Business Day

Wisden Almanack still upholds cricket’s tradition


READERS of The Cricketer’s Almanack in 1864 could study the phases of the moon, the dates of the English Civil War and the past winners of the Oaks, the Derby and the St Leger.

Of more pressing relevance to those attracted by the second word in the title of the new publicatio­n was the warning that fielders stopping the ball with their hat would automatica­lly incur a fiverun penalty.

And in an acknowledg­ment that gambling had been part of the game since its inception, readers were told that umpires were not allowed to bet.

The primary purpose of the unpretenti­ous little volume, costing a shilling, with a penny postage, was to collate the statistics of a bat-and-ball game between teams of varying numbers which was evolving into the summer game of the British Empire.

In 1869, the possessive apostrophe was shifted one space to the right and the following year the founder’s name was added to create John Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack. It survives today in its 150th edition, enclosed by the familiar primrose cover, as Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

Cricket’s enduring attraction is due in large part to its statistics, recorded each year by Wisden and similar in importance to those in baseball, which shares a similarly distinguis­hed literary heritage.

Wisden, through its editor’s notes, has developed into the custodian and conscience of a sport which during the late Victorian era was made to carry more moral weight than any game can usefully bear through such strictures as “playing a straight bat”.

Lawrence Booth faces the challenge of maintainin­g its authority and importance at a time when the internet and social media are transformi­ng the journalist­ic and publishing worlds.

Booth said in an interview his task had been to take the annual, which he is editing for the second time, into the next phase of its evolution, particular­ly since the arrival of the wildly successful Cricinfo website.

“By that I don’t just mean having a Facebook and Twitter page, all those kinds of things, but (to) respond to the challenge posed by the fact that Cricinfo can update its statistics by the second, and here we are an annual where some of the statistics are out of date even before we publish them,” he said.

“So it was really managing that transition, trimming down the records section, moving more of those to our website, but also the flipside of that was beefing up the literary side of Wisden.

“We reminded people that a lot of good stuff to read in there was not just the records of a statistica­l book but that in an age of instant comment, I guess, it still has an important role to play in being able to step back like the authoritat­ive voice it always has done. So it was a bit of building on that tradition while also responding to the internet demands of the day,” Booth said.

Wisden has always served as an invaluable social history of class-obsessed Britain and a repository of some of the finest writing on the game.

Sometimes it is both. The editor’s notes for the 100th edition in 1963 did not welcome the abolition of the distinctio­n between gentlemen (amateurs) and players (profession­als).

Beyond a Boundary, by the Trinidadia­n Marxist CLR James, published in the same year, was acclaimed in Wisden by the peer- less English radio commentato­r and writer John Arlott as the finest cricket book ever written.

This year’s edition contains a remarkable piece by Christian Ryan entitled The Fastest Spell of All?, detailing how a grouchy and hungover Jeff Thomson ripped an opposition side apart, at times literally, in a Sydney club match.

Book of the year is Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy, by Ed Hawkins, a compelling if consistent­ly depressing account of the illegal cricket gambling industry on the Indian sub-continent.

South Africans Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn, West Indian Marlon Samuels and Englishman Nick Compton are the five cricketers of the year.

Australian captain Michael Clarke, who will lead his country in the Ashes series in England if his chronic back complaint permits, is the internatio­nal cricketer of the year. Reuters

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