Category: Cricket books | reviews and recommendations (page 1 of 3)

Reviews of the latest cricket books.

The Periodic Table of Cricket by John Stern – book review

We own a periodic table. Mostly it’s a footrest, but periodically – typically when we have visitors – it reverts to being a table. Apparently there’s another kind of periodic table too which lays out all the chemical elements according to atomic number and whatnot.

The Periodic Table of Cricket attempts to do something similar with cricketers. John Stern, the former editor of The Wisden Cricketer and current editor-at-large at All Out Cricket, has tried to put all of the most significant cricketers into groups and then slotted it all together to create a rather nice pull-out poster thing on the inside cover.

The main categories are:

  • Defenders and pragmatists
  • Stylists and entertainers
  • Mavericks and rebels
  • Innovators and pioneers

Needless to say, not everyone easily fits into one category and some players might have suited different parts of the table at different stages of their career, but Stern cheerfully admits that there’s occasionally a touch of forceful shoving into a given pigeonhole. That’s half the point. The table is a great place to start if you fancy a pointless cricket argument with someone – and who doesn’t enjoy a pointless cricket argument?

The meat of the book comprises profiles of each of the players. In length and tone, they’re not unlike the ones you see on Cricinfo player pages. You probably wouldn’t sit and read a whole series of such things ordinarily, but we found the fact that they’re organised according to style of play rather helpful in this regard. It can be hard to get a feel for players from the distant past, but seeing someone as part of a lineage of obdurate openers or Fancy Dan middle-order stylists helps commit them to memory.

You could probably predict most of the players who have been included, but the innovators and pioneers section in particular allows for the inclusion of more leftfield names such as Mohammad Nabi and Bernard Bosanquet.

The Periodic Table of Cricket isn’t really a book you’d sit down and read cover to cover, but we rather suspect it is one with a long lifespan. At any mention of a largely unfamiliar great player from yesteryear, you can have a quick check and get a feel for who they were. The profiles tend to tick off all the major aspects of a player’s career but the text isn’t dry. The Ricky Ponting pull shot is described with reference to his “thick, hairy forearms” for example.

Think of it as a kind of great player reference guide with the periodic table thing an oddly helpful way of slotting cricketers into your memory. You can buy The Periodic Table of Cricket from Amazon.

Test Cricket by Jarrod Kimber – book review

Full disclosure: We went to Jarrod’s wedding and were also sent a free book to review. However, we did also have to pay £3 in bail money to release said free book from a Royal Mail prison after it had been charged with insufficient postage, so we pretty much balance out as impartial.

There is a need for this book, you will learn from it and you will enjoy it. We can pretty much guarantee all of those things, so in many respects the review ends here. That is all you need to know. Buy it now before you forget and then read it whenever. If you for some reason need a bit more convincing, read on.

Warts and all, but with more focus on the warts

You will not struggle to find books about the history of cricket. Where this one stands out is that most of those books sand away rough edges whereas Jarrod’s inclination is to seek them out and preserve them. It makes for a truer account of the sport and one which is way more readable. At times, it has an unsettlingly authoritative air about it. To offset this, we pretended that Jarrod had stuck a line break in after every frigging sentence like he always used to, and then we felt okay again.

What’s it about? It’s about the history of Test cricket; all the most significant characters and events that have brought it from where it started to where it is now. It’s the kind of subject matter that in other hands might lead you to glaze over, but this book is light on stats and heavy on hyperbole, which keeps you interested and sneaks the facts into your brain as a result.

Asking Don Bradman to understand why people rated Victor Trumper above him is “like asking a calculator to understand a painting.” In the early days of cricket, a sticky dog was “a wet pitch that got a bit dry and behaved like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.”

Those two lines are on consecutive pages. the book maintains roughly that tone from WG Grace to the three Ws to Imran Khan to Brendon McCullum.

In summary

Test Cricket: The Unauthorised Biography is a serious book. It’s an earnest story told colourfully, rather than a funny book that makes serious points. It’s not that Jarrod’s lost his sense of humour so much as that he’s looking to inform more than he was before; a shift in emphasis rather than an outright change in approach. Whether that’s an improvement or not is probably a matter of opinion, but if the alternative is knocking out the same sort of writing as he did way back when, it would be subject to the law of diminishing returns. This feels new and fresh and is as page-turny as anything else he’s written.

