A bible for the next generation
Young Wisden - A New Fan's Guide To Cricket by Tim de Lisle
(A&C Black; £12.99; 128pp)
In terms of the untold and needless damage it has inspired publishers to do to our oaks, poplars and jacarandas, cricket ranks second only among sports to baseball. What amazes is that it has taken the yellow bible 144 years to produce a Mini-Me expressly designed to glean new disciples. Then again, given the game's traditional propensity for the snotty and the snooty, maybe we should not be surprised at all.
Books of this ilk, aimed squarely at pre-teens, have been published for decades, tossed out in several guises, formats and languages and usually with a complete absence of wit or imagination. Much the best I encountered as a boy was The Observer's Book of Cricket, purportedly by my old agency boss Reg Hayter but in reality a neat, wide-ranging, words-led pocketbook assembled by up-and-comers such as Alan Lee and Paul Weaver.
Rival efforts tended to be high on visuals and patronising pronouncements, low on fibre and nutrition. Until now, anything approaching the ideal combination of narrative, illustration, information, entertainment and tone has been elusive. On behalf of pre-teens pretty much everywhere this side of Central Greenland, therefore, endless thank-yous to Tim de Lisle and his estimable team of consultants and advisers, notably Daniel de Lisle, his own son.
The keys to any such venture are passion, breadth and freshness: all are proudly present and correct. While clearly a British-oriented product, virtually all of cricket life is here: laws and technique, history and current national form, broadcasting tips from Richie B, memorable sledges from Sir Ian B and Virender S, how to read a scorecard and unravel the lingo.
Best of all is the primer on how to enjoy a game in the flesh: there's advice on how to obtain a ticket, "Moments To Go For A Wander" (when Matthew Hoggard is batting and after the first 20 overs of an ODI) and "Moments To Pay Attention" ("at the start", "straight after lunch, tea or drinks", "after 80 overs in a Test", "when the tailenders come in", "when KP comes in" and "when Monty Panesar bowls").
In "telling a story at regular intervals", the author drew inspiration, he admits, from the mega-selling The Dangerous Book For Boys. A worthwhile crib. Bradman ("the best batsman ever"), Flintoff ("from fat lad to heavyweight champion"), Tendulkar ("cricket's biggest star") and Warne ("from beach bum to legend") are all sketched adroitly, though the occasional sanitisation, while understandable, may jar more than it would have done 30 years ago.
This is the book the game has needed for far too long. It is also a priceless example of dumbing-up. Buy it for someone you want to
Then there are the statistics, which did so much to tickle my own infant fancy but are seldom if ever accompanied by a translation for the uninitiated. There are only three individual categories here - for economy-rate and batting and bowling strike-rate. What turns the routine and familiar into revealing insights is the succinct explanation that follows. In one judiciously-selected table, after Shahid Afridi's Test strike-rate of 86.13 ("fastest scorer ever") comes Adam Gilchrist's 82.29 ("amazing for a long career"), Virender Sehwag's 75.75 ("hot stuff for an opener") and Kevin Pietersen's 66.77 ("world's fastest middle-order batsman"). Perfect.
Unsurprisingly, lists dominate, but it is the snooks cocked at convention and received wisdom that appeal, however profoundly one might disagree with, say, a selection of the greatest player from each country that prefers Richards to Sobers, or a wicketkeeping roll-call that excludes Ian Healy. Six "Great Grounds" are proffered, but no Adelaide or Worcester: de Lisle's choices are Lord's, the MCG, Kensington Oval, Eden Gardens, Newlands and Pukekura Park, the paradisical parkside venue used in the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai (and no, I didn't know that last bit until I read it on page 85).
As is his prerogative, the author selects his current World XI (Flintoff instead of Kallis maintains the contrariness quota) but infinitely more valuable, for beginners, is the preceding rationale for why Australia drubbed the all-star, theoretically all-dancing Rest of the World XI in 2005: "They had the wrong captain (Graeme Smith of South Africa, still learning the trade), too little time to practise together, and two opening bowlers (Flintoff and Steve Harmison) who had just won the Ashes and needed to put their feet up."
Qualms and quibbles are mostly of the nit-picking variety. I can't think of any seven-to-12-year-old I know deriving much from Henry Blofeld's "fruity exuberance" besides extreme disbelief or utter incomprehension. Another particularly welcome inclusion, the 10 recommended books - a Playfair, a Wisden, a Reduced History, Brearley on captaincy, Haigh on 2005 - are refreshingly modern but a tad too Anglo-Aussie-centric. No CLR James I can forgive - his prose would probably strike most potential readers as old-hattish - but to have nothing at all on the game in the Caribbean (a Lloyd or Richards biog, David Tossell's recent Grovel!) seems remiss.
No matter. This is the book the game has needed for far too long. It is also a priceless example of dumbing-up. Buy it for someone you want to infect.
Rob Steen is a freelance writer and author of the Rob's Lobs blog on Cricinfo