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The Ashes By Ken Piesse

Release date: 16th April, 2009
Publisher: Sports Books Ltd

List Price: £12.99
Our Price: £6.56
You Save: £6.43 (49%)
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The Ashes
By Ken Piesse
Published by Sports Books Ltd price: £6.56, saving £6.43 on rrp

It is inevitable that the new cricket season's first test series is considered not much more than an aperitif, a warm-up prior to the real thing which starts in Sophia Gardens in early July.

The West Indies may have beaten England in the winter, but the current mini-series is considered to have little significance (other than to prove certain players' fitness) when set against Australia's visit later in the year and the juicy prospect of another Ashes series.

Ken Piesse has been shrewd enough to get his excellent illustrated history of the series out early in the season for cricket fans can expect a glut of Ashes-related books as we approach July, although few will be as good as this.

Those of us who do not possess an encyclopaedic cricketing knowledge will find this book an absolute joy. It is well designed, easy to dip into for a quick browse of some batting averages or other records and manages to take the reader through Ashes series from the late nineteenth century to the last test series in 2007 in under 350 pages - all for less than a tenner.

"So what is it about the Ashes urn?" asks Piesse in his introduction. While stark statistics usually disguise sporting detail, he captures the mood of each decade's series without glossing over anything. It helps enormously that he identifies the player and the match of each decade, so encapsulating that unique sense of competiveness and fair play which have been a feature of Ashes series.

This is not to say the book is without detailed insight - there's enough here to whet any appetite and one is always conscious that another Ashes peculiarity lurks over the next page. For example, your reviewer was amazed to discover that the highest score in Ashes history made by a batsman coming in at number 10 was compiled by Walter Read at the Oval in 1884 when he scored a match-saving 117.

At the end of each chapter, separated by decade from the 1870s onwards, is a comprehensive list of results, details of the highest and lowest scores, wicket takers, leading scorers and a host of other information. Throughout, The Ashes is peppered with quirky ironies, such as the fact that only one man featured in both of Australia's two heaviest-ever Ashes defeats - by 675 runs in 1928-29 and by an innings and 579 runs in 1938. The man was Don Bradman.

An insight into the series' spirit of competitiveness is provided by Dennis Lillee, 'Man of the decade' for the 1970s, when he said that he would gladly die on the pitch if it meant Australia winning.

There are even examples of players being resigned to defeat. According to Ian Botham, England captain Mike Brearley was so convinced England would lose the 1981 test at Headingly that he actually changed out of his cricket whites before sitting on the balcony to watch Botham score a whirlwind 149 to set up an English victory. More of the same this summer would not go amiss.

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