History books can be staid and tiresome and hard to engage with. This is anything but. If we had to pick someone to do the research and tell the story of Test cricket, we’d pick Jarrod. Fortunately, we don’t have to because he’s already done it.

Cricket books for Boxing Day Test Eve

We know that many of you like to pass the time on Boxing Day Test Eve by giving people presents. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the better cricket-themed books on offer this year.

These are just some of the newer ones. Take a look at the book review section of the site to find older stuff.

Fire in Babylon by Simon Lister

In an unusual inversion of the normal rules governing adaptations, this is the book of the film. Inspired by the documentary of the same name, it focuses on the West Indies during the Seventies and Eighties. The Guardian describe the book as a ‘near definitive’ attempt to describe and understand one of the finest sports teams ever. Buy it for someone young who thinks the Windies have always been crap.

Kevin Pietersen On Cricket

We wonder how much the score-settling previous book will put people off this one. If you’re able to forget about KP: The Autobiography, this one seems much more interesting as a cricket fan. There was an extract in The Guardian which gave a good idea what it’s all about.

It’s about cricket.

We don’t mean in the sense that it’s all ‘then we played Australia and I made 158’. Presumably there’s a bit of that in there, but it’s more about the mechanics and psychology of the sport – you know, the timeless, interesting stuff. That extract about Warne picks apart the bullshit and the bluster, but also sees the value of those things.

Actual analysis is something you don’t often get in a sporting autobiography. This genuinely seems quite promising and reviews have been broadly positive.

Test Cricket: The unauthorised biography by Jarrod Kimber

We’ve not read this yet and in fact only found out it existed the other day. We’re assuming Jarrod wouldn’t have written something rubbish, so definitely worth a look.

Last in the Tin Bath by David Lloyd

Essentially a straightforward sporting autobiography, but with the benefit that the subject has seen cricket from more angles than most. Quirky enough to be genuinely amusing in places as well. Here’s a full review.

You can find more of our cricket book reviews and recommendations here.

If you’ve any recommendations of your own, stick ’em in the comments and we’ll maybe try and add them to the article before the daily email goes out later on.

Last in the Tin Bath – a review of David Lloyd’s autobiography

Back when we reviewed Start the Car: The World According to Bumble, we suggested that rather than majoring on Lloyd’s zaniness, they might have been better off writing a traditional autobiography. Well this is what they’ve done. The result is indeed a better book.

For those that don’t know, before Lloyd was a TV commentator, he was variously county captain, Test cricketer, first-class umpire and England coach, all while maintaining strong links with Accrington CC in the Lancashire league. If you want a rounded perspective on cricket, he is perhaps uniquely qualified.

That’s very much the strength of the book – the various vantage points on the sport. That breadth of experience combined with Lloyd’s many years in cricket means the book transcends most modern autobiographies in having plenty of subject matter to tackle.

We also prefer reading about eras we don’t know so well. It means you’re less likely to find yourself enduring yet another account of a story you already know too well featuring characters who are all-too-familiar. We’d rather learn something new, like that Vanburn Holder was nicknamed ‘Hosepipe’ due to certain physical attributes.

One concern you may well harbour is that rather than trying to sell this book on wackiness, they’re instead trying to sell it on salt-of-the-earthiness. Look! There he is on the cover in a tin bath! He’s from Accrington, you know!

It’s a legitimate fear and while it’s occasionally justified, the relatively straightforward nature of the book means moments like this are rarely gratuitous. When we learn that he was last in the queue for said tin bath, it really is just to give some sense of what his upbringing was like and you then see how that upbringing informs many of his decisions later in life.

If there’s a flaw, it’s in the tone. For the most part, it reads like any other autobiography, but there are occasional flashes of ‘personality’. Ghost writer Richard Gibson had an impossible task here in our opinion. People tend to think that it would be easier to capture the tone of someone like Lloyd who has a very distinctive way of speaking, but it’s the opposite really. Every time there’s a ‘flipping ‘eck’ or a ‘not on your nelly’ it’s not a natural, casual thing. As a reader, you’re aware that someone else has seen fit to write it and that it’s subsequently been passed by an editor. It makes these turns of phrase kind of laboured and awkward.

