In a sport that has had more than its fair share of interesting characters, never before have cricketers been as aware as today's professionals of the commercial opportunities available to the professional, nor as adept at exploiting them. Players have endorsements on their bats, appear in television and print advertisements for products and services ranging from local banking institutions to global fizzy water manufacturer Pepsi and of course, exploit their moments of glory by publishing books. This last category, the publishing of books, is perhaps the most intriguing.
Fans naturally have an interest in hearing just what our cricketing heroes have to say about themselves, their careers and the great game itself. Unfortunately, all too often we are served up a sandwich of premature compilations of statistics from the unfinished career of the latest player to enjoy a purple patch with either bat or ball, filled with only the tiniest morsels of meaty substance in the middle. All too many sanitized bore-a-thons, like Kepler Wessel's ingeniously titled Kepler, grace the shelves in the hope of earning just a few pennies more for the man whose face usually graces the cover. Nevertheless, there is no accounting for taste, and at least Mr. Wessels had the good grace to wait until after his retirement to sell his story. Increasingly, it seems, such restraint, like a batsman walking when he nicks it, has gone the way of the dodo.
Darren Gough's autobiography, Dazzler, was made available on the eve of an exciting test series against Pakistan and of course, Goughie's two-hundredth test wicket. As a marketing move, this was one of the better ones, but as a fan one must ask: what can Darren Gough, whose career is far from over, possibly offer by way of reflections on the game, the evolving nature of the sport, and-considering the stringent ICC regulations-interesting comments on other international players or detailed discussions of his experiences.
Gough is not the first to succumb to the fiscal temptations of publication. Ricky Ponting’s “Punter” was published when the test star was only 23 years old. As one critic put it: “no big words, lots of pics.” Devon Malcolm's "You Guys Are History" shamelessly exploited his magnificent 9/57 innings haul against South Africa and as a result, we lost the benefit of his commentary on the most interesting part of his career, its untimely demise. Malcolm's views on the 1995 tour to South Africa and his spat with Ray Illingworth, coupled with his observations on the politics and workings of England cricket would be more interesting than reading about his annoyance with Fanie DeVilliers' bouncer.
Similarly, Allan Donald's book White Lightning, while an interesting read with more juicy tidbits than most, has already been revised and up-dated once and the South African fast bowler has yet to bowl his last ball in anger. Let us not forget Brian Lara, whose Beating the Field was published over five years ago. Lara has since taken a sabbatical from cricket, been captain of the West Indies, was on a team twice white-washed 5-0, single-handedly massacred Australian bowlers in a memorable Caribbean tour, been fired as skipper and developed an eye disease. Lara's story, if published today, surely would be a far better read than the drivel fans endured right after the Trinidadian's Herculean batting records.
Naturally, not all of these cricket books should be dismissed as worthless. White Lightning for example, while perhaps premature, was filled with more interesting, behind the scenes stories and opinionated views than most. Ian Botham's My Autobiography - Don't Tell Kath was also a gem, but of course “Beefy” had a full career upon which to ruminate. There is no doubt that cricket's relative babes-in-the-woods will continue to sell books with excess verbiage about how much they enjoyed playing their first test at Lords, or the seemingly ever present "my personal favorite innings was not the test match winning 175 I scored to beat Australia, but that oft-forgotten 64 not out I made in a limited overs game at Sharjah and here's why" story. One can only hope that at least a handful of our heroes will wait until their innings has closed before lovingly describing each meticulous forward defensive to us ever-loyal fans, in hardcover.