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The wisdom of Wisden
on 10 April 2012
Given the option of taking one book onto that desert island, some would select the Holy Bible. Others, myself included, would plump for their own bible, that of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, now on its 149th edition.
It's not that easy to review a book that is primarily based on statistics. Whatever the subject matter, either you like it or you don't. When it comes to Wisden, there is no in between of, "well it`s okay but...."; it's either one star or it's five stars. Having said that, no one would ever give a statistical anthology on cricket, football, or anything else less than a top rating, as you wouldn't be reading it if you didn't have a great interest in what's within the pages.
Lawrence Booth, a man with a cricket writers' pedigree, takes over the responsibility of Editor and does a decent job, not that it could be anything other than that, as the format hasn't really changed since 1864. Once again, the editorial is worth reading (though 17 pages on `Behind the Scenes at the ICC' is a bit much) and brings up a few surprises; how many know the 1900 Olympics had a one-off cricket final between England and France? (The earliest the sport can be included is 2024.) There is also a worrying trend of the 20/50 over format taking over from Test matches, as read in a brief piece by Richard Gillis; the World Test Championship planned for 2013 isn't going to happen because India couldn't be guaranteed to be involved, and it appears only tournaments that country can't lose will be considered staging. As for the ubiquitous `Five Cricketers of the Year', one of Booth's selections might have anyone outside Worcestershire scratching their head.
What may be surprising is that the total page count comes in at 1552, nearly 100 less than you'll be used to. This is due to one significant change; the removal of the pages dedicated to the Laws, though any changes of such and their impact is still mentioned. The colour photos are of the usual high standard, one of which shows the vast crowd at a Nepal v Kuwait 20/20 game which will leave many county treasurers crying into their empty coffers, but there are a third fewer than last year. (There is one moment of high irony within the photo on page 91; see if you can spot it.)
Additions this year include total attendances for each county in their Championship games (Somerset top; Northants bottom) and the turnout for CB40 matches. What is still missing is a table to show the reader how Duckworth/Lewis is worked out. Yes, there is the text explanation, but it is a bit confusing; an included table would be easier and also handy. Something to interest everyone for next year is a chance to be published in Wisden 2013, conspicuous by its absence until now - well, until the 150th edition anyway. My only gripe (and it's a continuous one each year) is why this isn't published around 1st April, before the season starts. Surely publication date can be brought forward a week or so.
There was a time when the football season ended and cricket began, with the roles reversed in the southern hemisphere. With first class cricket now seemingly played at least once each week of the year, maybe some things will need to be altered or even dropped from the almanack in order to fit in all those extra matches. What this edition of Wisden makes clear is that those responsible for running the sport make that headless chicken appear intelligent.
Whatever the future holds, this is still one of the most anticipated books of the year, and possibly the only book some buy.