Fifty Finest and In a League of Their Own

Richard Whitehead reviews
Fifty Finest: A Tribute to England’s Test Cricket History
by Andrew Bee
Bridge Books, pb, 272pp, £9.99

In a League of Their Own: 100 Cricket Legends Select Their World XI
by Richard Sydenham
DB Publishing, pb, 190pp, £9.99

Sometimes the best ideas do not make the best books

IT IS one thing to have an original concept, quite another to turn that into a compelling read. Take Andrew Bee’s Fifty Finest. Bee, a school teacher, had a brilliant idea: to examine all the many great innings played for England in Tests and to rank them in order of merit. He came up with a precise and complex formula combining, among other factors, the proportion of runs to the team’s overall total, the number of runs scored, the quality of the bowling attack, the pitch and the match/series situation.

Nor is this a quick trip through the obvious highlights of the author’s own cricket-watching lifetime. Len Hutton’s record-breaking 364 at The Oval in 1938, for instance, is preceded by an Arthur Shrewsbury innings in 1886.

Bee applied himself to the task with scholarly dedication and took five years in the compilation, research and writing. But the result, sadly, falls short of his initial vision. Above all, the book is let down by the writing which – while occasionally lyrical – is lacking in almost every quality needed to keep the reader entertained and wanting more. And that is without the irritation of the many mistakes in names, remarkable when made by someone so obviously entranced by the lore of the game.

Richard Sydenham took even longer with In a League of Their Own, another intriguing idea followed up with impressive determination to see the project through. The outcome is a lot more fulfilling and, although best read in short bedside bursts, provides moments of genuine surprise and interest. Sydenham asked 100 famous players to choose their all-time world XIs. Some of the respondents did not even live to see this labour of love published.

Unwittingly the two forewords advertise how entertaining differences of opinion can be. Garry Sobers claims Peter May was too limited to be considered great while Dickie Bird names him as England’s finest post-war batsman.

Many prefer to pick only from those they have seen while others, Bishan Bedi for instance, show an impressive grasp of cricket history. Sobers emerges as the player most frequently chosen. A few players select themselves.

Richard Whitehead is former deputy books editor for The Times

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