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.