Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack 2011Martin Chandler |
Author: Berry, Scyld (Editor)
Publisher: John Wisden and Co
Rating: 5 stars
The Cricketer’s Bible, Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack, appears for the 148th time this year. It is a priceless tradition in a sport that so values its heritage. For those of us, and we are many, for whom the appearance each April of the saffron yellow book is the final confirmation that spring has arrived, we can now turn our minds to a period of reflection on the cricket played in the last twelve months, and the issues the game has to face up to in the coming year.
Historically Wisden has been a cottage industry, and all who are familiar with its past are aware that there have been more periods of financial stress and strain than stability. The imprint of John Wisden and Co, the familiar Ravilious woodcut that has graced the Almanack since 1938 remains, but in 2011 the world has changed. The company is now, and has been since 2009, a part of the Bloomsbury publishing empire. We were promised that being taken into a major commercial organisation would not compromise the Almanack’s integrity. Three editions on, and we can now begin to assess the extent to which that promise has been kept.
Wisden has certainly changed in the last three years. Cosmetically this year has seen a re-ordering of the contents. There is a greater logic now to how the book is ordered but readers will still find it odd, initially at least, that the book reviews and obituaries have moved from the back of the book to the front, and that the records and other statistical sections have made the opposite journey.
As far as content is concerned there has in recent years been a gradual increase in the coverage of the global game well beyond what, just a couple of decades ago, would ever have been expected. In years gone by when pushed for space editors would look for their austerity measures to that part of the Almanack. I enjoy this vastly improved coverage of overseas cricket, and while I am not a great fan of the shortest form of the game I am pleased to see that, again as it should be, twenty over cricket, IPL included, is properly covered. In years gone by the space devoted to the supposedly inferior one day game was also cut in order to meet the increasing demand for space caused by the rapid increase in the number of Test series played around the world, and I would not have been entirely surprised if the short game had been relegated to a mere footnote.
What is the reason for the emphasis on the worldwide stage and for embracing T20? Is it just an attempt to cover all aspects of the game for the sake of not being seen to favour one country, or to avoid it being suggested that the Almanack is trying to dictate what sort of cricket its readers should enjoy? Probably not – I am not so naive as to not recognise that the real motivation is to create a global brand – I believe that these days Wisden is also printed and separately distributed in India – the sales figures over the years since that began would make interesting reading.
This year Wisden has hit the headlines over its annual selection of “Five Cricketers of the Year”. Come to think of it it did the same in 2009 when Clare Taylor was the first woman to be selected. This year the big news is that the five are only four. One man, almost certainly Mohammed Amir, being blacked out as a result of the spot fixing allegations he has faced. Amir, or Asif were it he – I am not persuaded by Editor Scyld Berry’s suggestion that Salman Butt might have merited serious consideration – could surely have just been ignored. Alternatively there is a perfectly respectable argument, although not one I subscribe to, for saying that as any crime did not materially affect the course of any game he should still have been included. The implication that if, at a later date, the player concerned is exonerated then the cloak of anonymity will somehow be lifted from him in a future edition is not entirely convincing.
Hand in hand with this is the appearance of Alistair Cook on the Almanack’s dust jacket. Eligible for selection as one of the five then surely he should have been there with Tamim Iqbal, Jonathon Trott, Chris Read and Eoin Morgan? “but the award is primarily for achievements in the preceding English season” is doubtless the explanation for his omission – Personally I struggle with that reasoning – 766 runs in a momentous Ashes victory is surely sufficient justification for his being the first name to be penciled in – and did not the 1912 Editor, Sydney Pardon select five from the team that went to Australia and reclaimed the Ashes the preceding winter? Methinks that striving for publicity has caused some slightly contrived decisions to be made.
But I digress – this is meant to be a review of the 2011 edition. Perhaps I should wax lyrical about the tribute to Sachin Tendulkar, or the wholly accurate reporting of the “spot-fixing” crisis and the opinions expressed about it. I could mention the sparkling book reviews of CW favourite Gideon Haigh, the wonderful essay about the seldom mentioned Indian tour to England of 1911, and the rich vein of eccentricity/humour that, as always in recent years, appears from time to time. But I do not need to go any further than to say that to any real lover of the game Wisden 2011 is quite simply indispensable. I had not expected to say this but, it would seem, its acquisition by Bloomsbury is the best thing that has happened to the Almanack since over arm bowling was legalised.