Swinging Away by Beth Hise

Click to follow

A quiz question: who were the first baseball world champions? The answer is Britain, who in 1938 at Liverpool trounced a US team, winning four of the five games in the inaugural Amateur World Series. And what is by far the oldest international cricket series? USA v Canada, the first game being played in New York in 1844, 15 years before an England side arrived in North America.

As Matthew Engel writes in the introduction to this fascinating account of the connections between the two bat-and-ball games, they are "blood brothers, separated at birth but genetically linked". Both games' origins are wreathed in conjecture, but there's no getting away from their earliest mentions by name in print. In cricket's case this appears in testimony in a 1598 court case, while as recently as 2007 the following was discovered in a 1755 diary entry by William Bray, a Surrey solicitor: "After Dinner Went to Miss Jeale's to play at Base Ball... Drank tea and stayed till 8". This demolishes the suspect suggestion that one Abner Doubleday of the rural village of Cooperstown, New York, taught friends a game he had just invented in 1839, but it's undeniable that in the mid-19th century the two games had close links, with prominent players such as Harry Wright, the son of a former professional cricketer from Sheffield, turning out for both Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and St George Cricket Club.

Beth Hise, a Yale-educated historian, writes with wit and erudition, and the copious illustrations of fabled paintings, photographs and equipment are an equal delight. These are currently on display in an exhibition at the MCC Museum at Lord's curated by Hise, so both games owe her a double debt.

Published in large-format paperback by Scala, £20