Wisden Cricketers' Almanack (or simply Wisden or colloquially "the Bible of Cricket") is a cricket reference book published annually in the United Kingdom. It is considered the world's most famous sports reference book. The description "bible of cricket" was first used in the 1930s by Alec Waugh in a review for the London Mercury. In October 2013, an all-time Test World XI was announced to mark the 150th anniversary of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.
In 2012, an Indian edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack was launched (dated 2013).
Wisden was founded in 1864 by the English cricketer John Wisden (1826–84) as a competitor to Fred Lillywhite's The Guide to Cricketers. Its annual publication has continued uninterrupted to the present day, making it the longest running sports annual in history. The sixth edition was the first published under its current title; the first five were published as The Cricketer's Almanack, with the apostrophe before the "s".
Charles Pardon, with George Kelly King, founded the Cricket Reporting Agency (CRA) in 1880. From Pardon's becoming editor of Wisden in 1887, the editor was nearly always a CRA partner and the CRA was responsible for the editorial production of the Almanack, until in 1965 it merged with the Press Association (PA).
Wisden was acquired and published by Robert Maxwell's publishing conglomerate, Macdonald, in the 1970s. Cricket fan Sir John Paul Getty, Jr. bought the company, John Wisden & Co, in 1993 and in December 2008 it was sold to A&C Black, which is owned by Bloomsbury. The company presented the Wisden Trophy, for Test matches between England and West Indies, in 1963 to celebrate its 100th edition.
Wisden is a small-paged but a very thick book (over 1,500 pages in modern editions) with a distinctive bright yellow cover that it has carried since the 75th edition in 1938. Prior to that, covers varied between yellow, buff and salmon pink. That edition was also the first to display the famous woodcut of two cricketers, by Eric Ravilious, on its cover. It is published each April, just before the start of the English domestic cricket season. Since 2003 the woodcut has been replaced as the main feature of the front cover by a photograph of a current cricketer, but still appears albeit in a much reduced size.
It is produced in both hardcover and softcover versions. Since 2006, a larger format edition has been published on an experimental basis. This is said to be in response to requests from readers who find the print size of the standard edition hard to read. It is around twice the traditional size and was published in a limited edition of 5,000. It is not a large print book as such, as the print will still be of a size found in many standard books.
From 2011 an Epub version, The Shorter Wisden, has been available in online bookstores. Described by the publishers as a "distillation of what's best in its bigger brother", it includes the Notes by the Editor, all the articles, reviews and obituaries and the reports on all England's Test matches for the year in question. Excluded are the statistics and other cricket reports contained within the Almanack proper.
The format has changed markedly over the years. The first edition had only 112 pages yet found space to cover the dates of battles in the English Civil War, the winners of The Oaks and the rules of quoiting.
The contents of a contemporary edition include the following sections:
Around a hundred pages of articles on cricketing topics, including the introductory "Notes by the Editor", which address often controversial cricket issues and always provoke discussion in the cricketing world.
Traditionally the main source for key statistics about the game, although it has never attempted to be comprehensive. Nowadays the records section is intended to be complementary to the much more detailed data available online at Wisden's associated website ESPNcricinfo.
By far the largest section of the book. Hugely detailed coverage, including scorecards of every First class game played in the previous English summer, and summaries of minor counties, second eleven, university, school and premier club cricket, as well as the Village Cup.
Full coverage of all international cricket and brief coverage of domestic first class cricket outside England.
Law and Administration
This short section, 80 pages in the 2010 edition, has information about and addresses of official cricket bodies as well as the full laws of cricket, together with appendices. There are also details of meetings held by official bodies, including their major decisions, as well as articles about the Duckworth–Lewis method and Powerplays. The laws have been omitted from the most recent editions.
The Wisden Review
This section includes the Chronicle (noteworthy events from the previous year), reviews of other cricket books published in the year, noteworthy retirements and the highly regarded obituaries section among others.
