Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2012 April 11, 2012

'India, your sport needs you'

Duncan Hamilton
Wisden has a new editor and Lawrence Booth has set the tone with an Almanack that thunders out

The editor of Wisden has an Orwell-like duty to be so strongly individual that his face can be imagined on the pages he's written. His Notes need to celebrate, explain, chivvy, rebuke and, if necessary, express uncomfortable truths. The rest of what constitutes a "good" Wisden must be the joint creation of poets and manual workers: a judicious, lyrical mix of contemporary issues, historical reflection and cold statistics. The Almanack's 149th edition - the first under the stewardship of Lawrence Booth - fulfils these criteria. There is an enormous amount to commend it; not least the force of Booth's opinions, which are muscularly robust and lucid. This Wisden thunders out.

The themes he chooses - and the tone in which he expresses himself - will chime with the core readership; principally those who constantly fret that some summer soon cricket's calendar will comprise only Twenty20 gaudiness punctuated by an occasional Test and a scaled-down Championship.

If Booth's prognosis for cricket is gloomy in places, it is because there are things to be gloomy about. Too many Tests outside England are watched by crowds disguised as empty seats, and a stroll around any county ground will reveal the average age of a Championship audience as pensionable. Booth describes the Championship as barely "tolerated" nowadays by those who see it as hopelessly anachronistic - "analogue cricket in a digital age". He foresees the competition altering its format again in futile pursuit of a level of popularity it can never attain because, shorn of England's Test team, it lacks sufficient glamour. Crucially Booth also believes the accepted aims of domestic cricket - to both exist in its own right and to supply players for England - are "out of kilter". Nor is he optimistic about the prospects of correction.

The guilty men, he stresses, are cricket administrators glad to rake in the money T20 generates but who shut both eyes to the damage it causes. He criticises them for insincerity: talking up the primacy of Tests - "stated so often as to have lost any meaning", he says - while simultaneously scheduling more meaningless T20 fixtures to undermine it still further. "The sport stands on a precipice," he insists. "It is there because of cricket itself. More specifically, it is because of Twenty20, a Pandora's Box masquerading as a panacea."

In this regard Booth gives India a slap around the chops, too. "The skewing of Indian sensibilities away from Tests would cause less alarm if their powerbrokers were on top of their brief," he argues, making the statistical point that the IPL and the Champions League swallow up almost a fifth of the year - "giving rise," he continues "to the malaise known as cricket fatigue". He adds bluntly: "India have ended up with a special gift; the clout to shape an entire sport... But too often their game appears driven by the self-interest of the few... Other countries run the game along self-serving lines too; cricket's boardrooms are not awash with altruism. But none wields the BCCI's power, nor shares their responsibility. The disintegration of India's feted batting line-up has coincided with the rise of a Twenty20-based nationalism, the growth of private marketeers and high-level conflicts of interest. It is a perfect storm. And the global game sits unsteadily in the eye. India, your sport needs you."

Elsewhere Booth has commissioned well. Gideon Haigh's "Fear and Loathing in Dubai", exploring the political, commercial and organisational machinations of the ICC, is fine enough to be published as a standalone essay. Mike Brearley, Michael Yardy and Dr Kamran Abbasi perceptively offer insights on cricketers and the demon of depression. Simon Hughes examines the science - data collection and electronic gadgetry - that contributed to England topping the world. Michael Henderson reminiscences beautifully on his boyhood and the end of his beloved Lancashire's 77-year wait for a title outright.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the abolition of the distinction between amateur gentleman and professional, Colin Shindler explains why class division was unsustainable. Peter Gibbs* mines the same era in recalling "A Day with SF Barnes".

It is 1964. The Great Man is 91 and not known for cordiality. Barnes is told Gibbs is an Oxford Blue and an opening batsman. "The old boy reacted as if he'd been asked to accommodate a scorpion in his pants," writes Gibbs. This is my second-favourite phrase in 1500-plus pages. My first is Tanya Aldred's description of the broad, yeoman figure of Tim Bresnan, one of the Five Cricketers of the Year, alongside Kumar Sangakkara (who is also named international cricketer of the year), Glen Chapple, Alastair Cook and Alan Richardson. Of Bresnan, Aldred writes: "He still has the air of a man with an emergency cheese sandwich in his back pocket." Quite brilliant.

Wisden, 149th edition
edited by Lawrence Booth
Hardback and softcover, £50
Large format £60
Abridged ebook £12.99

*11.45 GMT, April 11, 2012: This article was amended. Paul Gibbs was changed to Peter Gibbs

Duncan Hamilton is twice winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award. A Last English Summer (Quercus Sport) is an affectionate study of a county game that by 2009 "looked directionless and obsolete"

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mike on April 13, 2012, 21:58 GMT

    I'll tell you what else I do not understand.

