Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2014

Published: 2014
Pages: 1584
Author: Booth, Lawrence (Editor)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Rating: 4 stars

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2014

A perspective from England by David Taylor

In an essay entitled ‘The Pleasures of Reading Wisden’ in the 1965 edition, the long-serving Warwickshire secretary Rowland Ryder tells of his early experiences of reading his father’s copies, contemplates which editions he might, if forced to choose, take to the obligatory desert island (perusing, in some detail, the 1903) and states what every Wisden reader knows: there is one thing you can be quite certain of in ‘looking it up in Wisden’ and that is that you will pick up a whole miscellany of information before you find the thing that you have been looking for. It’s just as likely, of course, that you will never actually find the fact or figures you originally intended to, because your eye will alight on some detail that will take you down a different route altogether.

A collection of essays, obituaries, reviews, match reports, scores, statistics and far more, it’s not a book anyone can expect to read from start to finish – indeed, perhaps only a true obsessive can be single-minded enough to read every County Championship report, while maintaining equal interest in domestic cricket in each of the major cricketing nations. Its true appeal is in dipping in, ideally outside on a summer day, with something refreshing to hand. But there is plenty to read here. My favourite feature these days is probably the obituaries; that may seem morbid to some but it’s not because of some increasing sense of my own mortality – this section commemorates the lives of players after all, the cause or manner of their death rarely mentioned. They are written anonymously but the beautifully written piece on Christopher Martin-Jenkins, affectionate and perceptive, must I feel have been composed by someone who knew him well. The pieces on Reg Simpson and Frank Keating are of similarly high standard.

The sad demise of ‘CMJ’ actually saw in 2013, and all the important cricket of the year is to be found here. The cover picture was introduced in 2003 by the one-time editor Tim de Lisle, and though it took me a few editions to warm to it, and I wouldn’t agree that the choices have always been ideal, there is no denying that the George Lazenby of Wisden editors was onto something. The choice of Sachin Tendulkar is apposite; in the past the selections have been a little too England and Ashes biased, and the very fact that the Indian team that arrives this year will be the first since 1986 not to feature ‘the little Master’ is remarkable in itself. The Five Cricketers of the Year is a long-running feature, and this year one of the selections is England women’s captain Charlotte Edwards. There was quite a fanfare when Claire Taylor became the first women chosen in 2009 but this has rather slipped under the radar; nevertheless it is a fitting tribute to Edwards’ distinguished career.

A minor gripe: each year it seems that the Records section has to be trimmed down to cope with the ever-expanding wealth of statistics generated by the game, now in several formats of course. Clearly it is no longer possible, as with the Wisdens of my youth, to include every Test century, or every Test cricketer who’s scored 1,500 runs, or taken 75 wickets. But the total runs and wickets requirement has gone altogether now – we have only the top six for each Test playing nation. It means that Alistair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, both with over 8,000 runs, share equal billing with Stuart Carlisle, who made 1,615 for Zimbabwe, while, even worse I would say, Graeme Swann’s 255 wickets which gets him into sixth place for England, is now on a level par with Tapash Baisya’s 36 for Bangladesh. Something doesn’t seem quite right there.

The almanack will never appeal to all tastes of course, and every year it suffers the same accusations of being too England-centric, as if other countries are somehow incapable of producing their own yearbooks. For me, and many like me, it is simply an essential purchase, for which room has to be made somewhere – long may that continue.

……… and one from Australia from the Mac

After the deserved praise, hype and attention for last year’s 150th anniversary, that Wisden generated, it was comforting to return to the traditional format in 2014. The latest edition may not feature a Test team for the ages, or a potted history of Wisden from 1864 to 2013, but the quality and interest is still there. The lack of once in a lifetime special features allows the time honoured sections to shine and with the articles written by some of the best in the business, it is a cricket lover’s feast.

One of the most interesting articles is by David Frith, on the history of cricket’s coverage via film. It is insightful and begs the question, when will Mr Frith update and release to DVD his classic Golden Greats of Cricket. As reassuring as nostalgia is, the 2014 Wisden does not allow you to reminisce too long. The modern problems of the money mad cricket Boards is dealt with by Gideon Haigh, as he dissects the deal between the big three of Test cricket and its impact on the game. As balanced as ever, Wisden allows Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, to provide the establishment view of the “big three’s deal”.

The most touching story in the book is that of former South African cricketer Mark Boucher and the possibility he may permanently lose sight in one eye after he was struck by a bail. On a happier note, Boucher’s friend and team-mate, Jacques Kallis, is paid a warm and deserving tribute. Both these very different articles are finely crafted by Neil Manthorp.

Kallis’ departure from Test cricket is fully covered, however there is no doubt which cricketers retirement will generate the most coverage in the world’s media and Wisden do not neglect the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar. His demigod like status amongst the populace of India is well known, but it seems even his fellow Indian Test players are in awe. The Little Master’s status amongst the cricketing elite is reverently told by former Indian opening batsman Aakash Chopra, and the statistics section on Sachin is mind boggling. His achievements appear so gargantuan, you must wonder if anyone will ever topple a number of his Test and ODI records. The response of Freddie Truman, when asked would anyone ever break his then world Test wicket record, comes to mind when perusing the Indian champions enervating stats; aye, but whoever does it will be bloody tired.

