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HAVING A BAT...
Normally, I only write about things I have consciously and deliberately purchased or experienced. However, when the opportunity to receive a free book from New Holland Publishers came up, courtesy of a recent DooYoo competition, I jumped at the chance to review something "to order". The twist was that none of the winners had any idea what would be sent to them. As news of other titles filtered in, such as novelty flick books and picture spreads of animals having <ahem> intimate knowledge of each other, I kept a wary eye on my letterbox, slightly suspicious of what my luck would bring.
When it finally arrived, I was relieved to discover it was a relatively harmless book about cricket. I have to confess that I have no more than a passing interest in the game - I only tend to pay attention when the Ashes come around - so was a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to do it justice. However, once I got stuck in to "A Fan's Guide to World Cricket" by Daniel Ford and Adam Hathaway, I quickly realised I needn't have worried.
SETTING THE FIELD
The title works on two levels. First of all, the content of the book is very much geared to the dedicated, travelling cricket fan. Cricket is a unique game. There's not many competitive sports that are played over five days and may not produce a winner. It's this format that makes travelling to watch international class cricket very different from the way fans travel to watch other sports. As a football fan, I have travelled to watch Arsenal play all over Europe. However, these trips are usually quick in, and quick out, with very little chance to absorb the culture and the vibe of the city (and country) you are visiting.
Cricket is different - the nature of the game means trips abroad are invariably extended, involved affairs. As the authors point out, many cricket fans will travel to see several matches on the same tour, often spending weeks in country. This is the kind of fan base the book hopes to address - by providing practical information and cultural context against a sporting backdrop.
Secondly, Ford and Hathaway are cricket fans themselves. Ford spent a significant time in South Africa, where his job as a publisher, editor and writer gave him unique access to some of the greats of the South African game. Hathaway is a recognised English cricket journalist, who has written for many of the Fleet Street papers, and was Kevin Pietersen's ghost writer during his tumultuous period as England captain. These guys seriously know their stuff.
THE BOWLER'S HOLDING...
At the heart of this hybrid travel/sports book is the guide to the cricket grounds, the cities they are situated in, and a flavour of the local culture of the ten Test-playing nations. Each section follows the same pattern. The first page for each country provides a guide with some basic cricket-related statistics and information (languages, national anthem, contact numbers, local beer and food of choices, population, time zones etc.) as well as a précis of that country's cricketing history, including their Test and World Cup record. This is followed by a four page spread, stuffed with essential information on each city and its associated ground(s). There is also a section of one-page summaries on the "lesser" non-Test playing countries that participate in the World Cup. For the record, the guide provides information on sixteen countries, 55 cities and the 59 grounds that host international cricket.
THE BATSMAN'S WILLEY...
Despite the density of information provided, the text and numbers are nicely broken up by some fantastic full colour pictures, which easily make up around a third of the guide's content. These feature a wide variety of interesting subjects and provide a good counterpoint. The authors do a good job with the city and ground summaries, managing to inject a colloquial and engaging style into otherwise dry subject matter - especially given the brevity of the passages. There are also small snippets of trivia included under a heading called "Cricket Net" that generally serve to lighten up proceedings.
The book is soft cover, with just over 200 glossy, high quality pages that will endure a fair bit of use and abuse. That said, each country is covered in around 20 to 30 pages (depending on the number of grounds), and given the weight of and size of the book (6.5" by 8" and a hefty 500g/1 lb) it's not really practical to take on holiday with you. I would imagine if you were spending ten to fifteen days touring with England, you'd need a more comprehensive travel (and pub/bar) guide than this if you really planned on experiencing some local flavour. The only other real niggle is that some of the information - especially statistics - are set out in a small, tightly packed font which isn't exactly easy on the eyes, and it is also the nature of statistics that they get dated very quickly.
While impressed with the layout, quality of information and the photographs in the book, I couldn't shake the nagging sensation that "A Fan's Guide to World Cricket" is a book that doesn't quite know what it is. It's too "light" in content and heavy in weight to be a serious travel book. It's also priced (at an RRP of £14.99) like a coffee table staple, but too small to really impress as such, and conversely, too big for the smallest room in the house. That said, it is currently available for around half price on Amazon (£7.50 as at 22 December 2010) and for that price, it's a very good stocking filler for both casual fan and serious Barmy Army foot soldier.
A Fan's Guide to World Cricket
Daniel Ford & Adam Hathaway
New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd
First published in 2010
Soft cover - 208 pages
Note: The authors state that the statistics quoted in the book are correct as of January 2010 for major cricket nations, and December 2009 for minor cricket nations.
© Hishyeness 2010