We enjoyed Start the Car, but it did manage the somewhat unusual feat of leaving us less certain of how much we really liked David Lloyd. This book redresses the balance a bit. Don’t buy Last in the Tin Bath for the zaniness or earthiness, buy it if you’ve a genuine interest in the career of someone who maybe wasn’t the greatest player, but who has been around and seen a lot. It’s a straightforward autobiography really, but in this instance that’s no bad thing.

Last in the Tin Bath: The Autobiography – £8.99 in paperback (Kindle and hardback versions also available)

KP: The Autobiography – book review

A guest review of KP: The Autobiography by Dandy Dan.

Having met KP and most of team, I feel I’m very qualified to review this book – especially as he came across to me as actually being all right. I didn’t buy it. I got it out from the library. I didn’t even pay the 50p charge (or however much it is these days) as I know the librarian. It’s not what you know…

It’s a bit boring really. The problem isn’t really all the sections released in the media when it came out. It’s that he’s never really been shy in saying how he feels throughout his career so we all know the stories anyway. The only thing that came to a real surprise to me was his dislike for Flower. Flower gets a pasting throughout the book, even during the successful times. Now I had come to the conclusion at the end of the last Ashes series that Flower must be to blame for the whole debacle, so taking this one sided view of things I feel smugly content in being right.

Essentially, each chapter follows the same path with a different tour/story thrown in.

In bullet point format:

  • Yes, I’ve made mistakes, I realise that now (But he doesn’t realise he’s still making them).
  • The IPL is great, not enough people in England realise this.
  • The ECB is made up of incompetent buffoons (This was a particularly startling revelation).
  • I had an injury and wasn’t playing well.
  • I played well.

The most interesting part of it to me (well one which wasn’t covered by the media that I could tell) was his apparent dislike of authoritarian coaches, yet the fondness he holds for his strict childhood experiences. Flower (and to a lesser extent Moores) get a slagging for being too controlling, yet he reminisces about his time at school where the juniors had to say please at the end of every sentence they spoke to a senior. Apparently this taught him that respect has to be earnt. I’m not sure I understood the idea of earning someone’s respect just because they were older than you. He obviously has a lot of respect for his father who he says showed him little emotion, but then criticises Flower for not putting an arm around him. If there’s a source to the idea that KP just wants to be loved there it is. Pop psychology over.

The whole Matt Prior/Big Cheese stuff starts off quite funny, gets a bit tiresome, then goes back to being funny again. It’s particularly amusing when he takes the piss out of him for thinking he’s in Team Sky. Swann doesn’t get laid into as much as I thought he would for leaving the tour early.

He does make a good case for the IPL and reading his book has changed my mind about it a bit regarding its importance and the engagement the ECB should have with it. I’m still not interested in actually watching it though.

Following this revelation that the newspapers didn’t actually republish every last word of KP’s book, you might like to buy it. If so, you can get it from Amazon here.

Is Kevin Pietersen’s book worth buying?

We didn’t get a review copy of KP: The Autobiography. Apparently it was already getting enough attention without a review appearing here in about six months’ time.

We wonder whether we need to read it. The two-page email from Rahul Dravid about how to play spin that features within it sounds interesting, but as far as we can make out, the book’s mostly all about the run-up to his sacking (KP’s, not Dravid’s – who’d sack Dravid from anything?). We felt like we’d pretty much got all of that information after an hour on Twitter yesterday.

Andy Flower’s a mood hoover. Alastair Cook’s a company man. Matt Prior refers to himself in the third person as ‘the Big Cheese’, saying things like “the Big Cheese has earned some beer tonight” (pretty sure that last one’s either a lie or Prior was saying it with great irony, but it is quite funny all the same).

What else?

The interesting stuff that might cause us to read the book falls into two categories.

Stuff about cricket

Like the Dravid email or the observation: “We are on the road for 250 days a year, we wear our England kit on most of these days … It never, ever ended.”

