The sharp crack of leather upon willow can only mean one of two things - either it's cricket season again or Mistress Trixibell is holding one of her special garden parties. Thankfully we can spare you the sight of high court judges in ladies underwear as it's very much the former that we're discussing here today.
Now, those of you who know a thing or two about the noble game of cricket will know that against all expectations and historical precedent, whisper it, England are actually rather good at the moment. One of the main reasons for their revival being our talented captain Michael Vaughan who generously lends his name to this mobile title and to be honest, unlike certain licenses we could mention, this time the game is well deserving of such high patronage.
Distinctive Developments have managed to distil the game down to its essential elements to provide a game that is instantly playable for those who don't know Michael Vaughan from Johnny Vaughan, whilst offering a sustained challenge for the Wisden-toting faithful. Wisely, they've shied away from a full test-series option, concentrating instead on the shorter 20:20 game, a special 10-overs per side tournament and a series of comparatively short challenges where you'll have to try and recreate or beat historic situations, although there is also a one day international mode if you're feeling up to something more meaty.
The game moves along at a respectable pace, so you don't have to arrange an official tea break in order to finish a match. Once you've picked your mode of play you can then select a squad from 16 test nations, nominate your top 11 and depending on who wins the toss decide whether you'll go into bat first or try and bowl out the opposition. Both can be controlled one-handed via a joypad and use the same down-the-wicket viewpoint which sounds limiting but is actually incredibly handy in helping you learn the best line to bowl or shots to play.
Where batting is a matter of timing and shot selection (there are 7 basic shots on offer accessed by tapping a direction once or twice), bowling demands a little more finesse as you select a field-setting and type of bowler (spinner or pace) before the bowler starts his run up. Once the man in white (or rather blue, red or yellow - these are international kits) has started moving you need to stop a vertical then horizontally moving target in exactly the right place before he hits the crease and launches the ball wicket-wards. Should the batsmen manage to make contact the scene switches to an overhead view so you can see where the ball is heading and whether there's a chance of a catch (or more likely whether your field setting looks woefully badly placed).
With straightforward bowl-outs, edges to slips and catches all making an appearance, there are plenty of ways to lose your wicket as you'll discover rather too often when you initially take the crease yourself - batting is trickier than it looks. Indeed it demands almost as much concentration as the real thing. However persevere and you'll soon be able to knock up a quick 50 before your middle order collapse, and collapse they may well do, as there seems to be a definite skills differential between top and lower order batsmen (as indeed there are between the international sides).
Presentation is as solid as the gameplay, with well-thought out visuals, suitably understated complimentary sounds and plenty of nice touches such as the incidental animations for catches and umpire decisions and the appearance of Vaughan himself, popping up with praise or caustic remarks after good shots or dismissals. The game isn't perfect though, batting sometimes feels far too skittish, the lack of a 'save' facility is a very annoying oversight and members of the balmy army would rightly decry the lack of lbws, varied weather conditions, tiring bowlers or deteriorating pitches. None of these elements is really enough to distract from a thoroughly enjoyable game though, and most can be fixed in later editions which hopefully should occur, and most certainly will if England manage to win the Ashes...
8 / 10