As this magazine enters its seventh year, EJ Brack assesses its history and impact
The sight of a soaring straight six warms the cockles of every cricket-loving heart. In literary terms such a blow is being struck as you read this very article. Wisden Cricket Monthly is celebrating its sixth birthday. The infant of 1979 is a big boy now, with the prospect of long life stretching before him.
Cricket badly needed a new magazine in 1979. It needed a different magazine just as much. Controversial issues required to be faced and not skirted around. History had to be respected but not revered. Several sacred cows were ripe for milking. New writers were waiting for the chance to express their views. The importance of cricket photography needed to be elevated. And there had to be an opportunity for the voice of the players to be heard.
That the magazine has succeeded in meeting these criteria is beyond doubt. While its contents ill have ruffled feathers both official and unofficial on occasion, and will not always have appealed to all tastes, it has never ceased to combine topicality with a healthy balance in recalling the past and looking to the future. This blend is neatly encapsulated in the composition of the magazine's Editorial Board.
Did David Frith really realise that the former England captain with a propensity for theory and a talent for timely crusading, the doyen of cricket commentary, the Rembrandt of the camera lens and the ex-super-spinner would see their two colleagues from the playing side of the game assume in turn the role of England captain in the first five years of the magazine's life? With such selectorial acumen Frith must be in line to replace Peter May!
For the casual browser at magazine racks, the cover is all-important. This is an area where WCM scores highly. Patrick Eagar's photographs are of such quality that they often delay my opening of the magazine even though I have been anticipating its arrival for a month.
From the now precious opening cover of June 1979 through to last month's TV Puppet caricature of the Somerset Supertanker, readers have been able to study a series of photographic masterpieces which have conveyed more than words ever could. There is the smiling face of Derek Randall, failing to hide the worry lines; the floodlit SCG; Arlott at Ilford, a face to match the voice; Johnny Tyldesley looking like Chris Tavaré but no doubt batting differently; Kim Hughes on one knee coaxing the ball through the covers; Willis at Headingley, all passion and buts, the red tongues on his boots symbolizing the lungbursting effort going into his historic bowling spell; Botham, with a tired but told-you-so look, walking in at Old Trafford after performing his third successive Test match miracle; the beauty of Lord's in the snow; the arrogance of Richards; farewell to Chappell and Lillee, the guardsman and growler; and, most telling of all, the old/young face of the golden-haired Gower as he seems to look out from the dust-filled dolefulness of Mrs Gandhi's funeral procession.
Inside the covers we have become used to a pleasing amalgam of reportage and literature. The latter word is the only one which can be applied to the writing of such as John Arlott. The sage of Alderney has been responsible for several memorable pieces. Who could fail to be enchanted by gems such as these? On Mike Brearley:`Personable, humorous, convivial and friendly. Teat Mike Brearley is a serious man in that he does not care to waste good contemplative time. His courtesy should never be taken for lack of decision the smile conceals at need and inflexible will.' On Randall: `He is the oddest mixture of uncertainty and hectic over-confidence. Somewhere between the two, and especially when his side is in peril, he is balance, shrewd player; a natural batsman whose judgment is reliable; his defence sound, his stokes flowingly appropriate to the bowled ball.' On Hammond: `The instant he walked out of a pavilion, white-spotted blue handkerchief showing from his right pocket, bat tucked under his arm, cap at a hint of an angle, he was identifiable as a thoroughbred.'
Another feature of WCM to be treasured is the seemingly endless sequence of high-quality photographs of cricket and cricketers of the past which appear in Picture Gallery. Often as I look at these marvelously evocative pictures I feel myself travelling back in time to sit with the huge Australian crowds and they watch Bradman put the toiling English bowlers to the sword, or I am one of the Headingley hordes, all in their best suits and behatted, settling down to be part of the latest tense episode in the Anglo-Australian struggle. For some indefinable reason, my favorite photograph from Picture Gallery shows Herby Taylor being comprehensively bowled by the pre-Bodyline Lardwood in 1929. Taylor looks back in disbelief while Hendren, Hammond and Sutcliffe at slip stare at the broken stumps as if mesmerized. Duckworth, the great appealer, surveys the scene in a strangely subdued fashion, and squatting massively at short midwicket is the figure of Maurice Tate.
WCM has also appreciated the importance of keeping a good serial running. I found Paul Gibb's reminiscences a touch sad, and I bristled at the class-consciousness implicit in the writings of Albert Relf. The Archie Jackson Story really moved me. There were elements of both tragedy and inspiration in Archie's tale.
Most important of all, though, Wisden Cricket Monthly
has never shirked a major cricketing issue. Umpiring standards, the South African Question, and the proliferation of one-day internationals in Australia have all be tackled head-on. There is no timid toeing of the establishment line for WCM
. When Test Match Special threatened to destroy itself through an orgy of self-indulgence, the correspondence columns of the magazine delivered a clear message of convert and dissatisfaction to those responsible for the programme. Even now hardly a month goes by without some contributor highlighting some of the programme's weaknesses. When TMS shows signs of acknowledging and attending to these irritating flaws, then it will be time of WCM
to cease pointing them out.
Last month's issue contained references to drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual intercourse, defecation and marital problems. This would have been unthinkable before the appearance of WCM. The magazine sets out to examine cricket from every angle The unsavory aspects are not glorified; nor are they swept under the carpet. Wisden Cricket Monthly lives in the real world of cricket as it is today. This is its strength. There is no point in pretending that cricket hasn't changed. It has, and ignoring the unpleasant consequences of this change will not make them go away. There are, of course, changes for the better too. By working to erase the former and to preserve the latte, WCM has become the true voice of cricket in the 1980s.
I wish the magazine well as it enters its seventh year. Happy Birthday, WCM. I hope you continue to flourish into the next decade and indeed into the next century. You need cricket and cricket most certainly needs you.