Wisden on the Ashes

Published: 2015
Pages: 687
Author: Lynch, Steven
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Rating: 4 stars

You would think that the Ashes, with Wisden, the bible of cricket, already being established for 13 years before matches between Australia and England commenced in 1877, would feature prominently. Unfortunately however Wisden’s initial coverage was something less than perfunctory. This is forgivable for at the time neither team were titled England or Australia and no one could have foreseen the tradition that these contests would inspire. Eventually, and magnificently, Wisden covered the Ashes in such detail that it is the first tome visited by almost every cricket author writing about any aspect of the little urn.

The coverage of the first series in 1877 was so minimal that editor Steven Lynch, when compiling Wisden on the Ashes, uses a piece from the 1976 Almanack by Gordon Ross. The other issue which must have faced the editor was that the Ashes themselves did not actually start to 1882 and weren’t on offer on a few occasions over the years. Thankfully Lynch made the decision to include writing on every Test regardless of when played or if the Ashes were up for grabs; and what fabulous prose it is.

Where possible Lynch has included the names of all authors, although it is surprising just how many pieces are not credited including some in the 1990s. It is disappointing that Lynch was unable to find the names of the modern authors missing but this, understandably, does not detract from the quality of the writing. Great names from the past do abound, though rarely are authors credited before the Second World War.

The prose of the early authors appears stilted to modern eyes, and the coverage is little more than a description of each wicket. The other noticeable style of the early writing is the brevity of the matches played in Australia. The first detailed match reports from Oz do not start until the 1928-29 series. This was serendipitous, or so I thought, as it meant detailed contemporary coverage of the infamous Bodyline series. Instead Wisden barely mentions the English tactics let alone the term Bodyline.

From World War Two the coverage is detailed and hardly a controversy or great moment is missed. More players are asked to write and you have the impression that Wisden had their own man at the matches played in Australia as well as in England. A lack of first hand coverage was noticeably absent in the earlier match reports.

Lynch has not just included match reports, there are also opinion pieces on Ashes controversies. One of the best of these, and all cricket writing, is the farewell to Sir Donald Bradman by R.C. Robertson-Glasgow in 1949. In the piece he captures the feeling of all opposition when a great opponent retires “So must ancient Italy have felt when she heard of the death of Hannibal”.

Wisden on the Ashes, is a tome that should be in every cricket book collection and read by all cricket fans. The fact that it is out in time for Christmas will just mean that choosing a present for a cricket fan will be a breeze this year.


I bought this book (obviously updated here) on the first day of the Cardiff ashes test in 2009. I remember going right into 1932/33 but being left underwhelmed. Apart from that I remember worrying about what Philip Hughes might do to our hopes. I saw Phil play for Australia and once for Hampshire he has been in my thoughts this week, such an awful tragedy.

Comment by paul mullarkey | 11:07pm GMT 30 November 2015

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