Where did our love go?
A few days before the appearance of the equally weighty Wisden, a hefty thump on the doormat signalled the arrival of another impressive tome. A rare venture into cricket publishing from reference specialists Oxford University Press, World Cricketers proclaims itself to be the `richest and most comprehensive encyclopaedia of its kind.' And indeed it is ... although, as we shall see, there is reason occasionally to quibble with the word `comprehensive'. Set out country-by-country in alphabetical order, the contents might have benefited from an overall heading on each page showing which country was under review.
It is in the nature of a `dip-in' book, with diverting entries on lesser-known players often causing one to forget the player first thought of. The essays themselves are pleasant and factual, without being especially insightful, with modern players naturally tending to get more of a show than cricketers of yesteryear - Gooch and Gower get upwards of a page, while C. B. Fry makes a half.
Fringe players and personalities abound, with Douglas Bader rubbing shoulders with Bill Athey, and General Sir Miles Dempsey (two appearances for Sussex 1919, commanded the Second Army in the Invasion of Normandy 1944) coming in after Phillip DeFreitas in the batting order. Messrs Frindall and Frith are unlikely bedfellows on page 236. Umpires, rarely given much recognition, are here in force, with the likes of Syd Buller (but not Charlie Elliott), Australia's Tony Crafter (but not Bob Crockett), and of course H. D. Bird (`a rum and amusing character'). The ladies, too, are not forgotten, with Graeme Hick being sandwiched by Rachael Heyhoe and Molly Hide.
The misgivings come later, when that dangerous word `comprehensive' is brought into play. The publishers claim the book includes `all Test players ... and one-day internationalists', which is presumably an Americanised attempt at describing some-one who has appeared in a one-day international but not a Test. Up to the end of 1994 (the cut-off point for the book's statistics) there were nine England players who could be so described: five of them ( Humpage, Jesty, Love, M. J. Smith and Colin Wells) are nowhere to be found here. The Pakistan section, too, lacks several of that country's many one-day-only players ( Aamer Hameed, Arshad Pervez, Hassan Jamil, Masood Iqbal, Naseer Malik, Salim Pervez...). None of Sri Lanka's pre-Test one-day men are there - and a few of their post-Test ones are missing too, like allrounder Uvais Karnain, who played 19 one-day internationals in the Test era with out winning a five-day cap.
There are other disappointments. The book being mainly an update and enlargement of CMJ's Who's Who of Test Cricketers (last revised 1987), it might have been expected that mistakes previously pointed out in WCM might have been corrected. Er ... no. Rohan Kanhai is still described as `the first West Indian to reach hundreds in both innings of a Test match' ( Adelaide 1960-61). For the record, he was the fifth, after Headley (twice), Weekes, Walcott (twice in one series) and Sobers. Some of the other slips are more amusing: Alan Davidson's 1963 autobiography was apparently called Fifteen Faces, while the legendary Sydney barracker Yabba (died 1942) could hardly have bawled at Trevor Bailey (first Australian tour 1950-51) as claimed.
Since the New Zealand section was hurriedly rewritten after a hotel maid threw away the original, it may be unsporting to carp about mistakes there too, but Test players Grant Bradburn and Blair Pocock are omitted entirely, and the deaths of `Zin' Harris and Andy (A. D. G.) Roberts go unnoticed.
Christopher Martin-Jenkins has said that this will be his last book - at least until he retires from the day job at the Daily Telegraph- but maybe he will be talked into updating this one. Any future edition will need a Kenya section now, and maybe a UAE player or two will sneak in. If the odd gremlins from this edition can be ironed out, World Cricketers may well turn out to be indispensable: until then, any recommendation will have to be slightly muted.