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Slogging the Slavs by Angus Bell

Release date: 12th December, 2006
Publisher: Fat Controller Media

List Price: £9.99
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Slogging The Slavs
By Angus Bell
Fat Controller Media price: £9.99

Should the England and Wales Cricket Board be contemplating a future destination for an England tour, one where the chances of success are a good deal better than Australia, they might well consider going to Estonia. Ranked 105th and last in the ICC rankings, the former Soviet republic team actually plays its cricket on ice. Nevertheless, given England's propensity to under-prepare, no doubt they would make a pig's ear of a Test series in the Baltic state

This isn't a criticism that could be leveled at Angus Bell, for whom Estonia was the first stop on a truly amazing tour of 16 former Soviet Bloc countries. In a battered Skoda and with his kit safely stored in the boot, he set off in search of cricket wherever he could find it. The result of his journey is Slogging the Slavs, one of the funniest sports books of recent times.

Bell found cricket in 15 of those 16 countries, played in the main by eccentric locals who had more in common with Borat of Kazakhstan than Flintoff of England, and in locations that defy any sort of reasonable assumption that cricket could be played there. On one occasion, surrounded by the Alps, Bell comments: "I took my guard and tried to get Julie Andrews' singing out of my head."

In Estonia we meet their skipper, Jason, who, as well as having played in 128 countries, was arrested in Russia for teaching cricket to Georgian refugees in the toilets at Moscow Airport. In Serbia, we find Milos, a journalist who wanted to start a new Serbian team in Zrenjanin and get his country into the 2012 Olympics, despite the fact that cricket isn't yet an Olympic sport. The press conference that Milos sets up to announce this to the world is hilarious and makes national headlines.

Bell captains Slovakia B in a narrow defeat to Slovakia A in the village of Hajske, a place that seems to have one of the best organised cricket clubs in the world. Here he meets Vladimir, who recounts the tale of the player who, on a tour to Austria and having been upset by an LBW decision, stormed off never to be seen again, leaving the 14-strong Hajske contingent to get home in just two cars.

But international captaincy isn't the only achievement of Bell's tour. In Istanbul, he contrives to hit a ball from Asia into Europe on the bridge at the Sea of Marmara.. He discovers that cricket is part of the school curriculum in Ljubljana, while in Bulgaria, he learns you can study it on a degree course.

On the serious side, Bell vividly elucidates the human cost of the Balkan war with some harrowing stories from inside Bosnia and Croatia; the effects of the Chernobyl disaster can be seen in the Ukraine and the pointless Soviet-style bureaucracy on the borders of several countries, in particular Belarussia, almost scuppers his journey on a number of occasions.

Nevertheless, it's the humour that shines through, such as the story of the policeman sent to Riga by the Russian authorities before the First World War to investigate the growth of the sport. Unable to grasp cricket's basic concept, he stood in the middle of the pitch and was hit by the ball. He reported back to Moscow that the sport was dangerous, thus ensuring it was duly banned.

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