To spoil the five cricketers, or the book of the year would be to lessen the enjoyment of the reader. Just to know that all the favourite categories are featured and Wisden is back to normal after the once in a lifetime celebration in 2013, is hopefully as comforting for all the other readers and collectors alike, as it is for the Mac.

…..and finally one from the new powerhouse of the game by Gulu Ezekiel

It has been 40 years now since I picked up my first Wisden but the first time I am reviewing it. And one thing I vowed to myself was that I would avoid using the ‘B’ word in this review since I find the term somewhat offensive. Long-time Wisden readers will know exactly what that ‘B’ stands for.

One must concede however that it remains an independent and impartial voice striving for the good of cricket which these days appears to be a losing battle what with cricket’s parent body, the International Cricket Council (ICC) being exposed as perhaps the most spineless and impotent world sporting body around.

Lawrence Booth, hitting his stride in his third edition, has aimed a double-barreled blast in his Notes by the Editor at the ICC and the manner in which it has allowed itself to be hijacked by the so-called ‘Big Three’ of world cricket, England, Australia and the Godzilla of them all, the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Widely recognized as the finest cricket writer today, Australia’s Gideon Haigh also pulls no punches in the chapter ‘The great carve-up of the world game.’

The mega commercial success of the Indian Premier League since its launch in 2008 has allowed the BCCI to use its money power to capture the ICC and hold a financial muzzle to the heads of all its member nations. It is clear now that the BCCI is using the IPL as a Trojan horse to effectively kill off international cricket, something a handful of Indian journalists have been apprehensive about for some time. For Booth, an early votary of the IPL, the realization appears to have sunk in.

Don’t believe me? Just read BCCI bully Niranjan Shah’s frank admission in James Astill’s hugely entertaining The Great Tamasha released last year.

Astill’s own contribution to this edition is a spin-off from his book, a visit to the infamous Dharavi slum of Mumbai where he comes away with the uneasy feeling that the IPL is now the only show in town.

Considering the BCCI and its on-now off-now big boss N. Srinivasan have been on the receiving end of repeated lambastings from our own Supreme Court, is it any wonder that there is growing concerns as to how it will remote control the ICC when its own backyard is littered with scandals of various kinds?

Launched in 1864 by John Wisden, a diminutive fast bowler known as ‘The Little Wonder’ this massive tome holds the world record for the longest unbroken run of any sports yearbook in history. Last year it celebrated its 150th edition with much pomp and fanfare.

The match reports this year are naturally dominated by the back-to-back Ashes contests, England winning 3-0 at home and then being crushed 5-0 months later in Australia.

Ever since Tim de Lisle’s mercifully brief one-year stint in 2003 when he used a photograph on the cover for the first time instead of the traditional Wisden symbol, successive editors (Booth is the fourth since then) have felt the need for at least one surprise every year in order to grab the headlines.

This may be borne out of a sense of insecurity since the explosion of the internet has largely rendered its massive scores and statistics section irrelevant. But the book’s sales continue to be healthy every year as much out of force of habit (we Wisden collectors are an obsessive lot) as the increasingly large Comment section at the front of the book which always contains essays of the highest quality.

My personal favourites this year are by New Zealand batting legend Martin Crowe on ‘sledging’ where he reveals the darker side of the flamboyant West Indian sides of the ’70s and ’80s and by South African fast bowler Makhaya Ntini, a role model for black cricketers. In it Ntini pays tribute to his beloved Madiba, the late Nelson Mandela who passed away last year. I challenge anyone to read it without a tear in their eye.

Crowe is now firmly established as the finest cricketer-writer around and his intense passion for the good of cricket shows in his pained feelings at the verbal abuse (Steve Waugh’s ‘mental disintegration’) widely and woefully prevalent in the game.

The surprise this time? The choice of England woman captain Charlotte Edwards as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year, a hallmark of the almanack since 1889 and one of the most eagerly anticipated aspects of its arrival every year.

Edwards is not the first of her gender to receive this honour, awarded for outstanding performances in the previous English season. That was Claire Taylor in the 2009 edition. Which begs the question: why not a separate Woman Cricketer of the Year award every year rather than the occasional token female presence? After all, in recent years Wisden has added gongs for the (English) Schools Cricketer of the Year and The Leading Cricketer of the World.

The other four choices of India’s Shikhar Dhawan (for being leading run scorer in India’s triumphant Champion’s Trophy campaign in England last year), England’s Joe Root and the Australian pair of Chris Rogers and Ryan Harris are not quite convincing and have already received some adverse comments. Dale Steyn’s choice as the world’s leading cricketer though is richly deserved and his profile by Neil Manthorp is the best of the lot.

Most long-time readers of Wisden instinctively turn to the book reviews and obituary sections. While the obits are evocative as usual, I was hugely disappointed by the reviews by the Daily Telegraph’s Jonathan Liew which I found flat and uninspiring.

Indian fans will be heartened by 12 pages devoted to Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement which also features on the cover.
But if a picture ever told a thousand words that would be the one by Mid-day’s ace photographer Atul Kamble of Tendulkar coming out to resume his final innings at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on November 15. Rightfully it is the winner of the Wisden-MCC Cricket Photograph of 2013 award.

Gulu’s review originally appeared in the Asian Age daily.

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