Saturday 19 December 2020

Guest Review: Illingworth: A Biography By Mike Stevenson

Described by John Arlott in his forward to this book as ‘the most underestimated captain of our time’, Raymond Illingworth twice brought England the Ashes (once in Australia) and took Leicestershire to their first County Championship ever. In this fascinating biography, Mike Stevenson recounts how the triumphs, disappointments and controversies of a long and varied career built up the experience and insight that make Raymond Illingworth one of the best cricketers now playing.

Review: This is the biography of cricketer Raymond Illingworth who played for Yorkshire, Leicestershire and England. Born in Pudsey in Yorkshire, he first played for his native county in 1951 and received his first cap for England in 1958. He left Yorkshire to join Leicestershire in 1969 and was immediately offered the captaincy of the club. Following an injury to the then current England captain, he was asked to captain the national side.

Although a good off-spin bowler and more than a useful middle order batsman, it is as a deep thinking and, at times, uncompromising captain that he is best remembered. During his time at Leicestershire, the county won the Benson and Hedges limited-overs competition twice, the John Player Sunday League twice and the County Champinship once. He captained England on 36 occasions, winning more matches than he lost. Perhaps his finest hour was regaining the Ashes during a very demanding tour of Australia in 1970-71, during which he had to deal with questionable umpiring and hostile crowds. It was his predilection for supporting his players and not being afraid to stand up to authority that did not endear him to the cricket administrators at Lords. This was a time when players were expected to accept authority without question. He lost the England captaincy following a series defeat to the West Indies in 1973. He retired from playing cricket initially in 1978. This book was published in 1978, so does not cover the period when he went back to Yorkshire as team manager. During this time, he was persuaded to come out of retirement and captained the county for two seasons in 1982 and 1983. He went on to be chairman of selectors of the England team for three years from 1993 to 1996.

The book deals with his childhood; his early years playing cricket in the Bradford League; breaking into and playing in the great Yorkshire sides of the 1950s and 1960s; his early experiences of Test Match cricket with England; and his move to Leicestershire and captaincy of the county and national teams.

It was very interesting to read about Ray Illingworth’s early years and to hear his side of some of the controversial incidents in which he has been involved. However, as the book finishes at the end of the 1977 season, it is an incomplete story. I also found the author’s writing style not to my taste in that there seemed to be an over-use of metaphors and the book was often gushing in its praise of its subject. However, as a story of a determined person and of cricket during the 1950s to the 1970s, it makes for an interesting historical record.

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