Why Cricket is a Beautiful Game by Mark Nicholas

19th October 2016

‘Cricket is the most artistic of all games and, to me, the most beautiful. Thus, the title of this book. Cricket is difficult, frustrating and unfair but the bounty of its rewards is plentiful.’

Most people know Mark Nicholas as a highly accomplished cricket broadcaster. But if you find the international cricket circuit so all-consuming that you overlook the county game – shameful, I know, but it happens – you may have wondered where Mark came from and how exactly he learned to speak with such authority about all aspects of the game. He simply seemed to appear, fully formed, on our television screens around the time of the glorious 2005 Ashes series.

In A Beautiful Game, Mark shares with us a life that has been soaked in cricket since he mowed a cricket pitch into the family back garden aged nine. He went on to captain Hampshire County Cricket Club for eleven years and came tantalisingly close to playing for England on several occasions. The transition from cricketer to commentator happened gradually, and the chain of events which led to Mark’s career as a sportswriter with the Daily Telegraph will make you want to invest in a lottery ticket.

‘Throughout my life I had copied and mimicked Benaud, Lewis and Laker; Arlott, Johnston and Trueman. I thought I had a story to tell. The game had not come so easily to me as to, say, David Gower or Mark Waugh, but I was certain I could explain how they, and their like, had got there and what they were now doing out in the middle.’

Mark’s analysis of the game is the product of five decades of living and breathing cricket. His thoughts on what makes a great batsman and what it feels like to face furiously fast bowling are some of the strongest passages in the book and a reminder of the courage required to play what can be a brutal game. At heart, though, A Beautiful Game is a love letter to the sport which has given Mark so much, and appropriately the spirit and tone of the book are deeply generous. Teammates and champions from then and now are recalled with great affection, and viewing greats of the game like Robin Smith and Malcolm Marshall through Mark’s highly personal lens is a genuine privilege, for this reader anyway. While Mark was insistent that he didn’t want to write an autobiography (and he certainly hasn’t), A Beautiful Game is an extremely personal, heart-on-sleeve book which we are hugely proud to be publishing.

Here’s what sports journalist Tim Wright thought of the book:

A Beautiful Game is a treasure chest crammed to overflowing with stories that will make you gasp, laugh and cry. The beauty of the game that Mark Nicholas is so clearly devoted to shines brightly. But professional sport is tough and cruel. So, while you are transported to golden memories that evoke the smell of linseed oil and of freshly mown pitches in early summers long gone, be ready also for a dark side. Prepare for pain – physical and mental – as a ruthless game inflicts vivid scars on all but the strongest of mind and the fleetest of foot. Bones are ‘mashed’ and a man is killed. He was at the peak of his powers. He was admired and loved. His death stopped the game in its tracks, but the game had to go on.

This is not a book about cricket. It is a book about life, seen through the prism of cricket. Mark Nicholas directs his own lens with authority, humility and absolute clarity. Acting and the theatre are in Nicholas’ blood. The author has become a BAFTA winning broadcaster and in this astonishing book he trains his own camera from his early childhood, as he gazed at his father playing good club cricket in the Home Counties of 1960s England, on through a playing career in the professional game of the ‘80s and ‘90s to the present day game under lights. No holds are barred, no punches pulled. Nicholas is as honest in his assessment of his own errors, failings and shortcomings as he is of those he sees in others.

But this is not an autobiography: the great players the author played with are studied. Their abilities and their heroics described and assessed. They are compared too to the greats of the past, but always with an anecdote no observer from beyond the boundary could tell. So, A Beautiful Game takes you inside the game, inside its mind. Perhaps even inside its soul.

Over the opening years of this century the game of cricket has changed more than perhaps at any time in its history. Will Test cricket, the pinnacle of the game, survive the onslaught of sixes hit in the shortest format matches staged to such acclaim in India in a format franchised to the biggest businesses? Mark Nicholas takes the reader into a time-machine and from a place somewhere in the future he surveys a new landscape of cricket played between continents. Radical thoughts – some seemingly playful – are thrown out in this brave new world. All are provocative. A Beautiful Game will be read by lovers of sport wherever they are, whether they grew up hooked by the game of cricket or not.

Tim Wright has worked in sport for over 25 years. In 2008 he helped set up the Indian Premier League and then became CEO of Deccan Chargers, the 2009 IPL Champions.