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Duncan Hamilton becomes the first ever three time winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner with his biography of cricket writer Neville Cardus.

  • Duncan Hamilton and Donald McRae were both looking to win their third Sports Book of the Year award
  • Judges were “bowled over” by Hamilton’s book, The Great Romantic: Cricket and the Golden Age of Neville Cardus.

The Great Romantic: Cricket and the Golden Age of Neville Cardus by Duncan Hamilton (Hodder & Stoughton) has today, Thursday 5th December, been awarded the 2019 William Hill Sports Book of the Year. By winning the £30,000 award, presented by judge Mark Lawson at the Horseguards Hotel, Duncan Hamilton has become the first person to have won the award three times – having previously won in 2007 (Provided You Don’t Kiss Me) and 2009 (Harold Larwood: The Authorized Biography).

The Great Romantic is Duncan Hamilton’s comprehensive biography of venerated cricket writer and music journalist, Neville Cardus. His achievements in journalism changed the way in which sport was reported and introduced poise and eloquence into what had traditionally been a prosaic experience for both journalist and fan.

Alyson Rudd, Chair of Judges, said:
“The judges were bowled over by the quality of the writing and the way in which Hamilton brings to life the characters that defined cricket between the two world wars. The author explains that Neville Cardus was unknowable but this book does a very fine job indeed of guiding us through his career and motivations.”

Neville Cardus described how one majestic stroke-maker ‘made music’ and ‘spread beauty’ with his bat. Between two world wars, he became the laureate of cricket writing by doing the same with his words.

In The Great Romantic, Duncan Hamilton demonstrates how Cardus changed sports journalism for ever. While popularising cricket – by appealing, in Cardus’ words, to people who ‘didn’t know a leg-break from the pavilion cat at Lord’s’ he became a star in his own right with exquisite phrase-making, disdain for statistics and a penchant for literary and musical allusions.

Among those who venerated Cardus were PG Wodehouse, John Arlott, Harold Pinter, JB Priestley and Donald Bradman. However behind the rhapsody in blue skies, green grass and colourful characters, this richly evocative biography finds that Cardus’s mother was a sex worker, he never knew his father and he received negligible education. Infatuations with younger women ran parallel to a decidedly unromantic marriage. And, astonishingly, this supreme stylist’s aversion to factual accuracy led to his reporting on a match he didn’t attend.

Yet Cardus also belied his impoverished origins to prosper in another class-conscious profession, becoming a music critic of international renown. In this definitive biography, Duncan Hamilton casts light on the enigmatic character and immense achievements of a remarkable all-rounder.

The other shortlisted books were (in alphabetical order):

The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey To Edge of Human Endurance – Adharanand Finn (Faber & Faber)
In Sunshine or in Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles - Donald McRae (Hodder & Stoughton)
Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race – Lara Prior-Palmer (Penguin Random House)
Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump – Rick Reilly (Headline Publishing Group)
Position of Trust: A Football Dream Betrayed – Andy Woodward (Hodder & Stoughton)

The Times sportswriter and novelist, Alyson Rudd is Chair of the judging panel this year, while the panel itself consists of: journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson; retired professional footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle; Olympic medallist and Chair of UK Sport Katherine Grainger; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale and the broadcaster Danny Kelly.

In winning the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, The Great Romantic, becomes the sixth cricket book to win the award and the first to do so since Hamilton’s book Harold Larwood won in 2009.

Previous winners of the prestigious award include Nick Hornby, Brian Moore, and Marcus Trescothick. Football is the most successful topic having won seven awards followed by cricket (six) and boxing (five).

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, first awarded in 1989 to True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny by Daniel Topolski and Patrick Robinson, is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize.

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