The England Cricket Miscellany and No Balls and Googlies September 23, 2006

Cashing out on quality

Martin Williamson reviews The England Cricket Miscellany and No Balls and Googlies

The England Cricket Miscellany by John White
Carlton Books, 160pp, £6.59

No Balls and Googlies by Geoff Tibballs
Michael O'Mara Books, 196pp, £5.99

First an admission. I approached the task of reviewing these two books with real enthusiasm as being a bit of a nerd, as my colleagues will verify (the word 'anorak' - Ed) I have rather a penchant for trivia and miscellany and am the owner of more than a few similar publications covering a range of subjects at home.

Cricket lends itself to miscellany more than almost any other subject. It is a game with a rich history of eccentrics, oddities and statistics. This kind of book is not meant for cover-to-cover reading - they are aimed at the coffee-table reader (which usually seems to mean people who browse on the loo) and so are for dipping in to. They have few rigid limitations, but one thing they have to do is make sure that the information they contain is right.

Unfortunately, The England Cricket Miscellany by John White fails to fulfil that basic requirement. The first page contains a howler - it states as fact that Fred Spofforth ended WG Grace's first-class career when Grace played Test cricket for 12 years after Spofforth finished, and first-class cricket for more than two decades. There are other errors which are apparent on a first read, and while it might seem petty to make that observation, it raises suspicions that other less common trivia might also be wrong.

The content itself is, however, interesting and White, who specialises in this kind of publication across a plethora of subjects, has struck the right balance which should appeal to fan and casual reader alike.

No Balls and Googlies by Geoff Tibballs is tighter with its facts but is far too reliant on lists of stats. Those present two problems. One is that they are quickly out of date - many were probably so even before the book hit the shops - and secondly that long (stale) lists of them are of little interest to many people. My first impression on being confronted with pages of such content was that it had been used with little discrimination to pad out the publication. That might be doing Tibballs a disservice, but surely there is more to the game than numbers.

One final gripe. White goes to great lengths to list his sources, and compiling a book of this kind inevitably means using a wide range. Tibballs, however, offers no such aknowledgments. It seems remarkable if he had all those statistics, quotes and anecdotes in his head. All the more so if he made a mistake which Cricinfo also made until it was flagged with us and corrected last week. It just confirms the suspicion of a rather rushed job to exploit a resurgence in the game's popularity.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo