Bowled over down under

Ashes '97
February 6, 1998

Manchester University's department of government is, Norman Geras points out, more than just another distinguished politics department. It has also made an impressive contribution to the world of cricket through its alumni - Sir Frank Worrell, finest and most historically significant of all West Indies captains, and Matthew Engel, editor of Wisden Cricketer's Almanac and one of the game's most acidly perceptive observers.

To that must be added Geras and Ian Holliday's account of watching every ball of last summer's England v. Australia test series, turned into a tidy paperback despite the certainty that this academic coproduction will not count for any research assessment exercise.

They chose a happy year in which to do this. An outstanding Australian side deservedly took the series, dominating its middle stretches comprehensively. But the series was topped and tailed by England wins as spectacular as they were unexpected.

This is just as well for our authors, who provide opposing views of the series. Geras, a political theorist hailing from Zimbabwe, supports Australia. Holliday, an expert on British and Spanish politics, backs England. Both know their cricket - Geras in particular is a mine of information on past matches and records. They would be enjoyable and stimulating company for a day or more at Trent Bridge or the Oval.

Any sports fan can recognise the mix of despair and exhilaration felt by Geras as Australia collapsed astonishingly on the first day of the series:

"Despite the rout, I sort of enjoy the spectacle. Well, you know, I was there"; or his delight at a brilliant piece of stumping by Australian wicket keeper Ian Healy: "The third umpire and TV replay were called upon to assist, but Healy knew. And I therefore did also, sensing that Healy's reaction was genuine joy, not choreographed appeal."

Their reporting is invariably competent and balanced - individual partisanship if anything a little too restrained and reasonable to excite the reader. But an opportunity looks to have been missed. The authors are highly intelligent, informed and sophisticated - analysts by training and trade. They might profitably have devoted less space to match reporting and more to bringing those analytical skills to the questions raised by the series. Why does Australia so consistently punch above its weight, not only in cricket but in so many sports? Why are English teams so often chronically inhibited? Are cricket crowds more boorish than before, and if so why?

These are worthwhile questions, and Geras and Holliday do more than enough to suggest that they might have provided interesting answers had they chosen to describe a little less and analyse slightly more.

Huw Richards is a reporter for The THES.

Ashes '97: Two Views from the Boundary

Author - Norman Geras and Ian Holliday
ISBN - 1 897626 11 8
Publisher - Baseline Books
Price - £9.99
Pages - 163

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