The magic of Wisden, the big little yellow book of cricket
The Wisden Cricketers Almanack is the book your true cricket aficionado can’t go without, but it’s not that easy to read cover-to-cover.
It gives the details of every Test, One-Day (ODI) and Twenty20 international match played in the past 12 months – but always with England’s home matches first.
It has the size and heft of that bible you inevitably find on your bedside table in cheaper motels around the world, and the small font size that inevitably tires your eyes.
Finally most of the truly interesting stuff is available online for free, yet it’s just not the same as holding one of these bad boys in your hand in feverish anticipation of what’s inside.
That this big little yellow book resembles a motel bible is apt given its status as cricket’s holy text. Just about everything you could possibly want from the previous 12 months is contained inside.
This includes details of every international tour, every English county match with full scorecard and match report, and obituaries of those who played the game to a high level.
The details these obituaries go into still astounds me: I have open in front of me the 2001 Almanack (more on that later) which not only eulogises true greats like Colin Cowdrey and Lala Armanath, but also contains this entry:
“CLARKE, BERNARD HENRY, who died on October 23, 2000, aged 86, was the Northamptonshire scorer from 1982 to 1989.”
Then there are the essays. Not only do five top performers from the previous year’s English season get to have five of the world’s best cricket writers say rather nice things about them, but other writers from around the world are called upon to comment of the big issues of the day.
The 2001 version includes a hard-hitting piece from Mihir Bose about the match-fixing scandal that finished Hansie Cronje’s career; Mike Atherton wrote eloquently about the troubles in facing the retired Curtly Ambrose; while Frank Keating brought this young Australian into the world of post-war English cricket with his farewell to Cowdrey and Brian Statham.
I can’t be sure, but one could imagine modern writers doing laps around the lounge room if called upon to write for the Almanack, in much the same way cricketers would do on receiving news of selection for their debut Test.
So how does one get into a Wisden? As mentioned, they’re big little yellow books; hardly the kind of thing that jump out at you in the bookstore compared to, say, Matthew Hayden’s cookbook. For some it’s access to one in the family home; others a present from an enlightened friend or relative.
For me? The internet.
Let me rewind a little bit. While Cricinfo has been the cricket tragic’s website of choice for news and scorecards since the 1990s, in the early 2000s wisden.com was starting to offer some very interesting analysis, plus access to their essays and match reports going way back to their very first edition in 1864.
This didn’t come free: to access the really good stuff you had to pay a subscription fee. Being a broke uni student would generally kybosh that idea, although at some point I must have felt rich enough to submit the credit card details.
Not that many people did this though: English cricketer Paul Collingwood saw his wisden.com summary for the first time when I interviewed him for the Prime Minister’s XI match against England in the 2002/03 season.
Perhaps because not many took the plunge and signed up, those that did were rewarded with a copy of the 2001 Almanack. This may have been why I signed up in the first place; at any rate I was still surprised to see a package from England on the doorstep.
I was hooked. Soon after I managed to get hold of three more Almanacks courtesy of eBay before a travel addiction overtook my cricket and reading addictions, siphoning off pretty much any money I made. They’re not cheap either, with the 2011 version selling for $120 on one Australian online bookstore.
But strolling through a massive second-hand book sale in Brisbane, I found a 1992 edition for just $5. It now sits with the other four, waiting for some more friends. Come to think of it, did I end up reading that through? Yes? Maybe? Not sure… perhaps I’d better start again.
Despite its quirks, the Wisden Cricketers Almanack really is the book us true cricket aficionados can’t go without. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have have a book to read…