Overdue recognition of women's art

Christmas could become a mite expensive for the cricket buff and bibliophile this year. Or at least for those who are persuaded to purchase some of the offerings. For a start, there is the last word in Test cricket records.

Christmas could become a mite expensive for the cricket buff and bibliophile this year. Or at least for those who are persuaded to purchase some of the offerings. For a start, there is the last word in Test cricket records.

It would be safe to say that The Wisden Book of Test Cricket (Headline, £40.00) has finally come of age and not merely because it is a remarkable 21 years since the first single volume appeared. Back in 1979 Bill Frindall's opus was considered pretty magnum, incorporating as it did some 800 Test matches between 1877 and 1977. Now at the beginning of the 21st century there have been a further 700 or so Tests and this essential work has expanded from one volume, then two to three.

But it is not the sheer weight of Tests which has helped this work to reach maturity but rather the fact that for the first time Mr Frindall has included women's cricket.

There have been women's Tests since 1934-35, when England first played Australia in Brisbane (England won that one), but women have been involved in cricket for as long as the game has been in existence. Indeed, if certain chroniclers are to be believed, they started it all with stoolball in the South-East of the country and were the first to introduce over-arm bowling. So it is high time their international records were accorded the same status as the men's. Frindall's masterpiece of patience and accuracy may appear expensive but it is three books in one; and it does do justice to both sexes. Think of a statistic you would like to know about men's and women's cricket and Frindall's book almost certainly has it. Comprehensive sums it up.

So too is David Rayvern Allen's reworking of Last Over, turning it into E W Swanton -- A Celebration of his Life and Work (Richard Cohen Books-Metro, £20.00).

From the foreword by The Right Hon John Major CH MP to the final tribute by John Woodcock, a close friend and former amanuensis, the book gleams with quality and ideas and arguments, all eloquently expressed, be they by the man himself or his friends, admirers and former colleagues. He spanned the best part of the 20th century, his writing first appearing in 1924 in All Sports Weekly. He moved on to the Evening Standard before eventually joining the Daily Telegraph. He watched and interviewed some of the game's greatest players, including Frank Woolley and Wally Hammond.

The author-cum-editor Rayvern Allen has the happy knack of the good biographer in knowing when the actions and words of his subject say it all. The format, an amalgamation of Swanton's journalism, personal recollections and a few words from Allen at the head of each section, paints a vivid three-dimensional portrait of the doyen of 20th century cricket writing.

It is Woodcock, a former distinguished cricket correspondent of The Times and editor of Wisden Cricket Almanack who deserves the last word on Swanton and he comes up with as fine a line as any: "He [Swanton] knew that cricket never has been what it was, and he never went off it."

Cricket has a habit of producing "characters". They need not be players, as Swanton's own life and times prove. Another such has to be Henry Blofeld. His autobiography A Thirst for Life (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99) cannot be praised too highly. It is erudite, eccentric, eclectic and otherwise extremely well written. There are deft touches, and humourous brushstrokes. Blofeld is a latter-day Wodehouse with his witty observations of people and class.

No cricket year would be the same without the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. The 137th edition also has a sister publication Down Under as well. The Australian Wisden (or Ozden as those in the know refer to it) retails at £22.50 but is most easily obtainable direct from the distributors, Penguin (telephone 0208 757 4036) or try Sports Pages in London or Manchester. Then there is Playfair Cricket Annual 2000 (Headline, £4.99), another vade-mecum.

Hampshire have moved to The Rose Bowl on the edge of Southampton leaving behind dear old Northlands Road, where they had been based since 1885. Richard Binns, an unabashed fan, has produced a poignant memorial to the ground: Close of Play at Northlands Road (Chipstone Books, £9.99). It captures in photographs the very aspect of a typical day at the ground and every character and personality who watched, worked or wielded the willow there.

Three other cricket books worthy of a mention are David Thurlow's biography of Ken Farnes, Diary of an Essex Master (PWP, £16.95), and Chris Westcott's two books: The Class of 59 (Mainstream, £15.99) and his own publication Cricket at the Saffrons (Omnipress, £17.99). The latter carries a foreword by E W Swanton.

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