The decision to break with nearly a century and a half of tradition by putting a photograph on the cover of the 2003 Wisden
--the 140th edition of the annual cricket almanack--deserves at least to alert the public to the fact that this is no longer the dusty, stats-obsessed tome of yesteryear, but one of the best reads in sport.
Just as Channel 4 have raised the bar for domestic TV coverage of the game, so recent Wisden editors have taken a neglected institution and turned it into something that will appeal to a readership far wider than just the professionals and collectors who, one suspects, for too many years have regarded purchasing each edition as a "death and taxes" moment--equally inevitable, and of equally scant appeal.
Yes, it's still one of the biggest small books around--jam-packed with results, reports, scorecards, averages and analysis covering the domestic county game, international one-day matches and Tests--with swathes of often tiny print, punctuated by hundreds of black-and-white photos extending to nearly 1800 pages.
But what could seem an unmappable mass of information has been sympathetically corralled, with the first of this year's new features, a Guide for New Readers, pointing you in the direction of the juicier stuff--essays such as Richie Benaud's Favourite Tests, profiles including Aussie legend Steve Waugh, Don't Marry a Cricketer by Derek Pringle, the story of England's Ashes capitulation, the year's best cricket books reviewed by Frank Keating and the key statistical records that underpin the game's history.
Wisden, we are told, is really four books in one: the essays, the pure stats reference work, the annual look at the previous season's play and a miscellany including obituaries, reviews and various articles. This much revered, but less-often read, treasury of cricket is almost too modest to mention that in each element it exemplifies excellence with the same combination of ruthless accuracy, creative flair and unquenchable enthusiasm that characterises the finest moments of the sport itself. --Alex Hankin
From the Back Cover
This is the biggest Wisden yet, with full coverage of the 55 Tests, plus the key points from many more, including the 2002-03 Ashes and scores from the World Cup, which ended only a month before publication. In a year when double-hundreds are made at high speed, when England kept meeting India, and South Africa had another nightmare. It was a year of untimely deaths: Wisden mourns Ben Hollioake and appraises Hansie Cronje. Wisden offers more to read than ever, more stats, more pictures and a warmer welcome to new readers. They will find that it is really four books in one: a slim volume of essays, a record book, an annual and a miscellany, noting the top team that blamed a defeat on the wrong trousers, and the ball savaged by a reporters Labrador. Wisden remains, as Radio 4 said in 2002, "the last word in cricket".