Modern cricket suffers from being perceived as exemplifying the aristocratic circles from which it originated. It is the history behind this image which this book attempts to unravel, as Derek Birley illustrates cricket’s uncertain position today. He cleverly shows that central to this uncertainty is the ethos of competition underpinning modern ethics–an ethos within which cricket, having originated in a leisurely environment, fares badly.
In concentrating on the aristocratic origins of the sport and the developments of the industrial revolution, Birley elucidates the reasons for the disparities in popularity and etiquette of cricket and football. His research is impressive in scope, but its purpose is ultimately hindered by his inability to filter out unnecessary facts.
This is a pity, because there is much noteworthy historical material–appealing to historians and cricket lovers alike–in this weighty book. Yet the historical passages are a little clumsily integrated with cricketing developments and the conclusions are somewhat piecemeal, as if Birley still believes that the historian’s role is to be an “objective observer” and present “the facts”. This is a somewhat antiquated view, but it is commensurate with the subject matter and the hypocritical mores of the founders of the game–the old-style aristocrats who invented the spirit of cricket and with whom, it appears, Birley cannot help but identify himself. –Toby Green