The prized possessions

“The collection of cricketana is one of the major symptoms of cricketomania and it may honestly be described as incurable,” wrote John Arlott one of the game’s great collectors. The fun is in the search, in the chase, in the discovery and final possession.

A full set of Wisden Almanacks (from the first edition in 1864) might sell for around £150,000 — or more — since some of the originals of the early editions are not easily available.   -  Getty Images

Not being much of a collector of sporting memorabilia myself, I am fascinated by those who collect, the troubles they go to and the sacrifices they make. In a career writing on cricket, I have saved only two collectors’ items — The Bradman Albums signed to me by the great man, and a copy of the page from the score book recording Anil Kumble’s 10 wickets, signed by the bowler. My friend Gulu Ezekiel has been a passionate collector for over four decades now, and has the story to go with each acquisition which is a necessary part of the mystique.

In Australia, Srikantan Ramamurthy had a fabulous collection that was probably worth millions before he gave it away. He gave some of us a guided tour around his private museum during a cricket tour; later he gave me a book autographed by Jack Fingleton. His most precious possession was probably Victor Trumper’s diary of the famous 1902 series.

“The collection of cricketana is one of the major symptoms of cricketomania and it may honestly be described as incurable,” wrote John Arlott, one of the game’s great collectors. The fun is in the search, in the chase, in the discovery and final possession. Possession can, said David Frith, another legendary collector, “paralyse an addict with ecstasy.”

The premier cricket books shop

In London recently, I spent a morning with John McKenzie, collector and owner of the premier cricket books shop in the world, who told me that a full set of Wisden Almanacks (from the first edition in 1864) might sell for around £150,000 — or more — since some of the originals of the early editions are not easily available. “I knew someone who over the years collected Wisdens, filling in the blanks with alacrity and determination till one day he had acquired the entire set,” said McKenzie. “Once that was done,” he added, “he said he felt his life had no meaning now since he had nothing to look forward to!” That’s understandable.

Nothing is too lowly, nothing beyond the pale for the ardent collector. From paintings and personal effects to cigarette cards and score sheets and everything in between — autographs, prints, team sheets, books, shirts, caps, boots, annuals, equipment associated with players and events, tour souvenirs and modern mugs and plates, videos and games, all is grist to the mill. According to the Wisden Book of Cricket Memorabilia, “there exists a ready and established market for just about anything associated with cricket.”

No shrine for myself

Surprisingly few players are interested in memorabilia beyond their own, and some of them not even that. Former England captain Bob Willis once said he had no desire “to turn my house into a shrine for myself” and kept his trophies in a suitcase before putting it all up for auction. Collecting requires, besides a particular bent of mind, enormous energy. Perhaps the energy is inspired by the chase. Only connect, wrote E. M. Forster. He might have said “only collect.” For to collect is to connect — with the past, with oneself, with something external, with life itself.