Full of value

The Famous Five this year are Ian Bell - a work in progress still - Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a great batsman from the most unorthodox of stances, held back in the public acclaim by his own lack of thrust; Ottis Gibson, who can still prove he is, as the England bowling coach, better in the second half of his cricketing life than his first phase; Ryan Sidebottom, better after 30 than before and Zaheer Khan, flowering in his second part of his career.

We can wonder how much longer this first sign of summer will continue for the world is changing quicker than we can think. This is not just the age of celebrity but the era of instant gratification. "If you cannot tell a story in seven paragraphs, give up," a wise man in my profession is always telling me and he has a point.

Who has time to read a zillion words spread across 1680 pages; never mind the strength to hold a book weighing nearly 2lb.

In the age of the Internet, the tabloid newspaper and the newsagents shop stacked with magazines on every subject from energy conservation to nuclear submarines, the glance-and-chuck generation prefer a quick fix rather than a read that requires time, an armchair and a cup of tea or a glass of malt whisky as an accompaniment. Who can now receive his Wisden through the post and promise himself that he will peruse it at his leisure when the autumn leaves begin to fall.

Books of all sorts are losing their value. (Believe me. My family have just spent a year trying to sell 30,000 volumes that their collector swore would be worth a fortune and are now proving, now that he has gone to the great library in the sky, to be worth a less than a pound apiece.) Besides, there is the breakaway Twenty20 competition to be considered. Will any of their tournaments be given the Wisden seal of approval? Will its mighty judge of what is proper and what is not cricket - Scyld Berry, a friend of India, is the new editor - vote in favour of what must be the shortest form of cricket. All too many men of letters, conservative thinkers and traditionalists consider this ram raid cricket inconsequential; warfare turned to skirmishes.

So does the modern Wisden have any relevance to generation next?

For those who love to trade their price holds up remarkably well - so far. The 2008 edition costs around �40 although there are a whole variety of deals that includes postage at nearer �30. Recently a batch from 1864 to 1999 were auctioned for �120,000; a single 1896 volume has been sold for �9,400. Intelligent men like the composer Tim Rice collect Wisdens and boast about the days when you could buy a complete set for �750. He says that in the unlikely event of bankruptcy - he helped write such musicals as Evita - he would rather sell his dog to keep in funds than sell his Wisdens.

I suppose I ought to regret my decision not to collect what was an almost complete set a few years ago. It was free because its owner considered I would give it a good home but to me - then and now - it was too much like an obsession. To my way of thinking a good book, be it fact or fiction, is meant to be read and enjoyed. When was a busy journalist going to have the time to ready 145 precious books.

Having said that i guess there will be moments this summer when the Test action is slow and I find I can dip into the most up-to-date Wisden to fill a few moments.

Each editor seems to spend his time making good the omissions of his predecessors and Berry is no exception. He has uncovered a number of famous stars who have never been among the Five Cricketers of the Year: Abdul Qadir, the leg break bowler who was not quite as good as his publicity, that silky sloth Inzamam-ul-Haq, Bishan Bedi, a giant compared to Monty Panesar whose name often appears alongside his, Wes Hall, surely the only fast bowler who found a religious bone in his body and the high-speed Jeff Thomson, who might have taken more than 200 Test wickets if he had cared to look where he was aiming the ball.

Berry names Jacques Kallis as the global player of the year and there can be no arguing with that even if one wishes he had found a more exciting batsman rather than the most one-paced player of all time.

The famous five this year are Ian Bell - a work in progress still - Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a great batsman from the most unorthodox of stances, held back in the public acclaim by his own lack of thrust; Ottis Gibson, who can still prove he is, as the England bowling coach, better in the second half of his cricketing life than his first phase; Ryan Sidebottom, better after 30 than before and Zaheer Khan, flowering in his second part of his career.

Last there is Wisden's appreciation of Brian Lara, my own choice as the finest of all batsmen: powerful when there was need, full of finesse against even the most fearsome bowler, more attacking, more attractive, perhaps a greater batsman than Don Bradman.

Mike Atherton, England captain in the face of Lara's world record, finds Lara's departure from the game a sad event. Atherton is a realist - and soon among cricket writers he will offer the same practicalities. I once heard him describe himself as "probably not a great batsman."

I wonder if he would not have been better advised to open his piece about Lara in the stratosphere rather than his final days "puffy cheeked and short of inspiration. That does neither Lara nor Atherton credit. Has there ever been a higher backlift, a better example of the way to bisect cover and extra cover, or quicker footwork than Lara's? If there has then tell me because I want to see these specialities for myself.

Lara attacked with every shot in a wide-ranging repertoire and still maintained an average above 50. I never understood why his captaincy was so lacking in success especially when I heard that as a young kid in club cricket he was always making suggestions that experienced bowlers found helpful.

Never mind. Once again I felt the blood flowing quicker when Wisden arrived. Whatever its faults, its dated presentation and lay-out and its idiosyncrasies; it is still the best basis for a debate in a game that is nothing without its chatter.