Playing Hard Ball
Author: ET Smith
Rating: 2 stars
By Dave Wilson
23 Mar 2009
Ed Smith certainly has the credentials to write a book - double first from Cambridge, father a novelist, and the premise of this book piqued my interest particularly, being a cricket fan exiled in the States for the past 10 years. He had spent some time in New York in 2000, when the New York Mets and Yankees faced off in what became known as the "Subway Series", and had the idea to write a book contrasting cricket and baseball.
His county cricket credentials with Kent were sufficient to get him an invitation to the Mets training camp in Florida in early 2001, and much of the comparisons he draws from this experience seem to be based on money. Baseball training facilities in the States even at the most junior level are far superior to that enjoyed by the average county cricketer, but this is not so much a measure of American affluence as it is of the degreee of fame accorded professional ball players in the US in general. Few cricketers make the transition from the back pages to the front pages, and possibly none since Botham, in the way that baseball or American football players do - indeed footballers at the highest level in England are comparable with their American counterparts, so the same disparities could just as easily be highlighted between English soccer players and cricketers.
Smith does claim that a piece of advice from a baseball player's instruction book helped him with his batting, thereby giving some credence to the similarities at least in batting (or hitting, as they call it in baseball), but presumably this was only as applied to power strokes, considering that baseball is so much a power game. Some of his observations are correct, e.g. the dichotomy which exists between the American psyche of individualism and self-expression yet high degree of coaching involvment as compared to cricket, however some are less obvious, not the least of which is his assertion that the pitcher in baseball is more comparable to the batsman in cricket rather than the bowler - this seems to be based on the fact that baseball is primarily a game of runs and cricket a game of wickets (or "outs") and while this is certainly true I don't necessarily agree with this particular conclusion.
He makes a laudable attempt to identify which cricketers would have made good baseball players, identifying Andrew Symonds as his top choice, although he doesn't try the same in reverse, confirming that this book is intended for cricket fans rather than baseball fans.
Overall, I was a little disappointed with this book - it's a good idea that doesn't quite come off. Smith is a highly erudite wordsmith (no pun intended), however his writing displays a lack of genuine humour and warmth or any real personality; ultimately, I just didn't care if he had any fun, because I didn't.