The latest edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack has issued an impassioned warning over the future of Test cricket, arguing the format “needs the kiss of life” and praising England’s attempts to provide one.
While there is nothing new about the sport being placed on some form of endangered list, the words of a publication that is now in its 160th outing stand on an elevated platform. The famous yellow book provides a loving, living history of the game but, when required, attempts to act as a guardian of its future.
Accordingly, the 2023 outing, helmed by Lawrence Booth for the 12th time, finds itself in a state of alarm at the status of the longer form, theoretically the pinnacle of professional cricket but increasingly embattled in reality.
In his editor’s notes Booth makes the case in stark fashion.
“For many, Test cricket has become jetsam, tossed overboard to make room for simpler cargo,” he writes.
“The national boards have handed the keys to the self-interested few, and lost control of players they nurtured. The Indian franchises have been allowed to take over the house, one T20 knees-up at a time. Private money calls the shots. Test cricket needs the kiss of life.”
With many bilateral internationals crammed into unappealing gaps in the schedule, squeezed from all sides by domestic leagues and often stripped of its best playing talent, Booth bemoans an annual schedule that has become “a bewildering act of self-harm”.
Yet this is not a Wisden wholly consumed by dread. Indeed, in its cover stars Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, it identifies the green shoots of Test cricket’s recovery.
Stokes, for the third time in four years, is feted as the leading men’s cricketer in the world – celebrated on occasion as much for being a talisman for the wider Test cause as a star performer for his own nation.
In changing England from an increasingly fearful team with a damaging losing habit to one of the most vibrantly entertaining teams of any stripe, Booth contends the pair “rewrote the rules and reordered the imagination”.
There are references to Franklyn D Roosevelt and the Profumo affair as Booth seeks to contextualise their tenure, but, in defending the admittedly over-used shorthand phrase ‘Bazball’, he perhaps could have reached for Oscar Wilde’s contention that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all.
Elsewhere among the tome’s bumper 1,616 pages – the longest outing in over a decade – there is a suitably hefty chunk dedicated to the late Shane Warne. His death last March came too late to be fully recognised in the 2022 almanack, but that calendar quirk is fully rectified with several tributes, including a merrily rambunctious piece by his biographer Gideon Haigh.
As ever with a publication so rooted in deep history, there are several nods backwards – 150 years on from the birth of the great SF Barnes, 50 from the first World Cup and a tribute to the more recent legacy of the retired Eoin Morgan.
For contemporary concerns, the winner of this year’s writing competition – an open field for anyone never previously published in its pages – makes his presence felt. Taking acerbic aim at the relationship between the International Cricket Council and Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco – one of planet’s biggest carbon emitters in a climate crisis that will assuredly hit cricket hard and fast – Melbourne-based classics student Dan Crowley scores a direct hit.