Cricket books written by current players can be a mixed bag. For every classic like Eight Days a Week by Jonathon Agnew, there are dozens devoid of originality that read like an accountancy exam. Many fall somewhere in the middle, with some genuine insight given - but not too much, we have the end of career biography to think of mixed in with some filler material to pad it all out.
Calling the Shots by Michael Vaughan falls in the higher end of that middle group. The book contains plenty of filler: match descriptions, scorecards, statistics and player pen pics that you could probably have a stab at writing yourself. But in-between there are enough insights into Vaughan, his team-mates and the England set-up itself, to keep you interested.
The book covers Vaughans leadership from the resignation of Nasser Hussien as England one-day captain, up until the end of the 2005 Ashes campaign. Emphasis is very much on the national team, with Yorkshire managing only two entries into the index, a number matched by Mick Jagger. Such is the life of the modern England cricket captain.
The most interesting aspect of the book is the assessment Vaughan makes of other players, as hes a shrewd judge. Fellow international captains are given sympathy for the pressure they are under, but honestly assessed. Stephen Fleming is held up as a model to follow, whilst Ponting is unsurprisingly given short shrift for his complaints about fielding substitutes. Tillekeratnes captaincy of Sri Lanka is described as bizarre and Graeme Smith comes across as the kind of guy ASBOs where designed for.
A chapter towards the middle of the book about Harmison, Flintoff and Vaughan himself is particularly revealing. Harmison it seems, is someone who practically needs babysitting when away from home. Description of gangs of mates coming down to stay with him when hes strayed as far as London give you the impression, unintended Im sure, of the slow kid at school who could only be trusted with the safety scissors. Whilst Vaughans prediction that GBH will retire when hes thirty is starting to look a good bet in the time since publication.
Many of the clichés and whining so prevalent in the genre are avoided; as tales of golf games against former legends, niggles about hotel and training facilities on tour, complaints about dips in form, dodgy umpiring decisions, and press criticism are all keep to a bare minimum. In fact, it seems that the only time press flak really annoyed was when it came from Ray Illingworth at the time Vaughan was appointed. Illingworths reward in the book is the selection of a particularly shifty looking photo, which makes him look as if hes trying to explain to a judge exactly what happened to the Christmas club money.
Indeed, good quality photographs form an important aspect of this and all sports books. The majority here are on-field action shots, and whilst theyre excellent - probably the best available to the publishers weve seen them before many times. What are missing are more personal glimpses into Vaughans career, as well as candid snaps of dressing room life. If youre hoping for a chance to see backroom tactical discussions or Geraint Jones gently washing Duncan Fletchers feet at the end of play, youll be sadly disappointed.
The only one that really stands out in the mind afterwards is a rather gruesome group photo of the Sky sports commentary team: Gower and Hussien with nervous smiles, Bothom, face as blank as a list of great Australian scientific discoveries. All towered over by what at first appears to be a badly constructed waxwork of Albert Steptoe, but on closer inspection turns out to be Bob Willis. Im shuddering just thinking about it.
Reading the book now, at the end of the 2006/07 tour, its interesting to speculate what influence Vaughan might have had if match fit. You suspect many things would have stayed the same as he is in favour of coach as selector, an extensive back up staff and the replacement of Reid by Jones during the 2004 WI series; although he concedes that change could have been handled better. Whilst the amount of cricket needed to build up for a tour isnt directly addressed, Vaughan does stress the importance of giving players rest and seems unworried by a lack of runs going into an important game. If so, perhaps Englands attitude to tour preparation this last winter is not radically different than before?
The overall impression left is of a highly intelligent man, who is focused and above all, honest. It would be interesting to see what some of the TV and Radio commentators make of his views on field placement etc. Ive certainly come away with the impression that out on the field, without any of the computer analysis available to them, hes still capable of being a good few overs ahead of where they are in reading the game.