Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
Quote: “In offering our first edition of the Cricketer’s Almanack to the patrons of the Noble Game, we have taken great pains to collect a certain amount of information, which we trust will prove interesting to all those that take pleasure in this glorious pastime. Should the present work meet with but moderate success, it is intended next year to present our readers with a variety of other matches, which the confined nature of an Almanack precludes us from doing this year.”
By: Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack, 1864
The story begins with John Wisden, who defied his five-foot-six frame (he weighed about 44 kg when he made his debut) to become a much-feared round-arm fast bowler with a lethal off-cutter – though he cut down on pace as age caught up with him.
Wisden’s greatest on-field feat was taking all 10 wickets for South (of England) against North at Lord’s in 1850: it remains the only instance of a bowler bowling all ten batsmen in a First-Class innings. Wisden took 1,109 wickets at 10.32 from 187 First-Class matches before rheumatism ended his career in 1863.
While still an active cricketer, Wisden, in collaboration with Fred Lillywhite, ran a “cricket and cigar” shop in Coventry Street and coached cricket at Harrow. His most famous legacy, however, began a year after he quit First-Class cricket: he decided to launch a cricket annual to rival Lillywhite’s The Guide to Cricketers. Little did he know that he had changed cricket documentation forever.
Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack is the longest-running annual in the history of all sport. It needs little introduction to the readers of these pages, but the sheer effort that has gone into maintaining the lofty standards for over 150 years deserves a mention. One must remember that the publication has survived two World Wars and a fire at the Mortlake factory (in 1944) that destroyed all records.
The title of the first edition read The Cricketer’s Almanack for the Year 1864, being Bissextile or Leap Year, and the 28th of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. WH Crockford and WH Knight were the first editors. They continued to collaborate till 1869 before Knight single-handedly ran the operations until 1879.
All of 112 pages and priced at a shilling, the almanack was a softback pink book, unrecognisable from today’s hardbound yellow editions. It included scorecards and the Laws (“as revised by the Marylebone Club”) as well as “Scores of 100 and upwards, from 1850 to 1863”. Shipping prices to “any part of Great Britain” was 13 Stamps.
There were also several topics that may seem bizarre to today’s regular readers. Examples include details of games like bowls, quoits, knurr and spell, The Oaks Stakes, and the University Rowing Matches, and even English Civil War and Charles I’s trial.
Two entries deserve special mention. The first, dated January 28, ran “The Sikhs defeated at Aliwal by Sir Harry Smith, 1846”; the other read “March: 31, Thurs. Interest due on India bonds.”
These unusual entries stopped once Sydney Pardon – acknowledged the greatest editor in the history of the Almanack – took over in 1891. Pardon also introduced the honours of Wisden’s five greatest cricketers and introduced the Editor’s Note in 1901.