Cricket: Wit and wisdom of Wisden: Derek Hodgson looks at the new edition of cricket's oracle and essential summer reading

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The Independent Online
PAUL GETTY JNR now owns Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, the 130th edition of which is published today (cased edition pounds 22.50, softcover pounds 19.50) and hastens to assure its army of subscribers world-wide that he has no plans to change the traditional format, an announcement he possibly felt necessary after learning that the new editor, Matthew Engel, is a baseball fan.

Only the aficionados will detect Engel's alterations. He has compartmentalised the 1,376 pages into a logical order and he has accepted that in 1993 Eton v Harrow is a and not the public school match and that Cambridge v Oxford is another university match.

Bill Frindall has been consulted about making the records section easier to refer to and more relevant. Engel says: 'I have tried to make it more comprehensive, more readable and perhaps just a little bit more fun.'

Now that John Arlott, sadly, can no longer put kind words to the year's cricket books, Engel has enlisted J L Carr, that erudite and witty author of Extraordinary Cricketers, an admirable choice.

E W Swanton and Alan Lee debate four-day cricket, Jack Bannister considers ball-tampering, Donald Woods was the obvious man to write about South Africa's return while David Rayvern Allen notes the theatre's love of the game: ' 'All the world's a stage,' wrote somebody qualified to play for Warwickshire,' is an intro we have all missed.

Of the five players of the year, Wasim Akram was a certainty, Alec Stewart nearly so but the other three names may come as a pleasant surprise, Ian Salisbury and two dedicated county captains: Martyn Moxon and Nigel Briers.

One last thought on Engel's first Wisden: his predecessors, John Woodcock and Graeme Wright, signalled that the Almanack could no longer be regarded as a repository of records and a reflection on the past game. Woodcock was quick to point out wrong turnings for cricket while Wright's last editorial was explosive, and is being followed up by a book. Engel's 'Notes by the Editor' are ruminative, funny, but corrosively critical of authority.

The literary cricket-lover needs more than Wisden to start his summer. For quick reference there is the ever dependable Playfair annual, now in its 46th edition, edited by Bill Frindall, available this year in hardback (pounds 6.99) and the familiar softback ( pounds 3.99). Frindall has also updated his Wisden Book of Cricket Records from 1986, which may seem expensive at pounds 35, but will while away many a rainy day. Eight players have been capped by three counties. One is the new secretary of MCC, Roger Knight. Name the other seven*.

Engel pops up again as joint author, with Andrew Radd, of The Official History of Northamptonshire, another in the Christopher Helme series ( pounds 18.99), written with affection and style. Any club that thought to import George Tribe and Bishen Bedi, not to mention Frank Tyson and the incomparable Sarfraz Nawaz, has a cracking story to tell.

* Bob Berry, Roy Swetman, Brian Bolus, Younis Ahmed, Trevor Jesty, David Smith, Ian Botham.

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