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Wisdom about Wisden

Steven Lynch
April 17, 2012
A photo of John Wisden from 1865 © Getty Images
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Wisden the cricketer
John Wisden himself was a handy bowler, nicknamed "the Little Wonder" on account of his short stature. He usually played for Sussex (he was born in Brighton), but his greatest feat came while playing for the North against the South at Lord's in 1850, when he took all ten wickets in an innings, all of them bowled (still unique at first-class level). That wasn't all he did in 1850: he also set up John Wisden & Co, the company that, 14 years later, brought out the first Almanack.

The once-only award
Players can only be named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year - the game's oldest individual accolade - once in their career. With Alastair Cook and Tim Bresnan joining the pantheon in 2012, it means that England have recently fielded Test teams composed entirely of Wisden Cricketers of the Year, something that hadn't happened since 1958-59.

Handy for canals
The first Wisden, which was published in 1864, was a slim volume of just 112 pages. Even so, there wasn't quite enough to pack out the pages, so Wisden resorted to some handy non-sporting facts, such as the lengths of British canals, and the dates of the battles in the Wars of the Roses. In case you're wondering, the Basingstoke Canal - which runs near Wisden's modern-day offices - is 37 miles long and was opened in 1790.

Wisden's shop
John Wisden & Co had various premises over the years, although there are no longer any shops associated with the company. Sightseers in central London can spot where one of them was, at 21 Cranbourn Street (near Leicester Square tube station), where a wall frieze announcing "J. Wisden & Comp'y", complete with ornamental bats and stumps, remains above a fast-food kiosk.

The Australian Wisden
An Australian Almanack, with a green cover rather than a yellow one, ran for eight volumes from 1998 to 2005 before ceasing publication. The first dedicated Indian edition (cover colour not yet finalised) is due out later this year.

Wisden's travels
John Wisden the player was a member of the first English team to undertake an overseas tour, travelling to the United States and Canada in 1859. The voyage over was an eventful and uncomfortable one: during a choppy crossing of the Atlantic Wisden is supposed to have observed that the sea was in need of the heavy roller.

Wisden 2012
The latest Wisden weighs in at 1552 pages - nearly 14 times as many as that first 1864 edition. There's no longer room for the canals or battle dates - or the Laws - but there is a detailed report on every Test and one-day international, together with scores from every first-class match and from most senior limited-overs cricket from around the world. Plus, despatches on cricket from some more unexpected places, such as Antarctica, the Vatican, Northern Cyprus and South Korea.

The missing Tests
These days Wisden prides itself on its coverage of international cricket - but it wasn't always quite so comprehensive. England's tour of Australia in 1876-77, which contained what became recognised as the first two Test matches of all, was hardly covered at all: Wisden's first full reports of those games were published nearly 100 years later, in the build-up to the centenary of Test cricket. And in 1885 the editor apologised for not carrying much information on the previous year's Ashes series, pointing out that full details had been printed in other books ... "whereas no other annual has appeared in which so much space is devoted to the leading Counties, the Universities, the Gentlemen of Philadelphia and the MCC".

The 2012 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack: 14 times bigger than the first edition © John Wisden & Co
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The rarest Almanack
Early editions of Wisden are difficult to obtain, and ones in good condition - remember we are talking about a paperback book published nearly 150 years ago - are much prized by collectors, and fetch astronomical prices. But perhaps the hardest one to find is Wisden 1916. It's another slim volume - not much first-class cricket was played during the Great War - and many of its 300-odd pages are filled with solemn obituaries of cricketers who were killed in action. Fewer Almanacks than usual were printed that year because of the war, and it is thought that one reason for 1916's rarity is that many of them were purchased by "non-regular" Wisden readers whose relatives had perished in the conflict.

Never a Cricketer of the Year
Being chosen as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year usually depends on a player's performances in the preceding English season. This means that some prominent overseas players have never made it, often because they happened to have unexceptional tours when they did come to England. Jacques Kallis is perhaps the leading current player not to have received the accolade (so far - he does have a chance to atone later this year). In 2008, Wisden identified five players from the past who had missed out on the honour: Abdul Qadir, Bishan Bedi, Wes Hall, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Jeff Thomson.

Carrots are good for you
The launch of Wisden is usually celebrated with a swish dinner - this year's one was at Lord's. But in 2003 and 2004 the traditional repast was replaced by a buffet-style evening. One county contributor refused to make the long trip to London for the first of those, saying he needed more than a carrot to sustain him: that year's editor thoughtfully arranged for extra carrots to be available at the door.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012.

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