Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours: David Tossell's latest among new titles from Pitch Publishing


  • Tossell turns his attention to England cricket team of the 1980s

  • A new biography of Barry Richards from Andrew Murtagh

  • Dan Whiting's follow-up to Cricket Banter

Jon Culley

Rarely does a year pass without the name of David Tossell appearing on the shortlist for one of sport's literary prizes.

The 53-year-old author and journalist has been nominated five times at the British Sports Book Awards for books on cricket, football and rugby, as well as being on the shortlist twice for the MCC/Cricket Society Book of the Year.

The Great English Final, which looked at the 1953 FA Cup final, the Matthews final, in the context of Britain's post-War recovery, made the shortlist in the best football book category at the British Sports Book Awards last year.

This year he returns to cricket with the publication this week of Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours: The England Cricket Team in the 1980s.

It was a tumultuous decade, one in which England enjoyed the highs of three Ashes victories and reached a World Cup final yet twice suffered the humiliation of 5-0 series defeats against the West Indies and managed to work their way through 10 different captains, including four in one series.

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Off the field, it was a time of tabloid scandals, notably embroiling two of those captains as Ian Botham, who began the decade establishing cricketing immortality in the summer of 1981, was suspended for smoking marijuana and Mike Gatting was sacked after an alleged dalliance with a barmaid.

For Gatting, in particular, it was an extraordinary decade, involving a famous Ashes win in Australia, an infamous row with an umpire in Pakistan and a decision he would later regret to lead one of the decade's two England rebel tours, which resulted in a three-year ban from playing in Tests.
Gatting fires off in Faisalabad

Experienced journalist Tossell, at one time executive sports editor of the Today newspaper, has interviewed many of the principal characters and Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours tells the story.

Sex & Drugs & Rebel Tours is published by Pitch Publishing, who have simultaneously released two more cricket titles as part of their spring output.

Andrew Murtagh, the former Hampshire cricketer and uncle of Middlesex fast bowler Tim, has written a biography of the man he regarded as the best cricketer he ever played with or against, the brilliant South African who scored more than 28,000 first-class runs, including 80 centuries, but took part in only one Test series before South African was banned from international sport over apartheid.

Sundial in the Shade: The Story of Barry Richards, the Genius Lost to Test Cricket tells the story of the batsman who formed one of county cricket's most prolific opening partnerships alongside the West Indian Gordon Greenidge during his 10 years with Hampshire, where he made 15,600 of his first-class aggregate.   It is a life overshadowed by personal tragedy and controversy and one defined by the frustration that he could never achieve the international success that would have surely come his way.

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Murtagh is the author of two previous cricket biographies, of George Chesterton, which was shortlisted for MCC/Cricket Society Book of the Year,  and of Tom Graveney.

The third offering from Pitch released this week is the story of a controversial figure from the Edwardian era, who became England's youngest Test player when he was selected at 19 years and 32 days to play against South Africa Johannesburg in January 1906.

A Flick of the Fingers: The Chequered Life and Career of Jack Crawford is Michael Burns's biography of a player who was regarded as perhaps the finest schoolboy cricketer of all time, who made his debut for Surrey aged 17 and completed the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in a season before he was 20.

Short-sighted, he played always in spectacles yet was a ferocious hitter, a skilful medium pace bowler and a forthright character whose outspokenness at being given a weakened team to captain in a match against the touring Australians in 1909 resulted ultimately in him being banished by the county, whereupon he emigrated to Australia.  There he enhanced a reputation for fast scoring that would have made him a hot property in today's game.

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Representing an Australian XI on tour in New Zealand, he hit 45 fours and 14 sixes in an innings of 354 that included a staggering partnership with Victor Trumper that added 298 runs in just 69 minutes.

More controversy dogged Crawford, who married but then deserted a teenage girl he met in Adelaide and left Australia for New Zealand after a row over money.  He returned to England after the First World War, made his peace with Surrey, re-married and ultimately faded into obscurity, but not before playing two of the most remarkable innings of his life.

On a lighter note -- much lighter if his first book is anything to go by -- Dan Whiting returns with Characters of Cricket (The History Press), which is his first solo effort after he and Liam Kenna combined their talents and a wide circle of friends in the game to produce Cricket Banter.

Where Cricket Banter enabled Whiting and Kenna to expand on the eye for a funny story that has made their blog The Middle Stump (www.themiddlestump.co.uk) so popular, with hits in excess of half a million, Characters of Cricket is a series of portraits of some of the game's more interesting participants, the mavericks who refused to allow their individuality, sometimes their eccentricity, to be swallowed up by the demands of a team game.

Such characters are increasingly hard to find with the game these days embracing much more professional disciplines than once was the case, but Whiting can name a few even from the most recent generation, including England's recently-retired off-spinner Graeme Swann and the flame-haired former Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset fast bowler Steve Kirby.

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Whiting is a keen advocate of moves to raise awareness of skin cancer, especially the danger it poses to cricketers, and having recently survived a scare himself he has pledged to donate a portion of the book’s royalties to Melanoma UK, a skin cancer charity.

He is also organising Pushing the Boundaries, a charity fundraising event on Friday, April 10, at the Walker Cricket Ground in Southgate, at which the guests will include the aforementioned Kirby along with Middlesex players Tim Murtagh and John Simpson and the county's managing director of cricket, the former England fast bowler now selector, Angus Fraser.

Cricket Banter is also available from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

For more information...

See Andrew Murtagh's page at Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith

See David Tossell's books at Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith


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