A sport steeped in history and tradition, cricket has for generations proved fertile ground for writers. It can therefore be difficult to decide on which book to give as a gift for the cricket lover. Below are three excellent examples of the quality and diversity available.
Basil D’Oliveira : Cricket and Controversy
Peter Osborne – Time Warner (2005)
Sport and politics will be forever linked in the history of South Africa and the story of Basil D’Oliveira is epic in personal, historical and sporting terms.
As a non-white, he was shunned in his home country and moved to England to undertake the long road of becoming residentially qualified to play for his adopted country.
In 1968 he scored a magnificent 158 against Australia immediately prior to the England tour of South Africa. He was not selected as part of that touring team, only as a stand-by in case of injury.
At the time, this inexplicable decision was said to be for ‘cricketing reasons’. As Osborne’s book shows, the reasons were more sinister and exposed a tacit agreement between the cricketing authorities of both countries.
The situation was brought to a head when a player from the original squad was injured and D’Oliveira was promoted to take his place. The subsequent refusal of the South African government to let the tour go ahead if D’Oliveira was included prompted uproar, resulting in the cutting of all sporting links until apartheid was dismantled.
A person of remarkable courage and determination, this book is a worthy tribute to a man who helped changed the face of not just cricket, but sport, irrevocably.
On and Off the Field
Ed Smith – Viking
The son of a writer and possessor of a double first in history from Cambridge University, Ed Smith is not the typical professional sportsman. This is the second of his three books and is a diary of the season.
From January in India, through the rigours of pre-season preparation and onto winning and losing a place in the national side, this may sound like a traditional tale of ‘highs and lows’.
However Smith provides a rare insight into dressing room tension, personal expectation and the nagging pessimism apparent in this most cerebral of sports. The diary format affords the book a natural arc with Smith’s excellent writing bringing the season vividly to life.
Short-listed for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year and Wisden’s Book of the, this remains the definitive expression of the cricket diary.
Penguins Stopped Play: Eleven Village Cricketers Take on the World
Harry Thompson – John Murray (2007)
Cricket writing is a broad church and Thompson’s account of his ‘Captains Scott Invitation XI’ attempt to play a cricket match on every continent in the world is an engaging, humorous and ultimately moving book.
On his own admission, a player of limited ability, Thomson details matches played in settings as varied as tranquil English villages and Antarctic ice fields. Friendships are strengthened and strained, teammates honoured and harangued, countries delightfully depicted.
Sadly, despite never having smoked, Thomson was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and died at the age of 45. The final chapter of this excellent book is a poignant reminder of the joy yet eventual fragility of life.
Cricket Books For Christmas
For any cricket fan that loves watching, playing or reading about the game, the above titles are guaranteed to be appreciated gifts.