    To all the people who want Test cricket finished. Are you honestly telling me you would not get bored eventually of only T-20's and 50/50 ? Are you saying you would really want cricket to become a batters game ? Are you saying you really want to forget over 100 years of series ?

    Wow just WOW !

    And whats all this nonsense about people not having time, fast paced world ect ect. TV figures for Tests are still pretty strong, people who don't go or can't go will still watch the highlights ! As I mentioned before(providing it got published) what needs to happen is a) The Test championship b) day/night Test's c) make sure a Test always has days 3&4 over the w/e d) No more 2 test 'series' SL V Eng was beautifully poised yet we were denied a decider so KP and Mahela could go hit some DLF maximums - *rolls eyes*

  • Mike on April 13, 2012, 21:36 GMT

    India 100% cared about Test cricket when they were number one. Now they are not, it's like "oh urrm, Tests are boring" You watch what happens if they get up to number one again(a big ask I know going by the recent drubbings handed out to them, but still) They will all of a sudden be interested again lol !

    I do know that there are still Test cricket fans in India BTW, I am just pointing out the big change of interest since they dramatically became rubbish at Tests once the ball moved about a bit and bounced over stump height.

  • Mike on April 13, 2012, 21:10 GMT

    Another thing to add as I ran out of room.

    What the ICC needs to do is seriously look into day night Test cricket and also always make sure a Test starts on a Thursday so that days 3&4 are on the w/e. This would help out a fair bit, the boards should also lower the prices to go and watch. One thing that is for sure is The Ashes will always be played. And it would be good if India and Pakistan started playing each other in Tests again.

    Funnily enough I feel that if Tests stopped tomorrow between every country then it would not take long before people got bored with endless games of 50 over and T-20 going on. You need the longer form of the game to make the shorter form worth watching. The longer form however does not need the shorter form as much. It does help it, but it is not as important !

  • Mike on April 13, 2012, 21:05 GMT

    No matter what you say about marketing, crowds or the ridiculous 'we live in a fast world' comment, you can not deny that all the greats of the game are such because of what they did in Test cricket not shorter formats.

    Why is this ? Well it is quite simple. Test cricket and of course 1st class cricket is a true test of a player. This applies to bowlers, batters and fielders. Also the idea that it is 'boring' Again utter rubbish the most exciting and gripping games of cricket I can remember have nearly all been test matches. The only time I really remember and ODI or T-20 is if it goes right down to the wire which does not happen very often. Nothing more boring than watching a run chase in a ODI/T-20 where the batting team is just cruising to victory. At least in a Test a team can be behind and then come back as the game is over 2 innings and five days.

  • Cricinfouser on April 13, 2012, 17:09 GMT

    Mr Booth is 37 - he can hardly be termed an oldie. Wisden has evolved under a succession of editors, all of whom have ensured that it reflects the changes in the sport. The passage about the BCCI forms a small part of the annual notes feature which ranges across all aspects of the sport and in which Mr Booth is also critical of other national governing bodies. His point is that overexposure of T20 will destroy interest. It's a statement of the obvious. Those who accuse him of following a narrow national agenda or, more ludicrously, living in the 19th century or 'testifying colonial times' simply haven't bothered to read what he wrote.

  • Dummy4 on April 13, 2012, 14:47 GMT

    India can't produce good fast bowlers or atleat batsman who have the technical excellence to play on sportive wickets. But to play t20 , u need neither of that, and hence they support it. Simple like that , isn't it?

  • rahul on April 13, 2012, 11:09 GMT


  • Tootu on April 13, 2012, 7:02 GMT

    The truth is Test cricket is seen interesting only for oldies like Lawrence Booth. This is a busy world we are living in. Every one is looking for entertainment and not hard labor when they come back home(not some non working people of course). Looks like POMS are still living in 19th century telling people what they should do and not do. Who buys these books anyway, oh!!! forgot old people.

  • Vivekanand on April 13, 2012, 4:36 GMT

    and it took u 100+ yrs of playin cricket to win a single trophy at a global event...and that too at t-20...SHAME!!!! and then 100+ years resulted in no.1 status in test...which u are goin to lose neways!!!

  • Sanjiv on April 12, 2012, 19:59 GMT

    Look‚the problem is that we as a cricket community dont actually have a plan or at least a vision of how the game should be played in the future.why no test championship?why play meaningless odis while it stands 3-0?the game is going nowhere.

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