Cricket: The horrors retailed in critical detail: Four more Australian tourists are honoured by the game's bible - Glenn Moore finds hours of diversion in the 131st edition of Wisden Cricketer's Almanack published today

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IT IS the time of year when the cricket enthusiast longs for rain - and not just to save England from defeat. Rain enables the lawnmower to be legitimately forsaken in favour of turning the crisp pages of a new Wisden, the 131st edition of which is published today.

However, if the collapses of the Caribbean are already too much you may be better off reaching for the wellies because the Almanack, the first published under the ownership of J Paul Getty, recalls the horrors of the past 15 months in full and frequently critical detail.

Ten English Test matches are reported in depth, eight of them defeats, and four of the five Cricketers of the Year are Australian: David Boon, Merv Hughes, Ian Healy and Shane Warne. Only late summer events at The Oval and in the Sunday League enabled the Welshman Steve Watkin to prevent Tim May or Michael Slater emulating the clean sweep of Bradman's 1948 Australians. As it is, nine of last year's tourists have now been honoured, a testimony to their strength.

The last tourists to so dominate the selection were the '72 Australians whose captain, Ian Chappell, contributes a typically forceful but considered essay on the weaknesses of English cricket.

Rev A H C Fargus becomes the first man to have his obituary in Wisden twice. The first occasion, in 1915, was 48 years before his death, a missed train saving him from that fate on HMS Monmouth. When he died it was not recorded in Wisden and the omission is corrected in one of 54 supplementary obituaries of men whose passing, for various reasons, was not noted at the time.

Brian Johnston, Lindsay Hassett and Cec Pepper dominate this year's obituaries while losses of a less tangible nature are recorded with valedictory pieces on David Gower, Viv Richards and Ian Botham.

This is the second year edited by Matthew Engel who, in his notes, defends the decision to ignore the International Cricket Council's retrospective withdrawal of first- class status from the rebel tours of South Africa. He also criticises 'video-umpiring' and the trend for batsmen to acknowledge team- mates' applause but not spectators'. There is praise for neutral umpires and, in a bold but justified departure from convention, Ted Dexter.

There is much else in a record 1,424 pages to wile away a rainy afternoon at Lord's or Darlington. A new section that chronicles the main events also notes some curious ones such as the batsman bitten by an adder at Hastings and the fate of the dog captured by Merv Hughes in the Trent Bridge Test.

And for anyone seeking further solace from England's travails the growing cricket round the world section (36 non-Test nations) offers a possible opponent in Ghana. Dismissed for 21, their team lost by 213 runs to Nigeria and were then unable to complete their fixtures in the ninth West Africa Quadrangular as they could not raise a side.

Wisden Cricketer's Almanack 1994 (Ed: Matthew Engel) pounds 22.50 (Cased), pounds 20.00 (soft cover).