Is AC Smith actually Arthur Conan Doyle? Insular Illingworth suffers the lash

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

1996 Edited by Matthew Engel

(John Wisden, hardback, pounds 24.50)

While Wisden's Almanack has never been the bible of cricket's establishment there have been times when it has been less likely to flay the Pharisees. The 133rd edition, however - the fourth under Matthew Engel's editorship - crackles.

Raymond Illingworth, MCC, the Test and County Cricket Board, two cricket writers, Andrew Symonds, the Australian Cricket Board and the Newlands ground in Cape Town, South Africa, all feel a touch of the lash.

Illingworth, now just England's chairman of selectors but also manager during the period under review, is censured: "It is hard to fathom what [he] thought he was achieving in his dealings with Mark Ramprakash and Devon Malcolm. Other teams are deeply into sports psychology; Illingworth expresses contempt for the very idea."

As it is 50 years since the end of the Second World War there are anniversaries to be celebrated and measurements made: Wisden names Middlesex the leading county team of the half-century with Surrey second and Yorkshire third. Tykes will be quick to argue that Yorkshire lost 36 fewer matches than Middlesex in that time but drew 56 more. The weather?

England are third in the 50-year Test match table, behind West Indies and Australia, but their place is under severe threat from South Africa and Pakistan.

The choice of Five Cricketers of the Year will be acclaimed: Aravinda de Silva (there had to be a Sri Lankan although the choice will have been made long before the World Cup), Angus Fraser, Anil Kumble, Dermot Reeve and Dominic Cork. No touring player was included for the first time since 1979.

Of equal interest is some research by Pat Murphy in which seven eminent savants - Norman Gifford, John Emburey, Eddie Hemmings, Chris Broad, John Childs, Geoff Cook, Bob Woolmer and Robin Marlar - are asked if the game has got worse. The general conclusion seems to be that while pay and fitness levels have risen, manners and attitude have declined.

David Frith. who has retired after 202 editions of Wisden Cricket Monthly, to be replaced by the Independent's Tim de Lisle, contributes an elegaic essay on the departures of R E S Wyatt and Harold Larwood, while Gideon Haigh salutes Queensland's first Sheffield Shield .

In a salute to the retiring TCCB chief executive Alan Smith, Engel refers to the Guardian's discovery that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played goalkeeper for Portsmouth as AC Smith and makes a startling conclusion: if AC Doyle is AC Smith then could AC Smith be AC Doyle? Well, 221B Baker Street is not that far from the TCCB offices.

This edition, at 1,440 pages, is the largest ever and at pounds 24.50 is, by the standards of literature offered by some other publishers, dirt cheap. Lottery winners can buy the leather-bound edition for pounds 200.

THIS WEEK'S TOP 10 SPORTS BOOKS

1 1996, edited by Matthew Engel (John Wisden, hardback, pounds 24.50)

2 Playfair Cricket Annual 1996, edited by Bill Frindall (Headline, paperback, pounds 4.99)

3 From Zero to Hero, Frank Bruno with Norman Giller (Andre Deutsch, hardback, pounds 15.99)

4 Everywhere We Go - Behind the Matchday Madness, Dougie & Eddy Brimson (Headline, paperback, pounds 6.99)

5 The Complete Handbook of Baseball 1996, edited by Zander Hollander (Signet US, paperback, pounds 5.95)

6 ITF World of Tennis 1996, edited by John Barrett (Collins Willow, paperback, pounds 9.99)

7 The European Football Championships 1958-1996, John Robinson (Soccer Book, hardback, pounds 11.95)

8 The Life and Crimes of Don King, Jack Newfield (Virgin, paperback, pounds 12.99)

9 ATP Tour 1996 Players Guide, (ATP Tour, paperback, pounds 15.95)

10 Baseball Weekly 1996 Almanac, edited by Paul White (Hyperion US, paperback, pounds 11.50)

Chart compiled by Sportspages, 94-96 Charing Cross Road, London (0171- 240 9604) and St Ann's Square, Manchester (0161- 832 8530)

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