CricketWeb Book of the Year 2015

Having finally, twelve months ago, settled on a format we were happy with this year we will proceed straight to the announcement of our awards. All things must evolve of course, so there is one piece of fine tuning, but nothing of substance. Last year we made an award to the Best New Writer, which we have decided eligibility for is rather vague, so that is now the Best Début Cricket Book award, but nothing has changed about the sort of books we had in mind as being eligible.

So without further ado, and on the assumption you are sitting comfortably, these are the fabulous five for 2015 with links to our reviews:-

CricketWeb Book of the Year 2015 is Fire in Babylon by Simon Lister published by Yellow Jersey Press

Runner-up is Wounded Tiger by Peter Oborne published by Simon and Schuster

Australian Book of the Year 2015 is Chasing Shadows by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge published by Hardie Grant Books

Cricket Tragics Book of the Year 2015 is Summer’s Crown by Stephen Chalke published by Fairfield Books and Christopher Saunders Publishing

Best Début Cricket Book in 2015 is Whitewash to Whitewash by Daniel Brettig published by Penguin Viking



As with last year we asked each of our winners five questions, and there responses are illuminating to say the least:-

1.Your book was clearly popular with the Review Team at Cricketweb. Looking back some months after publication and with the benefit of hindsight would you do anything different if you were starting the project now? 

Simon Lister; At the time, being told I had to stop writing was frustrating. But my editor was right of course – you have to stop somewhere. Since the book has been published I’ve spoken to several more people whose lives were part of the diaspora and who were greatly affected by this West Indies team. I think these sort of stories were the heart of Fire in Babylon, so if I could do anything different I would have liked to have included more of this testimony.

Peter Oborne; I only wish that I had spoken to that fine early Pakistan cricketer Alimuddin in time to interview him. I was about to go and see him when he died.

Elliot Cartledge; Would we do anything different? Quite possibly, yes. It was a fraught subject with a range of complexities and conflicting views that brought about angst both externally and internally. I know Tim had second thoughts about being involved with the book – he has stated that publicly – and I found the exercise draining to say the least. If you read between the lines, there lies perhaps an answer to your question.

Daniel Brettig; I certainly know more now than I did when the book went to the printers. Lots of additional details and tidbits have emerged in conversation with people I had interviewed, or others who waited until they had read it to get in touch. That being said, I don’t think much I have learned since would have changed the book in any substantial way. Maybe some scenes might have changed a little, but overall it stands up in much the same way. 

Stephen Chalke; Nothing obvious occurs to me. It was a massive undertaking to tell the story of the county championship in a readable format, and I was happy with the way I broke it down into self-contained double-page spreads. There was an element of arbitrariness about the stories I selected, but I don’t regret any of my choices. If I had had more pages, I might have written more about the early years which continue to fascinate me, but the book was quite long enough as it was.

2.Your own title aside, were you particularly impressed with any other books released in 2015 either cricketing or otherwise? 

Simon Lister; One of the disadvantages of writing a book is that you feel instantly guilty if you read anything that’s not immediately relevant, or not research. So I haven’t read much from outside of my remit recently but I did dip into The Game of Life by Scyld Berry. Scyld is one of cricket’s most original writers and I expect his book to do very well in 2016. I was interested by his take on the West Indies because his assessment of their modern significance emphasised the central role of Viv Richards, whereas Fire in Babylon pointed more towards Clive Lloyd.

Peter Oborne; Greatly enjoyed Simon Hughes Who Wants To Be A Batsman?  but sadly his insights came too late to change my own batting career

Elliot Cartledge; Richie Benaud: Those Summers of Cricket is a beautiful and timely book.

Daniel Brettig; Second XI, about the Associate cricket nations, was a very worthwhile project. I’ve also enjoyed some of the insights contained in The Keepers. But my favourite this year is probably The Game of Life by Scyld Berry, a wonderful piece of work that affirms a lot about why cricket means so much to so many. I spent a lot of time in the UK in 2015, so I read Engel’s England – I laughed a lot, which is as good a recommendation as any. Touching Distance, about Newcastle United’s 1995-96 EPL season, was another I’ll remember, even if it was painful to recall as a supporter! 

Stephen Chalke; Simon Lister’s ‘Fire in Babylon’ and Scyld Berry’s ‘Cricket: The Game of Life’. I thought both were outstanding – superbly researched and beautifully written.

Away from cricket, Andy Bull’s ‘Speed Kings’, the story of the American bobsleigh team of 1932, is a cracking good read.

Away from sport altogether, I was bowled over by ‘1946’ by Victor Sebestyen, a scintillating portrait of the world’s great decisions in the immediate aftermath of war. Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set A Watchman’ was enthralling – not as powerful as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ but more revealing about the politics of the Southern States.

I much enjoyed Anthony Quinn’s new novel, ‘Curtain Call’; he’s a first-rate writer. His previous novel, ‘Half of the Human Race’, is also outstanding – with a county cricketer one of the central characters. Well worth tracking down.

