Summer's Crown: The Story of Cricket's County Championship, by Stephen Chalke (Fairfield Books) £20.00
Academic and cricket lover Stephen Chalke, the man behind Fairfield Books, has written some 16 books on his favourite subject. Most - if not all of them - have won critical acclaim; four have won awards. Summer's Crown might be his best yet.
Chalke's latest work is a history of the County Championship, the competition conceived in 1890 to serve the interests of eight founder members and, 125 years later, somehow still going, repeatedly defying the odds against its survival. It is a weighty volume, some 352 pages long. As such, it might have been a pretty dull affair, a catalogue of facts and figures and turgid chronology. But not in the hands of Stephen Chalke.
Beautifully written, as you might expect, it is also superbly well organised. After an introductory chapter, there are a couple of pages on each of the counties, providing a brief history, a table showing Championship placings for each season, a list of grounds used and some basic statistics (most runs, most wickets, most appearances). Then comes the history of the Championship, broken down into decades, with some statistics, but mainly stories, and wonderfully told stories, which enable the reader to delve into each decade and emerge with a real appreciation of how the game was. There are stories of matches and of players, of events on the field and off it, all set in the context of the times; there are serious stories and quirky stories, recounting developments of significance as well as moments that capture the joy and pleasure that county cricket has provided throughout its existence.
Finally, for the things that needed to be recorded but which did not fit neatly into the tale of each decade there is an appendix; and like the rest of the book it is a treasure trove of facts and figures, features and stories, crafted portraits and fascinating discourse. And throughout there are some superb illustrations, contemporary and historic.
Chalke's strength has always been his ability to convey the character and personality of individual players, adding real colour to the facts and statistics of a career. A history of a monolith institution such as the County Championship must have tested him yet Summer's Crown is a triumph, bringing out all the eccentric charm of a game that occupies a unique place in English social history. For anyone who loves county cricket, and not only those who find pleasure in the warm glow of nostalgia, this book will be a joy. More awards await.