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If you care for at least one of cricket and Sherlock Holmes, this is a must-read

By Abhishek Mukherjee

I wanted to tone down this review, for I know Arunabha Sengupta personally. I wanted to be unbiased, for he is a regular contributor to the site. Unfortunately, being a student of the history of the sport, being fascinated by The Ashes and its origin, and being an ardent fan of Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes, and beyond), it is impossible to not like Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes.

Why this book? Let us go back in time to that 1882 day at The Oval. Students of the sport are aware of exactly what happened that day. The book incorporates every incident and dialogues wonderfully into the plotline: the death during the Test or the spectator chewing on the handle of his umbrella, for example.

There is more for cricket buffs: while Ted Peate uttering “I could not trust Maister Stood” has attained iconic status, others have not. Billy Barnes leaving his false teeth at home or Fred Spofforth forgetting his speech will make the cricket historian smile, as would the hotel names where the team stayed and trained to the fancy dress events on the ship to England or the Australian objection to Crossland throwing, or actual cases dealt with by EM Grace as coroner.

While the facts in the book are scrupulously accurate, so is the depiction of the mindset of England and her cricket of the 1880s: match-fixing of the era (you know betting on the sport goes way back, do you not?) plays a crucial role; the amateur-professional bar finds mention; and the English view of Australian cricket is perfectly portrayed, as are CT Studd’s religious views.

The description of the famous Test is vivid and infallible, and captures nearly every documented moment on the field and off it. The relay-throw by Monkey Hornby and Studd, Charles Alcock sitting on an iron safe, Hornby bringing on George Ulyett to counter George Bonnor, the nervous finishing moments. Sometimes even the dialogues of Holmes and Watson either induce or are in response to actual bits of dialogue that did take place on that day.

If the cricket fans has his moments throughout the book, so does the Holmesian. The timeline is accurate, the style is too familiar, as are the characters. Easter eggs are aplenty: Sherlock Holmes’ surprise at the mention of the cricketer William Mycroft and the difference of Holmes’ opinions in different works (“let me loose in a Valley of Fear and I will vouch that ‘all knowledge comes useful to the detective’”) are examples.

[Probably the best of Easter eggs: “The men at Bramall Lane, with the strong Yorkshire sentiment prevailing against hiring external help guiding their decisions, relied on the able resources of Sergeant Cuff.” This is, of course, a direct reference to the Yorkshire sergeant from Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone.]

And then, there is the outrageously wonderful climax, culminating in the birth of The Ashes — one that would make you think “why did I not think of this before?”

All in all, Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes is a one-of-its-kind book, starting with the cover. Austin Coutinho, one of the finest caricaturists in India, has done a wonderful job. It is bound to make you pick up the book without a thought.

Author: Arunabha Sengupta

Cover art: Austin Coutinho

Paperback: 210 pages

Publisher: Best Mysteries

Publication Date: August 2015

ISBN: 978-9492203014

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)