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Batting For Apartheid

We have an article in today’s Sunday Times in South Africa:

Early in 1990, England cricket captain Mike Gatting and his team began one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the game: the seventh rebel tour of South Africa….

Read the full piece here.

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This week’s Times Literary Supplement contains a pleasing review, concluding:

Nobody emerges with credit from Peter May’s meticulous and detailed account of the rebel tours.

You have to respect the TLS but the old-fashionedness is sublime. Just the font is enough to make you reach for the port decanter even at this early hour.

PS (13 Jan ’10) TLS reviewer Stuart George has now posted an extended version of his review on his blog.

SJA’s Books of the Year

The Sports Journalists’ Association names its six books of the year here today.

Peter Wilson of The Sunday Times very generously puts The Rebel Tours on the list.

Engel’s marks

On Christmas Day my brother and I fell into conversation about great cricket writers.

Raised in a house reading Christopher Martin-Jenkins (Telegraph/Times), Jack Bannister (Birmingham Post) and Vic Marks (Observer), the antepost favourites were clear. But I made a spirited case for Matthew Engel, who had really impressed during Rebel Tours research.

He provided the best coverage of any journalist during the Dirty Dozen tour for the Guardian and later dragged Wisden back from the brink of colonial madness on the South African question. Stephen Moss has described Engel as the greatest editor in the almanack’s modern history and he’d get no argument here.

Then today I read the first negative review of The Rebel Tours. Published in the Wisden Cricketer, it is not only critical but laceratingly so. And it is written by Matthew Engel. Oh well.

The review is 55% ‘what I did on my holidays’ self-indulgence and 15% legitimate if mean-spirited criticism.

But it is the remainder that really irks: a conceited, condescending dismissal that the book fails because I have not approached key interviewees.

As the acknowledgements make clear, I asked dozens of people to co-operate and was rebuffed. Hopefully the irony is not lost on Engel that he could have avoided embarrassing himself with these falsehoods by, er, picking up the phone.

My biggest regret on the book is not getting more first-person testimony but that is in the nature of researching an episode that most would rather forget.

Might leading figures have been more likely to talk to a familiar face? Quite possibly. But would interviews based on familiarity yield independent content? Moreover if every cricket book has to be written by an esteemed former Wisden editor to pass muster, that is going to put a lot of pressure on Engel’s free time.

I took – and continue to take – the reluctance of rebel tour figures as another reason to write the book rather than not. If you want an air-brushed first-person account with an all-star contributor list, Ali: The Autobiography of Ali Bacher was published in 2004.

PS (18 Feb ‘10) TLS reviewer Stuart George and I elaborate on some of this here.

Cricket Web’s David Taylor posts our third four-star review on Cricket Fans Forum:

Well researched and thoughtfully written…a highly commendable first book and well worth tracking down.

For the full review click here.

A new review by Martin Chandler on Cricket Web today pays more or less the ultimate compliment to a cricket history:

Gideon Haigh’s seminal work “The Cricket War” made sure that the game’s literature has a definitive record of WSC. Peter May has done the same for South Africa’s years in the cricketing wilderness.

Read the full review here.

As England’s tour of South Africa continues without incident, it is easy to forget that, two decades ago, a side of English players led by Mike Gatting was trudging a similar route across the country.

Martin Williamson reviews The Rebel Tours for Cricinfo today, awarding it four stars. Unless you’re talking luxury Dubai hotels, that’s a resounding recommendation.