The book that keeps on giving
Peering over my shoulder as I read the fifth edition of the Wisden India Almanack, my 15-year-old asked me: "Why have all these match reports and statistics been put together when you can look all of it up on the internet? What is the point of it?" A long-time lover of the Almanack, I had never sought to ask that; I had taken the original Almanack - and then, its blue Indian cousin - as a fact of my cricket-following life.
But in an age where the internet spews out all manner of data at the touch of a mouse, what is the point of the Wisden India Almanack?
Well, the point is this. The point of it is its lovely size, its beautiful production, its creamy white pages. And its compendious nature is its raison d'etre.
Instead of having to search and find and search again piecemeal, you have it all there in a single volume, all that you might want to learn or relive about a particular period of cricket. You can go to it on your shelf. If you want to relive, say, Virat Kohli's heroics in the last World T20, you don't need to search separately for each match; you have it as a chapter. Go straight to it and, reading it, in dark, black print on a thick, white page (better contrast than a Kindle Paperwhite), you can watch again the action unspool in front of your eyes. You can be there again. What tactile and visual pleasure.
The point of the Almanack is also the wealth of its writing: its breadth, depth, and often surprises. In a previous edition, we had Pico Iyer writing his only essay ever on cricket. In this one, we have Microsoft boss Satya Nadella on how he is haunted by cricket and what the game has taught him about leadership.
The essays are at the heart of Wisden India Almanack and are central to the delight the volume provides. Simon Barnes offers a stinging indictment of the men who run cricket. "…Cricket is a dialogue between bowler and batsman, parent and child, stranger and stranger, friend and friend. It's about discussing reverse swing in a bar, or borrowing an orange to demonstrate the doosra… But you can't explain that to the people who run cricket because they just don't get it. They see us all as customers." Shashi Tharoor asks if cricket can bring India and Pakistan together. No is his answer. "Sport can sublimate many emotions, but it cannot be a substitute for geopolitics. Cricket can be an instrument for diplomacy, not an alternative to it."
The Wisden Hall of Fame has several fascinating entries. I enjoyed Nari Contractor's moving tribute to Vinoo Mankad as well as VVS Laxman's insightful analysis of the remarkable transformation of Sourav Ganguly from India player to India captain. Karthik Lakshmanan does a nifty data-driven analysis of how, because of lack of success away from home, no contemporary team can claim to be truly great.
As Suresh Menon explains in his editor's notes, convention was broken by making Kohli Cricketer of the Year for a second time. But it was a sound decision. Given Kohli's exploits in the period under review - and, like Ganguly, his transformation while going from India player to India captain - he was the worthiest candidate.
I now have on my shelf each and every edition of the Wisden India Almanack. Their blue spines and their white lettering tempt me. On a lazy afternoon, I reach out, pick one up, and am transported. Who needs a mouse?
Wisden India Almanack
Edited by Suresh Menon
860 pages, INR 699
Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai, and the author of You Must Like Cricket?, All That You Can't Leave Behind, and If I Could Tell You