Wise Wisden coming to India

The wait until next year for an affordable Indian edition of Wisden could be tantalising to many in the country. Let us hope this move and the several others contemplated for enlarging the Wisden's general appeal do not dilute the charm of the more than hundred years old chronicle. But we can confidently expect that Lawrence Booth, who, at 35, is the youngest ever to edit Wisden, will steer clear of such pitfalls, writes R. K. Raghavan.

The chance to marry Wisden's age-old strengths with the 21st century home of the game was too good to ignore — Lawrence Booth, Editor, Wisden, on the proposed Indian edition.

English institutions never die. They will not change either, if they can help it. Look at the continued reverence of the English to Royalty, despite some of the latter's famous indiscretions! Wisden — the cricket almanack that is being published every year since 1864 — is one such institution that will never become extinct or less adored. After great deliberation it has now chosen to change, although its traditional yellow jacket may still be retained.

I have been reading this hoary publication for more than three decades, and have always found it a pleasurable experience. My only grouse is that the publishers still price it so high — a whopping 35 Pounds — making it almost inaccessible to the average lover of the game. There is some good news, however, for the Indian cricket aficionados. From next year onwards, the legendary annual will have an Indian edition that could become more affordable. This is sensible and good economics in the sub-continent, where the game is much more than a religion. I suppose the get-up will also improve, with wider pages and a larger print to help those like me with a failing sight. Apart from a Kindle version called Shorter Wisden (carrying the best of articles of each year's edition) that will sell at less than 10 pounds, an online Wisden Extra magazine will also appear once a quarter. It would concentrate on a specific current issue that dominates the game at any time.

The 2011 Wisden is as usual a treasure-house of information on all first class games played in any part of the world. Would you believe it? There is a short feature on cricket in Afghanistan! Don't underestimate the Afghans. They are rarin' to go after winning the ICC Intercontinental Cup. There is some hope that in a small way, the fillip to its cricket could help to at least partially restore peace to that country. If that actually happens it would be the greatest tribute to the game's leavening influence.

Since 1889 Wisden recognises five players as the Cricketers of the Year. The choice is by its Editor, and this accolade is conferred on those whose performance had had an influence on English cricket. In a stunning departure from the past, this year's edition carries only four; Eoin Morgan of Middlesex (a batsman of great promise, whose trade-mark stroke is the reverse sweep), Chris Read, the Nottinghamshire wicket-keeper captain (on exile from the England team after a remarkable debut at 20), Tamim Iqbal of Bangladesh (who helped his country win their first Test abroad in the West Indies in 2009), and Jonathan Trott of Warwickshire (who has stabilised his place in the England team since a marathon nine and a quarters' innings last year against Pakistan at Lord's). Interestingly, according to one press report, the fifth Cricketer of the Year was to have been Mohammed Amir of Pakistan, one of the trio convicted of ‘spot-fixing' charges in a Southwark Crown Court in London. His name was dropped at the last minute once the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to take the three to court was known. Truly, a true index of the values that have been built around Wisden!

Former Editor Scyld Berry, who stepped down earlier this year and has been succeeded by Lawrence Booth, sets the tone for Wisden 2011 with his nine-page Notes that covers a wide spectrum of issues, including the misconduct of the three Pakistani cricketers. It stands out for its clinical analysis of the Ashes triumph of England at home and in Australia. Berry's tribute to England reads: “It would be hard to think of a sizeable human organisation that has come closer to perfection...” Who can say this unqualified praise was not deserved, especially after the recent demolition (a “whitewash” as is popularly called) of Dhoni's men by an exorcised squad led by Andy Strauss. In his brief ‘Giving in to temptation', Berry gives his choice of a Wisden Test XI, a Wisden innovation since 2009. It has five Indians: Sehwag, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni and Zaheer Khan. The rest of the elite group comprises two each from England and South Africa and one each from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Berry's team of selectors that included Ian Chappell and Ian Bishop could not have been more objective. While the fact that no Pakistani was picked was understandable, it is surprising that Australia was also ignored, despite Ponting's huge credentials. Those who believe that Wisden is only about statistics, the number of short articles that the 2011 issue carries will come as a surprise. ‘Cricket a' la Modi' on the controversies surrounding the IPL, ‘Beer out, champagne in' on media coverage of the game and ‘A dance to the music of stats' on the ephemeral nature of records once considered immortal and unbeatable all make absorbing reading.

Wisden 2011 offers a feast to those like me who thrive on nostalgia. Tributes to Sir Alec Bedser (1918-2010) by leading scribe John Woodcock and former Prime Minister Sir John Major, and to Trevor Bailey (1923-2011), by that eminent Test Match Special (TMS) commentator with a golden voice, Christopher Martin-Jenkins (CMJ as he is known in the media), moistened my eyes.

Major's comments on the immortal Bedser were made at a memorial service held in the Southwark Cathedral. His speech on the occasion ended thus: “Alec played cricket like a poet: his length and line were perfect. The finest poem cricket has known, written of a much earlier great bowler, ended with the plea that “the turf may lay softly upon him”. And on you, dear Alec. And on you.” I cannot recall reading anything more poignant than this on any cricketer.

CMJ considers Trevor Bailey as one of the greatest all-rounders the game has ever produced. Who can forget Trevor's five-hour fifth-wicket partnership with Willie Watson on the last day of the Ashes Test at Lord's in 1953 which saved the game for England, and enabled it to win the series. Apart from these, there is a whole section devoted to obituaries, in which a dear friend T. E. Srinivasan, a Tamil Nadu batsman of great courage, finds mention. I still cannot comprehend why TE played only one Test.

A section on recent books on cricket adds weight to the treasure that Wisden is. The wait until next year for an affordable Indian edition could be tantalising to many in the country. Let us hope this move and the several others contemplated for enlarging the Wisden's general appeal do not dilute the charm of the more than hundred years old chronicle. But we can confidently expect that Booth, who, at 35, is the youngest ever to edit Wisden, will steer clear of such pitfalls.