Almanac (Cricket) Book Review: The Art of Centuries




The Art of Centuries

by Steve James

ISBN 9780857502421

Published 2015 Penguin Random House UK


Reviewed by Dan Hoban



What’s so special about a century?  When you watch any batsman celebrate the milestone in their own unique style (eg Michael Slater kissing the badge of his helmet or David Warner leaping in the air with fist-pumping) you can tell how much triple-figures means to the player concerned.


This book, as the title indicates, is essentially about the art of batting and making centuries.  The author plied his trade in the English county scene for 18 years and represented England in two tests. He is now a full-time journalist covering cricket and rugby. He averaged 40 and scored 41 hundreds; a very good player but not a great one – perhaps that is is why he is so adept at providing an insight into the difficult art of scoring runs – a solitary pursuit in a team game.


Steve James draws on his own experiences, his observations of other county players like fellow Glamorgan star Matthew Maynard and interviews with batting royalty like Graham Gooch and Andy Flower.  Other international greats like Tendulkar (100 international hundreds in Tests and ODIs), Lara (who can forget his masterful  277 at Sydney)  and Ponting (41 Test hundreds) are analysed as well.  The Australian used to list “score hundreds” as a goal before each match.


When I played competitive “park” cricket over 25 years ago the unwritten rule was that you didn’t walk and if you were called on to umpire you never gave your mates out unless it was out beyond a skerrick of a doubt.  The logic was that the other mob would do exactly the same thing. It was fair, if not exactly sportsmanlike.


I remember my first and only century. I was playing for South East Sydney Fourths on one of the Moore Park synthetic wickets in the shadows of the mighty Sydney Cricket Ground.  I was about 80 and seeing the ball like a watermelon. Maybe, I was getting a bit overconfident – I danced about two metres down the pitch and attempted a big hit. I missed and the keeper completed an easy stumping. So I stood my ground but expected the square leg umpire, who was one of our boys, to raise his finger. I was that far down the wicket. Instead he stoically ignored the raucous appeal and I reached triple figures, scoring another 40 runs. Although 120 was inked in the scorebook I knew that I should have been out for 80.


James takes a forensic look inside the mind of a batsman and the need to adapt to different match situations. He talks about the physical process of batting and the mental fatigue that comes with it. Although the book is more memoir than manual (particularly the Introduction – The First Century) the cricket coach could still learn some tips, particularly from Chapter 2 Preparation.


It is true that many players get bogged down in the nineties after playing with freedom before that. Then once they reach the milestone it’s common to see a batsman perish soon after; like a racing car driver crashing just after negotiating a difficult hairpin bend.


James devotes a whole chapter to the “Nervous Nineties”.  He contrasts Australians Michael Slater (nine nineties and just fourteen hundreds) to nightwatchman Jason Gillespie who breezed through the 90s and then the dreaded 190s in reaching 201 not out. It was apparently Gillespie’s first ton in any form of cricket: an unbeaten double ton at that! Whilst Slater would certainly be judged a better player if he had made 20 centuries and only 3 nineties he can say ”well I was good enough to get into the nineties nine times!”


This is a pocket-sized paperback book which could easily slip into the pouch of a cricketers kitbag. Indeed Weekend Sport in its acclaim for The Art of Centuries suggests to “leave a copy in the England dressing room.”


Mike Atherton, who had his own problems batting against the McGrath outswinger when opening for England, described it as “Excellent” in The Times.


Its certainly a book for cricket tragics, especially those of us who didn’t scale the mountain. (fairly, that is)


Postscript – in recent times Steve  James’s daughter Bethan, died from sepsis. Our thoughts are with Steve and family at this difficult time.

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