Book reviews and the Wisden Book of the Year
John Arlott wrote the Books section from its inception in the 1950 edition until the 1992 edition, just before he died. Beginning with the 1993 edition the Books section has been written by a different person each year, often someone "with a literary reputation first and a separate enthusiasm for cricket". The first such reviewer was J. L. Carr, and others have included Sebastian Faulks (1997) and Leslie Thomas (1998).
An award for the Wisden Book of the Year was inaugurated in the 2003 edition. The winners have been:
|2003||Bodyline Autopsy||David Frith||Frank Keating|
|2004||No Coward Soul||Stephen Chalke and Derek Hodgson||Barry Norman|
|2005||On and Off the Field||Ed Smith||Ramachandra Guha|
|2006||Ashes 2005||Gideon Haigh||Ed Smith|
|2007||Brim Full of Passion||Wasim Khan||Peter Oborne|
|2008||Tom Cartwright: The Flame Still Burns||Stephen Chalke||Patrick Collins|
|2009||Sweet Summers: The Classic Cricket Writing of J. M. Kilburn||Duncan Hamilton (editor)||Patrick Collins|
|2010||Harold Larwood: The Authorized Biography of the World's Fastest Bowler||Duncan Hamilton||Robin Martin-Jenkins|
|2011||The Cricketer's Progress: Meadowland to Mumbai||Eric Midwinter||Gideon Haigh|
|2012||Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography||Chris Waters||Harry Pearson|
|2013||Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy||Ed Hawkins||John Crace|
|2014||Driving Ambition||Andrew Strauss||Jonathan Liew|
|2015||Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan||Peter Oborne||Patrick Collins|
|2016||The Test: My Life, and the Inside Story of the Greatest Ashes Series||Simon Jones||Duncan Hamilton|
This section contains fixtures for the forthcoming international and English domestic season, the international schedule for the upcoming seven years and the Index of Unusual Occurrences featuring quirky cricketing stories. A selection from recent years includes: Rabbit burns down pavilion; Hot-air balloons stop play; Cricketers arrested for dancing naked; Fine leg arrives by parachute; Fried calamari stopped play; Umpire locked in ground overnight..
Wisden has had 17 editors covering 151 editions during 150 years of publication.
- W. H. Crockford/W. H. Knight (1864–69)
- W. H. Knight (1870–79)
- G.H. West (1880–86)
- Charles F. Pardon (1887–90)
- Sydney Pardon (1891–1925)
- C. Stewart Caine (1926–33)
- Sydney J. Southerton (1934–35)
- Wilfred H. Brookes (1936–39)
- Haddon Whitaker (1940–43)
- Hubert Preston (1944–51)
- Norman Preston (1952–80)
- John Woodcock (1981–86)
- Graeme Wright (1987–92, 2001–02)
- Matthew Engel (1993–2000, 2004–07)
- Tim de Lisle (2003)
- Scyld Berry (2008–11)
- Lawrence Booth (2012 to present)
Booth's deputy, promoted to the role of co-editor, is Hugh Chevallier.
As would be expected from a publication of such size and longevity, Wisden has had a large number of contributors. The majority involve match reports for the various fixtures recorded each year, but also biographies, reviews and opinion. Practically all the great cricket writers have written for Wisden, along with many great cricketers. Neville Cardus contributed many notable essays and for many years John Arlott was responsible for the book reviews.
Five Cricketers of the Year
Since 1902 (with the occasional exception) Wisden has honoured five cricketers for their outstanding achievements over the previous year. Further details, with a full list of recipients of the award, can be found at Wisden Cricketers of the Year.
Indices and anthologies
At least two indices to Wisden have been published:
- Index to Wisden, 1864–1943 by Rex Pogson (1944)
- An Index to Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1864–1984 by Derek Barnard (1985)
An index from 1985 onwards is available in pdf form on the Wisden web site.
