Friday, April 12, 2013

Scorecards In Heaven: Wisden

It's that familiar question. What do you miss about Britain? The reply is familiar, in my case at any rate. Not a lot. But in April each year there is an event which makes me wonder. It is a publishing event, one that heralds the start of summer and the return of the English cricket season. Wisden.

Arctic weather in Britain so late into the year is not so uncommon. One day in one April some years ago I stepped out of Baker Street tube en route to a meeting. It was snowing. That put an end to thoughts that I might just bunk off and go to Lord's instead. But coming back from the meeting, I found myself a nice, warm, cosy bookstore. I had yet to indulge in the annual ritual. That of the excitement of the sight of a pile of yellow-covered bricks of almanacks, their shiny white pages cut so perfectly that they looked like blocks of ice-cream.

How very different this edition was to my first Wisden. 1963's. It had become tattered. It still is tattered. Rather more in fact. It wasn't hardback, an omission on behalf of my father who bought it for me that some would argue was sacrilegious. A softback Wisden!

Hard or soft, the annual Wisden, for all its obscure coverage of public school cricket, an MCC tour to Bechuanaland, or cricket in Mongolia, was the excuse to while away hour upon hour poring over the previous season's county championship and test scorecards. They were the next best thing to actually being at a county game, to sit on the vast terraces of an empty Oval, a biting wind whipping in past the gas works while Barrington played out yet another maiden over that demonstrated the art of the forward defensive. And then there were the great scorecards, those that spoke of remarkable feats. For example, in the 1967 edition, there was the final test from the previous season: Graveney run out 165, but far more significantly, Murray lbw b Sobers 112, Higgs c&b Holford 63, Snow not out 59. Numbers nine, ten and eleven, a combined score of 234. Scorecard heaven.

Cricket is a mad sport. Its utter and innate insanity explains its attraction to many who border on having less than total contact with the real world. Eccentric sport invites eccentrics, and so Sir Patrick Moore is remembered in this year's Wisden, one of his greatest insights into cricket having been to observe that quick bowlers on Mars would have found it difficult to obtain any swing. It is a sport devoted to its own record-keeping. If cricket were to be given a school report, the comment would read that it was good at its sums. No sport has made statisticians famous in the way that cricket has: Bill Frindall, aka the Bearded Wonder, Messrs Duckworth and Lewis.

The Spanish don't have a clue about cricket. They may have a national cricket team, one largely comprising those with names that you would expect to be lining up alongside Saeed Ajmal, but in terms of the team registering with the national consciousness, it rates about as well as the British conkers team does. There was once a whole programme on the RNE3 national radio station given over to Neil Hannon's Duckworth Lewis Method and the group's eponymous album. What was the station thinking of? Not even true and British aficionados of cricket have the faintest idea how Duckworth Lewis works.

There would be little point trying to indoctrinate the Spanish and Mallorcans in the idiosyncrasies of cricket. How on earth would you overcome the issue of breaking for tea, especially when, and despite over a half a century of practice, the Mallorcans still haven't figured out how to make a cup of tea? Cricket is the great cultural divide. It is inherently bonkers and British. Let's leave the Catalans to building human towers and the Spanish to bullfighting.

For all that there is the annual ritual with Wisden, it is now something of an anachronism. Its scorecards have been usurped by online archives and real-time updating. It is no longer quite the reminder of culture from Britain that it once was. There is still the hankering after shivering with a cold pint as Onions bowls to Trescothick, but distance has been removed thanks to the internet and Cricinfo. Yorkshire all out 96. Chris Nash smashing 80 out of 104 in reply for Sussex. 80 out of 104. Scorecard heaven.

Any comments to please.

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