Wisden Cricketers Almanack 2012
Author: Lawrence Booth (Editor)
Publisher: John Wisden and Co
Rating: 4.5 stars
By David Taylor
03 Jun 2012
What, I wonder, is there left to say about Wisden Cricketers' Almanack - the hardy perennial whose appearance in the bookshops every spring heralds the start of each new season - that hasn't been said before? In addition to looking at this year's offering I shall try to avoid the usual "bible of cricket" cliches and try, as a long-standing collector, to describe it to someone who has never read it. It's a brown hardback book with a yellow dust jacket (a softback version is available and many of my older copies are in that format, but it's the same price, oddly, and rarely to be seen in the shops), just over 1550 pages and around four centimetres thick. That alone should tell you that the pages are perilously thin and should be handled with some care - as I have found to my cost in the past.
Before opening the book a few words about my own Wisden experience. Like many collectors I was first given a copy as a youngster, since when I've bought it each year to maintain the sequence, as well as going backwards in time - in my case to the end of the second world war. The internet has proved invaluable in acquiring back issues, as has the bookseller at Canterbury whose stall I find it impossible to browse and come away from empty-handed. Even a postwar collection takes up a fair bit of space though, and regrettably it's now impossible for me to keep them all in the same room. But every April another four centimetres of shelf space has to be found somewhere!
People who have never read or owned a copy of the Almanack presume, I imagine, that it's just a reference book - statistics from cover to cover. Well there are a lot of numbers in it, but there's plenty to read as well, and this year the writing is of uniformly high standard. Some of the heavyweights have been enlisted - Michael Henderson, Gideon Haigh and Tony Cozier for example - as well as some names that I recognise from the internet such as Kamran Abbasi and George Dobell. This year there is a new editor, Lawrence Booth, and he has wisely resisited the urge to make wholesale changes (one of the most drastic came from a one-year editor, Tim de Lisle, who introduced the picture cover - I've never been that keen on it but in its tenth year it's clearly here to stay). The book starts, as ever, with the editor's notes, and it's hard to find much to disagree with in Booth's views on the ICC, the IPL, the BCCI, the DRS - and Lancashire.
The first 250 pages of the Almanack comprise the bulk of the reading material and also include the book reviews, the Cricketers of the Year essays, the obituaries (2011 took a heavy toll of distinguished names) and a number of features: Mike Brearley and Mike Yardy on depression, Colin Shindler on the class divide, and Claire Taylor on changes in the women's game. The acclaimed Australian writer Gideon Haigh offers a long feature on the workings of the ICC in Dubai. Haigh is always highly readable of course, but you are either interested in the minutiae of cricket administration, or, like me, you might find 16 pages a trifle indulgent. The England team come next - pen portraits of the players and reports on Sri Lanka's and India's tours, with each Test match report contributed by a different writer - a nice touch introduced a few years ago. There is an interesting side-feature on the Rose Bowl Test from a blind fan, Peter White, who went to each day and explains what he got out of it.
The counties come next - a report on each county, with full scorecards of their first-class matches, and then comes the overseas section, including the World Cup of course, and the records section - which has been slightly reduced this year to save space. For years an innings of 300 guaranteed inclusion - now the batsman has to aim for 325. Some of the first-class records are mind-boggling and will clearly never be approached. Tich Freeman's 304 wickets in a season look safe for eternity now that 100 is all but impossible (and who is the only English bowler to take 100 wickets in a season since 1970, and yet never win a Test or one-day cap? Martin will be able to tell you I'm sure. At least he was recognised by Wisden that year).
There is far, far more besides - the Chronicle of 2011 includes all sorts of news stories and odd occurrences - and I was especially pleased to see Test cricket's first centenarian, Norman Gordon, featured. Wisden is half as old again, and yet goes from strength to strength.