A number of anthologies of articles from Wisden have been published. These include:
- Wisden Anthology by Benny Green (1979)
- Wisden Book of Obituaries edited by Benny Green (1986)
- The Wisden Papers of Neville Cardus (Wisden Papers) edited by Benny Green (1989)
- The Wisden Papers edited by Benny Green (1990)
- The Concise Wisden: An Illustrated Anthology of 125 Years edited by Benny Green (1990)
- Wisden Anthology: 1864–1900 edited by Benny Green (1992)
- Wisden Anthology: 1901–1939 edited by Benny Green (1992)
- Wisden Anthology: 1940–1963 edited by Benny Green (1992)
- Wisden Anthology: 1964–1982 edited by Benny Green (1992)
- Endless Summer: 140 Years of Australian Cricket in Wisden edited by Gideon Haigh (2003)
- The Wisden Collection: Volume 1 edited by Graeme Wright (2004)
- The Wisden Collection: Volume 2 edited by Graeme Wright (2005)
- Wisden at Lords: An Illustrated Anthology edited by Graeme Wright (2005)
- Wisden Anthology: 1978–2006: Cricket's Age of Revolution edited by Stephen Moss (2006)
Style, design, graphical content and materials
For the first 32 years of its existence the Almanack was only published in softback form, in a paper cover that varied in colour through the years between shades of pink, yellow and buff. From the 33rd (1896) edition onwards hardback copies became available at twice the price of the softback.
In 1889 the Almanack published its first photoplate, commissioned to accompany the Editor's nomination of six great Bowlers of the Year. From then on a photoplate appeared each year up to and including 1915. The plates were attached to an un-numbered page in the Almanack and had a tissue protector. They continued to show a number of selected players of the year except in 1896, when W G Grace was the only subject, and in 1913, when the 50th edition published no selections but celebrated John Wisden himself. After a two-year hiatus during World War 1 the plate reappeared in 1918, but as a mechanically printed image depicting five School Bowlers of the Year. The image in the 1919 edition continued to reflect wartime exigencies with its five Public School Cricketers of the Year before normal service resumed in 1920 with five Batsmen of the Year. From then on, with four exceptions (see Wisden Cricketers of the Year), the norm was to include an image of five Cricketers of the Year. It was not until 1938 that other photographs were introduced.
From 1933 to 1939 the softback editions of the Almanack contained a cricket bat bookmark attached by the blade to the inside of the spine with yellow string. The bat handle of the bookmark is easily lost and softbacks with entirely intact bookmarks command a price premium.
In 1938 the Almanack underwent some significant style, design and material changes under the supervision of Robert Henry Harling. He introduced a new typeface and new designs for the front covers of both the softback and hardback editions. A yellow linen cover featuring the iconic woodcut by Eric Ravilious replaced the paper wrapper of the softback edition – a reason why softbacks from this time onwards are often referred to as "linens" even though they changed to a cloth-effect card binding in 1957. The design of the softback from 1938 onwards is probably the one most associated with the word "Wisden" in the mind of the general public.
There was a change to the orientation of the gilt lettering on the spines of hardbacks from 1941 to 1948. This was probably required by, and then a relict of, the slimness of the volumes published during World War 2. Excepting the 1963 centenary softback, the external appearance of both types of the Almanack then remained substantially unchanged until 1965 when the hardback was issued with a dust jacket. This was printed on yellow paper with the same design as the softback, giving a uniformity of appearance to both formats.
Between 1965 and 1978 the woodcut and text elements of the softback covers and the hardback dust jackets were printed in a variety of colours before reverting to black on yellow from 1979 onwards. Since that time some other changes have occurred to the style, design and materials:
- Between 1982 and 1984 the hardback dust jackets were printed on white paper
- Colour photographs first appeared in the Almanack in 1988
- From 1994 the hardback dust jackets were laminated, making them more resistant to wear and tear
- In 2001 the layout of the front board of the hardback was changed
- In 2003 a new style of photo dust jacket was introduced, although readers were informed that those who preferred the "traditional cover" could order one free from the publisher. This offer did not last: from the following year onwards a charge was made for providing these covers.
Minor changes of style have taken place throughout the Almanack's history, and are documented in a collector's guide that was updated and reprinted in 2011.
Due to their rarity the early editions of Wisden, and editions published during the two World Wars, are expensive and difficult to come by. Fortunately for the cricket historian, or the collector who wants to fill gaps without spending large sums of money, every edition up to 1946 is also available in facsimile form.
