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And God Created Cricket by Simon Hughes

Release date: 18th June, 2009
Publisher: Doubleday

List Price: 19.99
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And God Created Cricket
By Simon Hughes
Doubleday

Sportsbookofthemonth.com price: £11.99, saving 40% on rrp

Simon Hughes is a very witty man currently enjoying another period of sustained prominence as an expert (and for once, the title is appropriate) analyst of Test cricket. He was a cricketing pro for more than a decade and wrote an exceptionally good autobiography, A Lot of Hard Yakka about his life as a county player.

Having absorbed and enjoyed this award winning tome, I was delighted to learn he would be writing an 'irreverent' history of cricket. After all, he appeared perfectly qualified to do so, but what a frustrating book And God Created Cricket actually is.

It's not that Hughes doesn't know his stuff - he does - nor has he skimped on his research - he hasn't. He also continues to write well, but his latest offering combines great dollops of flippancy, which can be fine when used in moderation, with an annoying over-use of simile, thus turning his book into a cricketing history for the X-Factor generation.

Initially, some of his asides are quite amusing, though there are far too many references to Chelsea FC, but after a short while, the succession of similes begins to grate: there's no need for them. Edited out, Hughes's history might have been 20 pages shorter, but as a consequence it would have become a smoother, more enjoyable, read.

Shorn of the needless references to modern-day ephemera, And God Created Cricket is packed with the type of fantastic anecdotes, characters and historic facts that make cricket so compelling.

Hughes bounds through cricket's colourful history at a pace worthy of a West Indian fast bowler: from the sixteenth century, when the game was apparently played by the French, through to the formation of Hambledon CC in the eighteenth century and the subsequent regular amendments to, or addition of, new rules and playing methods. He explains why rules such as LBW were required and how Lord's became cricket's home, but he reaches an amusing peak when dealing with the game's glorious mix of characters.

From the colossus that was Alfred Mynn to the more elegant and wonderfully named Fuller Pilch, a man who used to travel to matches with his own scythe in order to give pitches an extra trim. Then there's William Clarke, a former bricklayer who had lost the sight of one eye yet who took 2,385 wickets in seven seasons bowling underarm. He was also one of cricket's first accomplished sledgers more than a century before the Aussies mastered the art.

This is where Hughes is at his very best - bringing history to life, describing the game's development and providing some marvellous asides en route, such as how overarm bowling was introduced, or explaining the need for an 'abdominal protector'.

He rightly devotes several pages to WG Grace 'The Bearded Boundah' or, more appropriately, Britain's first sporting hero. Was he really "a sort of nineteenth century David Beckham with more talent and less manners"? Not at all and nor is there any reason for Hughes to say so.

Hughes's pace rarely falters as he brings cricketing matters up to date, but the tendency to slip in an unnecessary simile persists, although they're much less frequent towards the end of what is a fine, if a tad frustrating, history.


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