a call that contained a warning that were he to pursue a particular line of enquiry, specifically about the ball itself, it would not be welcome.

He did not know quite what to make of the call.  As far as he was aware, the ball had been sold at auction in 2006 on behalf of its owner, the aforementioned Jose (pronounced 'Josie') Miller. He had already checked that part of the story.

Over the next few months, however, the nature of the mystery call began to make more sense.  A cutting from The Independent on Sunday newspaper, a copy of a Glamorgan members' newsletter, and another warning, this time delivered to his fellow broadcaster, Peter Walker, pointed towards an unpalatable but unavoidable conclusion.  The ball that had changed hands at Christie's in 2006 -- for an eye-watering £26,400 -- was a fake.

Taken over by a journalist's instinct to expose wrongdoing, Lloyd spent 18 months trying to establish the truth, in particular who knew that the ball that came under the Christie's hammer was an imposter.  No one is nailed conclusively as being party to any kind of deliberate fraud, but there are question marks, certainly, over some of the parties involved.

With a cover that hints at intrigue and melodrama, reminiscent of the style that once might have adorned the latest novel by Agatha Christie, Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery promises a gripping yarn and delivers, even if ultimately there is no villain, at least not of the kind that Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot would have unveiled.

It is the tale of a quest for truth, however, and given that piecing together the strands of evidence is as essential to a good mystery as the denouement, Lloyd's investigation into what really happened to the real Six Sixes ball is a triumph.

Howzat? The Six Sixes Ball Mystery, by Grahame Lloyd (Celluloid) is available from Amazon , Waterstones and WHSmith.

Also by Grahame Lloyd: Six of the Best: Cricket's Most Famous Over (Kindle edition)

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