The first facsimile set was printed by Billing & Sons in 1960. Approximately 150 softback copies were produced of each year from 1864 to 1878 and made available either as part of a set or as singles. The facsimiles are clearly marked with an entry in capital letters at the bottom of the title page: "Facsimile edition 1960 made and printed in Great Britain by Billing and Sons Ltd., Guildford and London".
Lowe and Brydone produced another print run of the first 15 years in 1974. The run was limited again to 150 softback sets. These facsimiles are marked with an entry in capital letters at the bottom of the title page: "Second facsimile edition made and printed in Great Britain by Lowe and Brydone (Printers) Limited".
In 1991 John Wisden & Co Ltd produced its own facsimile set in a distinctive yellow box. This again comprised editions from 1864 to 1878 inclusive and was limited to 1000 sets. The individual books are not strictly facsimiles, and cannot be mistaken for originals, because although they include a copy of the original covers they are hardbound in red boards with "WISDEN FACSIMILE" in gilt on the front and the set number – "No. X of 1000" – on the back. Internally there is also an entry to the effect that the editions are facsimiles at the bottom of each title page: "This facsimile edition is published in 1991 by John Wisden & Co. Ltd. and printed by The Eastern Press Ltd., Reading".
In recent years a more extensive range of facsimiles has been produced by the Willows Publishing Company Ltd. As of early 2014, softback and hardback editions up to and including 1946 have been published. Like the Wisden facsimile set, the Willows softback facsimiles up to 1937 are hardbound, in tan cloth with gilt embossing, but from 1938 onwards they are true facsimiles with yellow linen covers. The hardback editions are also true facsimiles, with dark brown covers upon which the original gilt embossing is reproduced. Internally all Willows editions are identified as reprints at the base of the title page and limited edition numbers, where applicable, are also marked on the binding or cover.
It is worth noting that the first three facsimile sets reproduced the wrong back cover for the 1878 edition – they incorrectly showed a list of articles supplied by John Wisden & Co. The Willows facsimile contains the correct advertisement, for a book on Oxford and Cambridge cricket matches from 1827 to 1876.
To celebrate the 150th edition, a facsimile of the 1864 edition was offered by John Wisden & Co as an incentive for those who subscribed to both the 2013 and 2014 editions. The facsimile offer was repeated in 2014 for those willing to subscribe to the Almanack by direct debit. This is not a true facsimile as the back cover does not reproduce the "List of Articles" of the original, but instead on the inside there is an advertisement for Wisden reprints from the Willows Publishing Company and on the back a celebration of 150 years of Wisden. At the bottom of the back cover information is provided about the reprint: "This reprint of the first edition of Wisden was produced in 2013 for the publisher, John Wisden & Co, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Printed and bound by MPG Books."
Collectors need to be aware that, in addition to facsimile books, facsimile dust jackets are available for editions of Wisden from 1965 to 2003 to replace those that have been lost or damaged. They are also offered from 2004 onward as "traditional covers" that can be substituted for the original photo dust jackets. Supplied by Wisden's "official dust jacket supplier", these jackets are laminated and are printed in black on yellow (unlike the original jackets issued with the editions from 1965 to 1978 that incorporated colour elements). Replacement dust jackets are also clearly distinguishable from the originals as they are marked on the back cover with the words "REPLACEMENT DUST JACKET".
The same supplier offers traditional design dust jackets for editions from 1946 to 1964. Although these mimic the appearance of the softback covers they are not true facsimiles as the original hardback editions were never issued with dust jackets.
The size of Wisden print runs is of considerable interest to collectors as rarity has a very strong influence on the value of individual editions.
The most reliable, or rather most widely quoted, source of information on print runs is an article by Leslie Gutteridge titled "A History of Wisden" published in the 1963 Almanack. In this article the writer states that it had proved impossible to trace any printing orders earlier than 1936, having earlier mentioned that records had been lost during the Second World War as a result of two attacks on the publisher and Wisden's Mortlake factory.
Despite the lack of early records Gutteridge notes that editions from 1889 to 1901, except 1896 and 1900, ran to two impressions (the word "impression" rather than "edition" is used throughout this section to avoid confusion with Wisden's use of "edition" in the book's title). He also notes in passing the rarity of the 1875 edition, though "not ... so scarce as the first issue of 1864", without providing specific details.
