Empty your pockets for charity

Paul Coupar, a colleague on the magazine, is walking miles and miles to raise funds for a cancer charity and the Laurie Engel fund. So empty your pockets immediately. In his and Hugh Chevallier’s words:

We are walking 150 miles across southern England, from one Wisden office to another, to raise money for the Laurie Engel Fund (Teenage Cancer Trust).

Laurie, the son of Wisden editor Matthew Engel, died in September 2005, aged 13. His parents, Matthew and Hilary, set up the fund to help pay for a six-bed extension to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where Laurie was treated for a particularly aggressive cancer. His medical care was excellent; the non-medical facilities were dismal.

The extension will allow teenage cancer patients to have some space to themselves – where they can just be teenagers. As well as giving patients more dignity, such wards also increase survival rates.

We set off from Upton Grey (near Basingstoke in Hampshire) at 10am on Saturday 19 May. Our first stop, after a gentle four miles, is the Wisden office at the Golden Pot, near Alton. Or possibly the pub near by.

From there, in the company of an assortment of friends, family and colleagues, we take ten days, walking for between 15 and 19 miles a day, to reach the house in the Golden Valley, south-west of Hereford, where Matthew lives and works, and where Laurie lived and died.

We hope to stride (but expect to hobble) down the Engels’ drive some time after lunch on Whit Monday, 28 May. It would have been Laurie’s 15th birthday. See below for a rough itinerary of where we are when.

Cricketana in 2006

Nice piece in today’s Wisden Almanack special on cricketana last year.

But auctions and controversy do seem to go together. In November, Christie’s auctioned what was definitely a cricket ball. It was said to be the one that Garry Sobers clobbered for the last of his six sixes in an over at Swansea in 1968. But how do we know it was that ball?

Christie’s had done a great deal of research. A 17-year-old spectator, Richard Lewis, searched for the ball as he was leaving the ground and found it in the gutter. The ball was handed back to Sobers and was believed to have been destined for the Trent Bridge Museum. But it never got there. For a time it was on display in one of the bars there, then supporters’ club secretary Josie Miller popped it in her make-up drawer for safe keeping. The ball arrived at Christie’s with a certificate of provenance signed by Sobers. But some players from the match say Stuart Surridge balls were in use. This was a Dukes. On the other hand, at least two balls were used in that over, so the replacement could have been a different make. Whatever, it made £22,000.

With relief, one can report there were no arguments at all about the burr walnut Victorian kidney-shaped pedestal desk sold by Bonham’s in March for £54,000 to an anonymous bidder. Barry Johnston, son of Brian, has fond memories of his father sitting at the desk in his study.

“Every morning, he would religiously sit at this desk and sort through his post,” he recalled. “He would receive countless letters from cricket fans and people asking him to open fêtes and so on, and he would scribble replies on the back of Donald McGill’s saucy seaside postcards – whether it was to a cricket fan or a bishop.”

There are always a host of really interesting, different, offbeat articles in the Almanack and we’ll be putting one up each week in its usual Sunday slot. Of course, you really ought to just go and buy it as well.

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2007

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Shane Warne is on the front cover of next month’s Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

Shane Warne on the front cover of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

Available in two flavours, hardback and paperback. No word on whether they are publishing the excellent larger edition which made its debut last year.

Wisden advertising in the 1800s


Although its primary role is to document cricket, the early editions of The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack have become a fascinating time machine into society in the 19th century. There are a whole bunch of advertisements in the late 1800s, offering various questionable concoctions to improve your health; Naturalists guns; Carry-All Fishing Baskets; Marquees (as used by Oxford and Cambridge!); false knee caps “made of finest plated steel wire, meshed so as to contract and expand with the movement of the knee.” You name it, Wisden advertised it.

Click here to see one I scanned for this brilliant article in the 1992 Almanack. Benjamin Edgington’s marquees, on Duke Street (roughly Borough High Street as it is today). You need to register (no bad thing anyway) to read it, but it’s worth doing. There are some absolute gems in there.

And by the by, Thomas Williams was indicted for stealing 40 yards of Edgington’s canvas on February 2, 1833, and transported to Australia for seven years. So now you know.

John Wisden’s gaff

Good old John. Without him, the annual excitement of reading the Small Yellow Book (and now Big Yellow Book as of this year, and I’m not talking the Yellow Pages) would not be. He’s our founder, too, and although we don’t have a big montage of him at Cricinfo and Wisden Towers it’s great to see photos like this:

Where John Wisden worked

This is 21 Cranbourn Street in London, just off Leicester Square where John Wisden and Co. were established. I think this is their “sporting goods” shop, and not an administrative office, although I could be wrong.

I think it’s now home to Sabir’s Fish Bar, or Saber’s – a poor attempt to mask the fact it’s essentially a chippy. But despite the batter being boiled downstairs, they’ve nevertheless kept the original artwork on the building which is really cool.

In fact I stuck up a great article from the 1992 edition of The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack last week on the survival of Wisden. A historical piece, it looks back to the beginnings of the company and how it has managed to last as long as it has. Go read. In putting the piece up I also found this image, “a few specimens of Crawford’s patent exceller bats” which I thought was brilliant.

John Wisden and Co

Peter the Lord’s cat

Peter the Lord\'s Cat: And Other Unexpected Obituaries from Wisden

Saw this reviewed in a newspaper today, and it looks well worth buying. I might even get it myself unless I can borrow one from work.

In 2005, Aurum republished with success, J.L. Carr’s miniature and classic “Dictionary of Extra-Ordinary Cricketers” – the book reprinted within a few months. Now, in its first collaboration with John Wisden & Co., publishers of the celebrated annual “Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack”, it publishes a similarly eccentric gallery of quixotic and eccentric cricketers, edited by acclaimed cricket writer Gideon Haigh. But where readers of J.L. Carr were never quite sure whether the author had somehow embellished – or even completely invented – the facts about the cricketers he anthologised, the esoteric details and mad whimsies recorded in these obituaries are exactly as they appeared in the august pages of the Almanack itself. Thus, we read of Anthony Ainley, who besides a claim to fame of playing the Master in “Dr. Who”, opened the batting clad in “sunblock, helmet and swimming goggles” and always took his teas alone in his car, “possibly because he despised cheeses of all kinds”.” There is the Rev. Reginald Heber Ross, whose two first-class cricket appearances were separated by a record 32 years. And there is the much-lamented loss of Peter the Cat, who frequented the pavilion at Lord’s for many years. He gets his own obituary.

Peter the Lord’s Cat: And Other Unexpected Obituaries from Wisden – £7.18. Check out the “cricket_books” tag or this post for some book recommendations.

Wisden’s Wormsley 2006

Wormsley cricket ground

So here’s Wormsley. Sir John Paul Getty II built it after Mick Jagger introduced him to cricket in the 1980s, and his interest quickly turned into an absorbed fascination about the game. Of course, being the son of one of the richest men on the planet enabled him to construct perhaps the most idyllic ground imaginable.

I arrived there not knowing an awful lot about the place, and was amazed to see it was hidden among his 3,000 acre estate. A chap from Empics told me that he owned the surrounding land “as far as the eye can see” which, given we were 30 miles outside London, is quite astonishing. It goes without saying that the M40, which is perhaps five miles as the crow flies, couldn’t be heard at all.

Jenny preparing to bat

It began with bacon sarnies and coffee, at the ungodly hour of 10.30am when most of Cricinfo is rising from their slumber. And with breakfast out of the way, the Pimms and rum were soon wheeled out by waiters and waitresses who tended to our every need! It was quite unbelievable; I’m not really comfortable with the whole waiter/waitress thing. It’s normal at those sorts of events, and I’m sure they earn more than enough, but it’s nevertheless a bit weird.


No matter, though. I soon recovered from my anxiety at being offered free alcohol, and took full advantage. Meanwhile, some people even played cricket, including the venerable Jenny who took the unusual, but by no means unique, warmup method of downing several cans of lager.

So much fun was had, watching CFOs, CEOs, Financial Execs, Marketing Execs and some bloke who I swear was pregnant, bat, bowl and field with remarkable inadequacy. Having not played for ten years, I opted out of making a complete tit of myself to turn my rusty arm over in the nets. It wasn’t pretty; in fact, it was downright ugly. It took me 18 balls (three whole overs to you and me) to find a length, and not one of them turned. Back to the tent, then, for more Cobra and Pimms and to meet Patrick Eager, who was just wheeling out a lens so expensive that I felt honoured to be sitting two deckchairs away from it. I’m sure you all know Patrick’s work. Suffice to say he’s a bloody decent bloke to boot.

And there we have it. Perks of the job, eh? I’ll stick some more photos up tomorrow.

The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2006

Wisden Cricketers' AlmanackThe Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2006 launches tomorrow. I caught up with the editor, Matthew Engel, and you can read my mumblings at Cricinfo. We can also exclusively reveal the five Cricketers of the Year:

Andrew Flintoff was named Leading Cricketer in the World for 2005.

It’s also an exciting time for Cricinfo. After nearly four years of work, involving countless people, we have launched the Almanack online. This means you can search for any Wisden match report, article or obituary from 1864 – 2006! Pretty cool we hope you agree.

Scrapbook to Wisden to cartoons to Denmark to Toksvig

The very venerable Norm, of normblog fame, is an utter cricket nut – more, perhaps, than me. But not more than some of my colleages at Cricinfo (hello Gnasher!). Please now go and read his post, because it’s really very interesting. Norm has kept scrapbooks of his thoughts on the game stretching back some 50 years (double my age, which is a frightening thought – although it does confirm and reassure me that I’m actually still rather young). In one of them was this (Norm – please shout if you’re not happy with me copying this):

A pleasantly informal ceremony was performed in Bulawayo last night when Percy Mansell, who celebrated his 21st year of representative cricket for Rhodesia by scoring 50 runs against the Australians earlier this month, was presented with a gramophone record recalling the performance. A disc had been cut by the FBS in Salisbury from the broadcast commentary, and in the Bulawayo FBS studios, Mansell is seen receiving the record from studio manager Tom Pile. Looking on are (left) Rhodesia Cricket Union president Barrie Day, and broadcaster Claus Toksvig, one of the commentators on the disc.

Now then, Toksvig rang a bell with Mr Norm (as it did with me) and of course we were reminded of Sandi, a witty comedienne whose family originate from Denmark (boring aside: she’s a fairly regular panelist of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and Just a Minute, two fabtastic radio shows). Lo and behold, Claus Toksvig is her Father!

(Non-cricketing aside, which is related to this post). She actually stated on TV that Denmark’s newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, never published cartoons depicting Mohammed (you’ll remember the storm which brewed earlier this month). Oddly, she backtracked on her comments the following day and wrote a very fine and balanced piece about the whole affair, at The Telegraph, which is well worth a read.

No further comment. The point of Norm’s post, and this one, albeit tenuously, is that cricket connects people in the most bizarre of ways.