I read almost nothing outside cricket in 2014 when I was working on ‘Summer’s Crown’, so it was only this year that I caught up with Alan Johnson’s two volumes of autobiography, which I loved, especially ‘This Boy’ about his childhood in Notting Hill. He is a natural writer.

3. Can we expect any new publications from you in 2016 or 2017? If so what can you tell us about your plans? 

Simon Lister; I’ve got lots of ideas – not all of them cricket, not all of them sport. I hope one of them comes off. I’d like to keep some sort of momentum going. Apart from all of that, someone really has to write the second half of the West Indies story.

Peter Oborne; Yes! Certainly! The cricket novelist Richard Heller and I have written ‘White on Green: Scenes from the Drama of Pakistan cricket.’  It will be published in June, just ahead of the Pakistan Tour of England. It has a great deal of wonderful material, for example a portrait of the remarkable Prince Aslam, whom we believe to be the true  inventor of the  ‘doosra’, and who played first class cricket for Pakistan from the mid-50s to the late 70s.

Elliot Cartledge; Can’t answer on Tim’s behalf regarding another publication but I’m helping the Richmond Cricket Club update Frank Tyson’s history of the club (to be published in 2017) and I’m about to head overseas to research another project which must remain under wraps for now.

Daniel Brettig; I’m working on some long-form journalism at present, and there’ll be a collaborative cricket book project later in the year that you’ll hear more about in good time…

Stephen Chalke; As a publisher I am currently working on ‘Team Mates’, a collection of essays about favourite team mates. It’s got a first-rate cast list of contributors.

As a writer I am still recovering from ‘Summer’s Crown’, which took a lot out of me.

4.Take away all the constraints normally imposed by money, time and lack of research material what cricket book would you choose to write? 

Simon Lister; I think it would be a biography of Roy Gilchrist. One of the most dangerous bowlers born into an extraordinary age. A man with a unique talent who led – in part at least –  a tragic, violent life.

Peter Oborne; I would love to write a history of cricket in FATA, the Federal Administered Tribal Areas in the north west of Pakistan where I understand everyone including the Taliban have gone cricket mad. In particular, I would like to attend the annual Badshah Khan tournament, played in Shakai Tehsil. Unfortunately it is impossible to do so because of security issues.

Elliot Cartledge; I have an investigative bent so there’s a tale or two lying in wait about the widespread corruption that continues to plague cricket. I’d start with corporations and work my way down.

Daniel Brettig; I’ve always thought Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka and Pakistan in 1994 would make a fascinating book, given a lot of great cricket, a part of the world cricket doesn’t get to glimpse anymore, and plenty of intrigue related to match-fixing and the fact it was the last Australian tour not shown on TV down under. But not sure how many would want to read it!

Stephen Chalke; If there were no such constraints, I would try my hand at something away from cricket. Who knows? I just might do that.

5.In a couple of sentences, how do you see the future of cricket publishing? 

Simon Lister; Well, my initial reaction is that it’s all rather depressing; fewer bespoke publishers, more pointless ghosted autobiographies of current players. But having said that, I think that against the odds, there are a lot of really very strong writers who keep bringing out excellent books. Stephen Chalke should be given a knighthood for services to cricket writing (although I suspect he may turn it down), Dan Waddell has interesting things to say, I’ve already mentioned Scyld Berry and I’m looking forward to Emma John’s book later this year. There is a lot of strong long-form writing in Australia and South Asia too. So perhaps things aren’t as bad as I fear.

Peter Oborne; I feel confident that cricket publishing will continue to be buoyant.

Elliott Cartledge; Given the variety of forums and talent around, the future of cricket publishing is rosy-cheeked and robust. The future of book-selling may not be.

Daniel Brettig; There will always be plenty of biographies, anecdote collections etc, but what I am somewhat pessimistic about is mainstream publishing support for projects like Whitewash that don’t have a single big name to hang themselves upon. I hope I’m wrong.

Stephen Chalke; Sometimes I think there are too many authors for the number of readers out there but, having said that, this has been an excellent year.

Furthermore, I am most impressed by some of the writers coming through – people like George Dobell, Andy Bull and Chris Waters. I see no cause for despondency.



We are most grateful to all the authors firstly for taking the trouble to write the books we enjoyed so much, and then for giving up the time to answer our questions as fully as they did. It is to be hoped that Simon Lister will not live to regret letting Martin know that he would like to write a biography of Roy Gilchrist, but he should know that the excitement at that news in Martin’s corner of the office on his hearing it was palpable.

………….. and finally, in case you thought we had forgotten, having invited them from our guests we have to have our own honourable mentions. This year they are Steve Dolman’s Edwin Smith; A Life in Derbyshire Cricket  from the ACS, Greg Growden’s Bowled by a Bullet from The Cricket Publishing Company, Andy Murtagh’s biography of Barry Richards, Sundial in the Shade, from Pitch Publishing, Max Bonnell’s biography of ‘Horseshoe’ Collins, Lucky, from cricketbooks.com.au and lastly Bloomsbury’s Wisden on Grace, edited by Jonathan Rice.


Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Archie Mac and Martin Chandler