A glocal celebration of the game
For those inducted into the Wisden club, the allure of each year's edition needs no explanation. Younger generations are perhaps more likely to ask "What is the point?" The answer in 2017, it seems, is Virat Kohli (as it is to most cricket-related questions these days). India's captain is pictured on the cover of the latest Almanack, bat poised horizontally to reverse-sweep during the Test series destruction of England, and the sense of cricket past meeting cricket future is palpable.
Kohli's backdrop is, of course, a familiar yellow hue. Some things do not change. Lawrence Booth is now well into his stride as editor (this is his sixth edition) and there is a clear sense of how the Almanack is positioned: authoritative, innovative, inclusive and forward-thinking, while continuing to cherish the traditions that its readers hold dear. England and the English game are still its locus, but to channel Walt Whitman, Wisden is large, it contains multitudes.
This year's trove includes the usual gems: Five Cricketers of the Year, Notes by the Editor, the Index of Unusual Occurrences, and Errata, which faithfully records a mistake in Cambridge's averages from the 1913 edition (it is never too late to get such things right). There is also a broad range of piquant commentary, encompassing global warming (and a surprise threat to English swing), the story of six-hitting (the key unit of currency in "cricket's bling economy", according to Gideon Haigh) and the dark side of IPL success, to accompany diligently compiled series reviews from across the globe (disclaimer: including one by this author).
Kohli's award for leading cricketer in the world was inevitable after a juggernaut year in which he became, as Booth writes, "the spiritual successor to Sachin Tendulkar". Putting him on the cover was equally logical, after England produced the sort of uneven success that only a curate could approve of - though Eoin Morgan's one-day side, chasing 50-over silverware this summer, is pushing to get pyjamas their proper recognition.
The decision by Morgan to miss the Bangladesh tour last year on security grounds was questioned by some but receives an empathetic appraisal from Booth, who suggests that the forthcoming Champions Trophy will provide a chance "to remind critics that the English game is lucky to have Morgan". Elsewhere in the Notes, the editor addresses Durham's controversial demise (which is later explored in greater detail by Stephen Brenkley), ICC politicking, and the "indignities" suffered by Indian fans (as distinct from the touring Barmies) in their own stadiums.
The international flavour continues with Pakistan's venerable, and now retiring, duo of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan among the feted Five (an honour that can be won only once); and Australia's Ellyse Perry is named the Leading Women's Cricketer - although it is a little hard to find her, tucked away on page 1169. Nearer the front, Clare Connor remembers the "game-changer" Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, and there is another touching tribute to Tony Cozier, eulogised as a media "allrounder of Sobers proportions" by Vic Marks.
We live in divided times, although English cricket is at least familiar with such strife - from the KP saga to England's impending T20 revolution, which Ashley Giles recently referred to as the domestic game's version of Brexit. The EU referendum makes an appearance in Alex Massie's fine dissection of cricket's politics, while it is also pleasing to see another fault line addressed in a piece on England's slowing production line of working-class heroes (written by a genuine working-class hero, too, in All Out Cricket editor Phil Walker).
It is tempting to wonder where the Wisden reader sits on the wobbly political axis of 2017. Is buying a £50 book with an Indian batsman on the front, leafing idly through the pages and gazing with bourgeois satisfaction at the ever-growing collection on the shelf symbolic of being part of the metropolitan elite? Or does a predilection for a hardback tome devoted to annually chronicling the most conservative of sports in the manner of time-honoured ritual indicate membership of the group of Empire nostalgics who have (ironically) led the revolt against globalisation?
But that brings us back to the point of Wisden, which is to gather the game's followers together in celebration. The global village and the village green may have never been further apart but cricket's bible is still being passed on faithfully down the years, drawing people in with its mystical yellow glow. Why, even as I was poring over my new copy on the train, a man gestured to his young son: "Daddy has a big collection of those to show you at home." Sooner or later, it's a fair bet he'll be ready to join the club.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2017
Edited by Lawrence Booth
1536 pages, £50
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick