Since the Ashes victory back in 2005, cricket has been well and truly on the minds of the English public like never before. Suddenly, with the likes of "Freddie" Flintoff smashing sixes, knocking down stumps and downing copious amounts of lager, cricket wasn't just that long-lasting dull sport played by people wearing white pyjamas.
Ashes Cricket 2009 aims to offer what numerous cricketing titles have failed to offer previously. A fun-packed sporting title, that's just realistic enough to keep everyone happy. And it does a pretty fine job of it too.
While the Ashes remains the full 5 sets of 5 days worth of cricketing action (unless, like this year it's in good old England which leaves half the time wasted on rainy days) there's enough instant action right here with the included 20/20 games, which give two sides a mere 20 overs apiece to rack up a chunky number of runs. Which essentially offers all the breath takingly swift bouncers, and long range sixes that the part-time fans adore so much.
But before you take to the wicket, it's a good idea to take a peek at the training options on offer. Splitting up the sport's main disciplines, you're walked through all the batting and bowling techniques you could ever desire.
With chat from Ian Botham – and a few token shouts from a decidedly bored sounding Shane Warne – you're allowed to try your hand at practically every single shot and situation you could conceivably encounter. It's long-winded, with a good few hours required to play through the lot, but it's certainly required if you want to keep those opposition run rates down to a minimum. Seriously, without plowing your way through all these teachings from former masters, then chances are you'll get absolutely annihilated.
Out on the pitch, the control system can be as complex as you desire. Batting, which still remains the particularly fun part of proceedings, can be controlled in different manners on the fly. You can, if you so wish, simply point in the direction you wish to nudge the ball, and press the required button (defensive, hit, or loft) at the appropriate time. But for those of you desperate for more depth, you can also choose whether you hit off the back or front foot. The first option will be the one for most, but the latter can provide a much greater scope for perfect shot placement every time.
Sounds relatively easy, but there's so much to consider. While the game does allow you the chance to see where the ball is about to be pitched, you never truly know whether its going to be a 90+ mph behemoth aiming for your head, or a slower ball thrown down to catch you out. Time it right and you can smash the ball towards the boundary. Miss time, and you can clip the ball to the slips and just have a slow trudge back to the pavilion ahead.
Bowling is a different prospect. This time you get to nudge a circle to the specific area of the pitch you want to direct the ball towards – with a colour-coordinated option allowing you to see where this specific bowler pitches perfectly – and choose the brand of ball you wish to use.
While those not particularly au fait with all things cricket might think throwing it straight and hard towards the wicket is the way to go, nothing could be further from the truth. If you wish to keep the AI's run rates down to a minimum, you'll need to find a perfect line and length to keep the batsman guessing. It's a tricky test when you wish to keep the runs down, but you still want to tempt the batsman into an error of judgement which could cost them their wicket. And that's cricket.
The best thing about Ashes Cricket 2009 isn't just that it's fun, but it feels like cricket. Unlike other cricketing titles, which saw run rates in the twenties and test matches lasting a few hours, here things are much closer to the real thing. It's testament to the developers that they have managed to sublimely combine fun and realism; a lot of developers out there could certainly learn from it.
Sadly the visuals let the whole thing down a touch. While some players do look decidedly like their real life counterparts, others look downright odd. Flintoff and Peterson seem to share almost an identical model, which looks like neither of them. While Monty Panesar looks absolutely perfect to the real off-spinner.
Ashes Cricket 2009 is a true hit. Not only is it a fun packed sporting title in both single and multi player options, but it also allows enough realism to keep even the most hardened of cricketing fanatic happy.
All around a good slog from Codemasters.