20140513

After his Trueman triumph, Chris Waters tells the story of history's most famous bowling analysis

When cricket writer Chris Waters delivered the manuscript for Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography to his publisher three years ago, he told friends his first book would also be his last, echoing the words of countless writers before him. The journey from first thoughts to final page can be long and arduous, so grueling sometimes that many vow never to go there again.

A modest man, not inclined to blow his own trumpet, Waters wasn't sure whether he had done a good job or otherwise.  The reviews, however, were highly complimentary. Indeed, Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography won a hat-trick of awards: Wisden Book of the Year, MCC/Cricket Society Book of the Year and British Sports Book Awards Cricket Book of the Year.

The thousands of readers who shared the enthusiasm of the award judges will be delighted to learn that Trueman was not his last book.  The second is due out next month.

10 for 10: Hedley Verity and the Story of Cricket's Greatest Bowling Feat is probably the book that would have marked his literary debut had he not been commissioned to do Trueman first.

He can trace the idea for it back to an assignment handed to him in his day job as a cricket journalist some 14 years ago.

"It was while I was working on the Nottingham Evening Post back in 2000," he told The Sports Bookshelf. "A chap called Frank Shipston, a former Nottinghamshire player, had just become the oldest surviving county cricketer at the age of 94 and I was asked to go along to interview him.

"It was while I was researching his career -- and he only played 49 games -- that I found that one of the matches he played for Notts was the one in which Hedley Verity, the Yorkshire spin bowler, had taken all 10 wickets for 10 runs at Headingley in 1932.

"I had always been taken with the 10 for 10, which I had seen in Wisden, in the records section, as a child, and it had stuck with me.   There were other bowlers who had taken all 10 wickets in an innings -- in fact, it wasn't the only time Verity did it -- but to me there was something magical, almost perfect about 10 for 10. Perhaps it was the symmetry of the numbers; it seemed like the ultimate bowling analysis.

Verity was one of Yorkshire and England's greatest cricketers. In a career that ran from 1930 to 1939, he took 1,956 wickets at an average of 14.90. He was chiefly responsible for England's only Ashes victory at Lord's in the 20th century, when his 15 wickets helped to win the 1934 Test -- 14 of them captured in a single day.  No one dismissed the legendary Australian batsman Don Bradman more times in Test cricket than Verity, who claimed his wicket on eight occasions.

"I interviewed Frank Shipston, wrote a piece for the paper and that was that," Waters continued. "But it came to mind again five years later, by which time I was working for the Yorkshire Post, when there was a Hedley Verity exhibition on at Headingley to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.

"His son, Douglas, brought over a number of items of memorabilia from his home in North Wales, including the 10 for 10 ball.  I saw the ball and introduced myself to Douglas and when I said I had been thinking about writing at length about his father's feat he only encouraged me in thinking it was a good idea.

"I began researching, at the Yorkshire Post, looking at the old papers, the reports from 1932, which added some wonderful colour to the story and I just thought 'yes - there is a book in that.'

"After I'd written a piece for the paper about the exhibition, a guy wrote to me and said he had seen the 10 for 10 and I drove over to see him at his home on the Lancashire border.

"So I had it in mind to do this book before the Trueman one was offered to me."

Although this great feat of bowling, better than anything that had gone before and not remotely threatened since, is the book's centrepiece, Waters sets the scene and describes the aftermath, tracking Verity's early life and the years that followed, from his upbringing in Leeds, the son of a coal merchant, to his premature death in combat in Italy, as a captain in the Green Howards, the Yorkshire Regiment that was part of the Eighth Army invasion.  He also provides biographical background on the other participants in the match, and where their careers took them subsequently.

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"I started the book with my meeting with Frank Shipston, the personal connection I had with the story and why it has fascinated me," he said.  "So I write about Verity's life and career up to the date of the match, which is quite early on in his career. He had only been playing for two years.

"And then there is the match, with some chapters afterwards on the rest of his career and his death in the War, in Italy, to put it into context."

Verity had volunteered for the army, driven by a patriotic instinct and a staunch conviction that the war was a just one, that Hitler had to be stopped. "He believed the war had to be fought," Waters said. "On the 1933-34 tour of India, he had met Colonel Arnold Shaw of the Green Howards in Madras at a post-Test party, and when he saw him again at Headingley in 1938 he said he really wanted to get involved.

"Colonel Shaw said to get in touch with him again when war was declared and in the meantime gave him a lot of military handbooks, from which Verity started studying assiduously how to prepare for war.

"He died in 1943.  The story endures in many ways because of his tragic death, even 70 years on.  I actually found that writing about it was very moving.  It was such a sad end and he was a great guy by all accounts."

But Waters does not let Verity's tragic demise dominate the story, which is, after all, about a moment of spectacular brilliance on the cricket field.

"It is a fascinating story," he says.  "Although he did it in the days of uncovered pitches, no one else has come anyway near the record.  No one has ever even threatened it.  It is one of the most phenomenal things, to my mind, in the history of the game, one of the most romantic and remarkable records.

"It was a match between the second and third placed teams, massive rivals in county cricket, a bit of a title decider.  Harold Larwood and Bill Voce led the Nottinghamshire attack, in the summer before the Bodyline tour.

"Notts batted first, batted all day for 234 runs in 130 overs.  The irony was that it was a really dull start and all the writers complained that Notts were killing the game, that they always did this against Yorkshire.  It was a really soporific start to this incredible game.

"Yorkshire replied with 163-9 and then there was a massive storm. Brian Sellers declared 71 runs behind.  Notts batted again and were 44-0. Then the sun came out, Verity took 10 for 10 and they were all out for 67.  Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire openers, then knocked off the 139 runs needed to win with ease.  It was just incredible.
Hedley Verity

"Frank Shipston opened the batting and joint top-scored in the innings.  He was the second victim.  He remembered that Verity wasn't spinning the ball much but just enough to take the edge."

Waters does not claim to have written a definitive biography, not in the way that his Trueman book cut through the many myths surrounding the legendary fast bowler to present a much more credible assessment of his real character, but makes worthwhile additions to what is already known and recorded about Verity's life.

"It is a long time since anything was written about him so I wanted to bring his life up to date," Waters said.  "A lot has happened since the last book, there have been exhibitions and things, adding a little more to the story.  I got to know his son very well and he helped me illuminate a bit of the man.

"He was a man who was spotless, really, quite dull from a biographical point of view.  But to me the real joy of the book is the fascination of the colour around the match.  Cricket writers at the time covered the games in huge detail, so there was a lot of colourful stuff written. You almost get a ball-by-ball account."

There are numerous photographs that enhance the written description, including one that shows that the game was played against a backdrop not exactly fitting for such a momentous day in cricket history.   The end from which Verity was bowling when he took the 10 wickets was out of public use following a fire a few months earlier, which had resulted in the double-fronted Rugby Stand, the predecessor of the current structure standing between the cricket field and the Leeds Rhinos rugby stadium, being demolished.

"The new Rugby Stand was actually being built at the time," Waters said. "It was a chaotic scene with rubble everywhere. There was a cement mixer close to the boundary's edge.  Essentially, this great moment in cricket history, this bowling feat never surpassed, was performed to the backdrop of a building site."

Buy 10 for 10: Hedley Verity and the Story of Cricket's Greatest Bowling Feat from WH Smith. Also available via this site from Amazon and Waterstones by clicking on the link.

Also by Chris Waters: Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography (available from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith)

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