Book Review: Bumper time on quantity streak

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The Independent Online
NO SPORTING tourney today can possibly be conducted without more guides than there are in a Himalayan search-and-rescue unit. The 1999 Cricket World Cup is therefore merely following the established pattern. It has attracted a plethora of accompanying volumes, the sum total of the information in which should almost defy anybody to suggest that they have no idea what is going off out there.

Many are official, a valuable designation (or otherwise, depending on whether you think the game's administrators are capable of organising a contest between bat and ball on a cricket ground). It is, by any standards, a bumper bundle, though it is not quite a complete bundle. The entire canon suffers from the necessary evil of publishers' lead times and the need to be on the shelves before the competition - in both senses.

To take first what might be called the authorised versions. Not everything has run smoothly for the England and Wales Cricket Board in their planning for this World Cup but they have got this part of it right. It is not a perfect mixture but it is a package (all Boxtree Books) determined correctly to cater for a wide audience.

The centrepiece is the Official Companion to the 1999 Cricket World Cup, by Rob Steen (pounds 9.99), a jaunty enough trawl through past tournaments, this year's teams and the venues. It picks (surprise, surprise, being official) England to win but, then, it suggests that Philo Wallace and Craig Wright will be the aces in the hole, for West Indies and Scotland respectively, when neither is playing. Dashed by deadlines, there.

So, to an extent, is World Cup Essential Stats and Facts by Steve Pearce and Bill Day (pounds 4.99) which, with the need to guess squads long before they were named, lists virtually an inexhaustible number of cricketers for each country and still manages omissions. It is actually shorter on stats than you might suppose but neat pen profiles are its great strength.

The jewels in this crown, however, are those largely to be enjoyed by the young follower of the game. The World Cup Fun Book (pounds 6.99), again by Pearce, is a model of its kind, as entertaining, passionate, informative and glossy as the one-day game itself.

The World Cup Pack (pounds 9.99) consists of an abbreviated version of the official guide and a scorebook with pages for every match. Another triumph is the series of mini-books on each competing team (pounds 3.99), a mine of natty nuggets unearthed by Jonathan Rice.

None of these volumes is especially good at explaining how the World Cup will work. Some contain the draw and fixtures but none delves too deeply into the regulations, which is odd considering their status. The NatWest Playfair Cricket World Cup 1999 (Headline, pounds 4.99) reveals all simply by printing the playing conditions. Although it is also behind the times, it has the most detailed intelligence on players and scorecards from every World Cup match played since the whole jamboree started in 1975. Cricket World Cup 1999 - called, for some reason, a pocket annual (HarperCollins, pounds 4.99) - tries hard in its pen portraits but still suffers by comparison.

World Cup Cricket's Clash of the Titans (Andre Deutsch, pounds 16.99), by Peter Baxter, looks back fondly at previous tournaments. The narrative is faithful and is heightened both by the memories of players and extracts from the radio commentaries at the time. All we crave now is some cricket this summer.