From Azeem to Ashes

Published: 2024
Pages: 222
Author: Berry, John
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 3.5 stars

Something that I have learned in life is that nothing is ever truly straightforward, and that seems to be true of all aspects of human endeavour. English cricket is currently plagued with uncertainties as it faces the same issues that challenge the sport the world over, and I find myself contemplating those for the second time in as many months, on both occasions as a result of a new book from Pitch.

The first was Ben Bloom’s Batting for Time. That one concentrates on the issues facing English cricket, and presents the facts in a way that does not seek to come to judgment. Jon Berry looks at much the same subjects as Ben Bloom, although his emphasis is different, and whilst his is also an essentially objective look at the game’s problems he also expresses his own views.

Berry’s timeline runs from the disappointment of the last knockings of Joe Root’s captaincy of the England Test side through to the end of last summer’s Ashes. The fact that England had to be content with a share of that series and accordingly not regaining the urn meant that the silver lining of a magnificent contest did have a small cloud attached to it, but it also means that other than a couple of brief mentions that have been added prior to publication the narrative was all written prior to England’s disappointing showing in last year’s World Cup and in the recent series in India.

In addition to events on the field Berry is as concerned with matters off it, and as the title of the book makes clear the issues raised by Azeem Rafiq receive close attention, and subsequent developments in relation to the fall out from his revelations loom large.

As with Ben Bloom’s book I find myself firstly thanking Berry for casting further light on aspects of the game I don’t particularly enjoy and consequently don’t always read up on. In particular his explanation of how, where and when franchise cricket operates across the world contained much that assisted my understanding of a part of the game that I don’t find at all appealing.

Something that, being of a similar vintage to the author, was of particular interest to me was a couple of historic parallels that he makes reference to. First, in relation to the extent to which the game on the field has changed, he references the skills of WG Grace, as they appeared to our generation, and makes a comparison with how the cricket of the post war years might seem to youngsters now.

Perhaps more interestingly, on the subject of racism, Berry references the, to our age group, notorious article titled Is it in the Blood, that appeared in Wisden Cricket Monthly in July 1995. The writer of that one questioned the commitment to the cause of the then several England cricketers of Afro-Caribbean heritage. It was a furore that, with the ensuing condemnation of the views expressed and successful legal actions, I had largely forgotten about. But Berry is right, it is worth remembering, and there are still lessons to be learnt from the episode.

Times change, and the world of publishing is very different to the one that existed when I first started buying cricket books. The variety of titles that appear now is impressive, and Pitch have done more than any to facilitate that. In truth the game has always faced challenges, albeit perhaps not so fundamental as now. But in the past this sort of writing simply hasn’t appeared, and it is to the credit of all concerned that it does now.


Thanks, Martin. That’s a very fair review, identifying some of the important issues that need discussing by lovers of the game, however uncomfortable it may be to do so.

Comment by Jon Berry | 10:15pm BST 5 May 2024

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