This is one of those books I bought solely on seeing the potential behind the idea of the title, and from a charity shop at £1.50 their really was nothing to lose. The title it’s self is a draw to cricket fans, in fact any book that says “strangest moments” is a draw to the curious mind of a warped sporting fan. The idea of the bizarre happening in the greatest of all cricket battles was too alluring for this to to go un-purchased. Titles that involve “strangest” often give the preconception that it’s going to be a hilarious collection of tales, freak oddidities and good old moments of anecdotes that make you think “What the..?”. The promise is there to try and involve the reader to laugh, giggle and enjoy themselves whilst learning about the subject matter, in this case the 123 year history of the Ashes. Yeah 123 years, that leave some scope to explore the “strangest” moments really doesn’t it?
Sadly however the author seems to miss those points en masse and instead opt in to giving us some sort of a history lesson of the tournament sprinkled lightly with the moments that were expected to create the bulk of the book. Sadly that wrong way round. This causes the potential for this to be a book of hilarious and brilliant proportions to go a little unfulfilled with too much focus on the cricket and the performances on the field that saved a game, as opposed to the off the field antics. However that’s not to say this is actually a bad book, far from it, in fact it’s a good solid history book on crickets oldest rivalry. An interesting manner with good historical values written by someone who not only cares about the little urn, but also knows his stuff, and has researched the book well enough to be able to mention every ashes series. Just it often comes across as missing the target the title laid down, and makes you think of the wayward missiles of Steve Harmison, or the way Andrew Symonds’ career has gone off the track in recent times.
So as a history book it dates the start of the ashes in the late 1800’s in one of it’s better stories and finishes just prior to the 2005 series, in which England actually won for the first time in such a long time. The book accounts for every series in between and mentions all the key moments so as the infamous “Botham test”, the England innings of “903”, Laker’s infamous “19 wicket haul”, and Bradmans “Most famous duck in history” (which infamously left the Don’s test average just shy of 100, when he needed just 4 runs to get a 3 figure test average on retirement). These from a cricketing point of view were fun to read about, don’t get me wrong they were interesting and accurate. However they weren’t what I expected when I read “strangest”. The book does sprinkle a few of them through it’s pages however, such as Darren Gough winding up an Australian doorman after skittling the Aussies, Phil Tuffnell legging it from a hospital whilst apparently suffering a mental break down (probably the best story in the book) and an Australian who dislocated his shoulder…by rugby tackling a pitch invader. Sadly these are few and far between often making them perhaps seem better than they really are.
The book does miss Douglas Jardine’s dark humour and possible racism aimed at the Aussie press (more than likely things said to rile the Australians rather than genuinely racist comments) seemed completely void of the book. Despite the cold sharp biting humour of the then England captain and his brilliant quips could well have filled a book on it’s own.
The tales of W.G. Grace at the start of the book are good, but seem to be too much about on the field action as well, as opposed to infamous act of giving the umpires a coin with Victoria on one side and Britannia on the other. His call…”Woman”. So obviously there have been many short and humorous tales left out of a book that could have really used them to great effect.
The fact the book seems to have avoided the best off the field moments on the whole, seems a rather bizarre idea. If someone did one on boxing (I know there is one but I’ve yet to read it) and missed out Tyson biting Lewis’ leg, or having a fight with Mitch Green in the street you’d feel a little miffed as to why it wasn’t included. Same applies here.
What also appears to be missing are photographs, that could have been inserted to related stories through the book. I know this seems like searching for a fault in the book, but it would have been a nice addition even if the price would have increased from the rather steep RRP of £8.99.
On the whole though an enjoyable if slightly unfulfilled book on the stories of the Ashes which often feels like it went for a slow and careful innings but go it’s self out quite cheaply when looking set. To cricket fans this will be an enthralling read almost like a well constructed and match winning knock in the mid 80’s. To those expecting a few cheap and quick giggles it’ll be like the 7 ½ hour innings of Trevor Bailey in which he scored 60 runs from 425 balls…of which only 40 balls were hit for a scoring shot. Obviously lots of tedium with the few highlights actually being worth the time to admire and memorable.
Overall…Fighting Talk is better for your sporting giggles as this is a little too serious , but for your ashes knowledge this is well worth a read and in fact is a perfect wicket maiden.