But Codemasters' Brian Lara-branded games of yore consistently outshone their rivals, and finally, the Britsoft publisher has acquired the plum cricketing licence: the Ashes. It's a big shame that Ashes Cricket 2009 didn't make it to the crease in time for the first Test in Cardiff, but at least it's a classy and thoroughly playable effort. Just what those who reckon they could set better fields than Andrew Strauss, would never play those occasional silly shots if they were Kevin Pietersen and dream of running out Ricky Ponting have been waiting for. Past cricket games have suffered from being lopsided, with either batting or bowling – but not both – being enjoyable. Ashes 2009 satisfactorily addresses that fundamental flaw, although it is a good idea to work through the tutorials for its control systems before you take on the baggy green cap-wearers (naturally, you can play as Australia, too).
When bowling, you can switch between three broad types of delivery – swing, cutters or reverse swing (unavailable until the ball is old), then pick swing direction or slower ball by hitting the appropriate button. This launches a timing meter, requiring you to press that button again. It sounds fiddly, but works nicely, and the same principles apply when you control a spinner. Batting is similar to previous cricket games, except there is a clever mechanism for picking your shot: when the indicator shows you roughly where the ball will pitch, you select the V in which you want to hit it from a mini-overlay of the ground, and the game selects the appropriate shot. Different buttons govern whether you play a defensive, attacking or lofted shot, and you can move around the crease or charge down the wicket. The game takes a new approach to catches, too: it shows you a fielder's eye, and when a halo around the ball changes from red or orange to green, you have to stab a button. Which works well once you get used to it.
The Wii version lets you wave the Wii Remote around like a bat and even use it to polish the ball, but it always feels as though it is taking decisions for you. The next-gen versions are definitely the most impressive, with crisp, HD-style graphics. Although the virtual players look comically unlike their real-life counterparts. They do play in a startlingly realistic manner, though: Andrew Flintoff's 94mph inswinging yorkers are devastating, if you can pull them off, and Phillip Hughes will flay anything outside off-stump to the boundary, but is susceptible to being caught if you pack the gully and cover regions.With the ability to play the whole Ashes series, plus Twenty20, 50-over and five-over exhibition matches, Ashes Cricket 2009 is the perfect thing to have ready for those inevitable English summertime rain-breaks.