Book Review: Australia Story of a Cricket Country


Editor:  Christian Ryan

Publisher:  Hardie Grant

RRP:  $90   (Almanac price $75. Details here)


We are told a lot of things nowadays.

We’re told nobody buys books anymore. That iPads and eBooks are the inevitable, irresistible way of the future.

Even cricket administrators tell us few under thirty care much about test cricket now. No time. Limited attention span. Too many alternatives. So they say.

So why would anyone choose now to publish a large, lavishly produced book on cricket? One with no less an ambition than expressing the entire experience of the game in Australia – “a grand sweep of the grandest game”.

Perhaps it should be seen as an act of respect? An expression of faith? For every aspect of this superbly produced book shows an attention to detail, originality of approach and a respect for its subject matter that few sports books ever achieve.

Editor Christian Ryan defines five states of cricket being to examine our  relationship to the national game. Dreaming leads to Playing. Some who played earn the right to measure Shining, where 121 test cricketers give their opinion on Australia’s five greatest champions. For those who don’t shine, there is always the Watching. All have an experience of Living the game.

There’s much well-trodden ground when it comes to cricket writing, but even the most weathered subject is given fresh eyes in this collection. Familiar names like Haigh, Knox, Baum, Mallet and Chappell appear. All are in fine form. But some of the best contributions come from musicians, scientists, Noble Prize winners and old soldiers: diverse voices with a common passion.

Unexpected gems abound. Cricket tragic Cass Francis delights in attending his first test match at the age of 89, in the process providing a poignant insight into Jamie Packer’s childhood. Nathan Hollier’s look at cricketers’ biographies becomes a provocative examination of different views of Australian masculinity through generations. Elisabeth Holdsworth explains cricket’s importance in WWII army camps, and why football couldn’t play a similar role.

The writing is of the highest order, but it’s only part of the story.

What takes this book to another level of excellence is its superb  collection of photographs and pictures. Some very familiar shots are beautifully reproduced: Beldam’s shot of Trumper in full flight – surely cricket’s equivalent of the Mona Lisa; Thommo at full wild-eyed extension, every batsman’s nightmare. Other less familiar ones fascinate: an Eddie Gilbert fireball sitting The Don on his backside; Rennie Ellis’ 1983 panorama of the Sydney Hill, saying everything about a particular time and place. Faces speak to character: Greg Chappell in imperious dressing room repose; brother Ian, bare chested and beer in hand, a picture of insolent defiance; Jack Gregory swaggers from the ground, oozing a Brylcreemed charisma only Miller could match. And surely that’s not Adolf Hitler in the 1938 Headingly crowd, watching Bradman enter the arena?

Every picture in this collection is carefully chosen,  cannily placed and illuminatingly annotated, enhancing the story. No iPad or eReader could do justice.

As you might have gathered by now, I’m completely taken with this book. Some sports books are read, then filed away, a once-off diversion. This is not one of those books. It’s too big to read on the train, but it’s a book you’ll revisit again and again; to reconsider an essay, to seek out a photo, or to just wallow in the overall experience. If you think you know a lot about cricket, this book will tell you something new. If you seek to introduce a new member to this idiosyncratic faith, I can think of no better place to start.

Christian Ryan and all concerned have provided a sumptuous treat for those who love cricket. It would be a shame not to indulge.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Andrew Fithall says

    JB – Excuse me but your article is as good a spot as any to place this link to an article on Sports Writing which has just gone up on the Wheeler Centre website promoting an event they have on this Friday evening. Hope you don’t mind.

  2. Not at all AF.

    Always welcome.

  3. I hasten to add, I’m not being paid to flog this book. I just think it’s one of the best cricket books I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a few.

  4. No apology JB. You are absolutely right to recommend this…a fantastic read, browse, keepsake.

  5. A good review John! It seems like a pretty comprehensive social history of our national game. I look forward to borrowing this book from my local library.

  6. Cheers Mark

    That’s a well-provided local library you must have.

    The book’s well worth the read.

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