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Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2012

'India, your sport needs you'

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

Duncan Hamilton

April 11, 2012

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in the field, Cricket Australia Chairman's XI v Indians, Canberra, 1st day, December 15, 2011
Lawrence Booth: "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" © Getty Images
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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"

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by subbass 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*

Posted by subbass 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.

Posted by subbass 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 !

Posted by subbass 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.

Posted by shillingsworth 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.

Posted by   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?

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (April 13, 2012, 11:09 GMT)


Posted by NaniIndCri 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.

Posted by Vivekaks 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!!!

Posted by sunny111 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.

Posted by   on (April 12, 2012, 19:33 GMT)

Comment from a journal which no one reads about a format which very few people go to watch on the ground. Frankly how many readers of cricinfo has ever read Wisden!!!Yes Test cricket is challenging for players ,however to say its the ONLY thing is a bit simplistic. T20 is popular not because of India , its financial clout or the injustices Indian board is supposed to be doing, its popular because more people go to watch it in the ground than any other format. Its the format which will ensure Crickets survival. Cricket is not only watched by a pompous few wearing MCC tie in Lords but millions others. And the truth is we need to accept T20 alongside Test and one day.

Posted by   on (April 12, 2012, 19:23 GMT)

Mr. Lawrence Booth will be well advised to ponder on future of Wisden as well. Wisden at best is a huge grossly overated almanac testifying colonial times. Clearly the changing times have not altered the point of view of the editorial board of Wisden who choose to live past grandeur. The mindset still reflects old times when Australia and England ruled the ICC and they are oblivious to the fact that it is sub continent which runs cricket. Coming to the future of crciket, Mr. Booth let me assure you it is much safer than what it there were vetoing rights enjoyed by the two founders. Despite the success of IPL, test cricket will be the real thing and the reducing number of dot balls played by batsmen have contributed to lesser number of draws and this will sustain the interest of viewers. We need to make small changes but the purity of test cricket has survived for 135 years and there is little doubts of it being altered. Casulty of 20 20 cricket is 50 over games and not test cricket.

Posted by   on (April 12, 2012, 18:44 GMT)

@andysarmy -- False equivalence. Don't invest and build huge libraries with no means of paying for them when folks mainly want read blogs on their handheld devices. If enough people want libraries, there will be a demand for them and they'll get built. Force feeding is not the way to promote interest. Also, just because something has a great tradition doesn't mean it will remain popular. If cricket doesn't provide fast paced entertainment in the evening hours in India some other sport will take its place. Simple demand & supply. There will be some loss to Indian test cricket as a result, but let the big boys who ran cricket as a duopoly for all but the last 10-15 years pony up and bear the test match torch.

Posted by Ducard on (April 12, 2012, 17:40 GMT)

@Nrs Veda, you said "There are hundreds of countries where Internet doesn't exist" But there are only about 200 countries in the world then where are the 100's ? LOL And your analogy that IPL splits India is quite laughable!

Posted by SamRoy on (April 12, 2012, 17:34 GMT)

Professional sports is all about making money. So is cricket. I am a huge test cricket fan and love it a lot more than any other form. In fact whenever there is a good test match going on I like to switch to it. But cricketers are professional sportsmen who must earn their keep and for that you need viewers. Without viewers a sport can't survive. Sorry, I made a mistake. A sport can't thrive. It must make money for the sportsmen, the boards, the advertisers, the sponsors, everybody involved with it. Test cricket does not excite the general viewer in India, SL, Pakistan, South Africa, NZ and West Indies. But is it a fault of the viewer? Can't find fault with them. They can choose whatever form of entertainment they want. Cricket connoisseurs or self proclaimed messiahs of test cricket forget one very important aspect. Audience or the viewing public are the most important people. Not the boards, not the sponsors and not even the cricketers themselves. I agree Chirag Modi to an extent.

Posted by ElPhenomeno on (April 12, 2012, 16:58 GMT)

andysarmy, the novel analogy is interesting. The funny thing is the paper books are already becoming more and more less frequent since the introduction of the tablets and ebooks. So, in my opinion, that day is not far when actual libraries will indeed be demolished. It may sound naive and you may think it will never happen. But remember, there was a time when people used to send letters using postal service. How many of us do that today?? We live in an era of "convenience". That's what people want. Why go to a library when you can read a book sitting in the comfort of your home?

