Book Review: The Girls of Summer by David Tossell

The Girls of Summer is not the book that David Tossell – a veteran author, with a shelf-full of sporting chronicles to his name – wanted to write. When we first met him at the start of the 2015 summer, he happily admitted that he was hoping to tell the story of a triumphant victory; not the humiliating failure of which the reader can’t fail to be aware as they dash through its 300 pages.

And dash you will! Though his “day job” these days is in PR for American Football’s NFL, Tossell clearly remains a newspaper man at heart; and one who really knows and loves his cricket. His prose zips along, hot off the back page, taking you to the heart of the action on the field, as balls are belted and stumps are struck, in the kind of intimate detail that only a full-length book affords.

Tossell’s great coup is to have negotiated access to the dressing room. Sitting on the balcony beside the coaches gave him the opportunity to document a unique perspective on the game which definitely felt out of reach to the rest of us at the time – the coaching staff’s reluctance to engage with the media having become something of a running joke in the press box by the end of the summer.

Bestriding it all is the figure of the “Head of Performance” – Paul Shaw. Shaw comes across as something of a tragi-comic character, hiding behind his buzzwords and his flip charts, while ultimately refusing to accept any responsibility for the defeat, insisting right to the bitter end that he is the brilliant man manager let down by the failure of his players.

At one point Charlotte Edwards laments: “We didn’t play our brand.” And somehow this actually gets to the heart of the problem with Shaw’s regime, laid so bare by the view from Tossell’s window – that Shaw had instilled in the players the need to play “a brand”… while Australia were busy playing cricket.

If there are any flaws in The Girls of Summer, they are twofold.

First, Tossell’s occasional reluctance to directly confront the most difficult questions. For example, he clearly knows why Danni Hazell was (inexplicably, in the eyes of the Aussies who couldn’t believe their luck) left out of the early engagements of the series. He even hints obliquely at the reason, but somehow can’t quite bring himself to cast real daylight upon what has to be seen as one of Shaw’s most controversial decisions.

Second, if you were hoping to come away with some real understanding of the players as “people”, with lives and loves beyond the narrow confines of the game, then you are going to be sorely disappointed by The Girls of Summer, as it (with perhaps one-and-a-half exceptions) draws a coy veil across the idea that they might even have such lives, let alone loves.

Nevertheless, setting such quibbles aside, The Girls of Summer is a book that every women’s cricket fan… indeed, every cricket fan… needs to read – a subtly devastating glimpse into Paul Shaw’s bizarre “bubble” of management speak, motivational memorandae, and A PowerPoint for Every Problem which promised everything that summer… and delivered nothing.

Buy The Girls of Summer on Amazon.co.uk

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Girls of Summer by David Tossell

  1. You must be a fast reader. I’ve started to read it to but haven’t made much progress yet because I am such a slowpoke when it comes to reading!

    The early parts betray no criticism of Shaw whatsoever, and indeed do nothing but compliment him. My early thoughts are “this could be written by ECB management”, so I’ll be interested to see how this changes through the course of the book.

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  2. So…having finally finished the book, I can sort of see what you mean by it managing to criticise Shaw by the “subtle glimpse” approach. Shaw features prominently, as the “Man on a Mission” with his own chapter, and the Machiavellian mastermind behind the scenes. But all Tossell does is tell things as they were, in quite a matter-of-fact manner. That’s the not-so-secret method for the telling. And that is enough to reveal the glaring chinks in Shaw’s armour. There is no kind of broad narrative criticism that one might normally expect from an attitude intended to be polemic. None is required.

    Instead, one only need look at what Shaw did – in his selections, his cotton-wool treatment of the players, his bizarre obsession with “flags” and “brands” and “values”; his failure to fire the players up, give them belief (or a rocket / haridryer treatment when needed), or really even establish if the training and coaching he was in charge of was having the desired effect – to easily see his shortcomings. Robinson may have some issues, but those former problems will hopefully not be his.

    Overall I probably did expect more insight into the minds of the players, and the details of some of the more bizarre selection decisions, but still it’s worth reading if only to learn how to do certain things differently in the future.

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