Wisden 'cricket bible' celebrates 150 not out!

Last Updated: Thu, Apr 18, 2013 09:25 hrs

Another issue of Wisden is out, but then this isn’t just any other issue. It is the 150th edition of what is widely known as ''Cricketer’s Bible'' and which has been published unfailingly every year since 1864. A slim volume in the early years, it has since grown both in volume and concept. 

The first Wisden of more than 500 pages was in 1896 while the 1000-page mark was first passed in 1924. In the years since then editors have become cannier about making the most of the space available. 

Still the first 1500-page Wisden appeared in 1999 and in the following year, the Millennium Edition had exactly 1600 pages. Inevitably the first 1700-page Wisden appeared in 2005 but thereafter trimming has helped and by the 2012 edition it was back to about 1550 pages.
This kind of growth is only to be expected. As regular followers of ''cricket’s massive yellow brick'', as it is known are aware Wisden is far more than a mass of statistics. The records section is invariably a matter of accretion for there is an awful lot of cricket being played in various parts of the world. 

Records are made only to be broken goes the popular sporting adage, but over the years the Wisden editors have carefully weeded out some sections to keep it to an acceptable length.
Over the years, Wisden has spawned any number of allied books besides being the inspiration for many publications along the same lines. 

Slimmer in volume they too have served their purpose of informing, educating and entertaining readers. In November 1998 came the first edition of the Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack Australia sporting a natty green cover and already over 800 pages designed to be complimentary to the grand daddy of all such publications rather than a replacement. 

Indian cricket followers whose fondness for numbers is all too well known are among Wisden’s most passionate readers. And since early this year there has come along the Indian edition of Wisden. 

Well before this there was Indian Cricket almanack brought out by the publishers of The Hindu in Chennai which was clearly modeled on Wisden. The first edition edited by SK Gurunathan was brought out covering the 1946 tour of England and the 1946-47 domestic season. It remained a popular annual publication till 2004.
Wisden has also changed for the better. It is no longer just a book of facts and figures, statistics and records. There are eminently readable articles while the notes by the editor reflect both wisdom and direction. There are features galore, indeed something for every cricket follower, be it the connoisseur or those looking for lighter material. 

I for one go straight to the obituaries whenever I receive my copy of Wisden. 

For one thing I would like to know which prominent cricketer has passed away, and secondly, the obits are generally written with a lot of feeling giving so much little known information of the deceased.
For all its hoary tradition, Wisden has kept pace with the times. Writing in the preface to the 2004 edition editor Matthew Engel summed this aspect best. ''When I first became editor of Wisden a dozen years ago the word internet was known only to a handful of techies. The internet undoubtedly changes the purpose and role of reference books. Our associate website Cricnfo can give squillions of up to the second scores and stats via a few mouse clicks.''

''The more I thought about it the more I came to feel this was not a threat but an opportunity; the chance to be more creative and produce a better book. Wisden’s prime function in the 21st century is still to report the facts as it has always done. But cricket’s devotees are now bombarded with information all the time. Someone has to stand back and try to pick out what really matters. That’s our job.''
So since then we have had an up-to-date Wisden which for example covers the 2012-13 season in its 2013 edition which was not the case till a few years ago. And the growth of Wisden is perhaps underlined by one single figure – in 2006 its sale figures topped the 50,000 mark. It has withstood competition from the internet and has emerged as strong and irreplaceable as ever. 

Moreover, there is a certain prestige being involved in any way with Wisden and cricketers are aware that to be elected as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year is a coveted honour. Aravinda de Silva summed up this feeling best when he said a few years ago ''Cricket and Wisden have rescued me from a lifetime of oblivion and for that I am deeply thankful.'' 

For the Millennium Edition in 2000 when it announced that a world panel of 100 experts had been selected to pick the five cricketers of the century the result evoked tremendous interest. For the record the honoured quintet were Don Bradman (100 votes), Gary Sobers (90), Jack Hobbs (30), Shane Warne (27) and Vivian Richards (25).
Wisden remains indispensable for the faithful followers who look for back issues in a bid to make their collection as complete as possible. To them a cricketing year is incomplete without a copy of Wisden. Why? Let Lawrence Booth the current editor answer that. 

In his preface to the 2012 edition he says, ''The more Wisden stays the same the more it changes. Our main task is unaltered; to record the previous year’s cricket with an eye for detail, a nose for humbug and a taste for fun. Affection remains at the heart of it all.’’ 

And readers have showered Wisden with affection for 150 years.

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