Posted by ElPhenomeno on (April 12, 2012, 16:51 GMT)

They say nature is good at selecting who persists and who withers away. I suspect, in time, test crickets future will be decided on similar lines. I love test cricket, but if it were to die due to economical realities, then so be it. Those who think test cricket could ever be global live in a fantasy world. It will always be played by a select few who genuinely care for it. Most of the rest of the world could never get the concept of a laborious 5 day game that could produce a no result scenario. Most of the north american don't even like soccer and how it produces draw results. That's a game essentially entire planet plays and loves. What possible hope does cricket have with (essentially) 4-5 countries playing it at a competitive level?? Its just a fact and one I don't lose much sleep over.

Posted by doubtingthomas on (April 12, 2012, 15:54 GMT)

Times change. The tide is inevitable, and unstoppable. People who grew up watching cricket through 70's to 90's and well into 2000's have been rewarded with the spectacle of the art of cricket in it's pristine form. But nothing can stop a change, whose time has come. Young audience is not primed to appreciate the subtlety of cricket. In literature, entertainment, sport... they are fed with a different sort of fodder. This is their age. There's nothing wrong with accepting change, and that does not necessarily mean endorsing it as well, like Mr. Ravi Shastri. Ol' time cricket fans, it's time to move on.

Posted by doesitmatter on (April 12, 2012, 15:23 GMT)

i remember India begging the English for the Ind-Eng Test series to be held during English Summer but we were always invited during the harsh winter and summarily were whooped and sent back back home...Now the tables have turned..With money and money alone India call all the shots (yes DLF maximum :) )..beg beg beg..Cricket who cares when the remaining oldies is anyway boring..

Posted by   on (April 12, 2012, 14:35 GMT)

@RandyOZ, the Indian population do care about test cricket, just as much as any other cricketing nation, it's just the BCCI officials that don't, care because they make far more money from ODI's and T20's.

Posted by   on (April 12, 2012, 13:36 GMT)

You don't want to see the day when test cricket survive on the charity.Cricket's leftist ideology always ready to find out problem but all of us asking for the solution. We need fine balance of commerce in sports.So debate should be focus on the balance.

Posted by   on (April 12, 2012, 11:00 GMT)

@ChiragModi,ayush.chauhan There are hundreds of countries where Internet doesn't exist and billions of people out there lead a quiet people. Your opinion is firmly based on faith in money. Money alone isn't necessary for a sport to survive. There are number of factors for a sport to survive. First of all, Sports should be a source of unification among different cultures and ethnic people. It is the major priority for a sport to succeed. India has become big financial powerhouse in Cricket because, Cricket provided sense of oneness in India in 1980s and 1990s. It brought huge revenue to Indian board in 21st century. Now same sport is promoting regionalism in form of IPL. No longer people realise oneness through Cricket. Rather than remaining a symbol of oneness in India, it has become a symbol of crass entertainment. In 1990s, fans from Kolkata and Mumbai were united through Cricket. Now same fans fight over Cricket. Don't you understand the perils of IPL?

Posted by RandyOZ on (April 12, 2012, 10:31 GMT)

India does not care about test match cricket, that is the main problem clearly.

Posted by andysarmy on (April 12, 2012, 8:04 GMT)

Hi Chirag Modi. You hit the nail on the head. Also, in today's fast paced busy world, who would want to read a novel? We should demolish libraries - which aren't even making money half of the time - and replace them with news-stands.

Posted by ayush.chauhan on (April 12, 2012, 6:55 GMT)

I don't comment on articles on this site, since it is sports related and more often than not you can be rude to someone when posting your views. But I just had to register and comment on this. He talks about 'cricket fatigue' and forgets how Professional footballers are on the road throughout the year. What he has to realize is the fact that Cricket as a sport finds more appeal in T-20. I enjoy interesting cricket, be it Test or otherwise... and Bangaladesh and Australia have more chance of an interesting T-20 than an interesting Test Match. Blaming the IPL, and the Champion's League for time consumption is both ridiculous and humorous. Such expression is more suited to a hardliner than someone who is writing in/for WISDEN. If I didn't know any better, I would have said that he is just bitter that County Cricket has been upstaged by IPL and Champion's League. Its not India who has to wake up but him.

