What, as Henry Kelly might once have said, am I?
-> I was first published in 1864
-> I am now in my 145th edition
-> I'm highly collectible: my first edition sold for one shilling and now changes hands for upwards of £20,000
-> That first edition ran to 112 pages, but between my distinctive mustard yellow covers this year are 1680 pages, all of them dedicated to my chosen subject
My Wisden arrived this morning.
I buy this every year, and now have twenty-one different editions of the Almanack itself and each of the four accompanying compendiums. Why do I have hundreds and thousands of pages worth of cricketing statistics and other assorted nuggets of information on the game and the people who play it? I'm not sure really. I just love it. I might be in a minority of one here, but for me it is an intensely comforting book, one to be dipped into over the course of the next twelve months and for years to come. It is a keen reminder of times past, but it is also a harbinger of summers to come. It is a window into an older, more ordered and conservative world, but it is also fiercely independent and sometimes outspoken. You have no doubt already written this off as an incredibly tedious book, but for fans of cricket, it remains the bible. Far more than just a record of games gone, it is a mine of comment, information and - yes - amusement. This is not a book that takes itself - or its subject - too seriously: amidst its otherwise fairly sombre and straightfaced tributes to various people associated with the game of cricket, the 1965 edition contained the following obituary:
"CAT, Peter, whose ninth life ended on November 5, 1964, was a well-known cricket-watcher at Lord's, where he spent 12 of his 14 years. He preferred a close-up view of the proceedings and his sleek, black form could often be seen prowling on the field of play when the crowds were biggest. He frequently appeared on the television screen. Mr SC Griffith, secretary of MCC, said of him: `He was a cat of great character and loved publicity'."
Not funny ha-ha, perhaps, but if any of us provoke as fond a tribute when we pass on, then I think we'll be doing pretty well.
As a result of the book's longevity too, it provides us with a uniquely slanted perspective on the history of the last two-hundred years. One of the hardest editions to find is the one from 1919 (which actually features Statue John's grandfather as a cricketer of the year). That year's book contains the lists of war dead; those cricketers killed during the First World War. It is as moving and eloquent as almost anything else I have seen on the same subject. The names of the perhaps great cricketers of the future that were never allowed to fulfill their potential are somehow painfully emblematic of the human tragedy of war. Another famous edition is the copy of the 1939 edition belonging to E.W. Swanton, the distinguished cricket writer. It was the copy that he had with him when he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. It proved so popular with the other Prisoners of War that it had to be reserved in advance like a library book, and could be borrowed for no more than 12 hours at a time. It was stamped "Not subversive" by the guards and became so heavily thumbed that it was rebound by two prisoners using rice paste as glue. Swanton died, aged 92, in 2000 but that very same copy of the book is now on display in the museum at Lord's.
For these kinds of reasons, and for many others besides, Wisden is special and it's somehow more than just another book. It's magical, and I'm very much looking forward to getting stuck into my new copy.
Well Helmut. Will you play or pass?
Hmm. You just can't quite get past that bit about it being a 1,600 page book on cricket, can you?