Ask Steven April 17, 2006

All you wanted to know about the Almanack

The regular Monday column in which Steven Lynch answers your questions about (almost) any aspect of cricket. This week it's a special column to mark the publication of the new Wisden Almanack

The regular Monday column in which Steven Lynch answers your questions about (almost) any aspect of cricket. This week it's a special column to mark the publication of the new Wisden Almanack:

Andrew Flintoff, the Leading Cricketer in the World, and Shane Warne on the cover of the 2006 edition of Wisden © Wisden

Andrew Flintoff had an amazing season in 2005. Why isn't he one of the Cricketers of the Year? asked Gerald Jackson from Manchester

Tradition dictates that no-one can be a Wisden Cricketer of the Year more than once, and Andrew Flintoff has already been one, in 2004. But this year Flintoff did collect another important Wisden accolade - the Leading Cricketer in the World. This was introduced in 2004, when Ricky Ponting was the first one ; Shane Warne took the award last year.

How did Wisden become such a revered authority in the game? asked Teddy Goddard

The reputation of Wisden has been built up over time - the Almanack was first published by the Sussex bowler John Wisden in 1864, and it has come out ever since, including the war years when not much cricket was played and paper was scarce. Each year now the book contains match reports and scores from all the important cricket matches around the world, as well as a big selection of articles and records, and many other sections too. Wisden has painstakingly earned a reputation for accuracy, and for fearless, independent comment: all this has contributed to its becoming the most famous sports book in the world.

Why do England and West Indies compete for something called the Wisden Trophy? asked Eric Naidoo from Trinidad

The Wisden Trophy was presented by John Wisden & Co. in 1963, to mark the publication that year of the 100th edition of the Almanack. The visitors to England that summer were the West Indies, captained by Frank Worrell, and they won the Test series 3-1 to become the first winners of the new trophy.

How much would a full set of Wisdens cost? asked Keerthi Samarasinghe from Sri Lanka

The new Almanack reports that a run of the first 70 Wisdens - 1864-1933 - fetched over £80,000 at auction at Christie's in November 2005, so a full set of original almanacks would probably set you back well over £100,000 now. It's the early ones which are particularly difficult to obtain, and are therefore very expensive: the first one (1864) in good condition would probably cost upwards of £5000 alone, which is why many would-be collectors settle for the good-quality facsimile reprints which have been published in recent years.

When did Wisden Cricketer's Almanack become Wisden Cricketers' Almanack? asked Richard Charkin

The apostrophe, turning it from a single cricketer's almanack into one for all, moved in 1869 - only the first five editions were styled "Cricketer's".

I see there is a new large-size edition of Wisden this year. What's the idea of that? asked Roy Carpenter from Gloucester

You're right, there is a large-format Almanack this year: it's a limited edition of 5000, and it comes in a neat yellow slipcase. It's a special issue to celebrate the Ashes victory - the new Wisden includes full details of last year's scintillating series - and it's also an answer to the many people over the years who have complained that the type in the traditional Almanack is too small, and hard to read. But there are no plans to discontinue the traditional-sized book. As the editor Matthew Engel says in the preface to this year's Almanack: "If John Wisden had known in 1864 that the pages in his little book would multiply from 112 to 1600, he would doubtless have made them bigger in the first place ... Let's see if people like it. New collectors, and some older readers, may appreciate the clarity."

What's the strangest obituary that's been in Wisden? asked William Summers from Bedford

There have been numerous weird and wonderful obituaries in Wisden over the years. The 2006 Almanack, in addition to the people you might expect like Kerry Packer , Eddie Barlow and David Sheppard , includes obituaries for a Roman Catholic priest who bowled offspin for Wellington, the TV scorer who doubled as the Jungle Cowboy, a man who dismissed Don Bradman twice while playing for Illinois in 1932, and one of the first Belgians to qualify as a Level One coach; last year's included the man who played The Master in Doctor Who. But I suppose the strangest obituary of them all was published in 1965, when the Almanack marked the passing of Peter, the Lord's Cat.

To order the 2006 Wisden, click here.

Steven Lynch is the deputy editor of The Wisden Group. For some of these answers he was helped by Travis Basevi, the man who built Stats Guru and the Wisden Wizard. If you want to Ask Steven a question, contact him through our feedback form. The most interesting questions will be answered each week in this column. Unfortunately, we can't usually enter into correspondence about individual queries.