Wis­den...it’s the book that just keeps on giv­ing back to the game

The Cricket Paper - - COMMENT & VIEWS - Alex Narey @anarey_NLP

When Blooms­bury Pub­lish­ing ap­proached Lawrence Booth to be the new ed­i­tor of Wis­den in late 2010, it was some­what re­flec­tive of a chang­ing of the guard for both English and world cricket. At the time of Booth’s ap­point­ment, or least the an­nounce­ment of it, Eng­land were sweep­ing up the rem­nants of a de­pleted Aus­tralian bat­ting line-up on their way to a thump­ing in­nings vic­tory in the fifth Test of that win­ter’s Ashes series.With the tourists win­ning the Urn for the first time on Aus­tralian soil since 1986/87, and with Booth, at 35, be­com­ing the youngest ed­i­tor of the en­dur­ing yel­low-sleeved tome for 72 years, it seemed to be a case of out with the old, and in with the new.

Six years and six edi­tions later, Booth and Wis­den are still tick­ing along nicely; Eng­land, mean­while, have stut­tered from pil­lar to post; a num­ber of tow­er­ing highs (reign­ing as the top Test side in the world in the sum­mer of 2011) pep­pered with crush­ing lows ( in­sert your list of hor­ror

sto­ries here – Ed). In­deed, in Booth’s most re­cent notes at the front of the book where he re­flects on the big talk­ing points of the year, he writes that ‘Eng­land failed to build on their gains of 2015’ (an Ashes suc­cess and a series win in South Africa), as they fin­ished the year in dis­ar­ray with a 4-0 ham­mer­ing in In­dia.

Wis­den very rarely tries to force feed you opin­ions and throw­away lines for the sake of hy­per­bole. There is no sting, but when they go hard at some­thing, it is for a rea­son. As Booth states: “We are in­de­pen­dent and we don’t just have out­bursts for the sake of it. If we have to make our case, then so be it.”

Un­doubt­edly, the book’s most cel­e­brated chap­ter comes with its ‘Five Crick­eters of the Year’. Es­tab­lished in 1889, it is the old­est in­di­vid­ual award in cricket, and can only be won once. Some would ques­tion this method when one player may not be recog­nised for his out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tions to the game sim­ply be­cause he al­ready has his name etched on the Wis­den hon­ours board. But then does it not just be­come an­other award? Of which there are too many be­ing thrown about any­way.

This year’s ‘Five’ were Ben Duck­ett, Toby Roland-Jones, Chris Woakes, Mis­bah ul-Haq and You­nis Khan. With it be­ing one of the few sec­tions of the book that leaves it­self open to de­bate due to its sub­jec­tive na­ture, it was only the in­clu­sion of You­nis which forced me to raise half an eye­brow. The leg­endary Pak­istan bats­man strug­gled des­per­ately in the early stages of the sea­son against Eng­land, only to res­cue his sum­mer and the series with a sublime dou­ble hun­dred that killed off the hosts in the fourth Test at the Oval. A re­mark­able feat for a man who had just reg­is­tered his 32nd Test hun­dred at the age of 38, but was he wor­thy of an award that recog­nises ‘ex­cel­lence in, or in­flu­ence on, the pre­vi­ous English sum­mer’ as its ma­jor cri­te­ria?

“There is no doubt he strug­gled ear­lier in the series,” adds Booth. “But the award is also a re­flec­tion of what has been a mag­nif­i­cent ca­reer. It was a re­minder that his strug­gles had been a blip, rather than a de­cline.”

Else­where, Wis­den con­tin­ues to live up to the very high stan­dards that have been set in stone. It of­fers a beau­ti­ful mix of writ­ing where some of the game’s most es­tab­lished names are com­ple­mented with a plethora of younger scribes. The top­ics are an­a­lyt­i­cal and eclec­tic. There is a 60th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion for Test

Match Spe­cial from for­mer ed­i­tor Matthew Engel, while All Out Cricket’s Phil Walker ex­am­ines the wor­ry­ing de­cline of pro­fes­sional crick­eters from work­ing-class back­grounds, an es­say high­lighted by Booth as “an im­por­tant piece that needed to be writ­ten”.

Mean­while, fight­ing the cause for bowlers ev­ery­where, The Cricket Pa­per’s Derek Pringle calls for ball-tam­per­ing to be ac­cepted as a form of the game (as if his teas­ing away swingers were not per­ilous enough). Vi­rat Kohli – who adorns the front-page sleeve in dom­i­neer­ing fash­ion play­ing a re­verse sweep – is recog­nised as the lead­ing crick­eter in the world by Bharat Sun­dare­san, and there are quite fit­ting trib­utes to both Tony Cozier and Rachel Hey­hoe Flint from Vic Marks and Clare Con­nor re­spec­tively.

For £50 with 1,536 pages, you cer­tainly get plenty of bang for your buck. You can pur­chase the 2017 Wis­den via The Cricket Pa­per web­site, where you can save £16 along with a free copy of the 2017 Play­fair Cricket An­nual. Visit www.thecrick­etpaper.com/ dis­count-wis­den-play­fair­book­for more info

Still Great: You­nis Khan cel­e­brates his dou­ble ton at the Oval

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