The certificate on the left is the only academic prize I ever won.
Yes. That is quite hard to believe.
Just as hard to believe is what's written on the certificate.
The beagle-eyed among you will have noticed that this esteemed accolade for Academic Excellence in the Field of Effort was awarded to A.B.G. Cricket. (A nom de blog, and not my real name in 1971.) Doubtless you had already warmed up your trigger fingers, and were all set to fire: "A.B.G.? You pin-head."
You will have jumped your guns. You see, on the original, before I'd photo-shopped it, the headmaster of Brighton Grammar, one John Baddeley Esq., got my name wrong.
And now you are wondering what the hell this has to do with cricket?
Well, this: the award in question is glued to the inside of a book, a first edition hardcover - or hardback as we call them here in Straya - written by none other than that revered Knight of West Indian cricket, Sir Garfield St Aubrun Sobers AO.
Bonaventure and the Flashing Blade is about a young West Indian, Clyde, who is rubbish at cricket, but who writes a computer program which makes him good at cricket. Bear in mind this is a children's novel written 1967, well before the likes of John Buchanan and Tim Nielsen started using computers to analyze cricket. Actually, I think Geoff Lawson might be the first person I heard of who started recording cricket data for digital regurgitation and assessment.
The exhibition was also to test bowling. Frank would pause between shots to say things like: "You are too square-on to the wicket. Take three paces off your run, turn your shoulders and come in at an angle to your point of delivery." Three or four balls later he said: "Yes, much better, but your shoulders are too stiff. You are wasting power."
All these comments were recorded by Clyde's machines and every bowler was filmed. This type of practice had been going on for several weeks, and Clyde now had help running off the film and dubbing all the voice recordings on the sound-track. From this film and sound-track he took the meter readings from the coloured balls and the secret instruments in the cricket bats. He collected these into certain sets of figures, which he then put onto a punched tape.
This tape was fed into a KDR6 and other computers. The answers he received told him exactly how each player could bowl against any type of stroke play, or how any batsman could bat against certain types of bowling. It told him too the muscle power, foot speed and mental-reaction speeds of each player. The computers told him a great deal more, but as this was for the secret part of his own task, no one else knew it.
No word on whether it could tell if the bowler chucked it.
Having said that, can I just say this? Does Gary Sobers read this blog? (Hello, Sir Gary.) Is he embarrassed to have written Bonaventure? Did he even write it?
Rereading my shortlist [of nominations for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year], I was most struck by their innocence and pathos. In each of them, the tightly knit sporting world, replete with rules and status, provides a fitting backdrop for a conflict of character. In a way, with fairly obvious white hats and black hats, they most resemble westerns. Yet they are, by and large, satisfying and entertaining.
Not one of them, of course, is written by a celebrated sportsman. And the decline of sports fiction coincides with their deadening and malign appearance on the scene. The rot started in the late 1960s, when Denis Law, Graham Hill and Garry Sobers allowed their names to be attached to works of fiction. When I showed Sobers a copy of the book wot he supposedly wrote, he couldn't have been more alarmed if it had been entitled 'I am a Paedophile' rather than Bonaventure and the Flashing Blade.
Incidentally, Sobers was in Australia in December 1971 for the Rest of the World tour.