Here is a timely arrival for cricket lovers. What better way to self-isolate than to escape into some of the 1,536 pages of this year’s Wisden? The 157th edition has just been published, the only problem that remains is distributing the little yellow monster, which in every other year heralds the arrival of the season.
The Wisden of 2020, like the Archers and Desert Island Discs, is unsullied by the oronavirus epidemic, which is likely to be a source of relief. In time this edition could well become a collector’s item – like those of 1982 or 2006 – since it covers a summer of momentous cricket that includes a bizarre World Cup victory and that match at Headingley. The 2021 edition will be even more collectable – and maybe more challenging for the editor, Lawrence Booth – since it will be recording a year notable for the absence of much cricket.
Unsurprisingly, Ben Stokes keeps popping up. He receives the award of Leading Cricketer in the World, the first Englishman to win it since Andrew Flintoff in 2006. Stokes made Booth’s job more straightforward and there is a hint of gratitude in the editor’s observation, “Without him this almanack might have been another English hard luck story. Instead it’s a celebration.”
Oddly the Five Cricketers of the Years section contains just one English player, Jofra Archer. Perhaps that is why Booth feels the need to give us an explanation of his choices, which I do not think has happened before. This is one of the few bits we do not need in the almanack. The editor does not have to justify his decisions; he just has to deliver them and then the rest of us can start arguing or speculating how he opted for his chosen five, a process which is always complicated by the fact that no one can win this award twice.
As ever Booth’s notes are elegant and forceful. Unsurprisingly he wants a bigger TV audience for the big events – like the World Cup – and a retention of five-day Test cricket. He conjures up the notion of “Schrodinger’s bat” when contemplating the World Cup final result (maybe he could have explained that; and maybe that phrase will resurface in Private Eye).
There are some lovely memories of Bob Willis from his great friend Paul Allott as well as a comprehensive account of his life in cricket in the obituary section, which, as ever, contains some wonderful vignettes. In close proximity we find “Mugabe, Robert Gabriel” and “Moss, Alan Edward” and it is reassuring that five times more space is devoted to Moss. Mugabe has some connection with cricket – he met Mark Nicholas on England A’s 1990 tour of Zimbabwe; Moss, the son of a policeman from Tottenham, played 307 games for Middlesex and nine times for England as a wholehearted pace bowler.
Here was a reminder of how times have changed a bit. Moss was a professional but he captained the county side quite often in 1962 and was a candidate to be given the job officially; instead they appointed the amateur and recent Oxford blue, CD Dryborough. The class divide remained strong. “We played at the Oval when JJ Warr [an amateur] was captain and I was in the pros’ dressing room”, Moss once recalled. “I was the senior pro and JJ said to me: ‘There’s no room in there; come on in with us.’ So I put my bags in there and put them down. Then Peter May [captain of Surrey] walked in, took him to one side and said: ‘I’m sorry, JJ, Mossy can’t stay in here.’”
May was resistant to any change in the old order, it seems. He crops up in Colin Schindler’s fine piece about the Stop the Tour campaign of 50 years ago. Emotions ran high over whether the South African tour to England in 1970 should take place. “David Sheppard, Bishop of Woolwich and an advocate of cancellation, attempted to arrange a conciliatory meeting,” writes Schindler. “Peter May, his Cambridge friend and former colleague, replied bluntly there was nothing to talk about … His relationship with May never recovered.”
There are treasures galore to be discovered, all meticulously gathered and utterly trustworthy except on pages 1500-1508, which are devoted to the 2020 fixture list.