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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Stephen Brenkley: Your first copy of Wisden is the one you remember best

The first Wisden is always the best. 1969 was the year. It was unforgettable. The book came as a birthday present, the 16th, a late starter in some eyes; all previous requests and yearnings having gone unanswered.

But this one was momentous. The front cover, adorned as ever with the old wood carving, said it all. "Special features – J B Statham – Gentleman George." Statham, the great England fast bowler and fit to be anybody's boyhood hero, had retired the previous summer and this was his valediction.

The essay had been written by the legendary cricket essayist, Sir Neville Cardus but the book was a present from the man who had supplied the statistics of Statham's career, Geoffrey S Wilde, a lifelong friend who had provided the introduction to the wonders of cricket and to Statham years previously.

And now came the wonders of Wisden. Heretical to say so, but in those days it was not that good. Wisden contained most records then easily available but it was cluttered and the writing (Sir Neville apart) was rarely memorable.

That has changed in recent years. The statistics have ceased to be as important; the judgements, the opinions and the essays have assumed much greater significance most recently under its latest, fastidious, clever editor, Scyld Berry. Wisden is essential; simply part of the fabric of cricket.

Next to receiving one for the first time, the next best thing is writing for it. It would be difficult not to write another word about cricket. But having, fortuitously, been asked before the first coin toss of the summer 2005 Ashes to contribute the essay describing the series – perhaps the greatest of all time and a feature which may be read in 100 years – I shall be able to rest more easily.

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