The Essential Wisden

Published: 2013
Pages: 1082
Author: Stern, John and Williams, Marcus (Editors)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Rating: 5 stars

The Essential Wisden

I’m sure we have all heard the old question; if you were stranded on a desert island what book (cricket book in our case) would you choose to take with you?

Gideon Haigh, when asked, chose Australia 55 by Alan Ross. Don Bradman’s favourite cricket writer A.A. Thomson chose the 1903 Wisden, which featured arguably the greatest of all Ashes series, that of 1902.
Perhaps if he was still with us, A.A. Thomson would, if given the opportunity now choose this week’s book for review, The Essential Wisden, which not only includes a number of extracts from the 1902 season but plenty more. Gideon Haigh, on the other hand is still with us, so perhaps he can be convinced. No stranger to anthologies with a Wisden theme, as he edited three separate publications. Haigh would hopefully appreciate the sheer amount of information included in The Essential Wisden.

At 1082 pages there is plenty of information, however it’s the content that elevates the anthology well above the average and makes it a must have and read. The editors have trawled through every Wisden since 1864 and true to the little yellow book they have grouped their selections in headings now established as cores of Wisden. One category missing to my chagrin was the Book Review section though I was somewhat placated by an article included by John Arlott. In the article he mentions that 70 books were received in 1949 and he goes on to discuss the problems facing the cricket book reviewer.

The sections which did make the final cut are staples of Wisden, including Notes by the Editor, obituaries and Unusual Occurrences. The last two were subjects featured in the Wisden anthologies edited by Haigh. So those familiar with those two fine tomes will find some cross over, however if you have not read either, they too are quality reads.

Notes by the Editor, which is appropriately first in The Essential Wisden, demonstrates as noted by a previous Wisden editor that the game “has always been in crisis”. Thankfully the editors have not included the full notes but extracts which makes for an ultimately more interesting read. All the “crises” are here: throwing, slow over rates, bouncers and the imminent demise of both Test and county cricket. With all this doom and gloom, you wonder how cricket has survived.

After reading the opinions of some of the famous editors of Wisden, I decided for the rest of the book to write down interesting little tit bits, which I intended to include in this review, mainly to keep the length of this article to decent proportions. However after three pages of notes I decided even that plan would result in too many words, so here are a just a few.

From the Cricketers section:

F.S Jackson, the former English captain had Winston Churchill as his “fag” at school.

George Hirst, while conceding he never dismissed W.G. Grace, despite claiming 2,742 FC wickets, replied “but the Old Man never got mine either”.

S.F. Barnes, the celebrated confidence or arrogance of the great man was still there when aged 80 and playing for Minor Counties against the 1953 Australian tourists, he declined the new ball in case he induced a collapse.

Dennis Lillee, on his attitude to ODIs; “there was one occasion when they even wanted to take my slip away, when that happens, it’s almost time to give the game away.”

Tony Greig, was nervous of the sea after seeing his mother attacked by a shark.

Wasim Akram, by chance bowled to Javed Miandad, after the latter, who was looking for some batting practice, wandered into the net. This piece of serendipity fast tracked Wasim into the national team.

From the Feature Articles section:

A rare disparaging remark regarding Jack Hobbs, from his eventual batting partner Andy Sandham, when the latter was 12th man and at the start of his county career. Sandham said Hobbs would bark at him to fetch him a whisky and soda after a long innings, for which the youngster would have to pay out of his own pocket.

The secretary of Warwickshire lamenting the following entry in the county minutes “It was decided that on account of the heavy expenses already incurred in connection with next year’s groundstaff, an engagement could not be offered W. Rhodes of Huddersfield.” Wilfred went onto take 4204 wickets and score 39,969 FC runs.

No room for details in this review but there are also the famous stories, of how the eventual Prime minister of Australia used cricket to win him a court case when he was a lawyer and the famous story of E.W. Swanton’s 1939 Wisden, while he was a prisoner of the Japanese.

From the Obituaries section:

The origins of the “Chinaman” named after Ellis Edgar Achong, left arm spin bowler for the West Indies.

Fred Chalke, who had two entries in the Obituaries section, the first when he was presumed dead in the war and the second when they finally found his body in 1989.

Frank Chester, the umpire Bradman rated the best, used the same six pebbles he took from his mother’s garden for his first game in every match he umpired, which was over 1000.
There were also a couple of players who had obituaries included while they were still alive.

From the Unusual Occurrences section:

The second Test match 1996, Pakistan Vs New Zealand, the Pakistan cricket board forgot to supply any cricket balls. The match eventually started after a ball was brought from a local sports store.

Boland Vs Border the umpires had to wait ten minutes to clean a ball as it was too hot to touch after being hit into a frying pan being used to cook calamari. Eventually they had to replace the ball because it was too slippery for the bowlers to grip.

Mike Gatting, some might say appropriately, given his legendary appetite, was injured during a cricket match when a waitress spilled a pot of tea over him.

Hampshire Vs Yorkshire, 2005, saw the Yorkshire team have to hitchhike or jog to the match after the bus driver was unable to transport them for OH&S reasons. He hadn’t had an eight hour break.

I hope I have created the impression of just how much I enjoyed this book, it is well worthy of five stars. So if you are going to a desert island or just wanting a quality read, then this book should be the choice.

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