Wisden offers escape from the gloom

Cricket’s Almanack is a pleasant distraction from everyday life

Ben Stokes is Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

In a summer where we may get no cricket at all, today’s release of the 157th edition of the Wisden Almanack at least gives fans of the sport something to get their teeth into over the coming weeks.

First published in 1864, cricket’s bible, as the publication is known, has always offered a pleasant distraction from everyday life.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, this year, amid the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, Wisden will to some degree at least help sate the appetite of a sports-starved public.

Lawrence Booth, Wisden’s editor since 2012, admits: “We don’t want to look like it’s an opportunistic Wisden but it is the case that with no live sport, the publication takes on a bit more prominence than it usually would.

“It’s probably the closest thing we’ll have to live sport for the next few weeks and, of course, it tells the story of the most memorable summer in living memory for English cricket.

“So hopefully with people being starved of cricket at the moment they’ll be happy to relive what happened last year with the World Cup and the Ashes and the summer of Ben Stokes and so on.”

As ever, Wisden chronicles the previous English summer and, as Booth points out, there is plenty to enjoy from an epic 2019 that saw England lift the World Cup for the first time following a dramatic tied final against New Zealand at Lord’s and an Ashes series that included Stokes’ remarkable match-winning century at Headingley that became an instant all-time classic.

“There’s always been an escapist element to Wisden,” says Booth. “It is probably the ultimate cricketing expression of that escapism – 1,500 pages of obscure cricket stuff really. People often say they don’t get the chance to read the whole of Wisden but probably this year’s will be read as much as any edition just because people have got a bit more time on their hands.”

It’s no surprise that this year Stokes, also England’s hero in the World Cup final, is Wisden’s Leading Player in the World – breaking a three-year monopoly on the award by India’s Virat Kohli.

Jofra Archer, Pat Cummins, Simon Harmer, Marnus Labuschagne and Ellyse Perry are the five Cricketers of the Year.

Dating back to 1889, this honour chosen by the Wisden editor is given to those who have had the greatest influence on the previous English summer and can only be won once in a career.

This year’s choice, though, was the toughest Booth has had to make in his time as editor, with Jack Leach, 
pictured inset, the tailender who backed up Stokes so valiantly at Headingley, Australia’s Josh Hazlewood and World Cup winner 
Jason Roy all unlucky to miss out. “There were so many 
people who could have done it,” says Booth. “So for the first time I wrote a little pre-amble explaining who else was in the running and why it was so 

As always, Booth uses his editor’s notes to address the most pressing issues in the game – this year ranging from unconscious racial bias in English cricket, the defence of five-day Tests and the lack of live free-to-air matches on TV.

Other features of this year’s book include Wisden naming its champion all-format county. Using a points system weighted in favour of first-class cricket, but incorporating all the limited-overs competitions since 1963, Lancashire are top of the table, followed by Warwickshire and Essex. It’s a conclusion that is likely to prompt frenzied pub debate, or for now at least arguments on Zoom.

Keeping an institution established in the 19th century relevant to the modern-day reader is a constant challenge for Booth and his team but features on cricket and the environment, gender issues, social media and podcasts ensures Wisden keeps up with the 21st century. This year for the first time there is also an audio version, with a running time of more than 24 hours.

With the 2020 Almanack now put to bed, Booth’s thoughts look towards the sizeable challenge of next year’s book. “It will probably be the Coronavirus edition won’t it?” he says. “We’ll start afresh, see what cricket we’re left with and work out how on earth Wisden’s going to cope with what could be a blank summer.”