In his autobiography Dizzy: The Jason Gillespie Story (as told to Lawrie Colliver), Gillespie recalled being dropped before the Fourth Ashes Test of 2005:
It was chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns who delivered the news. We chatted for a while, and Ricky came over and asked, “Has Trevor spoken to you yet?” I indicated that he had. With that, Ricky just said, “Okay,” and walked out. There was no “Bad luck, mate,” or pat on the shoulder, which confirmed For me that I no longer had the support at my captain. All through the tour, l’d had this niggling feeling that I’d fallen from favour, and at that moment was 100 per cent sure Ricky didn’t want me in the side. Why he didn’t have some sort of chat with me, I don’t know. It’s bewildering …1
At one point during my eight years as Ricky Ponting’s ghost, I asked Ricky about this incident, as part of a broader discussion about how players react to long-time team-mates being dropped. He conceded that the manner in which he treated his friend that day didn’t reﬂect well on him, and went on to speak very fondly about Gillespie — as a bloke, fast bowler and nightwatchman. Then he added, alluding to the fact that he was never a member of the Australian selection panel: “It’s not my job to tell them. It wasn’t my job to tell Jason Gillespie. It’s got nothing to do with me. I don’t pick the team …”
Christopher Douglas, the author of a ﬁne biography of Douglas Jardine, once Said of ghost writing, “Like wicketkeeping, [it] is glaringly obvious if you get it wrong and completely undetectable if you get it right.”2 “Here’s a potted history of the art, in about 800 words
Ghost writing goes back to Biblical times. Some of the earliest known cricket texts had mystery co-authors, among them, many suspect, John Nyren’s celebrated The Young Cricketer’s Tutor.3 The ﬁrst major cricket book by an Australian Test cricketer, With Bat and Ball by George Giffen, was written with the ‘considerable assistance’ of the respected Adelaide sports journalist Clarence Moody.4 WG Grace’s best-known collaborator was Arthur Porritt, who later described Grace as a “singularly inarticulate man the task of getting the material from him was almost heartbreaking”.
“I enjoyed the work immensely,” Porritt nevertheless added.5
The term ‘ghost writer’ was coined in America soon after the Great War, by baseball’s ﬁrst high—proﬁle player agent, Christy Walsh, who brought his athletes (such as Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey) and reporters together to produce highly popular syndicated columns for newspapers across the country. Walsh was a visionary, who saw that the media was growing more tabloid and knew what the punters wanted. Ghost-written books were a natural progression. The process was quickly mimicked in England and Australia. In 1924, following the First Test against South Africa at Edgbaston, England seamer Cecil Parkin wrote in his Empire News column that he had been so humiliated by Arthur Gilligan’s captaincy (Parkin had not bowled in the visitors’ ﬁrst innings and was given only 16 overs in the second) that he was, as the headline put it, ‘refusing to play for England again’. The furore that followed was predictable and Parkin’s defence was that he hadn’t written the words under his name. The ﬁrst he’d known of it, he claimed, was when he saw his story in the paper.
Don Bradman produced two books in the 1930’s, both ghosted, at least to some degree. Don Bradmans’ Book6 was produced with the help of the English sports journalist Bill Bennison, while My Cricketing Life7 was a collaboration with another English writer, William Pollock. The former partnership may not have been a happy one, with The Don responding to some of Bennison’s suggestions by saying, as he crossed them out, “This is not me. Anybody who knows me knows that I couldn’t talk like that and I certainly couldn’t write like that.”8
“What Don got out of the newspaper serial and the book rights is none of m business to tell,” Pollock said after My Cricketing Life had been released to some acclaim, with extracts appearing prominently in The News of the World. “But it was a lot more than I did.”9
This ﬁnancial model would be the basis for most future ghost-writing deals.
Elsewhere in this journal, Peter Lloyd has shown how very few of our early Test stars released their memoirs. Giffen, Bradman, Charlie Macartney and Herbert Hordern are exceptions to the rule. However, the post-war success of books such as Between Wickets, Cricket Crisis and Farewell to Cricket demonstrated there was good money to be made in Australian cricket books and soon the Keith Miller- RS Whitington partnership was releasing a book just about every summer. By the 1960’s, it was more likely than not that an extended international career would lead to a publishing deal. Some cricketers wrote their own material, but many did not.10 When I compiled my Christmas wish list in 1976, there was a team of recently released autobiographies, coaching and tour books to choose from, all written by current or just retired stars: AIways Reddy, Not just For Openers, My World of Cricket, Tigers Among the Lions, Passing Tests, Chappelli, Successful Cricket, Looking For Runs, You’ll Keep, Back to the Mark, Rowdy and Tangles.11
As a teenager, I thought these books were terriﬁc. I still enjoy them now, whenever I take them from my bookshelf, perhaps because they remind me of my youth. They are all readable; some are important. The cynics who dismiss them because they are not in the style or Haigh or Tolstoy are missing the point.
