Sports autobiographies have come a long way in the last couple of years. Of course, it all depends on the sports star, their story, their personality, and the often unmentioned ghostwriter, but these days the books tend to be less linear, more organic and engaging. Such is certainly true of Jimmy Anderson’s Bowl. Sleep. Repeat, which rather than offering Anderson’s potted biography instead offers up the main events and moments of his cricketing life as well as anecdotes and insight of being a cricketer. This does mean that not all of Anderson’s history if plotted out, but what is lost in chronology and autobiography is made up for in often amusing setpieces from his cricketing life, as well as opinions and details on his craft. So perhaps whilst this book may not be for the more traditional cricket fan or those after an encyclopedic cricketing tome, it certainly appeals to the general cricketing public and fans of Jimmy Anderson.
Indeed, the book offers a great sense of the man himself, both on and off the cricket pitch, and his sense of humour comes across in several of the anecdotes. Whilst I’m not really one to flinch at the odd swear word in an autobiography – they tend to be par for the course to some degree in most sports books, even from the least suspecting of offenders – it was an unexpected touch for Anderson’s book to deploy the old asterisks whenever there was any kind of expletive – to the point of a**e. It’s a seemingly minor point in the scheme of things, but, for me, it says a lot about the idea of setting an example and serving as a role model that has typified Anderson’s career in recent years as he’s reached the top of the game.
Of course, neither he nor cricket is whiter than white, nor does he attest to be so, and there are plenty of behind-the-scenes stories that illustrate the shenanigans that define cricket dressing rooms, tours and pitches. Although, similarly, it’s not all raging at umpires, bats ‘falling’ through windows and sledging. Indeed, crosswords, Countdown and drones seem to be the order of the day when it comes to passing the time between innings, overs or series. Anderson certainly offers a fascinating insight into the dynamics of where to sit – or rather not sit – in the England dressing room, what’s being talked about on the balcony (spoiler alert: it’s probably not cricket) and the unusual and frankly bizarre superstitions that plague some cricketers. It is exactly the sort of minutiae us mere mortals who will never get the chance to grace Lords’ long room (unless on a paid tour) or share a changing room with the England cricket team want to know about. The chance to be a fly on the wall. Though perhaps, according to Anderson, maybe not when Ben Stokes gets dismissed.
Subjects covered range from everything from packing for a tour to the joys of quizzes, the etiquette when a batsman is out to the pros and cons of all the air travel. There are dedicated sections to Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad and Alastair Cook, who have been the three central stalwarts throughout Anderson’s career, with replies from Swann and Broad. Also included is a dressing room playlist from 2018, which is certainly worth a look (if not a listen) and begs the question just who picked which classic when it comes to Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ Islands in the Stream, Take That’s Could it be Magic? and the perennial The One and Only by Chesney Hawkes? Another welcome addition comes at the end of the book where Anderson selects his fantasy cricket teams for England and the Rest of the World. It’s something fans are always curious about but which never seems to be included, so it’s refreshing to have Anderson’s picks, which are likely to encourage plenty of discussion.
Of course, alongside all of the lighter stuff, there’s plenty of cricket detail and discussion, including some really interesting advice from Anderson on the art of bowling different deliveries, which I’m sure will appeal to amateur and aspiring cricketers up and down the country – although there’s no guarantee that the outcome will be equivalent to Anderson’s, but it’s worth a try! The Ashes also gets extended coverage, whilst a lot of the individual matches and series are excluded, after all it would be impossible to include Anderson’s near 600 matches in any meaningful way, so, naturally, there is a lot that is left out. It’s important to strike a balance between the technical cricketing detail and the lighter, more anecdotal pieces and it does feel as if the book goes much more towards the latter end of the scale to the detriment of the former. And, indeed, I think cricket aficionados may feel this lack of specific match commentary and breakdown, but for general readers I think the book reflects a more accessible approach, not getting bogged down in the minutiae of Anderson’s cricketing journey but encompassing it all in an achievable and engaging way.
Jimmy Anderson – Bowl. Sleep. Repeat. / Sports Book Awards Autobiography of the Year shortlisted