Why I Love The Wisden Cricketers Almanack
And no, it has very little to do with this blog being mentioned this year and How Did We Lose In Adelaide last year. Actually, while it is nice being mentioned again, the actual prose accompanying it is a little odd. Most people who I left behind on HDWLIA caught up with me in the next week or so. So “Old” hadn’t disappeared, if you count the three hours between shutting down HDWLIA and starting up Being Outside Cricket as a disappearance. But as Michael O’Leary said “bad publicity is better than no publicity”, I have to say that whatever is written is a recognition of what we do. That’s no bad thing. But to write even a snippet on the blog and not recognise it is more than a one man job (Chris, and lets not also forget Phil and Sean’s contributions too) shows how rigorous it is (I have to say, I’ve not seen the full article, so if there is more in it, then I will correct).
It’s also not the first time both your editors have been in there. I filled in the schools piece for my educational establishment for a few years in the 1980s and TLG has his school record in there slightly later than that, the handsome, more able, young devil that he is.
I am, by my nature, quite a traditionalist, and yes, that is odd when you consider my attitude to the ECB and to Kevin Pietersen, for instance. Wisden dates back 150 or so years, and I have a collection of sorts, as I try to nab as many of the 1970s ones as I can. I think I’m complete from 1980 onwards. Indeed, I have a spare, bought in error, 1979 one so if you don’t have that, and might like it, let me know! It’s not a passion to get all of them that I can, but when I see one I don’t have, reasonably priced, I’ll get it. I also don’t go for the new release straight away, often waiting until Autumn to secure one at a reduced price. These are tough economic times and all that!
My love for it is in the numbers, not so much the written parts. Indeed, in the past, I’d probably have skipped the section on bloggers, or cricket on the internet. I sometimes read the book reviews. But to me it has always been the scorecards. I had a 1987 copy with me for the last few weeks, mainly to assist in “Blackwash” articles, but you look at the scorecards and follow Graeme Hick’s 2000 runs season and immerse yourself in the sheer lunacy of 3 day cricket. Hick made 227 not out against a fully in form Richard Hadlee at Worcester, and just taking myself back to those days is what the Almanack does to me. Yes, it is nerdy, but it triggers memories.
Before I bought a single Almanack, when I was part of the Cricket Book Club, I got, as my free gift, The Wisden Anthology 1963-82 by Benny Green. I remember taking it on my cricket tour to the Netherlands in 1984 and finding Nolan Clarke’s name in it on the day I met the great man (it was, if my memory serves, a Barbados v Australia game). Again, though, it was the scorecards. The match reports were great, but it was the numbers accompanying them. Record partnerships, massive innings, freak matches. Wisden and the Anthology were my cricketing education.
To a degree, even in the internet age, that is still the case for me, albeit less so. Like all things time moves on and in the tiresome mantra of the modern age, we have to “innovate or die”. The scorecards are on Cricinfo, and I can find what I want when I want, so maybe I’m not the business model they need to continue. Statsguru has long since taken Wisden’s place for looking that sort of information up. But there was always something about reading a scorecard at total random flipping open the book.
There are additional awards, which I have to say I find tiresome, but know others don’t, but what I have never minded, and understood fully why it’s there, is the Five Cricketers of the Year. It’s always been clear to me – Wisden is an English publication, and it has been tried in Australia (I have one) and India – that it is primarily focused on the English summer, has always had an eye on English players throughout the year, recognises the great performers from other countries when they tour, as long as they perform here (Jacques Kallis, for instance, had a huge wait to get in) and you are named just the once. It’s that last bit, and the nonsense spouted about it, that gets on my nerves.
I like Dennis a lot, but his article today would have had me fisking it a couple of years ago. Dennis prods and pokes, and I think he’s still a friend of this blog, as I am a friend of his! But he is one voice among a number that do this – and it really peeves me. This award has always been different, it has seen some tweaks when some domestic cases were particularly weak, but it has been the same type of award pretty much throughout. I have absolutely zero problem with that. See it as a “I was good enough to get it once” award rather than “I deserve it every year”. Treat it like the stars on Hollywood’s street. If you are good enough to get on there once, that’s all.
It’s not Wisden’s fault that other awards might lack gravitas. I think the Cricketer of the Year has the required gravitas, but doesn’t constrain itself to a “Tendulkar, Lara, Kallis, Warne, Murali” and repeat load of old crap year in year out. So people with freak years, like Tim Robinson in 1985 or James Whitaker’s Gary Ballance in 2014 can stand alongside Don Bradman and Jeetan Patel to pick out two diverse names. Keep it as it is, Wisden. Ben Stokes role in the Lord’s test against New Zealand transcended the match. His century was brilliant, his first innings 90-odd even better in my opinion, and his slaying of the New Zealand titan on Day 5 was arguably one of the moments of the season. He had a reasonable Ashes, not spectacular, but again provided moments. As much as a stat nerd as i can be, you have to recognise what the game can be about. No problem with Stokes. At all.
One of the other complaints raised is the presence of convicted match-fixers in the list of Cricketers of the Year, but Mohammad Amir was not put in when he qualified. Again, erasing history is a difficult thing to do. The 1991 edition, should you come across it in the shops, isn’t going to have Azharuddin’s pages ripped out, is it? I am not sure what a futile gesture like that is going to achieve, to be honest. And where do you draw the line. Shane Warne is a convicted drug cheat. Should he be in?
Now, of course, some of you might think this blogger’s friendly relations with the Editor of Wisden plays some part in my little defence. It probably does, although we do not converse on Twitter anywhere near as much as used to, and I still shake my fists at the screen when I read something of his I do not agree with. But I think Lawrence has done a pretty damn good job of editing Wisden (except handing anything KP related to Patrick Collins!), I suspect it’s a hell of a task for him and his team, and that he has, in my opinion, raised the profile of the Almanack in his time in charge does him a lot of credit. This is one pillar of the establishment that needs to remain pretty much true to its soul. Whether that stands the tests of time is up to the consumers. But in the digital age, I still love that little big book. That’s why even getting a mention in it makes me proud of what we have all achieved. You don’t quite realise how proud I am.
Long may Wisden Almanack continue. I come to praise. I leave the sniffiness to these kinds of reviews – I think the first paragraph is so amusing…..
Remember…the new open thread is below.