This is less a compendium of the lives of colourful cricketers than a broad sweep of cricketing history to the present day.
It’s well informed, witty and entertaining but did not tell me much I did not already know.
It’s particularly interesting on Victorian cricket, an era dominated by the bearded doctor W.G. Grace but Thomas credits other characters like the Kent bowler Charlie Blythe who took 16 wickets in one match and had a better bowling average than Murilithanan or Shane Warne but lost his life in World War One.
As with most modern cricket histories he condemns the amateur/professional culture.
A case can be made for the amateur and I will do so.
There was no money in the game so the counties could not afford to pay a full professional roster.
It’s not as if these public school amateurs were hopeless: Peter May (Charterhouse), Colin Cowdrey (Tonbridge) and Tex Dexter (Radley) were excellent and lesser public school lights like Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie (Eton and Hampshire) and Johnny Barclay (Eton and Sussex) led their counties well.
Finally it’s not as if the non-public school modern luminaries like Ian Botham, Freddie Flintoff and Ben Stokes were models of decency.
I would also argue that many of the ills of the game – notably match fixing – were not around when the patrician MCC ruled the cricketing roost though Thomas gives many references to gambling from Victorian times to the dashing Keith Miller.
For a conservative game cricket has changed quite a bit in my lifetime.
We have had limited overs, floodlights and Sunday play introduced in the 60s; overdress players came into the game long before football embraced them; now we have two formats – white and red ball -which are, for all intents and purposes, two distinct games.
This week the Hundred will start both as a woman’s and male game.