A guest post by Robert Stanier
The start of a new cricket season (at least in Britain) seems a good moment to mention one of my surprises of the close season – that Bob Woolmer’s huge book on the “Art and Science of Cricket” turned out not to be so much of a coaching manual (although it is), as a complete history of cricketing innovation.
Woolmer played cricket for Kent and England, and coached South Africa and Pakistan, and his book is a wonderful example of someone taking a subject they have deep knowledge of, and love, and completely re-thinking it. He draws on all sorts of fields of expertise, from psychology (visualisation techniques), to physics (reverse swing), to historical analysis (comparing Ian Botham’s tips on batting in 1980 with the Reverend James Pycroft’s in 1851), to statistics (there’s no advantage in winning the toss in a one day match, despite the conventional wisdom!), and fusing them together with his experience of being at the top of international sport.
Every ten pages or so, he comes up with something utterly new and original, even to a hardened fan such as myself. For example, he links Don Bradman’s career batting average (40 runs per innings more than anyone else in the history of the game) to the fact that Bradman never saw any cricket played until he was fifteen, and largely taught himself to bat by striking a ball against a fence in his back yard. No one ever got round to ‘correcting’ his technique – but it was all but impossible to copy.
More practically (for someone like me), he explains why for most batsmen the best guard to take is leg stump.
More importantly, even for a non-player: it’s about taking a subject, completely rethinking it, and coming to utterly new conclusions. It’s a process that must be applicable in dozens of other fields. And this is a classic example.
This is probably the most important book on cricket in the last thirty years. Maybe longer.
Robert Stanier, now a vicar in London, is a former colleague. Thanks to Deewhy RSL Club in Sydney for the photograph.