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Last Updated: Friday, 25 May 2007, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Book review: 'Grovel!'
Welcome to the first in a new series of book reviews on the BBC Sport website.

Book cover

It's a joint project, between ourselves and our users.

We'll be looking at the latest publications from the world of sport as well as some of the classics.

The first book to come under our respective gazes is 'Grovel! The Story & Legacy of the Summer of 1976'.

Written by David Tossell, it focuses on the Test series between England and the West Indies, when England skipper Tony Greig made the mistake of taunting the tourists.


Not the best move in the world when the opposition boasted players of the calibre of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts.

Anyway, here's what our reviewers had to say:

One of cricket's finest attributes is its power to almost indelibly stamp its visual imagery onto our memory.

Tossell describes the pivotal cricketing events of 1976: the West Indian team incensed by Greg's use of the word "grovel" - a word that portrays some rather distasteful visual imagery - and their response on this tour and subsequent ascendancy and dominance in world cricket.

There is more than plain narrative. Like watching a television documentary, the cricketing events are interspersed with some very revealing quotes from the players involved, which add to the colour and pungency of an already heady mix.

Humorous anecdotes round off a well told tale. Eight central pages of black and white, and colour photographs convey the grace, power and drama.

Tossell also interweaves comment on the social backdrop of the era with potted histories of players and connected events. There seems to be an autobiographical tinge, which, again, adds to one's immersion in the drama.

Humorous anecdotes round off a well-told tale. Eight central pages of black and white, and colour photographs convey the grace, power and drama.

Of course, the "grovel" assertion by Greig is dissected, as are the marshalling of the West Indian troops by Clive Lloyd and Greig's hunt for his preferred team.

I'd expected the full force of the West Indian typhoon, but not the defiantly staunch response from Close and Edrich (Old Trafford), the attention and bravery of Amiss (Oval) and indeed, the pride shown by Grieg and Knott (Headingley), to make such a deep impression.

Check the photographs - not a helmet in sight!

A short postscript on the legacy of the tour and tour statistics complete the package. I enjoyed the book - it is easy to read, exciting and well written.


8 stars

Krishna Mahadevan, Shirland, Derbyshire

"Grovel!" sets out - or so the author says - to relate the 1976 West Indies tour against the backdrop of the social events surrounding it.

The racial tension in Britain, the fanatical following from the Caribbean supporters, the longest, hottest summer on record and so on and so forth.

So does it succeed? Well that depends. If you are fanatical about cricket then, make no mistake, this book is set to become the definitive work on the emergence of the West Indies side that dominated world cricket for so long.

I can't, however, get worked up about how the tourists bowled before lunch in the warm-up game against the combined universities some 31 years ago. We're not quite given ball-by-ball coverage of the tour - but very nearly.

Would I recommend this book to a friend? If the friend was fanatical about cricket? Definitely. If the friend was (like me) in their mid 40's with an appreciation of sport, music and all things cool? Probably. If the friend found cricket boring? No way, it would only confirm their prejudice!

When background information is included it's often brief and somehow detached. It leaves me wanting more analysis of social issues and different perspectives.

I'm a white English man, and danced and banged my tin cans very happily with the West Indians in 1976.

It was the first time at a sporting contest where I didn't mind whether my team won or lost - and also the first time I'd eaten rice and peas and salt fish. It was a fantastic experience.

None of the black people at Headingley that year seemed worried about Tony Greig being racist. They were too busy laughing at his expense.

So I can't help but wonder whether the talk of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King isn't a little off-beam. The sheer joy of the tour is just not communicated to me.

This book brought wonderful memories back for me, but ultimately it's a cricket fan's book first and foremost.

I guess in that respect accomplished sports writer David Tossell has tailored this book precisely for the audience who are most likely to go out and buy it.


6.5 stars

Stephen Smith, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

How times have changed. When the West Indies team arrived at Lord's for the first Test last week, they only had one rain-affected warm-up game behind them.

Contrast that with their predecessors from 1976, who played eight matches before the start of a Test series which was to prove one of the most significant in cricket history.

'Grovel!' tells the story of a summer which England captain Tony Greig began by promising to make West Indies do just that and ended with him crawling on his hands and knees in comic supplication before their supporters at The Oval.

As a historical record of a memorable series, the book works very well. But to really appreciate it, you had to live through it.

I saw West Indies twice on that tour, firstly on a school trip to Northampton when Collis King and Larry Gomes hit brilliant, but contrasting, hundreds for the tourists, and then two months later on day two at The Oval when Viv Richards made the final 91 runs of an epic innings of 291.

It was that summer when Richards announced himself as the game's pre-eminent batsman and West Indies unveiled a four-paceman strategy, led by the magnificent Michael Holding, which made them the dominant force in world cricket for the next 15 years or so.

David Tossell fills in the details in a highly enjoyable book, not only focusing on the cricket but also its impact on the Caribbean community in the UK, which followed the team in huge numbers and generated such a vibrant atmosphere at the grounds.

As a historical record of a fine series, the book works very well. But to really appreciate it, you had to live through it.


8 stars

Paul Grunill, cricket editor, BBC Sport website

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