To publish a 285-page book on England's record-breaking Test series victory Down Under when the players were still in Australia is, on one level, an impressive feat. But when one learns that the book consists of the writer's newspaper dispatches throughout the series, one could be pardoned for wondering whether serving up warmed-over journalism is worth the effort. Until, that is, one notes the author's name.
Cricket-lovers who know Gideon Haigh's work will need no convincing; those who don't will find this an ideal place to start. Even if, as I did, you read his English newspaper columns, they bear reading again, and you get the bonus of the match reports he filed for his audience in Australia.
What makes Haigh so good? One reason is that he not only tells us what happened, he explains what it meant, where it fits into cricket history, of which he has a consummate grasp, which means his anecdotes are often amusing but always pertinent. Another reason is the eminent fairness of his judgements. But above all he is a supreme stylist, with the ability to make one laugh out loud.
Of the Test crowds he writes: "The other advantage England have enjoyed this series has been their noisy, visible support. When Percy Chapman's team came here 82 years ago, they arrived with only a handful of wealthy camp followers... These included the playwright Ben Travers, who, expecting that Chapman would be swamped by messages of support and patriotic injunction before the series, was amazed to find that the only message received by England's captain from HM Government was a tax demand from the Inland Revenue. 'England expects each man to pay his duty,' Travers told Chapman consolingly."
Long may there be Test series, and long may Gideon Haigh report on them.
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