We’d like to know more about this sort of stuff, but is there really any room for it in a book that seems to spend most of its time focused on fall-outs of the recent past.

Accidental Partridge

I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan – there’s a book that’s worth a read. But we also love the accidental Partridges pro sportsmen are prone to. Apparently at one point Pietersen says that most England players don’t have many friends internationally “whereas I have friends in literally every single international team,” which is a brilliantly petty piece of one-upmanship.

Sadly, we’d be surprised if his ghost writer, David Walsh, allowed much of this to get through. Having someone filter his thoughts probably means that even if Pietersen doesn’t have the brain mechanism that stops him saying such things, his words generally won’t make it as far as the printed page.

So, in summary: No, we’re probably not going to read Kevin Pietersen’s book. Now that all the best lines have been published on the nation’s sports pages, we’re just not sure there’d be enough in it that’s new to us

Start the Car: The World According to Bumble – book review

We finally got round to reading this. Oddly, this hasn’t clarified whether it’s worth reading or not.

A friend who follows cricket fairly closely but who at the time hadn’t watched much of Sky’s coverage, once asked us about David Lloyd. He’d got the impression that Bumble was this self-consciously zany caricature – a distant cousin to the Fast Show’s Colin Hunt, perhaps. We said: “No, no no. You’ve got it all wrong. Lloyd’s a decent commentator who is capable of being genuinely, genuinely funny.”

And that’s the problem with this book. Put Lloyd in a staid setting, commentating on a quiet afternoon session, and he can be hilarious, but build a book around the quirkier parts of his character and you lose that contrast. Look at the cover. It’s clear how they’re trying to sell this.

Some sections are good. You get some decent insights into the players he coached when he was with England as well as a few nuggets about his fellow Sky commentators. These passages read more like a traditional autobiography and that probably would have been a better approach, the humour shining when set within that more traditional tone. As it is, humour’s the focus, but Lloyd is only really funny in the right context.

We’re not sure whether it’s that the book doesn’t know what it is or whether it’s a byproduct of the deliberately chatty tone, but some of the digressions are really awkward. He’ll be talking about something relatively serious and then it’s almost like a siren goes off to signal playtime for the next three paragraphs. That then leads to further anecdotes and that’s the way things go until the end of the chapter.

This sounds like we’re contradicting ourself, but there’s a big difference between a traditional autobiographical tone dotted with humour and a traditional tone which completely disappears in favour of a wholly humorous tone. The latter is unsettling for the reader.

It’s like reading two different books – a feeling that is only heightened by the subject matter. He talks earnestly about Test cricket in the middle and then devotes a chapter towards the end to his mates down the pub. They aren’t cricketers or anything. They’re just blokes he knows from the pub.

This comes across as being a worse review than it should because the last few chapters are the weakest ones and so that’s the taste that you’re left with. There is certainly some good stuff in here. It’s really just a matter of how tolerant you are to the rest of it.

Should you so desire, you can buy Start the Car here.

Tutenkhamen’s Tracksuit and other Christmas cricket books

A quick bit of housekeeping before the second Test. We received a review copy of Alan Tyers’ new book a few weeks ago and haven’t yet said anything about it.

On a related note, we’ll freely admit to not having read all of the cricket books, so if you’ve any recommendations to make for Christmas, stick them in the comments and we’ll add them to the bottom of the article. It might prove useful to someone, somewhere.

First, the review

And we’d better start with a disclaimer. We met Alan Tyers once and he was an absolute gent. It was on the one occasion we’ve been to Lord’s and it mizzled all day (not that this is particularly relevant).

The premise of Tutenkhamen’s Tracksuit is hinted at by the subtitle – The History of Sport in 100ish Objects. The book is supposed to be an exhibition catalogue for a display at the National Museum of the History of Sport, Orkney. Every item gets a double page spread with a description of what it is and why it is significant, accompanied by an image. It’s worth noting that the whole thing looks ruddy amazing. It’s full colour with art produced by regular collaborator, Beach.

The objects themselves are incredibly varied – and not just because it’s about sport as a whole, not solely cricket. With a few, like Lance Armstrong’s school report, you can see at least part of the joke coming in advance; but others, like ‘seminal hard rock iconography’ are far more opaque at first glance.

