The Wisden Experience


Little can be added to this.  It is a reflection on my experience of attending the 2013 Wisden dinner at Lord’s as the inaugural winner of the writing competition which had been launched in the 2012 edition of the Almanack.

It was quite an enjoyable evening.

In the first chapter of Rain Men, A Matter of Faith, Marcus Berkmann likens cricket to fundamentalist religion:

‘…Cricket is a matter of faith.  Either you believe or you don’t believe.  There is no rational explanation…We have the devilishly complex theology, whose baroque byways confuse even the most dedicated adherents.  We have the curious vestments, for white is a holy colour in many religions.  We have our holy book, published each April in both hardback and paperback editions.’

In what is possibly my favourite part of a great book, Berkmann is both persuasive and hilarious.  However, questions arise.  If Wisden is cricket’s holy book, what is the status of the editor?  Cricket’s Archbishop of Canterbury?  Its Pope?  Or someone more senior?

Like any self-respecting cricket tragic (and, I suspect, plenty with no self-respect whatsoever), I’ve been reading Wisden since I was a lad and I always liked the idea of writing something which would appear in it.  Until last year, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it.  A bit like the many cricketers with glorious futures behind them who ply their trade on the country’s club grounds on the increasingly rare British days when it isn’t raining, I probably felt that the opportunity to taste the big time (like the chance to open the batting for England at Lord’s) had passed me by.

I could have been a contender.

Then came the Wisden Writing Competition.  I wrote something and sent it in, just ahead of the deadline.  For the next couple of months I largely forgot about it.   My father became ill and subsequently died.  Life, in the shadow of the longest British winter of modern times, went on.

One office-bound morning at the end of January, while I was trying to decide which of a thousand competing demands on my time I was going to tackle first, I noticed that I’d received an e-mail from the Editor of Wisden, Lawrence Booth.  He was telling me that I’d won the competition, inviting me to the Wisden Dinner  and asking me to keep the news to myself ‘for the time being’.

This was it.  A message from cricket’s Archbishop of Canterbury.  Or perhaps it was more akin to a missive from the monarch.  Every year, when people (some of them cricketers) receive OBEs or Knighthoods, they mention the fact that they were told to keep the news secret.

‘Oh, it was difficult’, they say.  And they’re right.

In the end, people are told, sartorial advice (for a Black Tie virgin) sought and my bank account left reeling.  April comes, and I find myself in the Long Room Bar at Lord’s, drinking champagne.

Life can be tough sometimes.

Then a barely audible fire alarm sounds, quickly followed by a man telling us to evacuate the building.  Within minutes I’m standing outside the pavilion in the murky drizzle, surrounded by the pride of the British cricket media and one or two people who’ve even made the odd Test match run.

Life can be interesting sometimes.

The cause of the alarm is rapidly dealt with and we return to more important matters, such as eating, drinking and congratulating people.  Toasts are proposed and drunk, leather-bound Wisdens are presented to deserving candidates, and speeches are delivered with appropriateness and sensitivity.  Nick Compton talks of his first encounter with English cricket, in the company of his grandfather and Peter Parfitt (who is sitting nearby), while Michael Palin expertly evokes the atmosphere of backyard Test matches in 1950s Sheffield and concludes by reciting a classic Monty Python sketch.  Everywhere there is reminiscence and the exchange of the seasoned anecdote.  I speak to various well-known people, none of whom have any idea who I am.

In many ways it is like a journey through the adolescence of a cricketing child of the 1970s and 1980s, who may well have spent more time with his nose among the covers of a chocolate and yellow book than is strictly healthy.  Selvey is here, Brearley is there, Agnew and Marks are somewhere else.  John Woodcock surveys proceedings with the air of a benign éminence grise.  David Gower relishes the speeches, laughs in all the right places and finishes the evening in the bar with a few representatives of the press.  He may look a little old for his years but to those of us of a certain age he will always be the man who made Test match batting look like the easiest thing in the world.

Unusually, I leave Lord’s in darkness.  The County Championship season began today, and, of course,  it is raining steadily.

Different Shades of Green, 14th April 2013