Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack: A Legacy of Evolution and Tradition

The Unexpected Call that Led to Wisden’s Lasting Legacy

In 1994, a peculiar commission arrived by post, offering me “a sliver of immortality” despite not paying particularly well. Only the Editor of the revered Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack could have extended such an intriguing proposition.

That Editor was Matthew Engel, whose sharp wit had inadvertently drawn me into the world of sports writing years earlier. When I was contemplating a shift from arts and features to becoming the cricket writer for the Independent on Sunday, rereading Engel’s captivating work at the Guardian sealed the deal. I jumped at the chance to collaborate with him, spending endless hours perfecting the Almanack’s media roundup.

The Challenge of Revitalizing Wisden Cricket Monthly

In 1996, Engel sought a new Editor for Wisden Cricket Monthly. Even without my admiration for his work, the opportunity to helm such an esteemed publication would have been hard to turn down. I had purchased my first Almanack as a 10-year-old, captivated by its rich history dating back to 1864 – a decade before Test cricket itself.

The challenge, however, was to shake off Wisden’s tendency to be mired in the past. The Monthly, founded by cricket historian David Frith in 1979, had grown stale. It needed revitalizing – with greater diversity, larger visuals, and livelier writing to attract younger readers and writers. This was a delicate balance, as traditionalists like Frith likely viewed such changes as mere “froth”.

Nurturing the Next Generation

Our intern scheme proved successful, drawing aspiring cricket correspondents who had few other outlets. Among them were future luminaries like Tanya Aldred, Rob Smyth, and Lawrence Booth – the latter demonstrating a rare poise that made him the natural choice to lead Wisden’s online evolution in 2001, even as our website ultimately fell short against the juggernaut that was Cricinfo.

Edging Wisden Towards the Future

When the Almanack required an Editor for 2003, I couldn’t resist the chance, however brief. The task was clear – a sympathetic renovation, keeping Wisden’s distinctive features while adding a touch of modernity. The static cover, unchanged since 1938, needed a vibrant photo capturing the previous year’s dominant player, sparking debate as it did with the 1948 edition featuring Compton and Edrich.

“The changes were not universally embraced, with purists decrying the ‘heresy’ of a photo cover. But the spirit of evolution prevailed, as it has under the thoughtful stewardship of Lawrence Booth, who has made Wisden more diverse, empathetic and attuned to cricket’s place in the wider world.”

At 161 years old, Wisden remains a perennial bestseller and headline-grabber, its conscience guiding the sport. In Booth’s capable hands, the Almanack’s legacy continues to flourish.

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