That ends the brief history. But criticism of ghost-written cricket books has continued unabated since the days of Looking for Runs. It sometimes seems that the release of one poor book is sufﬁcient reason to dismiss them all, in the way critics of Doug Walters used to use his rare failures against him as if all his magniﬁcent centuries counted for nothing. Of course, there have been some Shockers among the hundreds of books that have been published in the last 40 years, and I will try here to explain why these happen. But ﬁrst let me say that many books written by cricketers (or by cricketers and their ghosts) have been outstanding; and I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a few of them. I can say without a hint of arrogance. because while a ghost can turn a potentially bad book into something acceptable, he can’t make an excellent one — a great cricket autobiography can only be inspired by the cricketer himself.
When I began working with Ian Healy on the book that became Hands and Heals, for example, I quickly realised that he was more than capable of writing his own book. Ian was, of course, a pretty assured Test cricketer, but I sensed he lacked the conﬁdence to pen his own pages. Or perhaps he was just time poor. He certainly had the writing skills — I remember taking a newspaper piece he wrote himself about keeping to Shane Warne, and while I amended it slightly for the book (so its style was in keeping with the rest of the pages), I didn’t improve it. He remains, with Steve Waugh and Mike Whitney, the best author/cricketer I’ve worked with. Steve is relentless, perceptive and smart. Mike, with whom I produced Whiticisms, is a ghost writer’s dream; my job was to turn on a tape recorder, let Mike ﬂow, and then put the commas in the right places in the transcript.
Even in the best of cases, you have to be careful what you write. I have been Steve’s editor for each of his 14 books, a wonderful gig, even with Ashes diaries when the rush to get out for Christmas means deadlines are tight. I was never Steve’s ghost — and still possess reams of photocopied pages of Steve’s handwriting to prove it — but there was one occasion when I needed a couple of paragraphs to ﬁll a page and the deadline was long gone. All I could do was quickly type 100 words, maybe based on press reports of the captain’s comments at a media conference on the day in question, and hope no one noticed.
All was fine, until six months later, when a high—proifle AFL coach revealed that he had tried to inspire his men before a match by quoting from Steve Waugh’s Ashes Diary. The coach even read out for reporters the paragraphs he had used, words that I immediately recognised. At season’s end, I pondered what part my contribution played in the coach’s team finishing near the foot of the AFL ladder.
There are many ways athletes and ghosts can come together. I became Steve’s editor almost by accident. Mike Whitney had been signed to write a diary of the 1993 Ashes tour, but then he was injured and Steve took over. Some athletes have been so impressed by a ghost’s work with other celebrities that they want more of the same. One famous overseas athlete chose his co-author because he sensed, having read this award-winning scribe’s autobiography, that they shared a similar Personality. The result was an acclaimed bestseller, but it is interesting how the ghost sometimes put words in the athlete’s pen to reveal personal ﬂaws that are disquietingly similar to how the ghost described his own weaknesses in his own book. I guess it’s sort of plagiarism, but who is going to sue who?
Not all collaborations work out so well. Some athletes and ghosts remain good, friends; for others, the relationship was strictly professional. Some stars opt their favourite journalist as their ghost not realising that the scribe is actually Cardus. It is a little-known reality that some journalists are actually mediocre, even poor writers. These men are newshounds, adept at ﬁnding scoops or phoning in a speciﬁc number of words a few minutes after stumps. But before you see as a blanket criticism, remember that some superb columnists renowned for their word artistry have never broken a story in their life. But if a reporter can’t write, he shouldn’t ghost.
One comment that always annoys me is that a cricketer shouldn’t publish an autobiography during his career. Provided he has a story to tell, why not? However, some cricketers are cajoled into producing books during their careers by their managers, even though they don’t have the time to do so or anything particularly interesting to say. But no other sponsorship deals are happening, so the book offer becomes acceptable. These are usually the worst of books. In such circumstances, with the cricketer constantly unavailable and a deadline looming, it’s a natural reﬂex of the ghost to think: No one else gives a damn, why should I? Any words will do, so long as they are written the same way the public thinks the celebrity talks.2 Even worse, I once had a manager say to me, after I asked for more access to his client, “Mate, it doesn’t matter what you write. We’ve already got our advance.”
There are mainstream publishers who seem to be on this same page. Unlike other genres, they don’t care too much for the quality of the words in their sports books, on the basis that it is the celebrity’s name that sells his books, not the standard of the essay. You can see it when a deal is being negotiated, how the bigwigs at the publishing house are more concerned with the number of publicity appearances the cricketer will make, rather than the number of hours he’ll spend with his ghost. The only session involving sport at the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival was entitled: ‘Sport: The Great Distractor?’
