As Chris Hawkes points out in his Introduction, “Few other sports can be scrutinized (sic) to such an extent as cricket.” Maybe baseball and US Football might be more scrutinised but what they lack and cricket has in abundance is a long, long history.
Although the author asserts that World Cricket Records 2011 is “not a history book” it is appreciative of and respectful to cricket’s glorious (and sometimes not so glorious) past. Of the book’s 256 pages, 140 are devoted to Test cricket, which is defined on page 10 as “a complete and total test of a player’s technique, his mental surety and, particularly in the modern game, his physical prowess.” That is as good a definition of Test cricket as I have come across. In an era when 20/20 seems to be taking over the game, it is pleasing to see Test cricket given proper respect.
Described by its author as a “new venture in international cricket publishing”,World Cricket Records 2011 seems aimed more at neophytes rather than the hardcore cricket nut, who is more likely to refer to Wisdenfor stats. The headings are catchy, such as “The 40-year wait” and “Deadly Derek loses his bite with the bat”. There are many images of players from all periods of the game, though these have a blurred silhouette to give the impression of movement and speed. In a book that is otherwise admirable for not indulging in who is the fastest and biggest –which are not really stats – it’s a pity to see this. The ball logo that accompanies – intrudes on – many of the images is also a bit annoying. The index is very thorough, though.
The first, last, most, fewest, fastest, shortest and so on are number-crunched endlessly. For example, it was well known that the England batsman Michael Atherton was the Australian bowler Glenn McGrath’s “bunny” (a batsman out frequently to the same bowler). But I never knew how bad it was. McGrath got Atherton out 19 times in 17 matches at an average of 9.89. Poor Atherton also suffered at the hands of the great West Indians Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, who had him out 17 times each.
There are two records here that I witnessed personally. I saw Robin Smith’s 167 not out against Australia at Edgbaston in May 1993. It is still the highest score by an England batsman in a One Day International; I don’t think it will ever be beaten.
I also saw Brian Lara score 501 not out at Edgbaston in June 1994. It remains the highest ever score in First Class cricket. Happy days.
What this book captures perfectly are the numbers of cricket. But only letters can reflect the aesthetics of the game, in which an innings of 10 by, say, David Gower can give as much, or even more, pleasure than an innings of 100 by, say, Graham Gooch. Nonetheless, it’s great fun. Even if, like me, you failed GCSE maths three (or was it four?) times, the stats here are endlessly entertaining.