A Writing Reformation: Does Wisden Still Matter?

Flicking idly through an old Wisden, looking for a match report, I found myself in the Schools Cricket section. On one page, playing for Harrow against Eton at Lord’s in 2000, was a certain N.R.D. Compton. He was bowled by Aubrey-Fletcher for twenty. On the opposite page, captaining ECB Schools East was one M.J. Prior. He was caught Watson, bowled Ades for thirty. One of the beauties of an old Wisden is the discovery of future internationals hinting at the achievements of the future – or not, in this case. But does Wisden have a future beyond amusing coincidences, an extended index of unusual occurrences?

Cricket writing is experiencing its reformation. Gone are the sermons of the formal media, in come blogs and “fans with laptops”, challenging orthodoxies and perspectives. They engage directly with opinion and analysis, rather than through the anointed journalistic priesthood. Even the static forms of statistical information is being changed, as the curious can now set their own criteria for searching databases, rather than relying on specific published tables. The Almanack itself, for so long seen as the cricketer’s Bible, is now seeing its relevance questioned through real-time updating of statistical profiles and the flugschriften of the blogosphere. The Anglocentric nature of a cautious publication has been overtaken by sites such as Cricinfo, whose sheer scale allow a full exploration of the range of the cricketing world.

This new plurality of perspective is part of the reason for the success of the new. Show the iconic Wisden woodcut to the crowd at an IPL game and few would recognise it. On the other hand, few members on a drizzly day at Northampton could name the IPL teams or tell you who Parvez Rasool is (intriguingly, a Kashmiri potential international cricketer). New media and the internet in general, can solve the problem of instantly obsolete statistics and staid opinion. Despite this, Wisden offers a gold – or perhaps yellow – standard of cricket writing. It is a guarantee of quality and accuracy. The aforementioned woodcut features of the cover of The Nightwatchman, one of the most exciting cricket writing projects of recent times, a fantastic innovation in traditional form. Pieces such as Christian Ryan’s on Jeff Thomson in the 2013 Almanack are sporting essays at their very finest.

Wisden, beyond just the Almanack, retains an assurance of clarity in an increasingly noisy echo chamber of opinion. It is able to bring in the best of analysis and prose, increasingly from a diverse range of commentators, reflecting an evolving game and shifting values, embracing the scale of its credo. The challenge remains to maintain quality and retain a role as the foremost arbiter of cricketing achievement in a changing world, both on the pitch and beyond the boundary.

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2 Responses to A Writing Reformation: Does Wisden Still Matter?

  1. As someone who had the good fortune to appear in it this year (fulfilling a lifetime ambition), I’d be expected to argue that it does matter, but there’s no question that it’s on shaky ground. It’s certainly possible to argue that there’s little point in the statistical sections, or that the scores of Tests from around the world don’t need reproducing either, although this loses sight of the fact that there are still plenty of people around who love the game and aren’t as Web literate as many of us. And I find the Test reports very good in themselves, lending context and retrospective analysis to games that are often all but forgotten by the time you read about them in the almanack.

    However, the future, as Lawrence Booth has correctly recognized, lies in bringing good original writing together. Christian Ryan’s remarkable piece is representative of this, and, if that level of quality is reproduced, its future should be assured, although it probably won’t sell much in India (although I don’t suppose it ever did).

    • cjdrury1 says:

      Belated congratulations! I think one area where Wisden is very good is preserving the primacy of test cricket – giving due respect to all test matches internationally. The reports are a big part of that, something that the web can’t always offer. However, the possibilities for real time updates are the internet’s great advantage, rendering publications such as the Who’s Who fairly obsolete, especially with mobile web devices.

      The question of an international audience is an interesting one; it would be interesting to see the interest for a publication like The Nightwatchman in India or even South Africa.

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