Cheltenham and Gloucester Cricket Year
A&C Black, 319pp rrp £22.50
I must confess that I was an avid reader of the book when it first came out - then it was under the sponsorship of Benson & Hedges - and the first ten or so issues were a perennial Christmas must-have. But then I drifted onto other things, and so I was interested to know what had become of the publication.
What I enjoyed in the original was that it complemented Wisden. While the Almanack provided a mass of statistics and scorecards, the B&H put flesh on those bones. It reported in some depth on overseas matches - domestic games from the Caribbean to Pakistan and Australia warranted potted reports and an abundance of pictures. Armed with Wisden and the B&H, someone who wanted to know what had happened across the world just about had it all at his fingertips.
A decade and a bit later, the world has moved on. The internet means that scores from the extremities are now almost instantly available, and even Wisden has taken the plunge and uses pictures liberally. But that very progress appears to have led to the C&G withdrawing back to its core audience. It is now unashamedly aimed at the UK market, with little more than passing coverage from elsewhere. Take Australia. Their whole year is given 12 pages, five of which are text, five scorecards of Tests, and VB Series potted scores so brief as to be, frankly, useless. It's the same elsewhere.
But the UK coverage is good. It presents a review of the English summer in a more colourful and less wordy format that the Almanack, and in time for the lucrative Christmas market - no mean feat given that that now almost drags on into October. The format of the book means that the layout is user friendly - the font can be read by people with anything other than hawk-like vision for one thing - and the lavish use of colour pictures really enhances the written word.
But therein lies the other major gripe. Wisden does offer a high standard of writing, and its reputation means that it can attract the cream of the crop. The C&G, under the editorship of Jonathan Agnew, is far more limited, in terms of space and, I assume, budget. Agnew himself, aided by Mark Baldwin, contributes large swathes of the England pages, and does so effectively. But although there are some good essays dotted here and there - Charlie Austin (who is Cricinfo's man in Sri Lanka) writes with first-hand experience of the effect of the tsunami - they are too few and far between to really satisfy those looking for something more than a quick ten-minute flick. Major issues which dominated English cricket - the Zimbabwe tour and the BSkyB TV deal, to name two - are given no more than a few lines in Agnew's editorial.
I was left with a feeling of not really knowing who this book is aimed at. When I first bought it, I remember thinking that I need it and Wisden to cover all the bases. I still need Wisden; the C&G is now no more than a welcome addition ... but not a vital one. Times have moved on, and there is a suspicion that the C&G has not quite kept up.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo