Some years ago when my dog Rolo unexpectedly died, my wife, sensing my loss, could think of only one thing to soften the blow. She may not have known one end of a cricket bat from another but she knew enough to understand the restorative properties of a Wisden Almanack. "Rolo would have wanted you to have this" is the inscription on the inside of the front cover.
This year's edition is, as ever, a cornucopia of the good, the bad and the gawd-awful in the best-loved game. More than ever it reflects the giddying speed with which the sport is changing. With so much cricket around, it is no surprise the Almanack runs to nearly 2000 pages and weighs as much as a small house brick. Yet somehow it manages to cover all aspects of the past 12 months, albeit at times with an almost perceptible air of weariness. Both the sport and its axis of power are inexorably shifting, and as a headline in the editorial suggests with resigned irony, "If the ICC move to India, we might as well say ta, ta".
The scope and standard of the journalism are as compelling as any I recall. Nearly four years ago an ex-England skipper confided to me over lunch that 50-over cricket was already dead in the water; yet in a thoughtful and considered piece Duncan Fletcher laments the loss of this format from the English domestic game, a decision he contends as being "bizarre and short-sighted". There are other exquisite offerings too, none more so than Tanya Aldred's misty-eyed memoir on the early days of Sunday League cricket. There can be no greater testimony to the joie de vivre of those summer afternoons long ago than the recollection of Lancashire's Jack Bond of winning the trophy at Nuneaton in 1969: "It was a 2 o'clock start and we had so many supporters arrive they were out of pies by 1." Some supporters, some fun, some game.
Then there are the more disquieting reflections. With coverage of the Championship having almost vanished from newspapers, Gerald Mortimer offers a sobering view of the plight of the local sports reporter in this digital age. Far, far more dismaying is the memoir of the terrorist atrocity perpetrated on the Sri Lankan tour bus in Pakistan: 20 nightmare minutes in which "cricket lost its innocence, possibly forever".
All the old favourites are here, of course, including a comprehensive review of the 18 counties and the coveted award of the Five Cricketers of the Year (nice to see three of England's urn-winning heroes included). There's also a thoughtful resumé of England's improbable Ashes victory by mild-mannered skipper Andrew Strauss.
Best of all, the innumerable quirks and curios of the last year are chronicled with gentle humour. Among reports that caught both my eye and my funny bone was the one of the team of eunuchs beating a team of what were advertised as "normal male cricketers" in the Pakistan city of Sukkur (did they require boxes, I wonder?); and the Newbury Under-11 team, who scored 50 against Mortimer West End without a batsman making a run.
The irony of these delightful bonbons is that they are likely to be recalled and savoured in pubs and pavilions long after the Airtel Champions League Twenty20 match between Cape Cobras and Royal Challengers Bangalore has been consigned to oblivion. What do you mean you don't remember it?
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2010
John Wisden & Co, ₤45
Michael Simkins is an actor, journalist and author of Fatty Batter. This article was first published in the May 2010 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here