Second XI

Published: 2015
Pages: 224
Author: Wigmore, Tim and Miller, Peter
Publisher: Pitch Publishing
Rating: 4.5 stars

Second Xi

I read recently that were a collection of cricket literature to be anything approaching complete it would have to contain upwards of 24,000 items. It is a remarkable figure and testament to the diligence with which those who love the game have always approached the recording of its development for future generations.

Within such a collection the proud owner would have a vast store of historical works at his disposal, but he would still find that, in the main, the history of the game beyond its traditional heartlands is ignored. There are some exceptions, the history of cricket in North America in particular being well covered. Gathering dust on my shelves there is also a comprehensive history of cricket in Fiji, and one on the game in mainland Europe. Those books are however dated 1949 and 1969 respectively, so have long been in need of updating.

A classic historical text is Rowland Bowen’s masterpiece, Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development Throughout the World, which deals in the main with the Test playing countries but, to Bowen’s enormous credit, recognised that those nations could not and should not be viewed in isolation. That much said Bowen’s book has not been revised since 1970, so again is out of date.

Sri Lanka has enjoyed Test status now for more than thirty years, but still no full history of cricket there has appeared, nor has anything emerged from Zimbabwe or Bangladesh, the other two countries to have become full members since Bowen’s book appeared. It is therefore no surprise at all that by and large those nations now collectively known as “associates” have not been fully covered.

The sub-title of Second XI is Cricket in its Outposts. The authors say at the beginning of the book like all good second elevens we have turned up with ten, so the title is slightly misleading. What you get is ten essays about different nations in different places in the pecking order; Afghanistan, China, Ireland, Kenya, Nepal, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Scotland, UAE and, last but not least, the USA.

In light of my opening comments I should probably make the point at the outset that this is not a history book. There is, as there has to be, some historical information in the various chapters, in some rather more than others, but the main object of the book is to describe the state of the game now, and to look forward rather than back.

There are four separate sections, the first dealing with the four associates who will grace the forthcoming World Cup. First up, and not just on alphabetical order, is the uplifting story of Afghan cricket. There isn’t much history here for the simple reason that, a few Bowenesque entries apart, the game simply didn’t exist before the mid 1990s. There has been a book on Afghan cricket before, Tim Albone’s Out of the Ashes, which appeared in 2010, but of course in relative terms that is a long time ago. When Albone wrote his book the outlook for Afghan cricket was bright, and five years on it is brighter still – for a variety of reasons most of the Test playing nations cannot say that – uplifting is most definitely the word.

In England we know a bit about our near neighbours already, but the differing ambitions of Ireland and Scotland and the different issues they face are succinctly presented. The UAE is something else altogether – plenty of international cricket has been played in the Emirates and will doubtless continue to be. Whether their playing strength, almost exclusively drawn from the South Asian diaspora, will ever advance much further seems unlikely, but as with all the pieces in this splendid book I now have an understanding of their situation.

Second XI then goes on to deal with what it describes as two “Forgotten Associates”, the Netherlands and Kenya. The Dutch have a long cricketing pedigree, but the game is and has always been a minority sport in a small country and I suspect it will always remain so. The real story of the two is the Kenyan one. It is a tale as sad as that of Afghanistan is joyous. A decade ago Kenyan cricket was at a crossroads. The East Africans might have become the eleventh full member by now, but sadly their game turned in on itself. Why? I still don’t really understand despite Tim Wigmore’s superb piece, which is certainly my favourite in this collection. I stress though that is not a failing – after all where is the logic in Maurice Odumbe receiving a five year ban for an offence that certainly seems rather less serious than the one for which Warne and Waugh Junior received a slap on the wrist?

Under the heading “Local Dreams” come Papua New Guinea and Nepal. That of the former is a delightful tale, weaved with his usual skill by guest writer Gideon Haigh. As for Nepal watch out for them in a decade’s time – their situation is not the same as Afghanistan’s for a variety of reasons, not least that they lack the support of the Taliban, but I get the feeling the Nepalis have a big future in the game too.

Finally we have a section entitled, for obvious reasons, “Cricket’s Golden Ticket”. The potential benefits of the game “catching on” in the USA have been talked about for as long as I can remember. The analysis of the current state of the game over there is interesting, but nothing suggests to me that North American cricket will ever again get to the position it occupied in the days when Bart King was one of the best cricketers in the game, let alone any further.

The chapter on China is the second by a guest writer, Sahil Dutta. I have to confess I didn’t know the Chinese played cricket. They clearly do and, their women at least, have enjoyed some success, but again it is difficult to see the “Afghanistan Effect” being replicated – but if it did? The mind boggles.

If I were being churlish I would grumble about the lack of any statistics in the book, or an index. In truth neither can be looked at as anything like essential, so I make no complaint as such, but had they been there I’d have thought long and hard about giving Second XI a maximum. It is highly recommended.


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