31 MARCH 2007, Page 71

Woolmer in Wisden


The appalling crime in Jamaica still has the cricket world in shock, and it was harrowingly eerie this week to be coldly attempting to relish Wisden’s latest arrival, hot off the press. In it, of course, Bob Woolmer features prominently. The new almanack includes a poignant full-page closeup picture of a desperate Bob brandishing (in vain) The Laws of Cricket on the Oval balcony on that cataclysmic afternoon last August. For cricket’s own official version of how the laws of life were so greviously smithereened this March, as well as the game’s intimate farewell hosannas to trailblazer Woolmer, we shall have to wait the 12 months till Wisden 2008.

Last year’s Wisden extravagantly went to town — indeed, over the top and a few times round Trafalgar Square — as it delved into every nook and cranny of England’s happy and glorious 2005 Ashes victory. The book caught the mood and record sales topped 50,000 copies. In a rare example of slick turnaround publishing, editor Matthew Engel’s fresh edition scrupulously sifts through every dismal aspect of England’s wretched defence of the Ashes just concluded; as he says, if the new book was soon marked ‘reduced to 10p’ the reason would be all too obvious.

In fact, there was no disgrace in England’s winter defeat, only in the manner of it. ‘England were at once worn out but under-prepared; complacent yet over-apprehensive; inward-looking yet dysfunctional as a unit; closeted yet distracted,’ writes Engel. The coach, Fletcher, created a ‘bubble’ to protect his players from outside distractions — but as Engel adds, ‘there are problems living inside a bubble. Eventually the oxygen runs out.’ Fletcher should step down. Wisden has spoken.

Raking over the Ashes disaster makes for a riveting read: is it too English to say a more compelling one than 2006’s joyous doubledecker triumphalism? Engel is well served by his commission of heavyweight pieces for posterity — Athers on Warne, Parky on Fred, Gillian Reynolds on Test Match Special are three of them. Alongside, they are colourfully decorated by appealing essays, off shortrun or long, by many more than Kamran Abbassi, Clement Freud, Simon Lister and Dicky Rutnagur. There is a telling piece by Steven Barnett on television’s dramatic audi ence decline since Sky hijacked Test match coverage from Channel 4. The dreaded Pietersen features obviously, in small print and larger; and in Peter Oborne’s terrific litreview for a ghastly, ghosted autobiog (‘a study in narcissism to be avoided at all costs’), and in the year’s always unmissable chronicle of events: ‘March 15: Carl Ferris, 15, was banned from classes at Westfield Community School, Yeovil, because he refused to get rid of his two-tone spiky haircut, chosen in imitation of Kevin Pietersen, his hero. Carl’s father Roy said: “It’s an invasion of human rights.” Pietersen by this time had shaved his head.’ Wisden’s obits are ever rewarding (to read, that is): any cricket person, forgotten or fabled, and if not quite from A-to-Z this year, at least from R.J.L. Altham, son of Harry, Free Forester and Arab, ‘who made 116 for Marlborough v. Rugby at Lord’s in 1942, and whose sister married “Podge” Brodhurst’, through Trevor Henry — ‘Trigger’ Trevor — Ireland’s much loved leading umpire, to Sir Clyde Walcott, youngest of the Barbadian triumvirate of grandeur. For Wisden 2008 that hefty space, alas, has already been bagged by poor Bob Woolmer.

Wisden 2007, Wisden & Co, £40.