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Wisden a beacon of continuity in changing times


The 147th edition of Wisden, the iconic yellow book whose role in the heritage of cricket goes back further even than The Ashes, runs to 1,728 pages.  As a statistical bible it is unrivalled in sport.

Few significant numerical details are left unrecorded and anyone with a fascination for the minutiae of the game would find the small print absorbing enough.

Yet there is much more to Wisden, especially in the modern era, than mere facts and figures.  More and more it is a feast of fine writing, the long-established 'Notes by the Editor', always a platform for trenchant views, now supplemented by an extensive selection of additional articles covering the major issues of the game as well as some that are perhaps less widely discussed, but no less relevant.

This year, for example, the declining coverage of county cricket in the national press is lamented both by Gerald Mortimer, venerable former sports editor, cricket and football correspondent of the Derby Evening Telegraph, and by Michael Henderson, a freelance writer on sport and music who is always readable and often controversial.

Mortimer, now retired, recalls in 'An Endangered Species' that when he began reporting cricket in 1970 it was wise at certain grounds to arrive early in order to be sure of a seat in the press box, such was the number of cricket writers on the county circuit.  Nowadays, he says, facilities are much improved but often scarcely used away from international matches.

The crisis in the newspaper industry is to blame in part.  No title has been immune from savage cuts in editorial budget and priorities have to be made.  Unfortunately for cricket, the need to trim costs has coincided with the arrival of a breed of sports editor consumed by football.

Readers have noticed, of course, especially those who would look forward each spring to the arrival of a new Wisden, who would also maintain a steadfast loyalty to the Daily Telegraph, once the essential newspaper for cricket lovers with reports on every first-class match.

In that respect, the Telegraph has been fighting a losing battle with The Times in recent years but surrendered any vestige of credibility when it axed almost its entire complement of cricket reporters in 2009, then tried to pull the wool over its readers' eyes by creating a fictitious army of replacements that involved putting made-up bylines on syndicated 'agency' copy.

So-called 'cod' names are not uncommon on newspapers, usually to cover the identity of a moonlighting writer from a rival publication, but this was deception on a large scale, as Henderson describes in his article on 'Cricket in the Media'.

The Telegraph scam was rumbled when fake names began appearing on reports of simultaneous events in different sports and when somebody spotted that Dan Harbles, who apparently reported on cycling as well as cricket, was an anagram of 'handlebars'.

The names in Wisden, you will be reassured to know, are entirely authentic.

Not everyone knows... that John Wisden, founder of the almanack, launched the publication in large part as a means of advertising his tobacco and sports equipment shop in London's Leicester Square in the face of fierce competition from Lillywhite Brothers & Co, who dealt in the same curious mix of goods from premises in Islington.  Copies of the very first edition, published in 1864, a mere 112 pages long and costing one shilling, have changed hands for £12,000. 

Buy Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2010 through this site and visit The Sports Bookshelf shop for more cricket titles.

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