The sport of Cricket possesses two great nuances that seem to be so paramount in the old game but so minor in other equivalents: the abundance and excellence of writing and the proliferation of fathers and sons who play the game at the highest levels. No other sport seems to generate the volume and quality of writing as Cricket but even this pales into the background compared to the number of father and son combinations that in the least play county cricket, at the most the international equivalent. The names trip off of the tongue and they have been adeptly compiled in an intriguing tome by the Cricket Badger, aka James Buttler.
Dealing with the inherent intricacies of following a famous family member into the game, two early points set the tone for the remainder of the text: boys seem to naturally want to better their father’s achievements, a difficult proposition for those sons of a highly successful father, whilst sons, and by extension daughters, of successful parents are spared the suffering of their parents living their dreams through them vicariously.
Perhaps of more interest is how the book offers many intriguing insights from the individuals themselves. For instance, the opening chapter, dealing with the Cowdrey family, highlights how the famous name may have opened a few doors but once through said doors the attention, glare and comparisons with their father proved difficult. Chris Cowdrey changed the way he played in an attempt to avoid comparisons but every glorious cover drive drew comparisons, every ugly shot provoked equivalents about Cowdrey senior turning in his grave. Also, the pressure generated by the extra attention of spectators because of the surname became a burden.
Equally as intriguing was how many sons wanted to at least match their father’s achievements, such as Mark Ealham to earn his Kent county cap and Ryan Sidebottom to overtake father Arnie’s first-class wickets total. For some players such an achievement was easier than for others. For the Cowdreys and Liam Botham, matching or bettering their fathers’ achievements was nigh on impossible. Indeed, the latter chose Rugby Union over cricket even though the cricket was his first love as he realised that the only way he could avoid comparisons was to better his father’s incredible achievements.
The book largely covers father and son pairings in the English game but occasionally delves into overseas duos. These provide an interesting juxtaposition; the contrasts in culture and attitudes particularly noteworthy. Current Australian coach Darren Lehmann reveals that he would resign from his position if son Jake is ever selected for the national side to give his son the best possible chance of thriving whilst Don Bradman’s son went so far as to change his surname in order to avoid being a souvenir or an exhibit for star struck Bradman aficionados. Both individuals understood the decision although the Don struggled with the change.
Detailing the relationships of fathers and sons is not the only intriguing aspect covered by Buttler’s investigations though. Theories regarding how sons of ex-players are exposed to the game early on and thus more likely to be taught technique and the nuances of the sport along with having access to equipment lying around the house that proved more than useful are deftly expounded as is the notion that the importance of having the opportunity or access to play a particular sport has an impact on if a child decides to play said sport. Those children exposed to the right environment and access to quality coaching and facilities similarly have a much better chance of succeeding. The ideas prove fascinating but one couldn’t help feel that the chapters on the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon and Nature versus Nurture take the book off on a couple of meandering tangents that are perhaps a little dry at times.
Nevertheless, such a criticism is extremely minor as the book is extremely well researched with a number of intriguing tales including a section on those families from world cricket who aren’t featured in depth in previous chapters, continuing the theme of an extremely well researched tome that provides plenty of insights to the complex scenario of fathers and sons playing the same sport with the inherent problems and issues that are part and parcel of that scenario. In an era of eminently forgettable cricketing, and sporting, reads, Buttler’s book adeptly covers a subject matter that would perhaps be overlooked in other quarters. Similar to those cricket books published by Pitch Publishing, there is kudos for publisher Great Northern Books for taking the inevitable risk with this tome.