Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack appears for the 158th time and in a slimmer edition. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic seriously disrupted global society in 2020 and cricket was not exempt (why should it be!). This edition contains fewer match reports but more articles and commentary. The writing competition remains: the opportunity for non-professional writers to have a short article in the “cricketers’ bible”.
Last year I wrote an analysis of the first eight competitions; how does the ninth outing compare? Well the most visible change is that the entry level has shot up. “In a year of fewer distractions Wisden received 193 entries”.
Before looking in more detail a word of congratulation to this year’s winner, Philip Hardman. His appeal to recognise John Snow in the pantheon of great fast bowlers of the “modern (loosely pre colour television) era” was triggered by the photograph of Snow on the cover of the 1971 Playfair Cricket Annual, the first cricket book he bought. For those who don’t recall Snow’s bowling here is a clip (in black and white) introduced by Richie Benaud. I wonder if the winner of the 59th Writing Competition in Wisden 2071 will look back as nostalgically on Zak Crawley, the cover portrait of this year’s Playfair.
193 entries, that’s nearly double the number for most years. As entrants can write two articles it looks like 29 people entered two articles and 164 people just one. Around three quarters of the entrants were making their debut in the competition. Mr Hardman’s success broke new ground. As I noted last year eight of the nine winners were first timers (the sole exception was on his second entry). Unless there are previous entrants also called Philip Hardman this was his fifth entry. An encouraging breakthrough for those who enter regularly!
This year there is a slight change in the prizes. Unlike the Wisden Photography Competition there is no monetary reward, just recognition and an invite to the annual launch dinner (if held). A year’ subscription to The Nightwatchman will be now thrown in (£34.95 plus shipping). The shortlisted entries (whose authors are not disclosed which is a shame, not even with an * in the list of names) will be published in The Nightwatchman.
Four people remain ever present. Paul Caswell, David Fraser, David Potter and Christopher Sharp maintained their 100% record since the opening competition in 2013. A further seven have scored 7 or 8 entries, making up an all-time XI. (I keep my place). Eleven, including some of the all-time XI have been regulars over the last five years.
Mr Hardman’s article broke several other of the characteristics of winners: he lives in Lancashire (the first to live so far “north”); he does not appear to blog (or tweet) about cricket and, of course, he was not a first timer. His article was in the tradition of writing about cricket rather than the effect cricket has on the author. Clearly John Snow had an effect on the writer but the focus of the article was on Snow.
The short overview of the competition mentions that entries came from an impressive range of countries “Australia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and New Zealand, and also from Belgium, Canada and the Virgin Islands”. My entry from Spain was in there somewhere but as Valencia had a mention last year it is too much to expect an annual tip!.
What I found more interesting was the increase in women entrants. It’s not fully clear from the list of names to identify everyone, there are several unisex names, but it looks like around 5% of the entrants were women. It may appear to be low but it is a significant step forward compared to previous years. There are now more women article writers in Wisden, more match reports from around the world and a catch up in the obituaries section of women cricketers overlooked in the past.
Among the feature articles Emma John’s review of books stands out. No longer a placid run through of the years’ books she transforms this long standing feature to an essential commentary on the culture of cricket. Her reviews of recent books by Duncan Hamilton and Michael Henderson are priceless. Let´s hope she continues in the role to make the feature as indispensable as, and complementary to, the “Notes by the Editor”. There are many who would wish the post pandemic world to return to the past (2019 if not 1971 or even 1951). Articles by Ebony Rainford- Brent and Michael Holding building on their Sky interview on racism in cricket powerfully show that change is needed. Several claims of racial discrimination in cricket are underway and will no doubt be reported on in Wisden 2022.
Perhaps the outstanding sentence in the 1248 pages of Wisden is in the books review “There was nothing published in 2020 that feels like the cricket book we need right now”. It’s not just the Hundred which might bring in changes in 2021.