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