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The year 1864 heralded two major developments in the world of cricket. On the pitch, over-arm bowling was finally legalized; off it, a cricketing institution was born.
John Wisden, the "Little Wonder", was already well-known in cricket circles for his astonishing bowling feats for Sussex - including all ten wickets in an innings. Now he turned to publishing to secure an income in retirement. His original Cricketers' Almanack was a slim 112-page volume, one of several similar publications to appear around the same time. Paper-bound and priced at one shilling, it gave details of all the Gentleman v Players fixtures of the preceding season, plus an eclectic array of facts and stats, from the winners of the Derby and Oaks, to the rules of an obscure game called Knur and Spell.
Encouraged by his initial success, Wisden hit upon a more settled format for his 1865 edition, a format which would endure and develop over the next century. Out went much of the miscellany, and in came a register of births and deaths of famous cricketers, and scorecards for all MCC, Oxford and Cambridge, and major county matches. In addition, Wisden published the details of an England XII's tour of Australia, led by George Parr, who was honoured with a brief biography - the first such editorial contribution to the Almanack.
In its early years, the Almanack lived up to its dictionary definition by publishing a calendar at the front of each book. Each day would commemorate a unique event in history, often the birth or death of a King or General, but just occasionally something completely off-the-wall. In the 1877 edition, for instance, it was announced that, on November 12, 1875, ripe strawberries had been discovered in Wales, while September 18, 1875 was, we are assured, a "very hot day" (1876 edition).
In 1867, the first advert appeared in the pages of the Almanack, an illustration of John Wisden and Co.'s Patent Catapulta, "the principle of working which will be shown at 2, New Coventry Street, Leicester Square". Up to this point, the book had been light on words, but two years later, WH Knight set Wisden down a new path when he commemorated a summer of heavy run-scoring with a three-page article on "individual innings of 200 or more runs".
Editor W.H. Crockford/W.H. Knight
To the reader
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