Book Review: Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2014

2014 Jun 07 by DreamCricket

Lawrence Booth, hitting his stride in his third edition, has aimed a double-barreled blast in his Notes by the Editor at the ICC and the manner in which it has allowed itself to be hijacked by the so-called 'Big Three' of world cricket.

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Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2014

Edited by Lawrence Booth

1,584 pages. Bloomsbury Publishing.

By Gulu Ezekiel

It’s been 40 years now since I picked up my first Wisden but the first time I am reviewing it. And one thing I vowed to myself was that I would avoid using the ‘B’ word in this review since I find the term somewhat offensive. Long-time Wisden readers will know exactly what that ‘B’ stands for.

One must concede however that it remains an independent and impartial voice striving for the good of cricket which these days appears to be a losing battle what with cricket’s parent body, the International Cricket Council (ICC) being exposed as perhaps the most spineless and impotent world sporting body around.

Lawrence Booth, hitting his stride in his third edition, has aimed a double-barreled blast in his Notes by the Editor at the ICC and the manner in which it has allowed itself to be hijacked by the so-called ‘Big Three’ of world cricket, England, Australia and the Godzilla of them all, the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Widely recognized as the finest cricket writer today, Australia’s Gideon Haigh also pulls no punches in the chapter ‘The great carve-up of the world game.’

The mega commercial success of the Indian Premier League since its launch in 2008 has allowed the BCCI to use its money power to capture the ICC and hold a financial muzzle to the heads of all its member nations. It is clear now that the BCCI is using the IPL as a Trojan horse to effectively kill off international cricket, something a handful of Indian journalists have been apprehensive about for some time. For Booth, an early votary of the IPL, the realization appears to have sunk.

Don’t believe me? Just read BCCI bully Niranjan Shah’s frank admission in James Astill’s hugely entertaining The Great Tamasha released last year.

Astill’s own contribution to this edition is a spin-off from his book, a visit to the infamous Dharavi slum of Mumbai where he comes away with the uneasy feeling that the IPL is now the only show in town.

Considering the BCCI and its on-now off-now big boss N. Srinivasan have been on the receiving end of repeated lambastings from our own Supreme Court, is it any wonder that there is growing concerns as to how it will remote control the ICC when its own backyard is littered with scandals of various kinds?

Launched in 1864 by John Wisden, a diminutive fast bowler known as ‘The Little Wonder’ this massive tome (over 1,500 pages) holds the world record for the longest unbroken run of any sports yearbook in history. Last year it celebrated its 150th edition with much pomp and fanfare.

The match reports this year are naturally dominated by the back-to-back Ashes contests, England winning 3-0 at home and then being crushed 5-0 months later in Australia.

Ever since Tim de Lisle’s mercifully brief one-year stint in 2003 when he used a photograph on the cover for the first time instead of the traditional Wisden symbol, successive editors (Booth is the fourth since then) have felt the need for at least one surprise every year in order to grab the headlines.

This may be borne out of a sense of insecurity since the explosion of the Net has largely rendered its massive scores and statistics section irrelevant. But the book’s sales continue to be healthy every year as much out of force of habit (we Wisden collectors are an obsessive lot) as the increasingly large Comment section at the front of the book which always contains essays of the highest quality.

My personal favourites this year are by New Zealand batting legend Martin Crowe on ‘sledging’ where he reveals the darker side of the flamboyant West Indian sides of the ‘70s and ‘80s and by South African fast bowler Makhaya Ntini, a role model for black cricketers. In it Ntini pays tribute to his beloved Madiba, the late Nelson Mandela who passed away last year. I challenge anyone to read it without a tear in their eye.

Crowe is now firmly established as the finest cricketer-writer around and his intense passion for the good of cricket shows in his pained feelings at the verbal abuse (Steve Waugh’s ‘mental disintegration’) widely and woefully prevalent in the game.

The surprise this time? The choice of England woman captain Charlotte Edwards as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year, a hallmark of the almanac since 1889 and one of the most eagerly anticipated aspects of its arrival every year.

Edwards is not the first of her gender to receive this honour, awarded for outstanding performances in the previous English season. That was Claire Taylor in the 2009 edition. Which begs the question: why not a separate Woman Cricketer of the Year award every year rather than the occasional token female presence? After all, in recent years Wisden has added gongs for the (English) Schools Cricketer of the Year and The Leading Cricketer of the World.

The other four choices of India’s Shikhar Dhawan (for being leading run scorer in India’s triumphant Champion’s Trophy campaign in England last year), England’s Joe Root and the Australian pair of Chris Rogers and Ryan Harris are not quite convincing and have already received some adverse comments. Dale Steyn’s choice as the world’s leading cricketer though is richly deserved and his profile by Neil Manthorp is the best of the lot.

Most long-time readers of Wisden instinctively turn to the book reviews and obituary sections. While the obits are evocative as usual, I was hugely disappointed by the reviews by the Daily Telegraph’s Jonathan Liew which I found flat and uninspiring.

Indian fans will be heartened by 12 pages devoted to Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement which also features on the cover.  But if a picture ever told a thousand words that would be the one by Mid-day’s ace photographer Atul Kamble of Tendulkar coming out to resume his final innings at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on November 15. Rightfully it is the winner of the Wisden-MCC Cricket Photograph of 2013 award.

--This review originally appeared in the Asian Age daily.