That’s the joy of this book, for us. Tyers’ last cricket-themed book, Crickileaks, suffered a little for being obvious in places, but Tutenkhamen’s Tracksuit doesn’t make the same mistake at all. Flicking through it, you find you have to read, otherwise you won’t really understand ‘Iron Mike’s iron’ or ‘the Shola amoeba’.

There is cricket here, but to be honest the entries about other sports are probably more enjoyable because you’re less likely to see jokes coming (although we enjoyed ‘the Barmy Army knife’ regardless of predictability). Having broader material opens up a lot more possibilities and perhaps elevates this above WG Grace Ate My Pedalo in some ways – although we recommend that book too.

WG Grace Ate My Pedalo isn’t the only Victorian-themed book by Alan Tyers, incidentally. He’s also written Gin & Juice: The Victorian Guide to Parenting as well as the impeccably titled Who Moved My Stilton?: The Victorian Guide to Getting Ahead in Business. That might be of relevance if you trust Alan to write well, but need to buy something for some idiot who doesn’t like cricket.

In summary, Tutenkhamen’s Tracksuit is excellent and is also sized to double as a thigh pad should you be in need of one. You can buy it from Amazon here.

Christmas cricket book recommendations

As chosen by our readers. You may or may not be able to find further information about each of them in the comments below.

Chasing Sachin by Adam Carroll-Smith | book review

We’re pretty sure we were meant to get this review up in time for Christmas. Hopefully Adam won’t mind. From reading his book, he seems like the kind of guy who’d understand failure to complete a relatively straightforward task. That happens quite frequently in Chasing Sachin.

Not that Adam’s main aim was straightforward. He wanted to bowl one delivery at Sachin Tendulkar – apparently simple, but ridiculously ambitious in reality. This goal comes about because one of his mates says that when they were children Adam never managed to bowl him while he was doing a Tendulkar impression.

In every quest there are obstacles, but rather pleasingly the obstacles in Chasing Sachin don’t involve being kidnapped by terrorists or having to travel halfway round the world at great expense. They are more about having to combat hangovers, being afraid of bees, or not knowing how to use a satellite navigation system. It’s easier to identify with the protagonist in a book like that.

Aside from occasional references to Ronnie Irani’s mediocrity, there is relatively little cricket in this book. The sport is really just a backdrop and that’s a good thing in our eyes. It’s a story about bickering with friends and family and spelling email addresses incorrectly. It’s kind of pointless and vaguely about cricket. Unsurprisingly, we enjoyed it rather a lot.

Read chapter one here or buy it from Amazon here.

Winning the Ashes Down Under by Andrew Strauss with Simon Hughes

One of our jobs is to read all the cricket news. As a result of this, cricket books covering recent events aren’t all that appealing to us. When we’re presented with familiar information, our brain tends to drift off and do something else, leaving our eyes to do the reading unsupported.

Still, if anyone knows anything about the last Ashes series that we don’t know, it’s Andrew Strauss, so we thought we’d give this a go. It does suffer a little from the fact that he’s still playing and so can’t really lay into anyone or make any particularly jaw-dropping revelations, but it’s still a decent read.

It’s helped by the fact that it’s a good story. We don’t mean that in the one-eyed ‘go England’ sense. We mean that it’s the story of a team that goes from being bowled out for 51 by West Indies – which is where the story starts – to recording a pretty damn amazing victory in a place where most England teams have died whimpering. That’s the climax. There’s also a slightly off-kilter prolonged epilogue that covers the World Cup, which is less joyous, but equally enlightening.

However, the story’s well-known, so the extent to which you enjoy this book will probably depend on how closely you followed the goings-on leading up to and during the Ashes series. We followed that period pretty intently and we still got a fair bit out of this book. It was nothing major, just a slightly different view of a few of the players based on pretty minor anecdotes. We like that stuff though. It fleshes out the characters we see on TV.

Finally, if you don’t buy it, this book is worth finding in a book shop so that you can see the astonishing picture of a mustachioed Kevin Pietersen in the player profiles section at the end. It’s probably the best mugshot we’ve ever seen.

Buy Winning the Ashes Down Under from Amazon

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