Another problem with ghosted autobiographies is that, as good and well-meaning as athletes can be, some just can’t put their experiences, their emotions and what drives them into words. Arthur Porritt remembered a conversation he had with Dr Grace about one of the Champion’s most famous innings, of how he wanted to know what that felt like to build a great knock. “I did not feel anything,” WG reputedly replied. “I had too much to do to watch the bowling and see how the fieldsmen were moved about to think anything.”13
Perhaps the American novelist David Foster Wallace best captured this conundrum in his much-quoted 1992 essay about the autobiography of tennis champion Tracy Austin,14 a book Wallace described as “breathtakingly insipid”. Top athletes, Wallace argued, are compelling because of their skill, their beauty and their inspiration. We want to know them, what drives them, what’s inside them, how they feel at their moments of triumph and despair. “We want to know how they did it,” he wrote. ‘Are they even remotely like us?”16
Unfortunately, Wallace concludes, after citing a depressingly large collection of banal paragraphs from Austin’s book, most highly gifted sports stars can’t answer these questions …
It is not an accident that great athletes are often called ’naturals’, because they can, in performance, be totally present: they can proceed on instinct and muscle memory and autonomic will such that agent and action are one… The real, many-veiled answer to the question of just what goes through a great player’s mind as he stands at the centre of hostile crowd-noise and lines up to the tree-throw that will decide the game might well be: nothing at all.6
Wallace, too cynical for his own good, concludes incorrectly that mass-market sports memoirs are “almost uniformly poor”. Some are; many are not. There is a real bitterness in his tone when he also notes that they “sell incredibly well”; not for the ﬁrst time, an excellent and respected writer lets sales-envy cloud a book review. In fact there are athletes who can provide genuine and important insight into their sport and their achievements, and their memoirs – whether ghost written or not – are to be treasured. Working with such an author, as editor or ghost, is a joy. But at the end of the process, it is still only the athlete who can truly know what it’s like to be a champion, with all the highs and lows and glory and torment that goes with it. We mere mortals can only guess.
I was reminded of all this one ﬁne July day in 2013, when I was called into the ofﬁce of HarperCollins in Sydney. A few weeks earlier, I had submitted the ﬁnal draft of Ricky Ponting’s autobiography, the best part of 200,000 words. It was my sixth book with him, over eight years. Now I was told that Ponting and his management wanted me to ‘step away’ from the project. I’d been ﬁred. A little bewilderingly I didn’t hear a word from Ricky that day, or any day since. The Harper Collins representative was my Trevor Hohns; I was Jason Gillespie. ‘
Maybe, I’ve thought to myself a few times since, this is as close as I’ll ever knowing what being a Test cricketer really feels like. ”
1 Jason Gillespie, with Lawrie Colliver, Dizzy: The Jason Gillespie Story (2007) HarperCollinsPublishers, Sydney, page 271.
2 Wisden Cricketer, December 2005.
3 See, for example, David Rayvern Allen in Barclays’ World of Cricket: The Game from A to Z, edited by EW Swanton and John Woodcock (1980), Collins, London, page 582.
4 See the report of Moody’s death in The Advertiser (Adelaide), 30 November 1937, page 12.
5 Arthur Porritt, The Best I Remember (1922), Cassell, London, pages 31-32. The book Grace and he produced is WG: Cricketing Reminiscences and Personal Recollections (ﬁrst published in 1899; reissued (1980), The Hambledon Press, London).
6 (1930), Hutchinson, London.
7 (1938), Stanley Paul, London.
8 See Irving Rosenwater’s Sir Donald Bradman (1978), BT Batsford Ltd, London, page 133.
9 Rosenwater, page 261.
10 Not all ghost writers revealed themselves in the 19605, but among the ghosts of that decade were Phil Tresidder (who worked with Alan Davidson and Bill Lawry), Ken Roberts (Bob Simpson), Frank O’Callaghan (Wally Grout and Ken Mackay) and Ian McDonald (Ian Meckiﬂ’).
11 The authors of these books are, in order: Ian Redpath (with Neill Phillipson), Keith Stackpole (with Alan Trengove), four titles by Ian Chappell (the ﬁrst with Jack Pollard), Greg Chappell (featuring chapters from Dennis Lillee, Ashley Mallett, Paul Sheahan and Brian Taber), Doug Walters (with Richie Benaud), Rod Marsh (with Ian Brayshaw), Dennis Lillee (with Ian Brayshaw), Ashley Mallett, and Max Walker (with Neill Phillipson).
12 This was the advice Christy Walsh always gave to the men he chose to work with his star clients. Walsh’s exact quote, which seems to appear in just about every article about ghost writing (see, for example, the story by Tim Adams in The Observer, 19 March 2006), is: “A new ghost writer has to learn a lot about style. He usually makes the mistake of thinking he ought to write the way his celebrity talks. That is an error. He ought to write the way the public thinks his celebrity talks.’
13 Porritt, pages 31-32.
14 Beyond Centre Court: My Story, by Tracy Austin with Christine Brennan (1992), William Morrow & Co, New York.
15 David Foster Wallace, ‘How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart’, as published in Consider the Lobster (2005), Little Brown 81 Co, Boston, pages 142-43.
16 Wallace, page 154.