Arriving in timely fashion given Englands recent and most likely short lived good form in cricket is Brian Lara International Cricket 2005 from Codemasters. The country appears to have entered into a cricket frenzy all of a sudden and an outside observer could be forgiven for thinking that we actually know anything about it, but the sad truth is that we would be all over Snakes and Ladders if we had a competent national team that played it.
Brian Lara International Cricket 2005 takes the task of presenting the sport of cricket in an accessible way and does a rather good job of it too, you may fear that you would be all over the place trying to handle batting and running then bowling and fielding at once and smoothly but you can and its not too difficult to learn how to either.
The batting system present in BL2K5 is as close to mimicking real batting in real cricket as you can get on a console controller without having some sort of electro-dualshock-cricketbat controller (oh the fun I'd have had reviewing this if they existed) but the basics of batting are recreated just fine on a standard PS2 pad, you can choose which type of hit you wish to play from the three sorts available and which direction you want the ball to go in via the symbol buttons and D-pad (or left analogue stick) and the timing of your swing is dictated by the timing of your button press, this system works extremely well in practice and you will find yourself thinking about how you could try to hit the ball where there are few fielders once you get used to it.
The batsmen will also get used to doing well if you are competent enough and their confidence levels will increase as indicated by an onscreen meter, the higher this gets the easier it will be to hit the balls further and with more accuracy for more run scoring potential.
Once you have successfully smashed the ball away from the crease you can begin your run attempts, the way this is handled is very nicely done, the game will go to a picture in picture display and the 'main' screen will follow the ball and the attempts of the fielders to recover it while the smaller picture will stay focused on the crease and consequently the batsmen whom you can instruct to run with the triangle button. This setup means that you can watch the oppositions progress in returning the ball to the crease while at the same time see how far your batsmen are through a run, from these two pieces of information you can decide whether or not to push your luck and try for another run or not.
The only niggle I have with running is that your batsmen will simply stand there absolutely rigid if not ordered to run, in a game where the rest of the animation stands out well even by todays high standards it just looks out of place (rumors that this behaviour is based on the England team are unconfirmed)
On the other side of the game you have the bowling and fielding segments of cricket which proceed like this. Before you bowl you may arrange your fielders as you wish from a set of preset formations or by creating your own custom ones, when you are happy with the way they are laid out you may instruct your current bowler to do his work.
The range of bowling options in BL2K5 is staggering, they have recreated the majority of real life cricket bowling styles perfectly well and even more and better bowling moves become available to you if you can fill up your bowlers confidence meter by being good at it.
You instruct your bowler to begin his run up and then choose the point on the crease the ball will bounce as he does this, as he approaches a power meter will appear on the screen and you must stop the meter at the desired level with the button corresponding to which type of bowl you wish to perform.
As with the batting, the bowling system is simple to pick up but very flexible once you know how to use it effectively.
Assuming that the opposing batsman hits the ball then matters will be left to your fielders who perform their two basic duties of catching and throwing the ball, both of these you can aid in by pressing the X button at the correct time. Being accurate in timing this button press will result in a better catch or more accurate throw and brilliantly both moves occur with no pause or interruption to the game.
If a player has been run or caught out you will get to see a television style replay which slows the action down for you too see how close you were to being out or how badly you timed your run and screwed up if you made a mistake.
Both batting and bowling can be practiced at your leisure in the practice nets, I'd recommend first time players visit here first in order to get the basics down before moving onto playing matches.
The visuals in Brian Lara International Cricket 2005 are very good throughout, the animation is the bit that stands out the most though. Except for the one noticeable glitch mentioned earlier all of the animation is amazingly realistic from the way how the batsmen swing differently depending on how you play the shot to the way how the bowling team celebrate whenever a wicket is taken - its all good.
As with the majority of sports games you can play single matches or entire test series or careers, you can also customise your players names if you wish which big cricketing fans may want to do for accuracy as some of the players do not have the names of their real life counterparts due to licensing restrictions.
Again as with most sporting sims there are different stadiums to play in, different conditions to play on and a slew of extras for you to unlock as you progress.
Brian Lara International Cricket 2005 is an amazingly detailed and realistic simulation of the sport and of course the main factor that will determine how much you will enjoy the game will be how much you enjoy the sport in real life. Fans of cricket will not be disappointed as this is the best console game version of the sport you can get, the gameplay mechanics are simple to grasp and yet very flexible and the whole thing is presented very well indeed.
This is a definite recommendation for fans of cricket.