For the past eight years, give or take the occasional exception, I have had the luxury of waking with little on my morning mind but the prospect of the coming day. For the six years before that, editing Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, I'd wake with a head filled with thoughts, ideas, facts and figures, and as often as not that was after waking several times during the night.
I used to shave with a notebook beside me, scribbling down sentences to use in the Editor's Notes: they rarely made the printed page. Now I have set myself up to do it again, and friends are asking why. I don't know what to tell them. I just know it's the best job I ever had, and it beats working any day.
This is the first time an editor of Wisden has made a comeback. True, some of Wisden's 14 editors died pen in hand, but these days there are three previous editors living to tell the tale, if you include the one writing this. And the irony of my return is not lost on me. After I resigned in 1992, to some degree in despair at the way English cricket had gone and (in my view) was going, my successor and now predecessor, Matthew Engel, was asked by Melvyn Bragg on Start The Week why the game was in the critical state I'd described in the Editor's Notes. It wasn't at all, I recall Matthew replying: and he added that I had become much less gloomy since relinquishing the reins.
Now Matthew has stepped down (only for a year, I'm told), professing himself fed up with having to explain "the continuous failures of English cricket". Maybe it is thefamous yellow cover that makes us feel so jaundiced.
For all that, I'm looking forward to writing with optimism of the year ahead. There's grit in the England partnership of Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher: maybe, just maybe, they are the men to cast the swine as pearls. Or has my absence from Wisden cost me the worldwide perspective that comes from contact not only with cricket in England, but with cricket around the world?
Talking to correspondents both in England and abroad, reading the match reports, scorecards and averages that pass across the desk, the editor of Wisden is one of the few people with so intimate a knowledge of the game globally. It helps put English cricket in a context that does not come from watching county cricket, or following the England team for that matter.
This knowledge is essential, because Wisden's pronouncements are heard, respected and responded to far beyond these shores. New Zealand were so stung by comments in the 1999 Wisden, not to mention their low ranking on the Wisden World Championship table, that they won a Test series in England for the first time ever. "Why so upset?" I asked Stephen Fleming, their captain. "Because it's in Wisden," he said, "and that's the authority." Would that England's cricketers were similarly stirred.
Coming back contains another irony as well. In my 1991 Notes, I see I questioned the proposed introduction of four-day Championship cricket (thank goodness for that) and advocated instead "dividing the counties into two leagues of nine [which with] the prospect of promotion and relegation might provide the keen competition which to me seems to be missing from much County Championship cricket."
This season it has come to pass, and I will find myself in the position of having to pass judgement. The Notes in Wisden 2001 could be hat-eating time, but if so, I won't be alone. Tim de Lisle, who writes in The Independent and is editor of both Wisden Cricket Monthly and Wisden.com, has also been a strong advocate of two divisions.
People have been asking what changes I will be making, to which I reply: "None this year." Certainly one thing will not change; the authority in Wisden's voice. Reviewing the new edition last week, The Independent's cricket correspondent, Derek Pringle, referred to the Almanack's anti-establishment thrust under Matthew's editorship, saying: "In the last eight years you could often tell when Wisden had come out by the number of pained expressions at the ECB."
But there's nothing new in that. The Notes in my second year as editor resulted in the chief executive of the then TCCB going on television to say that it was not Wisden's place to tell the board how to run the game. My farewell Notes incited a phone call from another senior TCCB official expressing their anger and disappointment at the tone and content. This is not intended as self-defence or self-praise: simply to show that Wisden has a tradition of speaking its mind and tweaking noses: it's one both Matthew and I inherited and valued.
When the American poet, critic and social analyst Edward Dorn died last year, his obituary in The Independent said that Dorn didn't suffer fools gladly. With his death, it closed, "Fools will sleep easier." Not in cricket beds, they won't, if Wisden has anything to do with it.