I must begin this book review with an admission that will come of no great surprise to readers of this blog; I am a cricket tragic. As an example of this characteristic, I actually enjoy reading books about cricket that are not a ghosted autobiography or diary of a current cricketer. One book I found fascinating was “True to the Blue” by Phillip Derriman which reviewed the history of the NSW Cricket Association. Derriman got access to the Association’s records, and he delved deeply into the interesting, and sometimes slightly murky, past of the body. I was therefore keen to read the recently released “Inside Story – Unlocking Australian Cricket Archives”. This story reveals the ‘behind-closed-doors’ discussions and decisions made by the entity originally called the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket and currently known as Cricket Australia.
Interestingly, this book was actually commissioned by the Cricket Australia, and it allowed the two nominated authors complete access to their secrets, and the freedom to write the book as they see fit. The co-authors of this book, Gideon Haigh and David Frith, were deliberately selected for the simple reason that they are superb writers. Both authors have written extensively on the history of cricket in both Australia and around the world, and have won many prizes for their works.
This is not a book for the casual reader. Exceeding 350 pages and at nearly 300,000 words, it examines and dissects in great detail the actions of the board. The reader cannot simply skim through the content presented by Frith and Haigh, as is possible with many other current examples of cricket literature. Their analysis of many key points in Australian cricket history is excellent, and the time taken to digest the text is very worthwhile.
The early days of the Board of Control provide fascinating details of the famous “Gang of Six” revolt in 1912, and the day the captain punched the chairman of selectors. As with any review of Australian cricket, the name Bradman features strongly. His career as a journalist whilst still under contract as a cricketer is examined, as is his quick move from player to official. Other highly significant events such as Bodyline, Packer’s World Series and the South African rebel tours are also reviewed, and make for interesting reading.
It is hard not to feel considerably empathy for the players throughout the 20th Century, as the administrators often appear very remote and condescending. This issue is not limited to the dim and distant past, with the bookie scandal of the 1990s an example of administrators more interested in minutiae than serious problems. When Warne/Waugh indiscretions were discussed, the resolutions were limited to the end of the meeting, by which time one member had already left to catch a plane. There didn’t even appear to be a vote, with at least one board member admitting afterwards that the entire process was poor and unsatisfactory. The arrogance of some administrators is evident right from the moment of inception, but it didn't necessarily diminish quickly over time. One of the more intriguing themes over the board's history is the fact that ex-players were unwanted as administrators. The knowledge and experience they could have brought were clearly considered less important than the skills of the local businessman who had never played cricket.
This is a very valuable book for fans of the game, and provides a great insight into the logic, questionable as it may have been, that underpinned many of the decisions that have guided cricket in Australia. Cricket Australia deserves credit for letting Frith and Haigh to write as critically as they have. They could have censored the authors to prevent embarrassing blunders being made public, but both writers claim that there were no restrictions on either their access to materials or the content that flowed from it. Very highly recommended for serious fans of the game, but casual readers probably will be overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of the project. Nonetheless, it is recommended that they start the book, as the quality of writing and interesting content will quickly drag them in.