It’s the same scene every year. The post girl staggers through our main gate, knocks on the door and hands me a copy of Wisden — nicely wrapped of course — and complains: “That is a mighty parcel. What on earth is it?”
She was not impressed this year when I told her that it was the 150th edition of what folk often call ‘The Cricket Bible’.
This time it is 1584 pages heavy and compares with the 128-page version when it was first printed in 1864 and 1131 when the 100th was published in 1963.
I have a consolation for the post girl; Wisden might not last her lifetime. Of course it is nice to stack it alongside one’s Complete Shakespeare, one’s out of date Who’s Who and one’s Sherlock Holmes Omnibus but in the days of rapid-fire Twenty20, instant IPL and so many websites dedicated to cricket, is Wisden really necessary?
It is no longer the pocket book of the 19th century when no doubt one could gain stature by producing it mid-county match to check out a fact or two. Now it needs a 21st century shoulder bag to contain its weight; in kilogrammes of course.
Its great modern rival is Cricinfo, the fabulous mountain of cricket knowledge, currently backed by ESPN and able to contain all those 1584 pages, those millions of words, those uncountable stats and never ending scoreboards, perpetual bowling analyses and obscure reworking of every fact known to the game.
In fact it can house all 150 Wisdens without much more than an extension to its website. The internet was made for statistics and the keyboard has comfortably taken over from the quill pen and the scrolled parchment.
A long time ago we were promised a paperless office, yet my impression — even as I reach for my Kindle – is that the scrolls have grown longer and the forest needed to keep up with new books spreads daily.
My guess is, however, that in traditional, conservative, never-say-change cricket Wisden has some time to live.
Whenever I visit Lord’s I see old men taking their grandsons — rarely granddaughters I note — along the same route the old and the young trod heaven knows how many years ago.
Those young men will be taught to identify players without names and numbers, to applaud each fifty, each small partnership and even clap the players as they walk off for tea.
One day granddad will buy their first bat and grumble about the price, as my mother did all those summers ago, and maybe even present them with their first Wisden — now £50, the cost of a bottle of champagne — and teach them to find their way from Notes by the Editor to the funny little tales in the back.
For all the attempts to update the game, by adding sophisticated machinery, bewildering amounts of computer-guided aids for the umpire and cameras so astute they will soon see more about the game than any man, woman or umpire, it remains as old style as the Trunk Road.
You can find evidence for this old-fashioned way of life by the selection of Nick Compton among Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year. Oddly, this grandson is hardly a twig off the old tree. Where Denis was daring, Nick is negative and sedate, putting a solid opening partnership ahead of the outright aggression that made Virender Sehwag the modern Vesuvius.
A strange choice; the new editor of Wisden is Lawrence Booth, a young ‘un though he is a good ’un.
Chosen for his likely staying power I suggest; which means the owners of Wisden see a long trek ahead. In England if nowhere else.
The publication still has some time to live
The publication still has some time