With attention beginning to turn to the upcoming Ashes series in England we wondered how many cricket lovers had realised that the cricketer’s bible, that yellow book that comes out every year, is celebrating its 150th birthday.
Incredibly John Wisden who invented the Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack passed away 130 years ago. His business, a sports retailers he founded in 1850 went bankrupt before the second world war. The only reference to this business is a carving in the tiles above his former shop, which is now a fast food outlet, in Leicester Square.
Ironically the first Wisden published in 1864 was to challenge his major sporting retail rival, Lillywhites. Their shop remains in London but it is his Almanack that has become a veritable bible to cricket lovers.
The first edition carried so much more than cricket facts. It had the length of Britain’s canal network as well as the rules of quoits; a game many cricketing tourists played on the boats between Australia and England before air travel. It even carried information a number of ‘extraordinary matches,’ such as the game between gentlemen with one arm and gentlemen with one leg. As well as a game between the smokers and the non-smokers, which the health authorities will be pleased to know saw the latter victorious.
Wisden has for many years chronicled the deaths of cricketers each year, and in the 1915 edition with close to 2000 cricketers being lost in combat filled 48 pages with obituaries. In 1916 forty pages were dedicated to one man alone, WG Grace, who passed away and eulogies on the bearded doctor dominated the publication.
Wisden was never afraid to speak up and voice an opinion, and spoke out against Douglas Jardine and his ‘bodyline’ tactics in Australia. It cocked a disapproving eye at the world’s first one day international only recording it as a footnote!
Wisden nearly did not make it past 1938 but when new publishers came on board they made changes to the layout, placing the counties in alphabetical order rather than the order they finished in the county championship, women’s cricket was included, and the deaths were moved to the back of the book. It was at this time that two famous top-hatted cricketers graced the cover for the first time.
At times Wisden has been slow to report the facts, for example in 1882 the Oval test match between England and Australia was barely acknowledged, yet this was the game that spawned one of the greatest sporting rivalries ever, The Ashes. Even more amazing is the fact that it took the Almanack 99 years to publish the scorecard from the very first test match. Rest assured “the cricketer’s bible,” will not be so lax this time next year when the upcoming Ashes series has been laid to bed.