Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2014 April 9, 2014

Marvellous, but why so serious?

David Lloyd
Wisden 2014 gets stuck into the changes in the game's administration, and picks Dale Steyn as the leading cricketer in the world, but skimps on fun for angst

Being spoilt for choice cannot be an uncommon problem for the editor of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. Trying to fit a quart into a pint pot is probably par for the course, text-wise, but this year he might also have lost a minute or two's sleep over whose picture to put on the front cover.

Given that Australia, in the space of just a few months, turned a 0-3 Ashes defeat into a 5-0 victory - "one of the most remarkable and sudden upheavals in cricket history" as Wisden quite properly calls it - Michael Clarke could have been beaming out from the book's yellow background. Or Mitchell Johnson, who did more than anyone to make it happen.

Then again, Dale Steyn - the world's leading cricketer according to Wisden - would not have been a bad choice. And if the editor had wanted to reflect column inches written, and words spoken, around the globe, rather than runs scored, or wickets taken, Kevin Pietersen could be today's man of the moment.

And, having read Wisden's editorial, there was even a case for plonking the pictures of Messrs Srinivasan, Clarke and Edwards upon the front cover. But happily, Lawrence Booth - the man with the power to decide - rose above all these temptations and went with the final action shot of a player whose incredible career spanned almost a quarter of a century: Sachin Tendulkar. Well played, sir (Tendulkar and Booth).

Actually, action shot is a bit misleading. The picture in question is not of a gap-finding drive or pugnacious pull but of a slightly bashfully raised bat and a somewhat wistful upward gaze as Tendulkar walked off the field in Mumbai at the end of his final innings.

It is a serious, almost sad photograph - as if preparing the reader for a fair amount of what is to follow. For while all Wisdens are, to a greater or lesser extent, a celebration of cricket, this 151st edition takes quite a time to start putting up the bunting and popping the corks.

Why so serious, Wisden? Because there is a great deal to be serious about, might be the reply. Especially, but not exclusively for fans and followers of England. There is the whitewash, cricket that "reeked of attrition" even when victorious in 2013, the resignation of coach Andy Flower, the sacking of Pietersen, the poor selections, Alastair Cook's unimaginative captaincy - all of this is dealt with in the Editor's Notes. Just as well, really, the World T20 humiliation by Netherlands came after deadline day.

Even the administrators do not escape. Far from it, in fact. The ECB's decision to go along with Cricket Australia in support of India's blueprint for world cricket has Booth off his long run even before the Ashes are mentioned.

The Notes are, as always, well written and well-argued, and the whole Comment section, which takes up 128 of the near 1600 pages, is packed with wonderfully crafted, brilliantly researched and splendidly presented essays and articles. It's just that, to this observer at least, a bit more joy, or fun, or even mischief wouldn't go amiss. That's enough of the angst, might we give pleasure a go now?

It would be wrong to think Wisden doesn't have a sense of humour or struggles to take delight in the eccentricities of the game. Dreadfully wrong. If any reader is in need of a laugh, or a dose of the absurd, after working through a thorough review of the Decision Review System or The Introvert-Extrovert Balance; Character Recognition (I'm sorry, I didn't get beyond the headline of that one and may have missed a real rib-tickler), they should turn to Page 1584 and The Index of Unusual Occurrences.

Among the items listed therein are "County captain's wave interpreted as retirement", "High-five lays wicketkeeper low" and "Jimmy Anderson fixes Lancashire floodlights". You just have to turn to the item in question to find out more, don't you?

But look, Wisden will delight, entertain and inform those it always delights, entertains and informs. There is everything you could possibly want to read about Tendulkar (and who wouldn't want to read plenty?) and a brilliant choice in Charlotte Edwards as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year to name just a couple of other things.

What, though, of the man or woman, boy or girl, with just a flickering of interest in cricket? What if they happen, by some chance, to fall upon a Wisden and start turning a few pages? Might they just say, "flippin' 'eck, this old book needs to lighten up a bit?" Maybe next year, hey?

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, 2014
Edited by Lawrence Booth
1584 pages, £50