Any book that is published to provide a definition and analysis in the historical context about a sport tends to be heavy with statistics, narrative and could be used as a weapon due to its size.
Hughes gives a breezy whirlwind tour of 400 years of cricket with profiles on players past as present, rescuing from the shadows neglected English heroes such as Wilfred Rhodes, the slow left-armer who took 4,204 first-class wickets who managed a 1,000 runs and 100
wickets in a season 16 times.
Hughes highlights that throughout history commentators and newspaper hacks would comment on the decline of cricket when there was a new innovation and a player who was performing in a unique way. In the 1930’s the legendary Australian Donald Bradman was seen as a symptom of how cricket had declined into a single-minded, too purposeful and selfish, (as a modern-day Andy Murray), but seventy years on he is described as the greatest.
Hughes shows how cricket through changes to the game and the characters who played the sport has ultimately provided survival to a game which is up there as sport of great influence. He shows how reactionary forces in cricket have always been there to suppress change and thus, ensuring change occurs slightly later than expected, whether through the introduction of professionalism, reform of the county cricket scene, introduction of overseas players, one-day cricket and T20.
Unashamed, Hughes believes change in cricket only comes about when the batsman will benefit over the expense of the bowler. He shows how cricket has always provided prosperity to the batsman who were always defined as the the original gentlemen, who would defend against the hoardes of bowlers representing the working man.
Hughes provides a glittering analysis of players throughout the game, from the likes of WG Grace, Hobbs, Hammond, Boycott, Botham and modern-day heroes like Warne, Flintoft, Tendulkar and Murali. Wally Hammond was called the David Beckham of his day, while Bradman the Pete Sampras.
Hughes uses his own experience of playing the sport to give his own perspective of the game since the late seventies when Geoff Boycott would stay at the crease to the recent triumphs of England in the Ashes. He is also hilarious at times, such as when Phil Tufnell, whom he recalls one day coming into the Middlesex dressing room and announcing that his wife had popped out for a pint of milk three weeks before and not returned. “Christ, are you managing OK?” he was asked. ‘‘Yeah, I’m using the powdered version for the moment.”
Hughes is an innovator of the sport and his book shows he is greeted by the same old rhetoric: the game isn’t what it used to be, the fact is it isn’t, but cricket at the pace of the New Zealand test batting line-up moves at a slow pace with the times.