Book of the Week: Compilation top scores for originality

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The Independent Online
The New Ball, Volume One: England v Australia

Edited by Rob Steen Two Heads, pounds 8.99

JUST OCCASIONALLY something bounces in from the left field and hits the spot. And that is certainly the case with this original compilation of cricket writing.

It is not just that this book contains work by the Independent on Sunday's correspondent Stephen Brenkley (a fascinating piece on Frank Tyson), former Independent cricket writer Martin Johnson (just downright amusing), Matthew Engel (editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack) on his pioneering tour Down Under, Scyld Berry (Sunday Telegraph correspondent) looking back at the first five-Test Ashes series - apposite given that New Zealand would like to see an end to them - and author Rob Steen (editor of this publication). It is also the fact that the writing is original to the book.

So, instead of having a mere 1,000 to 2,500 words of a re-hashed feature or comment piece, fans of the various writers can get their teeth into a 5,000-word chunk of their favourite cricket writers.

And if your favourites do not happen to be English or are simply not included among the writers herein, then have a glance at Dirk Wellham's dense piece on the character of the Aussie cricketer, or England-based Murray Hedgecock's wonderful piece, "Failing the Tebbit Test", at one and the same time witty, serious and thoroughly entertaining.

If Ian Chappell's contribution, "My Favourite Pom", turns into a denial that he was the progenitor of sledging, so what. It informs and entertains, the two prerequisites of writing. The book is littered liberally with stunning studies and portraiture by Australian photographer Mark Ray.

The content is eclectic, reflecting the breadth of the sport, yet sticking with the theme - England v Australia. The piece on the late Jack Iverson is interesting, even if the author, Gideon Haigh, does fail to shed any startling new light on the reasons for the former Australian leg-spinner's suicide just over a quarter of a century ago.

Iverson, renowned as an Australian leg spinner extraordinaire, was found dead having shot himself with a .22 calibre rifle. The article begins well, dramatically even, takes the reader through the player's career, then his business career. A few layers are peeled off the man and the player, but not enough to reveal the darkness and level of despair which led to such an act.

Steen's own contribution is to list his own top 10 of Ashes Tests of his lifetime. Steen writes: "You have to go back to Sydney 1987, to those soppy days when Thatcherotops and Reaganosauraus Rex roamed the earth, to locate the last Ashes encounter entering its fifth day with both sides scenting the spoils..."

They are well selected and amusingly introduced. In his editor's note Steen professes not to know how Micky Stewart spells his monicker, so now he does, but he does justify what he calls: "Another pillage of the rainforests..."

This, as the sub-title "Volume One" suggests, is the first of what it is to be hoped will be many more publications. The writing is of an extremely high standard. It is planned that each volume will be thematic.

Volume Two (due out shortly before the World Cup), he promises, will focus on the game "...in broader, more progressive terms: from east to west, from north to south, from schools to globalisation, from the here to the now."

He likens the publication to the renowned south London madam Cynthia Payne, saying, "`The New Ball' will go all the way - and then some." Here is one willing client. More please.

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