April 16, 2012

Wisdom about Wisden

Trivia about the Almanack you may not have heard before, including factoids about Britain's canals

Wisden the cricketer
John Wisden himself was a handy bowler, nicknamed "the Little Wonder" on account of his short stature. He usually played for Sussex (he was born in Brighton), but his greatest feat came while playing for the North against the South at Lord's in 1850, when he took all ten wickets in an innings, all of them bowled (still unique at first-class level). That wasn't all he did in 1850: he also set up John Wisden & Co, the company that, 14 years later, brought out the first Almanack.

The once-only award
Players can only be named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year - the game's oldest individual accolade - once in their career. With Alastair Cook and Tim Bresnan joining the pantheon in 2012, it means that England have recently fielded Test teams composed entirely of Wisden Cricketers of the Year, something that hadn't happened since 1958-59.

Handy for canals
The first Wisden, which was published in 1864, was a slim volume of just 112 pages. Even so, there wasn't quite enough to pack out the pages, so Wisden resorted to some handy non-sporting facts, such as the lengths of British canals, and the dates of the battles in the Wars of the Roses. In case you're wondering, the Basingstoke Canal - which runs near Wisden's modern-day offices - is 37 miles long and was opened in 1790.

Wisden's shop
John Wisden & Co had various premises over the years, although there are no longer any shops associated with the company. Sightseers in central London can spot where one of them was, at 21 Cranbourn Street (near Leicester Square tube station), where a wall frieze announcing "J. Wisden & Comp'y", complete with ornamental bats and stumps, remains above a fast-food kiosk.

The Australian Wisden
An Australian Almanack, with a green cover rather than a yellow one, ran for eight volumes from 1998 to 2005 before ceasing publication. The first dedicated Indian edition (cover colour not yet finalised) is due out later this year.

Wisden's travels
John Wisden the player was a member of the first English team to undertake an overseas tour, travelling to the United States and Canada in 1859. The voyage over was an eventful and uncomfortable one: during a choppy crossing of the Atlantic Wisden is supposed to have observed that the sea was in need of the heavy roller.

Wisden 2012
The latest Wisden weighs in at 1552 pages - nearly 14 times as many as that first 1864 edition. There's no longer room for the canals or battle dates - or the Laws - but there is a detailed report on every Test and one-day international, together with scores from every first-class match and from most senior limited-overs cricket from around the world. Plus, despatches on cricket from some more unexpected places, such as Antarctica, the Vatican, Northern Cyprus and South Korea.

The missing Tests
These days Wisden prides itself on its coverage of international cricket - but it wasn't always quite so comprehensive. England's tour of Australia in 1876-77, which contained what became recognised as the first two Test matches of all, was hardly covered at all: Wisden's first full reports of those games were published nearly 100 years later, in the build-up to the centenary of Test cricket. And in 1885 the editor apologised for not carrying much information on the previous year's Ashes series, pointing out that full details had been printed in other books ... "whereas no other annual has appeared in which so much space is devoted to the leading Counties, the Universities, the Gentlemen of Philadelphia and the MCC".

The rarest Almanack
Early editions of Wisden are difficult to obtain, and ones in good condition - remember we are talking about a paperback book published nearly 150 years ago - are much prized by collectors, and fetch astronomical prices. But perhaps the hardest one to find is Wisden 1916. It's another slim volume - not much first-class cricket was played during the Great War - and many of its 300-odd pages are filled with solemn obituaries of cricketers who were killed in action. Fewer Almanacks than usual were printed that year because of the war, and it is thought that one reason for 1916's rarity is that many of them were purchased by "non-regular" Wisden readers whose relatives had perished in the conflict.

Never a Cricketer of the Year
Being chosen as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year usually depends on a player's performances in the preceding English season. This means that some prominent overseas players have never made it, often because they happened to have unexceptional tours when they did come to England. Jacques Kallis is perhaps the leading current player not to have received the accolade (so far - he does have a chance to atone later this year). In 2008, Wisden identified five players from the past who had missed out on the honour: Abdul Qadir, Bishan Bedi, Wes Hall, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Jeff Thomson.

