Book Review: The most entertaining history of The Ashes ever written

July 10, 2013
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Yes, we know that heading sounds pretty hefty. But then, we really could not find any other words to describe the latest edition of Simon Briggs’ simply outstanding “Stiff Upper Lips and Baggy Green Caps: A Sledger’s History of The Ashes.” The Ashes, for those who know not much of cricket, is one of sport’s most famous rivalries and involves Australia and England slugging it out in Test Matches for the possession of a tiny urn, whose contents are as disputed as the urn itself, all the way since 1882. But that is another story.

Now, numerous books have been written on this contest for The Ashes. And some of cricket’s greatest authors have composed prose immaculate on this rivalry. John Arlott, EW Swanton, David Firth, and so many more have come out with brilliant accounts of Ashes contests. But ah, we maintain that nothing – and we say NOTHING – comes even close to what Mr Biggs has done in this relatively slim, well-produced volume.

For, unlike other authors who very prim and properly focused on the cricket, personalities and issues that came to the fore in these Ashes contests, Briggs instead draws attention to the spicier parts of the battles – the verbal and sometimes even physical exchanges that took place as things got out of hand (as they often did) when these two bitter rivals crashed on the field. No, there are no scoreboards here, no massive statistical database either. What you instead have is a series-by-series narrative of the two teams “having a go at each other.” Be it Australia’s Kortright jeering WG Grace for walking back to the pavilion when “only” two of the three stumps had been knocked out, Woodfull’s epic “there are two teams out there, one of them is trying to play cricket” in the Bodyline series, to Merv Hughes snarls at Graeme Hick to a spectator yelling at Phil Tuffnel, “Hey, lend me your brain, I am building an idiot!”, it’s all here.

And it is superbly written. Briggs keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek, and is gloriously irreverent, whether talking of Bradman or Border, Hammond or Vaughan. The editors deserve a pat on the back for producing the book very well too – there are some beautiful black and white pictures and tables containing statistical snippets. And it is all updated to the last Ashes contest. Which makes it perfect reading for anyone following the one that’s underway right now.

Heck, it is perfect reading for anyone who likes cricket. Or for that matter, just likes some juicy wit and banter. For “Stiff Upper Lips and Baggy Green Caps” might not capture the statistical essence of The Ashes, but it sure gives us a generous serving of its spirit. This is cricket’s oldest and greatest rivalry, narrated with enormous flair.

The next time someone says Test cricket is boring, give them this book. You will hear peals of laughter as it is read, and thew chewing sound that follows will be that of words being eaten.

Yes, it’s THAT good. And is available for just Rs 209 on the Kindle. Beat that for a deal.

Stiff Upper Lips and Baggy Green Caps: A Sledger’s History of The Ashes
Simon Briggs
Quercus
368 pp
Rs 209

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