Posted by sneeky55 on (April 12, 2012, 4:31 GMT)

i don't understand why wisden centers itself around country cricket in england, as they have listed four players because of their county success. Many other cricketers around the world have found international and domestic success, so i'm not trusting wisden at the moment....

Posted by Nutcutlet on (April 11, 2012, 22:32 GMT)

@Chirag Modi: I have read your comment several times and I am still not really sure what your point is. It seems to me that you are criticising the continuation of Test cricket or, at least, the primacy of TC - when 'these arguments posted in the article would be valid'. Well, if that is your point, then it seems to me that you're wrong, even arrogant, to speak for all those people round the world who follow Test cricket, whether thay are able to sit and watch it for five days is another matter of course, as many, perhaps most, followers of Test cricket will be working or studying. That does not stop them wanting updates of scores through the day's play of course. The shorter versions of the game are also enjoyable, but they cannot rival the drama and high class of the game in its purest form, for which good reason it is rightly called Test cricket. An appreciation of TC is a life-long apprenticeship. ODIs & T20 matches are, if you like, the basic courses for the true cricket follower.

Posted by   on (April 11, 2012, 15:32 GMT)

I am shocked about the Denial everyone in the cricketing world is. In this day and age of internet and busy life, who would want to sit for 5 days and watch test cricket? Countries around the world including players blame Indian board for all this. I am not sure what glasses they are wearing to see the role of India in it. Cricket is a sport. Sports is driven by viewing public's desire to watch certain aspects and NOT driven by how player wants to play it! Sports is a business and not a hobby. It used to a hobby in first half of 1900 and that's when these arguments posted in the article would be valid. Not now.

Come on, wake up to the reality of the situation and make sure to elevate your customer service and not just keep writing and saying things people are simply going to toss aside in trash.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (April 11, 2012, 14:13 GMT)

In keeping with this age of general tinkering and fixing fixes which did not work and not leaving well alone things which did work, Wisden underwent a change under Scyld Berry's editiorship which made it a lesser publication in my view than when he found it. Firstly the removal of the list of individual Test hundreds scored and the venue and year scored, and the replacement of these records by a paltry list of centuries scored by each centurion against a pparticular opposition ( vital information tossed into the dustbin of history). Secondly there was the transportation of the record section from its rightful place near the beginning of Wisden, where it had reasonably stood for many years, always reliably present for examination, to an anonymous place near the end of the publication and near irrelevance. This I have found disquieting and irritating to an intolerable degree. Then thirdly there is the poor quality of the paper upon which the book is now printed. I hope for better again

Posted by   on (April 11, 2012, 13:12 GMT)

Excellent review. I'll go and buy it.

I hope the ECB take a wrist slapping too for the ODI series against Australia.

Posted by   on (April 11, 2012, 11:53 GMT)

"and a stroll around any county ground will reveal the average age of a Championship audience as pensionable. "

Considering its played during the week thats hardly surprising is it.

Posted by AndyZaltzmannsHair on (April 11, 2012, 11:10 GMT)

Where's the nod.towards Saeed Ajmal and.Pakistani cricketers. Or does Wisden still have a chip on its shoulder since the 80's/early 90's.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (April 11, 2012, 9:21 GMT)

Would there be a few inaccuracies in the Colin Shindler article reviewed in the last parag here, Duncan? I suspect that the hapless interviewer of SF Barnes was Paul Gibb, (not Gibbs) who played for Cambridge University, (not Oxford Uni.!) Yorkshire and Essex, besides playing 8 Tests for England either side of the war. He was, moreover, the first cricketing blue to turn professional, for which action the MCC (predictably!) withdrew his membership. Had the irascible SF Barnes been made aware of Gibb's professional status in his latter playing years, he might have been more tolerant of him. The fact that after retirement from cricket Paul Gibb drove buses for London Transport out of Guildford bus station strongly suggests to me that he was uncomfortable with his status as a 'Gentleman' in all respects, and completely rejected the divisive class values that very probably sickened him. I wonder whether any record of an interview of Paul Gibb exists. It would indeed be very interesting.

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