BOOK OF THE WEEK: Full marks for feast of facts and figures

Test Match Year (1996-1997) - A complete record of 12 months of Test cricket around the world edited by David Frith (Penguin, paperback, pounds 9.99)
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Shelves in shops and homes groan under the weight of the innumerable (though worthy) volumes of cricket's facts, figures and feats. There are countless tomes which examine the minutiae of the great game, blow by blow and ball by ball, providing numerical analyses of everyone who is or was anyone in cricket; team by team, club by club, county by county, you think of it and there is probably a book on it.

But, remarkably, no one has thought to produce a comprehensive annual of Test cricket - until now. David Frith is renowned for his Australian forthrightness - tempered by the Anglicism he has picked up in the 20 or so years he has divided his life between the two countries - as well as his directness of manner, a cutting edge of common sense.

He it was who founded the magazine Wisden Cricket Monthly back in 1979 and edited it for the next 17 years. So perhaps it is understandable that he should come up with the idea - obvious now that it has been published - of producing a specialist Test annual, to incorporate all overseas series from 1 May 1996 to 30 April 1997.

It must have been a real labour of love, or rather fanaticism, but it must have been worth it. The book is crammed with match reports, scoreboards packed with extra information, a detailed records section, not to mention obituaries of Test cricketers and book reviews. Full marks to Frith and his team of helpers and full marks to Penguin for undertaking to publish it. And thankfully it will not be a one-off. Frith has negotiated an initial two-year deal, which should be time enough for the publishers to assess whether such a specialist book has a future. But this is a publication which should run and run.

On the evidence of this first volume, Penguin should have no qualms about extending Frith's contract. There is little wrong with it. It is well ordered and laid out, and while it is anything but pocket-sized, this at least allows the figures to be set in legible typefaces - crucially, those used for the scoreboards.

Perhaps the match reports occasionally stray off the grass and into the realms of the florid, notably the Australian section, but what matters are the numbers, not the words. And there are plenty of those. Apart from its being a more up to date Test reference book than even the bible, Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, it also gives more detail to the scorecards, with minutes, balls, fours and sixes.

It is also a pleasant change to be able, at the start (or very shortly after) of the English season, to consult a records section and read, for example, of Wasim Akram's and Saqlain Mushtaq's world record eighth-wicket stand of 313, set last October in the first Test between Pakistan and Zimbabwe in Sheikhupura. In the past, aficionados would have had to wait either for the Cricketer Quarterly, or the following year's batch of almanacks and annuals. This book deserves a long innings.

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