Almanack still excites
Even in the era of Cricinfo and other online offerings, I still get a thrill when my New Zealand Cricket Almanack arrives.
This year’s 512-page whopper, edited as it has been since 1982 by Ian Smith and Francis Payne, is a cracker, well worth its $55 price tag.
I confess a sentimental attachment to the almanack.
The 1955 edition, featuring fast bowlers Bob Blair and Frank Tyson on the cover, was the first sports book I read. I found it among my father’s dusty collection in an old suitcase, and became fascinated by the statistics and names from the past.
For years I would venture into Whitcombe and Tombs as spring arrived and ask whether the new almanack was in yet.
The almanack turns 65 this year. The original editors, Arthur Carman and Noel MacDonald, would be proud of how it has matured. Their first issue, in 1948, contained just 104 pages and sold for 5 shillings ($17.50 today).
Bert Sutcliffe and Tom Burtt, two left-handed greats, featured on that first cover, and the issue covered the six Plunket Shield matches, the inter-island fixture, and the tour by Fiji.
The editors confined themselves to factual comments, though they noted that Sutcliffe had had a ‘‘ sizzling’’ career.
The 1948 edition sold out quickly and now fetches a healthy price in second-hand bookshops. The 1949 almanack mushroomed to 186 pages and cost 6 shillings 6 pence. The cover featured Walter Hadlee’s famous New Zealand team taking the field in Eng- land. The almanack did justice to that team’s superb record and to the feats of Burtt, Sutcliffe, Martin Donnelly, Merv Wallace, Jack Cowie, Hadlee, John Reid and company.
It also began to show its quirky nature. Its players of the season were opening batsman Don Taylor and pace bowler Arthur Cresswell, neither of whom made the tour of England. It was a polite way of disagreeing with the team selection.
The editors would print odd paragraphs as fillers. These days the almanack runs a large Happenings section, containing the same sort of quirky material.
Women’s cricket received its first mention when the editors wished the New Zealand women well for their 1954 tour of England. This year 70 pages are devoted to women’s cricket.
Carman, who became sole editor in 1958, always named a batsman and bowler of the year, but didn’t repeat any player.
That meant lesser lights such as Ray Emery, Ray Dowker, Sam Guillen, Jack Everest, Ken Hough and Cliff Dickeson had their moment in the spotlight.
Smith and Payne have done wonderfully since taking over. Even Carman would have struggled to match their three-page statistical tribute to Richard Hadlee in 1990.
The 2012 almanack’s players of the year are Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson.
Happenings is again oddly compelling.
Did you know Otago’s Bruce Milburn (1968-1969) was the last genuine test wicketkeeper/No 11 batsman from any country? Or that there have been 65 first- class venues in New Zealand? Or that wicketkeeper Gareth Hopkins has now made more than 100 dismissals for each of Otago, Canterbury and Auckland?
Or that of non-county cricket players, Michael Parlane made the most first-class runs (7354) and centuries (15) of anyone who never represented New Zealand? Let’s see you find all that on Cricinfo!
Honoured: Martin Guptill, pictured, and Kane Williamson were New Zealand Cricket Almanack Players of the Year, 2012.