The 1900 edition of Wisden makes no reference to the start of the 20th century. At the time, pedantry held sway, and the new century was generally held to start in 1901. But Wisden 1901 seems silent on the subject as well.
There were, at the time, other preoccupations. "At the moment of writing one hears nothing but War! War! War!" wrote A. G. Steel in Wisden 1900. "What numbers of gallant young soldier cricketers have gone to the front, eager for the chance; well, the true wishes of all cricketers and readers of Wisden will go with them." The year 2000 is scheduled to dawn with England preparing for a Test match at the Cape rather than a battle, so that at least represents human progress.
This date is apparently being ignored by no one, and Wisden feels obliged to join in. So Wisden 2000 - the 137th edition - will include, in addition to the customary Five Cricketers of the Year, our list of Five Cricketers of the Century.
The Cricketers of the Year have traditionally been chosen by the editor. For the Cricketers of the Century, it seemed right to multiply the electorate a hundredfold. The choice will be made by a panel of 100 players, writers, umpires, historians and other watchers of the game from all the major cricketing countries. They will vote during 1999; the results, and appreciations of the top five, will appear next year in our Millennium Edition.
The voters will be asked to set aside any bias towards their own countries, and their own eras, before coming up with five people whose excellence at cricket during the 20th century has made the greatest contribution to the game. Excellence can be interpreted broadly; it is legitimate to take into account leadership qualities, personality, character and impact on the public. (We believe, by the way, that W. G. Grace is a Cricketer of the 19th Century, and is not eligible.)
Not everyone can be invited on to the panel. However, all Wisden readers have the opportunity to join in by entering our special competition and trying to guess the names of the winners.
A leaflet with full details of this contest should be included in every copy of Wisden. If you do not have a form, please send a stamped addressed envelope (or international reply coupon) to: Cricketers of the Century, John Wisden and Co, 25 Down Road, Merrow, Guildford, Surrey GU1 2PY, England. No proof of purchase is necessary but, please, only one entry per person.
In 1900, by the way, A. G. Steel was deeply worried, and not by the Boer War. Cricket, he wrote, "is in the very direst peril of degenerating from the finest of all summer games into an exhibition of dullness and weariness." I think, as soon as one begins to consider the candidates for this very special Five, one can take pride in the fact that the century turned out better than he feared.