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An interesting book - but too much nostalgia
on 10 August 2010
The problem with this book is the publishers' hype. It's a perfectly pleasant read with, in places, extremely shrewd insights into the past, present and future of English cricket. But the 2009 cricket season simply wasn't the "seminal, convulsing season" that the publishers maintain in their blurb. The book isn't some sort of vaguely diagnostic analysis of English cricket's predicament, as they imply. And the 2009 season isn't "preserved" by Duncan Hamilton beyond the particular twenty or so matches he attended. I suspect none of this is the author's fault.
So don't expect a great deal about the Ashes series. Hamilton saw the Australians' county game at Worcester, two days of the Edgbaston test and the final one day international in late September at the Riverside. Those are the only mentions of the Australian tour. Issues such as central contracts and the availability of the Ashes series only on pay-TV - which feature prominently on the book-jacket - warrant only fleeting mentions. And Allen Stanford not at all.
Instead, what you get is Duncan Hamilton's highly personal reflections as he attends a selection of games intended to represent the diversity of English cricket, from village, club and Lancashire League games to an Under 19 international at Scarborough, the Friends Provident Final at Lord's and the Sri Lanka v West Indies group game from the Twenty20 World Cup. He writes about the contemporary issues that matter to him, such as the problem of spectator drunkenness and how much he hates T20 cricket, and not at all about others.
The book is as much about the stories and characters from cricket's past inspired by the cricketing action as it is about what happens in these games (although I thought one strength of the book was how well the author writes about the action in front of him). So there are frequent digressions about, among many others, W G Grace's last test match, Bradman's double centuries at Worcester, cricket writers J M Kilburn and R C Robertson-Glasgow, the Jack Warner movie The Final Test, early cricket at Hambledon, Ted Peate's unmarked grave, and infighting at Yorkshire CCC down the generations.
You will probably love this book if your taste in cricket is romantic and nostalgic. But I rather tired of hearing how things were better in cricket's past than today. Indeed, in the first half of the book it seemed that the modern game had not a single redeeming feature when compared with days of yore, and I wouldn't have been surprised to find the pages turning sepia before my very eyes. Later on the analysis becomes more balanced, particularly after the author reads in old cricket magazines from the early 1970s how similar to his own views about T20 were the apocalyptic statements from the cricket establishment about the new 40-over John Player League, and how it could be the death knell for longer forms of the game.
Please don't let me put you off trying the book. It's full of interesting things and the author writes very well. It's just that it isn't quite what you might think from the publishers' claims and is also somehow less than the sum of its parts. But some parts are really first class, among them: the description of cricket at Scarborough, a brief couple of pages on Herbert Sutcliffe and, especially, his analysis of Ricky Ponting which was as good as anything I've ever read about the Australian captain.