Book review: When Cricket Was Cricket by Adam Powley

‘What is human life but a game of cricket?’ mused the Duke of Dorset in 1777.

There can be no other sport that fits nostalgia, wistful reminiscence and yes, even philosophy, as warmly and snugly as cricket.

Who hasn’t yearned for the crack of leather on willow, those long, hot summers sitting on the boundary and tea and sandwiches in the pavilion?

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We may be guilty of peering back myopically through rose-tinted spectacles but, as Adam Powley so neatly puts it, that perception of cricket is an intrinsic part of the sport.

That said, for many with long memories, cricket just isn’t cricket any more.

So are you one of those people who remembers a time before millionaire players careered around a floodlit field in glorified pyjamas, when a proper match lasted days rather than a few hours and when there were no cheerleaders or fireworks to muddy the pitch?

If you are, Powley’s illustrated history, which celebrates the sport’s grass roots, is guaranteed to bowl you over, knock you for six and generally conjure up all those other cricketing clichés.

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His entertaining tour through decades past is about a game very different to the one we see now on our screens.

Over 200 pages of comment and pictures draws on 100 years of outstanding photographs in the huge Mirrorpix archive and celebrates a less frantic time when great cricket was created by great players rather than by marketing gurus and showbiz choreographers.

Powley is the first to admit that the modern version of the game can still throw up thrillers like England’s Ashes victory in 2010-11 and that the past was not all sweetness and light.

But his fascinating book harks back to a different age when many of the players and characters hailed from humble roots and the game still possessed a homespun and carefree charm.

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Far from being just a roll-call of the game’s big names, When Cricket was Cricket features many players who epitomised the era in which they played or simply had a unique appeal that reached far beyond what they achieved on the pitch.

There is a glimpse of some classic matches when huge crowds swarmed to see the stars of the day in action – legends like W G Grace, Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs, Gary Sobers and Fred Trueman and more recent heroes such as Ian Botham, Shane Warne and Brian Lara.

From the grandest venues to the humblest village pitches, this is the perfect guide to cricket’s golden years.

(Haynes Publishing, hardback, £18.99)

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