It is for the years from 1936 onwards that Gutteridge puts numbers to the print runs, providing either combined figures, or a breakdown of softback and/or hardback numbers, for each year to 1949:
After 1949 he notes that numbers diminished, although at the time he wrote the article sales of the softback and hardback editions were still 11,000 and 10,000 respectively. It is likely that these figures were greatly exceeded in the centenary year as the 1963 edition ran to three impressions.
In more recent years sales of the 2006 edition exceeded 50,000 in total. The size of the print run was based on the publisher's belief that England's successful Ashes campaign the previous summer would attract considerable public interest.
Although unsupported by any reliable documentation, it is almost certain that print runs were reduced during the First World War. The 1916 edition, also containing as it does the obituary of W G Grace, is the most expensive 20th century Wisden.
The smallest recent print runs are believed to be for the years 1969 to 1971. While, again, the numbers are not documented anywhere there is strong support for this contention as these editions command higher prices than surrounding years.
Collectors and collecting strategies
Collecting Wisdens is a popular activity among cricket followers, and early editions command high prices. The first edition, only 112 pages long, sold for one shilling. Rare copies of the early editions can sell for thousands.
Collection strategies vary depending upon the individual collector's inclination and financial circumstances. A collector with unlimited funds might want to assemble the "perfect set" (*) – original softbacks from 1864 to 1895 and original hardbacks from then on – while others might collect combinations of hardbacks, softbacks, rebound softbacks and facsimile editions from a more restricted range of dates. Condition is important as an aspect of strategy, do you collect any year as quickly and/or as cheaply as possible or do you only collect near mint Wisdens (at a higher cost)?
A reference set, where condition and originality is secondary to the information contained within the books, can be assembled for a fraction of the price of a perfect set, particularly given the availability of facsimile editions from 1864 to 1946.
An example of a complete collection can be seen on the www.wisdens.org website which holds pictures and valuations (realised auction value) of every year. 1864 added here.
(*) Not all collectors believe this to be the "perfect set" , it is certainly the most expensive but a run of all softback Wisdens would certainly be close to perfection in a collectors eye.
Although devoting most of its pages to a survey of the contents of Wisden from 1864 to 2010, the last 44 pages of The Wisden Collector's Guide contains a significant amount of information of interest and practical use to the collector.
The two main UK-based on-line resources for Wisden collectors are the Wisdens.org (www.wisden.guru) and Wisden Collectors Club websites (see External Links). Facilities offered by the former are free of charge and open to all visitors (although its forum requires registration) while the latter charges a nominal annual membership fee for access to its main site.
A Wisden archive is maintained by ESPNCricinfo (see External Links), offering access to some features, articles and international scores from the first edition onwards. The article "A history of Wisden" prepared for the 1963 centenary edition is likely to be of most interest to collectors who do not have access to the original volume.
A combination of rarity (perceived or known), condition, completeness and originality determines the price a collector is willing to pay for any given edition. Rarity arguably has the strongest influence on value as editions known to be very rare (e.g. those published in the periods when paper restrictions applied during both World Wars) are very much more expensive than comparable editions from the surrounding decades. Editions such as the 1916 containing the obituary and career details of W. G. Grace; 1934, detailing the 'Bodyline' series of 1932–33; 1949, the Australian 'Invincibles' tour of 1948; 1965, the first to have a yellow dust jacket: All are rare and expensive for specific reasons. Most collectors begin by wishing to collect back to a certain year; the year of their birth for example. There are many reputable Wisden booksellers and people with knowledge and experience that can help the collector along the way.
Whereas many a collector or bookseller can provide a valuation of a Wisden, to achieve a feel for the price of an individual volume, a collector would be advised to look for previous sales prices, the main Auction Houses such as Christies keep a record of their sales and the information site www.wisdens.org has a list of previous auction sales that they collate. The auction website www.wisden.auction also lists their sale prices under the completed area of their website. Although please remember if you were bidding at the time the price achieved may have been higher.