Wallowing in affordable nostalgia
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1935 Willows £67 + £4 p&p
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1936 Willows £67 + £4 p&p
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1937 Willows £67 + £4 p&p
The prices attracted by old copies of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack have long since taken them out of the reach of the ordinary cricket enthusiast. Bids at the most recent sale, in 2010, of a complete set at auction took the value to £120,000, while even decent single copies from between the wars will set you back well over £100.
Willows, a family passion rather than business, started by David Jenkins more than two decades ago, continues to allow collectors to fill their bookshelves with high-quality reprints of editions that would otherwise be unaffordable. It is now possible for facsimiles of almost every Almanack from the first edition in 1864 through to the end of World War Two to be bought, although even some of the earlier reprints are appreciating in value, as each release is limited to around a few hundred copies.
Jenkins' latest three releases take in 1935, 1936 and 1937. The first deals with the first post-Bodyline Ashes series where normal (i.e. Bradman) service resumed and England, with no secret Plan B, were well beaten. However, the editor, Sydney Southerton, was more riled by the conduct of the press than any on-field setbacks, accusing a number of journalists of worrying "not so much how the game was going or how certain players acquitted themselves, but rather, tittle-tattle of a mischievous character which, in the long run, prompted the inevitable question: Are Test Matches really worth while?"
The change to the leg-before law, designed to eliminate the tedium of batsmen being able to pad away balls outside the off stump for hours on end, was welcomed by Southerton, although he did not feel the MCC had gone far enough, arguing it should have also prevented any use of pads in this way outside the leg stump as well. Seventy-six years on he would be dismayed that law remains unchanged.
The 1936 edition was the first edited by Wilfred Brooks, and contained the obituary of Southerton, who "having proposed the toast of 'Cricket' at the dinner of The Ferrets Club at the Oval, sank down and a few minutes later his life ebbed away" a few weeks before the book's publishing deadline.
It was something of a low-key debut for Brooks - there were only two Test series to report on and England had lost them both, in the Caribbean and then at home to South Africa. That was enough for him to predict a gloomy future.
But to show what goes around comes around, there was the rejection of technology - a bad-light indicator, described as a radiovisor, was erected at Lord's but was soon dismantled after being dubbed "too mechanical for a sporting game". The authorities in England were also looking to make as much money as they could, although in those days that meant moving Tests away from smaller grounds to Lord's. Cardiff and Southampton were provincial afterthoughts.
By 1937, Brooks was championing less cricket, from the end of Timeless Tests to a reduction in the county programme. "Bowling would be better if bowlers were not kept at full tension six days a week," he wrote of the domestic set-up, and while change to that did not come in his lifetime, Timeless Tests were killed off by the 1938 Oval Test and the ten-day marathon in Durban the following winter. There was still innovation, and Gloucestershire were congratulated on helping the spectator by introducing loudspeakers to help identify new batsmen, and Surrey for using a sandwich-board to publicise the outcome of the toss.
Jenkins has almost caught his own tail - the 1940-1945 editions were published out of sequence a few years back - and there is uncertainty what will happen when he turns out the 1939 Almanack in March next year. But for now, lovers of the game can continue to enjoy an affordable trip down memory lane.
For details of how to buy these and earlier reprints: Willows Publishing Company, 17 The Willows, Stone, Staffordshire, ST15 0DE. Email
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo