1 John Wisden was a pioneering cricketer in Victorian times. A 5ft 4ins fast bowler, he was nicknamed The Little Wonder and once took all 10 wickets in an innings, every one of them clean bowled. He went into business in 1850, while still at the height of his career, selling cricket gear in Leamington. In 1859 he went on the first English cricket tour abroad – to the USA and Canada.
2 A new edition of Wisden has been published every year since 1864. The first edition was priced at one shilling. It ran to only 112 pages and was padded out with several items unrelated to cricket, including notable dates of battles in the English Civil War, the winners of The Oaks, and the rules of quoiting.
3 The famous yellow cover first appeared on the 75th edition in 1938. The jacket had been salmon-pink on a few earlier editions.
4 The woodcut image of two Victorian gentlemen playing cricket in top hats and tight trousers was also introduced on the front of the book in 1938. The woodcut was made by Eric Ravilious, a well-known modernist artist of the time who died in the war four years later.
5 The first person to appear in a photograph on the cover was Michael Vaughan in 2003.
6 The most famous single copy of Wisden is a 1939 edition belonging to EW Swanton, the distinguished cricket writer, who had it with him when he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. It proved so popular with the other PoWs that it had to be reserved in advance like a library book, and could be borrowed for no more than 12 hours. It was stamped “Not subversive” by the guards and became so heavily thumbed that it two prisoners rebound it using rice paste as glue. Swanton died, aged 92, in 2000; the book, battered but unbowed, is in the museum at Lord’s.
7 In February 1944 the Wisden factory at Mortlake in south-west London was hit by a German bomb, and all the company’s records were destroyed. It wasn’t too serious a blow, as the records that mattered were all in the book, which continued to appear annually throughout the war.
8 The Almanack is almost invariably referred to as the “Bible of cricket” – but never by Wisden, which lets others use the phrase.
9 The 2013 edition will be the 150th Wisden Almanack.. In Wisden’s centenary year of 1963, a full set of Almanacks in good condition was said to be worth £250. Nowadays a complete set in such condition could cost well in excess of £100,000. Collectors include Sir Tim Rice, the Oscar-winning lyricist.
10 Through its 148 editions, Wisden has had only 16 editors. The longest-serving (1891-1925) was Sydney Pardon, who introduced the Notes by the Editor. The shortest-serving was Tim de Lisle who, in 2003, took on the job for just one edition between two former editors returning for second stints. Scyld Berry took over for the 2008 edition, after Matthew Engel stepped down after 12 years (he thus edited one-twelfth of the first 144 Almanacks). Lawrence Booth, the youngest editor for 72 years, took the reins for the 2012 edition.
11 One of the oldest honours in sport, dating back to 1889, is to be chosen as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year. Nobody can be chosen twice. From 1927 until 2010, five cricketers were chosen for each edition. In 2011, only four were chosen. The selection of the fifth became unsustainable after an independent tribunal appointed by the ICC banned him for corruption. During the war years (1941-46) none were chosen. Prior to 1927 the annual choices ranged from one player (eg WG Grace in 1896) to nine batsmen (in 1890). The Five named in the 2006 edition brought the number of Wisden Cricketers of the Year since the Second World War up to 300. In 2008 Wisden identified five prominent players from the past who, for various reasons, hadmissed out on the honour: they were Abdul Qadir, Bishan Bedi, Wes Hall, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Jeff Thomson. In 2009 England’s Claire Taylor became the first woman to be chosen.
12 For the 2000 edition, Wisden invited a worldwide panel of 100 cricketers and other experts to name their Five Cricketers of the Century. The winners were Sir Don Bradman, Sir Garry Sobers, Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Viv Richards and Shane Warne. Every single member of the panel voted for Bradman, who thus achieved the perfect 100 that famously eluded him with his Test batting average (99.94).
13 In 2004 Wisden introduced a new accolade – The Leading Cricketer in the World – based on performances in the previous calendar year. The first player to be so honoured was Ricky Ponting. Unlike the Five Cricketers of the Year, there is no restriction on the number of time a player can be chosen as Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World (Virender Sehwag was named in both 2008 and 2009). The 2007 Almanack included an article backdating this honour to 1900.
14 John Wisden & Co, the proprietors of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, donated the Wisden Trophy in 1963 to mark the Almanack’s 100th edition, and it has been at stake in every England-West Indies Test series since. The Wisden Trophy usually resides in the Lord’s Museum, where it is on permanent display beside the Ashes.
15 The very first Test match took place in 1877, between England and Australia, but was not covered in the Almanack for a hundred years. The scorecard was finally printed to accompany coverage of the Centenary Test in 1977. The result, bizarrely, was the same in both cases – Australia won by 45 runs.
16 The first official one-day international, Australia v England in 1970-71, was covered only in a brief scoreline, so the Almanack completed a memorable double (see 15).
17 Wisden was briefly in the hands of the late Robert Maxwell, the tycoon and fraudster, whose publishing conglomerate, Macdonald, took over the publishing of the Almanack in the 1970s. Maxwell shocked guests at the annual launch dinner by saying the page size was too small and would have to change. It didn’t – although a large-format edition was published for the first time in 2006.
18 Sir Paul Getty, the billionaire philanthropist, book collector and cricket lover, liked the Almanack so much he bought the company in 1993. He remained chairman of John Wisden and Co. until his death in April 2003. Late in 2008 the company was sold to Bloomsbury Publishing Group.
19 In 2000, Wisden suffered its first case of flashing. A Leicestershire spin bowler, Matthew Brimson, posed in the team photograph in a way that made it clear he was not wearing an abdominal protector. The photographer didn’t spot it, nor did the editorial staff, and it went unnoticed for several days after publication until an eagle-eyed journalist on the Evening Standard spotted it. Brimson retired at the end of that season to take up a teaching position at a boys’ public school.
20 Throughout its 149 editions, Wisden has always been independent of any cricket administration. It’s unofficial, and that’s official.