Steve James has won the 2012 Cricket Writers' Club award for Cricket Book of the Year for his excellent dissection of England's rise to number one cricket team in the world, The Plan.
Subtitled How Fletcher and Flower Transformed English Cricket, the book essentially charts the journey the England team embarked upon when they were officially the worst team in world cricket in 1999 to their coronation as the best, holding the No 1 Test ranking, in 2011, analysing how they were guided there by the two Zimbabwean coaches, Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower.
The Plan begins with the appointment of Fletcher as England's first overseas coach in 1999, alongside Nasser Hussain as captain, and takes the reader through the subsequent captaincies of Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff and, briefly and turbulently, Kevin Pietersen, through Peter Moores's time as coach, and on to the era of Flower and Andrew Strauss. James examines in depth how each event and decision along the way helped shape the renaissance of the England team.
It is a thorough and unbiased study, written from the perspective of a former player who knows both Fletcher and Flower well but who maintains a professional distance from both. James, now cricket correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph, played under Fletcher at Glamorgan and ghosted two books for him, Ashes Regained and his autobiography, Behind The Shades. He has known the Flower family for more than two decades and enjoys a relationship of mutual respect with Andy Flower.
The era covered was one of great change in cricket across the world. It would have been easy for James to over-complicate his narrative by being drawn into discussions of much wider issues and it is another plus that he manages to add his observations to a number of debates without straying outside the context of his central theme. His descriptions of the Mumbai terror attacks, in which the England team were fortunate not to become directly involves, and his discussions of the moral dilemmas that surrounded playing cricket in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe make compelling reading.
James is a good writer who maintains an uncomplicated style that allows his observations to retain their clarity. Based on many interviews, not with the two central characters in the book but with those in a position to contribute to a balanced assessment of their place in the history of the game, The Plan is a well presented and coherent document that is a deserving winner of the CWC award.
The Plan: How Fletcher and Flower Transformed English Cricket is published by Bantam Press. Click on the link to buy direct from amazon.co.uk
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