Carrots are good for you
The launch of Wisden is usually celebrated with a swish dinner - this year's one was at Lord's. But in 2003 and 2004 the traditional repast was replaced by a buffet-style evening. One county contributor refused to make the long trip to London for the first of those, saying he needed more than a carrot to sustain him: that year's editor thoughtfully arranged for extra carrots to be available at the door.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • AJITH on April 17, 2012, 20:00 GMT

    Jayasuriya's inclusion was probably due to the thrashing he handed to England in the quarterfinals of the 96 WC.

  • Michael on April 16, 2012, 19:46 GMT

    @ v_giri: I think the Wisden Cricketers of the Year awards are by their nature Anglocentric, and there's no reason why the rest of the world should regard performances in the "English season" as particularly meritorious, but I can think of considerable exceptions to your idea that "Unless the performance is extraordinary (means England is completely outplayed), the cricketer of the year is never conferred to non-English players". For instance from memory the Wisden Cricketers of 1982 (acknowledging performances in the previous summer, the summer of Botham's Ashes) were all overseas players, including two Australians, Terry Alderman and Allan Border, even though the humuliation that summer was hardly England players' (though I am not suggesting the awards were underserved). @Rajiv: you are right, Jayasuriya's award previously struck me as anomalous, although I am not disputing the importance of his contribution to world cricket over the previous calendar year.

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2012, 19:02 GMT

    @Rajiv Radhakrishnan - While that used to be traditional prerequisite for selection, there have been a few exceptions made. Jayasuriya's was I believe the first one.

  • V on April 16, 2012, 17:27 GMT

    Sadly Wisden does show a lot of old-world imperialistic attitude. Unless the performance is extraordinary (means England is completely outplayed), the cricketer of the year is never conferred to non-English players. Even if a foreigner plays extremely well in first class matches during the tour, he won't be Cricketer of the year unless he has significant contribution in Tests. Curiously many English Cricketers of the year either did not make it Tests or suffered a humiliating Test career. I don't think it should be considered an 'International' recognition but just performance of players in English County season. It is a throwback from older era when English cricket was supposed to be world cricket and any recognition from England is supposed to be considered the 'ultimate' honor.

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2012, 15:53 GMT

    Being chosen as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year usually depends on a player's performances in the preceding English season.

    I am sure Jayasuria won the award after the 1996 world cup, what has that got to do with the English season? It was held in Asia?

  • Dimuthu on April 16, 2012, 12:42 GMT

    Nadeem1976 - don't be too sad. for this Wisden award, the criteria is to perform extraordinary during the English summer. so it's a bit of a weird one. it takes nothing away from Inzi's stats or achievements.

  • Mark on April 16, 2012, 11:53 GMT

    Given the amouint of cricket that Bishan Bedi played for Northants, it is surprising that he never attained the accolade. When touring for India he was usually fated to be a member of an unsuccessful party playing a short series (India only rate 3 Tests on many past tours), but he played many seasons of county cricket, although for an unfashionable sounty and was extremely popular around the county circuit.

  • Michael on April 16, 2012, 11:17 GMT

    @Nadeem1976: people sometimes don't understand the point of the Wisden cricketers of the year which is not to honour the greatest players but players who made the most impact during the English season the previous year. Hence Inzi, like the other four omissions mentioned, is a player who played relatively little cricket in England, none playing very much county cricket. Inzi did ok on some of his tours to England (1992, 1996, 2001, 2006), but never outstandingly so. To me Abdul Qadir is at least as strange an omission after his tormenting of England batsmen in 1987. I note the awards for 1988 include four Englishmen with few international achievements to their name (David Hughes, Jonathan Agnew, Neil Foster, and Peter Roebuck); well with due respect to those four, for each of whom individually a case for inclusion could undoubtedly be made, in retrospect it is still a bit strange space was not found that year to acknowledge the greatest international spinner of the 1980s.

  • nalin on April 16, 2012, 9:13 GMT

    Greatest Barbados ATX1 consists of 1.greenidge 2.haynes 3.hunte 4.sobers 5.Worrell 6.Weekes 7.Wallcott 8.Marshall 9.Garner 10.griffiths 11.Wes Hall Only Hall missed out on Wisden cricketer of the year award!! With the absence of English test cricketers eligible for the accolade Jacques Kallis may finally correct the omission.

  • James on April 16, 2012, 9:00 GMT

    According to his cricinfo profile John Wisden played for Kent, Middlesex and Sussex. Why therefore did he take his ten wickets clean bowled playing for the North?

  • No featured comments at the moment.