Many find cricket intriguing. There are so many formats with humongous challenges. Each season brings in new followers and new players. The game is evolving constantly and innovating with the longer version facing immense pressure from the success of the private leagues.
Youngsters prefer the T20 version and it is actually so fashionable to say that Test cricket is the “ultimate” when realistically the number of players wanting to pursue their interests in the longer version is dwindling at an alarming rate.
Stefan Szymanski and Tim Wigmore, in their approach the subject with some brilliant research and arguments, backed by conviction one would associate with true experts of the game in their book Crickonomics: The Anatomy of Modern Cricket.
It is monumental work for students of modern cricket with each page unloading some priceless data-driven information.
Why does England rely on private schools for their batters – but not their bowlers? How did demographics shape India’s rise? Why have women often been the game’s great innovators? Why does South Africa struggle to produce Black Test batters? And how does the weather impact who wins?
The answers to these fascinating questions make Crickonomics a must read for all stakeholders of the game – the media, administrators, players and the fans.
Szymanski is a Professor of Sport Management at the University of Michigan.
Wigmore has authored Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution, a book that won the Wisden Book of The Year and Telegraph Cricket Book of the Year awards in 2020. The two immensely eminent cricket minds come together to tackle subjects that engage your attention from the first page to the last.
What was the driving point for the wonderful book? Says Wigmore, “Stefan and I were in contact for a number of years for articles and so on. We realised there was a chance to combine our knowledge and skills and write a Freakonomics for cricket - similar to Soccernomics, which Stefan co-authored - using a combination of data and our own curiosity.”
Too much cricket, lack of interest worldwide for Test matches and struggle of survival for bi-lateral engagements can be subjects for debate but Wigmore disagrees when asked if cricket had lost its character of being a game where patience was a quality most paramount. “I don’t. No - there’s more to enjoy in cricket than ever before. Besides, the more you look at previous ‘golden ages’, the less golden they are.”
In an outstanding chapter titled – How Afghanistan is bringing cricket to Germany – the authors trace the 2009 journey of Arif Jamal, 14, and his 11 year old brother Khalil, who flee from Khonan Village in eastern Afghanistan.
Guided by an uncle and an agent, the two undertake the “hazardous journey” to Europe, chasing a better life. They walk for 16 hours from Quetta to cross the Iranian border.
“From then on, they either walked or rode on trucks, sometimes crammed into one vehicle with 40 or 50 refugees. In Turkey, the brothers walked for two days through woods before getting into a boat with other refugees. It was the most dangerous part of the journey and they could have died there.”
This was not all as the authors tell us.
“After nine harrowing hours, they went on to travel in a gasoline tank. It was like a coffin. We stayed there about 12 hours, and we were taken to Italy,” the refugees shared their ordeal. Wigmore and Szymanski continue their story, “Once in Italy, Arif and Khalil had to reach Essen, in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia. They travelled by train, police intercepted them in France, but they escaped. Finally, 48 days after leaving Afghanistan, they arrived in Essen and claimed asylum.”
The Jamal brothers had a fair idea of cricket, having learned the game in Peshawar where they had sought refuge in 2003.
Afghanistan qualifying for then 2010 T20 World Cup had fuelled their interest in the game. With hard work, Arif played for Germany against Belgium and France. The chapter beautifully traces the various journeys of refugees securing a place in German cricket and along with it the nationality.
The chapter – The Rise Of New Zealand: By Luck Or Design? – deals with Kane Williamson’s team making a mark by lifting the inaugural World Test Championship in June 2021.
The authors highlight aspects adopted by New Zealand Cricket like professional governance, raising funding and interest in the sport, a streamlined domestic system, improving infrastructure, an enlightened attitude towards franchise T20 leagues, not bleeding money on their own T20 league, a culture that puts the national team first and no selection by committee.
The authors argue well how Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist transformed Test batting – but not T20 – with their sensational hitting as openers. How Duckworth and Lewis fundamentally changed the way the weather- interrupted cricket matches were decided.
The authors also discuss what the future of women’s cricket looks like and the case for reparations. An engaging chapter explains why South Africa doesn’t produce more black batters.
They quote test wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile who alleges he suffered from “discrimination” because of his race. There is an interesting tribute to the Barmy Army for keeping Test cricket live from their sofas.
“The greatest myth about cricket is that the sport is conservative, impervious to change. The story of cricket has been one of constant evolution. We conceive of Crickonomics a then story of cricket’s fifth era: the sport in the new millennium,” reads the Introduction.
The authors assert the book will entertain and surprise all cricket lovers. It will. They also claim the book might even change how you watch the game. It certainly will. Crickonomics is very different from the books on cricket we have read. It is a game-changer indeed.