Review: England’s Greatest All-Rounder by Roderick Easdale (ebook)

Endeavour Press £1.99

England’s Greatest All-Rounder is Roderick Easdale’s third cricket ebook, following his well-received studies of Don Bradman and Wally Hammond. The publisher Endeavour Press has again set a limit of 20,000 words, which means that the book can be read via the appropriate device in one sitting. The title is a little misleading in that the exercise is really to identify England’s best all-rounder in Test cricket since 1945.

A comprehensive introduction defines the term “all-rounder”, which is not as straightforward as you might think, before applying some original statistics to narrow the field to four men: Trevor Bailey, Tony Greig, Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff. The career of each one is assessed, their strengths and weaknesses highlighted with well-researched facts and figures as well as by the views of numerous contemporaries. One of Easdale’s strengths is his ability to dissect reputations, and to demonstrate how they shift over time.

Trevor Bailey came to the nation’s attention back in 1953, when England reclaimed the Ashes that had been nineteen years in Australian hands. It was Coronation year, a time for celebration after all that post-war austerity which seemed to find expression in Bailey’s cricket. Selected for his solidity, he could take dourness to extremes. When the Queen marked her silver jubilee in 1977, and Virginia Wade obliged by winning Wimbledon, England cricket captain Tony Greig did his best to spoil the party by defecting to Kerry Packer’s rival circuit and spearheading the recruitment of others. The subsequent outcry, exacerbated by Greig’s South African roots, led him to be undervalued as an England cricketer. Roderick Easdale argues that there was another, more relevant, explanation, based less on politics than simple geography. Unlike the other three men featured, most of Greig’s best performances for England took place abroad.

Ian Botham’s heroics at home against Australia in 1981 enjoyed another royal backdrop: the wedding of Charles and Diana. The larger-than-life patriot would have appreciated that. Here the author successfully strips away the hype and drills down to the detail of Botham’s career, calculating how the starkly contrasting ups and downs contribute to a realistic overall assessment. It is an approach that has rarely been attempted before.

In 2005 Andrew Flintoff was another cricketer to benefit from a high-profile home Ashes series, when England again recovered the urn after a long wait, in this case sixteen years. Somehow he always looked a better bowler than his figures implied. Hailing from our own media-driven age, Flintoff is so far the only one of the four to have resisted the lure of the commentary box.

Easdale concludes by ranking the four all-rounders in order. Some of his conclusions are unexpected, but all are soundly argued with the support of compelling anecdotal and statistical evidence. Selling for only £1.99, this ebook represents excellent value. It will certainly be enjoyed by cricket buffs and casual sports fans alike, and is heartily recommended.

Peter Hartland has written histories of Test cricket (1998) and football (2005) that are still available from the author. Contact: peter.hartland1@btinternet.com.

* Follow Country Life on Twitter