John Wisden – “the Little Wonder” – was one of the star cricketers of the mid-19th century: he probably starting selling cricket equipment in 1850, the year he took ten wickets in an innings for North v South at Lord’s. All ten were bowled, a feat which remains unique in first-class cricket.
He soon opened a shop in London and added cigars to his range of goods. Finally, he branched out into publishing and in 1864 produced the first Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack: an eccentric volume of old scores running to just 112 pages.
As it entered the last century, the Almanack dramatically improved to become accepted as the most authoritative record of cricket in Britain and around the world: a little wonder in its own right. It has never missed a year, even during the two world wars. Wherever the game is played, the name Wisden is now synonymous with cricket itself: it is the most famous sports book in the world.
Wisden’s yellow jacket, woodcut logo and front cover title in playbill font give each edition a familiar look. The book is regularly referred to as “the cricketers’ bible” (though not by the publishers) and some devotees regard it as infallible, a view emphatically not shared by Wisden – although the staff go to exceptional lengths to avoid even minor errors.
Each new edition contains more than 1,500 pages, many crammed with scorecards and statistics that some may find forbidding and dry. But devotees know the book is also full of unique and fascinating features, and every page is imbued with the spirit of the Almanack, defined as “accuracy, integrity and independence”.