Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The little yellow book – a cricketing bible

When little John Wisden launched his even smaller Almanack in 1864 he didn't know he was creating an institution - he thought he was establishing a nest egg for his retirement from a successful cricket career with Sussex……..it arguably started the modern fascination with statistics, and set the standards for their accuracy and presentation. 
                                                                                  Steven Lynch

Wisden 1864 - where it all began
Is the written word continually playing and missing? Are books, once the source of all knowledge, about to be dismissed after a well compiled innings? Has the new digital age seen them go the same way as cricket's grafters in a T20 world?

With the cricketing bible, Wisden, set to celebrate its 150th year in 2013, no declaration appears imminent. How is the little yellow book still relevant after such a lengthy knock?

Websites, blogs, forums, Twitter, television and digital radio, amongst a host of others, all provide a current state of play – they largely live in the here and now. No medium takes the cricketing enthusiast back to any match, or year, to live in the language of the moment with the same clarity as Wisden. The reader is exported back to a different time to imagine they are sitting in the crowd watching the combatants of the day. The innings’ of Dr. Grace, Bodyline or the Windies intimidation and dominance of the ‘80s and ‘90s are held in print for a lifetime; not embellished into legend when passed down by generations.

With the 149th edition due out in April, the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack is the longest running sports annual in history, and is in the process of developing an Indian edition to cater to the world’s largest cricket market. Given the demise of the Australian Almanack, or ‘Ozden’, after eights editions when Australia was the game’s dominant force, the Indian launch will be a test of Wisden’s appeal outside of the United Kingdom. Wisden has survived two world wars, the brink of bankruptcy, paper rationing and ownership changes – how many other publications can lay claim to such resilience? The 1864 edition stretched out to just 112 pages – 2011 tipped the scales as a 1672 page tome.

Surprisingly, Wisden has had just 16 editors in its storied history but each has left their own mark on cricket’s bible. Most recently, Tim de Lisle, Wisden’s only one-off editor, oversaw the cover design change from the traditional woodcut to a photograph for the first time – the shot of a triumphant Michael Vaughan is still a topic on Wisden forums a decade later. Similarly, Scyld Berry’s decision to name four cricketers of the year broke a Wisden tradition that’s existed since 1926, barring the years through World War Two when little competitive cricket was played. In his defence, allegations of corruption and pending trials forced his hand, though he did induct the first Bangladeshi and Irishman into Wisden’s illustrious list.
What’s the allure of a cricketing annual? Why do cricket fans purchase the latest Wisden with an almost religious obsession, while others trawl websites and bookstores the world over in pursuit of editions from a bygone era? Wisden is something of an institution among cricket tragics – an unwritten rite of passage. Diverse cricketing arguments are settled with ‘Wisden says…..’ – it’s not a statement many can overcome. More than that, cricket’s bible transports readers of any age back to an earlier time, many long forgotten, in the language and journalistic style of the day – it’s as much a history lesson as a journey down cricket’s winding road.

On occasion, the little yellow book has veered from its purely cricket mantra. The early years mentioned the dates of the battles in the English Civil War, winners of The Oaks (horse racing) and the rules of quoiting, among many others, alongside a swathe of cricket and in 1917, at the height of Britain’s involvement in the First World War, a special ‘Deaths in War’ section was added to commemorate the untimely deaths of young soldiers – there was little cricket to report on at home. However, such instances are more exception than rule – Wisden has set the standard for writing and statistical analysis that has influenced cricket scribes for generations. The question is whether it will continue to do so as those raised on books are surpassed by the instant-gratification generation reared on a diet of technology? How much time will pass before the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack becomes as eBook?

This post is not a definitive Wisden history, or a how to guide – it doesn’t even scratch the surface. It is one man’s short account of his love of the cricketing bible, and what its future may hold. I’ll leave the detailed comment and dissection to the experts and historians but if you love cricket get your hands on a Wisden from any era and be transported back to another time – you will never regret it, though your bank balance may.

My facts come from reading and discussing the history of cricket’s most famous book with others throughout the cricketing world. If my research is wrong or contentious, I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi – for me the discussion is one of the best parts of being a Wisden collector.

Next edition: The Wisden addiction – one man’s story: how a cricket-loving Kiwi got bitten by the bible’s bug.

1 comment:

  1. oh I am starting to like your blog because in every post so far, I have found good recommendations on cricket books to read


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