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On Cricket By Mike Brearley

Release date: 05th October, 2018
Publisher: Constable

List Price: £20.00
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Book reviewers often approach collections of previously published commentaries, newspaper articles and essays with dread. They’re mindful that once a well-known author adds his name to the front cover, he risks being accused of producing a cut-and-paste tome, either to coincide with a forthcoming celebration, or to attain shelf-space prominence during the pre-Christmas book-buying period.

Former England cricket captain Mike Brearley could be accused of neither motive, not least because in On Cricket, he frequently applies the benefits of time and accumulated wisdom to reflect upon, or develop, opinions first aired up to twenty or more years ago, although much of his book’s content has never been published.

Brearley has ‘contextualised’ and “at least tampered with” each piece, to update them and ensure their relevance; as his own editor, he has made an excellent job. His relaxed, dextrous, style achieves what most authors aspire to do: make their narrative sound as though they’re speaking directly to the reader.

But On Cricket is not the assembled musings of an affable, storyteller-at-the-bar type. Brearley’s effortless manner, an attribute he invariably applied while playing professional cricket, resembles that of a well-travelled uncle reciting a series of engaging tales from his time in a far-off land.

Despite his avuncular nature, however, he is not afraid to air his opinions, be it on cheating and corruption, the Ashes, or cricket commentators. Indeed, the book’s largest section is reserved for a selection of eight essays dealing with cricket and race.

The section reserved for the often idiosyncratic wicket-keeping cohort is a personal favourite. It’s easy to agree with Brearley when he contends that the quality of wicket-keeping has deteriorated over the past half century; the upshot, he declares, are too many ‘keepers who “look like fielders with gloves on.”

The statement exempts the four wicketkeepers he has most admired.

John Murray, who played for England between 1961-67, is portrayed in a short essay entitled Elegance, while the “belligerent and pugnacious” Aussie wicket-keeper, Rod Marsh, such a thorn in England’s side, is described as “genial and modest” off the pitch. Alan Knott, (“utterly modest, and equally free of false modesty”) and the great Sri Lankan ‘keeper Kumar Sangakkara complete the quartet.

Brearley isn’t boasting when he prefaces a tale about Knott with, “I remember an innings in the Fourth Test against India, in Bangalore, in 1977…”, it’s just that his cricketing (and life) knowledge stems from the fact that he’s ‘been there, done that’. His cumulative experience, humour and honesty make for a compelling read. Let’s hope for a second volume of On Cricket.


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