Before The Lights Went Out, by Patrick Ferriday

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The Independent Culture

A self-published book comes with an implicit question: why was it not taken up by one of the established publishing houses?

In some cases, the quality of writing and/or choice of subject matter provides an obvious answer; in others, you can't help but feel the publishers missed a trick. The triangular Test tournament between England, Australia and South Africa in 1912 was possibly viewed as dusty, uninteresting cricket history, but Patrick Ferriday has proved them gloriously wrong.

The first third of the book sets the scene in detailed but never dull fashion, so that by the time we get to the action we have a very good idea where all the participants came from in every sense. In Australia's case, ill-tempered wrangles between players and administrators, which on at least one occasion ended in fisticuffs, meant that they arrived in England shorn of six of their best men.

South Africa and England also had selectorial problems, but the main damage was done by the weather, as eight of the nine games, played at Old Trafford, Lord's, The Oval, Trent Bridge and Headingley, were spoilt by rain. South Africa were trounced, losing five matches and drawing one, and after three months England beat Australia in the final game to be declared the winners, although unbelievably it was only two days before the start of that match that the method for deciding the overall victors was agreed.

It would have been easy to get bogged down in the welter of detail, but Ferriday keeps a firm grip of the narrative thread while bringing the series and its protagonists to vivid life, aided by a raft of fascinating photographs. Cricket is not short of chroniclers, but with this book Ferriday has immediately earned first-class status.

Published in hardback by Von Krumm, £20