Some Eastern spice enhances the mix

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1997
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Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1997 Edited by Matthew Engel (John Wisden, hardback, pounds 26)

"A wind blows from the East" is the title of an erudite feature by Mihir Bose that sets the style for the 134th edition, the fifth to be edited by Matthew Engel, more innovative than ever.

Four of the Five Cricketers of the Year are Asian - Sanath Jayasuriya, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saeed Anwar and Sachin Tendulkar - while Engel puts the West Indies selectors in their place by immortalising Phil Simmonds.

For the first time the editor names a cricketer who did not play in England the previous summer, Sri Lanka's swordsman Jayasuriya, a bow from the game's most esteemed publication to the World Cup winners' spectacular champion.

Bose confirms that the balance of power financially is swinging towards the subcontinent. He points out that while there may be a billion living in poverty in South-east Asia there are also 250 million Indians who enjoy near-Western affluence; money makes muscle.

New features are a Register of Players, a companion to the traditional Births and Deaths, and an intriguing "Cricket People", written by Simon Briggs, which the editor unashamedly advertises as a gossip column.

He has cast Wisden's net further than ever in collecting the game's worldwide oddities - one fielder brought the ball back by bus.

Leicestershire's great summer is saluted by Martin Johnson, while Engel admits that he expects to be burned in effigy in Mansfield Woodhouse and Wootton-under-Edge. He puts all Wisden's authority to a declaration that the County Championship did not start properly until 1890, which means that Nottinghamshire lose 10 Championships, Gloucestershire lose all their titles, Yorkshire are diminished by three; an exiled Tyke living near Cheltenham would find the whole idea totally preposterous.

The state of English cricket is "potentially catastrophic". "The game is widely perceived as elitist, exclusionist and dull". Engel would like Lord MacLaurin, the new chairman of the Board, to "Tesco-ise cricket", a notion that will send a few shivers through St John's Wood and Harrogate.

He does come down on the side of the angels by calling for less one-day cricket and a sharpening of competition in the Championship. Engel suggests each county should pay a pounds 25,000 entrance fee, the resultant pounds 450,000 being distributed as prize-money to the players, according to their counties' place in the final table.

And how about a pounds 1m prize to the champions from an increasingly wealthy Board?