Book review - Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts
Books covering cricket beyond the ten ICC full members are disappointingly few in number. Those who follow or report on cricket in the non-test world know that the stories around cricket in these countries are often more interesting than those in fully developed cricket countries, which makes the absence of books all the more puzzling.
When the more mainstream publications mention associate and affiliate cricket, the tone can often be patronising. Clichés such as "minnows", "plucky amateurs" and mentions of non-cricket occupations of the players abound.
So it is refreshing when a book comes along that is an exception. Roy Morgan’s Encyclopedia of World Cricket was an honourable exception, though that opted to go for quantity, with the pieces on some countries being sadly short, including the piece on Afghanistan with the publication of that book being just before the start of their rise up the cricketing ranks.
Another honourable exception is the upcoming "Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts", a compilation of stories edited – and predominately written by – Peter Miller and Tim Wigmore. Other contributors include Tim Brooks, Sahil Dutta and Gideon Haigh, with the latter also contributing a foreword.
Rather than try and cover the entire non-test world, the book instead concentrates on a selection of countries. It starts by covering the four associates playing in the World Cup – Afghanistan, Ireland, UAE and Scotland, and moves on to cover two who recently lost ODI status – The Netherlands and Kenya, two up and coming associates in the shape of Papua New Guinea and Nepal as well as the oft-mentioned potential "big markets" for cricket China and the USA.
The observant amongst you will of course notice that only comes to ten countries and not the eleven that the title suggests, but as the book itself points out, like all good second elevens, they have turned up with ten.
The authors of each piece have done an outstanding job at speaking to people actually involved with the game in each country (including, for full disclosure, some of us here at CricketEurope) rather than approach the subject from afar. Interviewed for the book were players and administrators, present and past, including rare comments from the disgraced former Kenyan captain Maurice Odumbe and Sultan Mohammad Zarawani, famous for facing Allan Donald without a helmet in the 1996 World Cup with predictable results.
This approach enables the book to report on the real stories around cricket in the covered countries, and it certainly doesn't shy away from covering the negatives in some countries, such as the constant administrative problems in the USA, the failure to adequately bring on women’s cricket in Afghanistan and the riot that marred Nepal’s hosting of World Cricket League Division 5 in 2010.
There is a recurring theme through the book, and it is one that will be familiar to any long time follower of associate & affiliate cricket. It is one of a failure of the International Cricket Council to adequately develop the game by nature of its closed shop structure. A sport seemingly uninterested in growth and happy to keep just a handful of nations involved. The benefits of Olympic inclusion – to which the full members in control of the ICC seem oblivious – are covered in great detail in the China chapter. If a reader of this book thought the ICC were doing a stand up job at developing the game before reading it, they are unlikely to think so after reading it.
The book is complimented by a number of photos from all around the world, with several coming from CricketEurope's very own Barry Chambers. The photos help the book in coming across as a serious work on a sport that is taken seriously by those countries that it covers. Few other books that have discussed associate & affiliate cricket have managed to achieve that.
If one had to find fault with the book, it would be that the Gideon Haigh piece on Papua New Guinea had been previously published in "The Nightwatchman" quarterly magazine. It is, however, the definitive piece on cricket in PNG, and readers of this book might not necessarily have read it before. The Gideon Haigh foreword though, is an original piece from him.
There are other countries that could have presented stories as equally fascinating as those the book covers too, such as Argentina, Canada, Rwanda or Uganda. Perhaps they can be covered in the subsequent instalment that this book undoubtedly deserves.
In summary, Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts is a fantastic, thoroughly researched and well written book that is a must have for any cricket lover, especially those of us who follow cricket outside the Test playing world. It is, in all honesty, the best book on associate & affiliate cricket I've had the pleasure of reading.
Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts is published by Pitch Publishing and will be available from 19th January.
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