Book review: Keeping Quiet

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The autobiography of former England wicketkeeper-batsman Paul Nixon is thought-provoking, honest and engaging, writes Peter May.

There is a point towards the end of <I>Keeping Quiet</I>, the autobiography of former Leicestershire, Kent and England wicketkeeper Paul Nixon, when he recounts being offered eye-watering sums of money to fix a county Twenty20 match.

The possibilities cannot be denied. It is the sunset of his career and the Foxes are in financial strife. Such thoughts are then swamped. He has no intention of accepting the proposition. Hansie Cronje was a Grace Road team-mate, after all. Nixon's wife and father, voices of sanity, tell him to leave it alone. And the relevant anti-corruption officials are contacted quickly.

In many a run-of-the-mill autobiography that is where matters would rest, perhaps with the throwaway phrase "cancer on the game that must be eradicated"; it's a headline-grabber for the dust jacket and duty is quickly done without dwelling on the details. Throw in a story about being first mate on Andrew Flintoff's pedalo and it's next stop the front window of WH Smith.

But Nixon and his writer Jon Colman do not leave their stories at the headline. Cricket, not to mention life, is a complex business and any good autobiography has to reflect that. Six pages after the initial offer, five pages after telling the authorities, Nixon is still losing sleep over the "dark fantasy" of what might have been.

It is always worth being reminded how complex and vulnerable people are. As well as startled by the vast riches Nixon is concerned about provoking the Indian gangland paymasters behind the offer: can he afford <I>not</I> to take it?

If Nixon, nearly 40 at that stage, after a long, well-paid career and living a long way from the back-street dens of Mumbai, did not find it easy to say no, then who would? It's a superb little chapter that epitomises the book overall: thought-provoking, honest, engaging.

Elsewhere Nixon has a great mix of experiences: a successful county career; ups and downs with England; a stint in the, ahem, error-strewn Indian Cricket League; and a string of encounters with the game's great and good. But few stories take a predictable linear path and there is a keen eye for nuance throughout.

When it comes to the 2007 World Cup debacle, Kevin Pietersen is reported as a good team man while captain Flintoff was more distant. The calamitous management of Leicestershire in recent years is recounted in some detail, a welcome illustration that famous institutions and important people make their decisions like every other office: in meetings, badly.

Even Nixon's own trademark as a motormouth behind the stumps is offset by the revelation that he had his own unrevealed psychological torment (hence the title), although this is not explored or resolved in a particularly satisfactory way.

All of the ingredients for a decent autobiography are here: triumph and disappointment on the field, intrigue and revelation off it. That this is better than that, a very good autobiography indeed, is a testament to the career and honesty of Paul Nixon, and the skill of Jon Colman in putting it together. It's an easy book to recommend.

* <I>Keeping Quiet</I> by Paul Nixon and Jon Colman is published by The History Press (£17.99).

<b>Review by Peter May</b>

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