July 11, 2009

Yes, it's the Ashes (books)

It's that time again, when we assess an outpouring of printed matter celebrating cricket's premier contest

The Official MCC Ashes Treasures
by Bernard Whimpress
Carlton, hb, 62pp, £30

This is a gem with which to while away a couple of hours during a rain break. Attractively packaged and presented; and don't be fooled by the mere 62 pages. The words are concise, the pictures plenty, and most interestingly of all, there are several fascinating reprints of letters (some from WG Grace), scorecards, ticket stubs, a panoramic view of the MCG in 1925 and a photo reprint of the scorecards from the 1932-33 Bodyline series. With these added extras in mind, it is probably worth the money even for the Ashes history geeks who profess to know it all - such as this reviewer, who devoured every page intently. At £30 it is not cheap, but it reeks of quality and interest, as you'd expect from a book associated with the Marylebone Cricket Club, and one produced by a historian-author with a keen love of the game, Bernard Whimpress, curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum.

The Best of Enemies
by Patrick Kidd and Peter McGuinness
Know the Score, pb, 222pp, £9.99

Two bloggers, one from Australia, the other English, unite for this entertaining look at the rivalry between the two countries. Patrick Kidd, who writes for the London Times, and Peter McGuinness, an Australian writer, swap tales and look at all sorts of aspects that make Ashes series the most special of them all: pubs, the word "pillock", the art of sledging and the best sledges (and sledgers), 10 things to love about Australians, disastrous English debuts. The book, which is well researched, and written in a conversational style not dissimilar to blogs themselves, spares nobody, and the subjects are discussed by each author, offering his country's angle. In that respect, it's a unique take on a market currently fit to bursting, and wittily written, to remind us all of the ferocious but friendly rivalry that exists between the two countries.

Ashes to Ashes
by Marcus Berkmann
Little, Brown, hb, 320pp, £10.99

In a genre as congested as Ashes books, inevitably publishers and authors look for something different and quirky. Berkmann's Ashes to Ashes relies on the author's experience as a reliably witty writer on the sport. But while the subject matter is enjoyable - a fan's tribulations of supporting England in a torrid 20 years of watching them lose the Ashes, again and again - the timing of such a book seems a little passé. Are we English that afraid of an Australian side lacking McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist and Co? No. The aura has vanished. But perhaps that's a moot point because, regardless, Ashes to Ashes is a fluent read, beautifully written; and Berkmann's dry wit and laconic style are perfectly suited to the subject matter. The problem is, his two previous books - Rain Men and Zimmer Men - set the bar so high that Ashes to Ashes feels slightly laboured in comparison, flatter than those two hilarious novels, though Berkmann nevertheless captures perfectly the feeling of inferiority and quintessentially English self-deprecation of failure that a generation of fans felt.

Will Luke is assistant editor of Cricinfo