It’s an old habit, the naming of ideal cricket XIs. Even the great Don Bradman could not resist the urge. In The Art of Cricket, he writes of a friend who amused himself while recovering in hospital by picking teams with players whose names began with the same letter (for instance, ‘H’, which had Hutton, Hobbs and Hammond in the top three) or players with seven letters in their name (Trumper, Bradman, etc).
My latest is a list of cricketers who have written for Wisden India Almanack. After eliminating those like C.K. Nayudu, Jack Hobbs and Vijay Merchant who didn’t write specifically for the Almanack but whose pieces have appeared in it, here it is in roughly batting order: V.V.S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Viv Richards, Virat Kohli, Mahela Jayawardene, Greg Chappell, Michael Brearley, Richard Hadlee, Anil Kumble, Bishan Bedi, Michael Holding and Vic Marks. That’s 12, and depending on the conditions, either a spinner or paceman will play. Brearley will lead, of course, and keep wickets, like he once used to. My list leaves out Ian Chappell, Ed Smith, B.S. Chandrasekhar, Abhishek Nayyar, Aakash Chopra, Murali Kartik, Sanjay Manjrekar and W.V. Raman, which probably means I’ll get fewer New Year greetings this time.
Sometimes editors become travail writers, complaining about the effort of bringing so many elements together and spending sleepless nights as the publication date approaches. The editor of the UK Wisden, Lawrence Booth, says he dreams that everything is fine, every comma in place, every figure in the statistics section above reproach and every word perfect. “And then,” he says, “I wake up screaming as the cover reads ‘Widens’ instead of Wisden.”
So many pairs of eyes vet the text, you would think mistakes are impossible. But they happen and account for the rapidity with which hairs turn grey (as is the case with India’s captains, but that’s another story). Sometimes bylines go wrong, at other times photographs mysteriously go missing during production. Newspaper editors are forgiven after 24 hours when a new set of errors appear; for editors of weeklies, it is seven days. When you edit an annual publication like the Wisden India Almanack, the seventh edition of which has just been released, you have a whole year of pain before you can correct them.
It is no comfort that the King James Bible appeared in the 17th century with one of the Ten Commandments saying, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” As a wise man wrote, “Never underestimate the value of a good ‘poofreader’.” Reading under a tight deadline, seeing on a page what ought to be rather than what is, and of course, auto-correct, all contribute to mistakes. Young journalists often ask how many proof-reading mistakes are acceptable in a publication? The answer is zero. That is the mark to aim for, but it is elusive. Editors know that, but they cannot stop striving for it because as the football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
“Cricket was the best way we could turn the rough of life into something sweet,” wrote Pico Iyer, the brilliant essayist and novelist in the 2014 edition. “I know only 1,500 words of cricket,” he told me, “and now I have written it all for you.” He was being modest. As was Ray Monk, the philosopher and biographer who tweeted, “I managed to write something on Wittgenstein and cricket after all! It’ll be in Wisden India.” That was the fifth edition.
There’s an interesting XI to be chosen from the philosophers, writers, musicians, actors and CEOs who have written. Tom Alter wrote about his debut for “India”, Ramachandra Guha bowled off breaks, Harry Burton played in Nobel laureate Harold Pinter’s team, and Kamila Shamsie is part of the Authors XI team in the UK. The publisher Andreas Campomar played in the match to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the first sporting contest between Uruguay and Argentina.
Without further ado, here’s the list: Pico Iyer, Ray Monk, Tariq Ali, Naseeruddin Shah, Satya Nadella, T.M. Krishna, Ramachandra Guha, Mike Marqusee, Kamila Shamsie, Shehan Karunatilaka, Shashi Tharoor and Harry Burton. Microsoft CEO Nadella to lead?
The latest Wisden India Almanack, now on the stands, is the 2019 and 2020 edition to accommodate the change in the launch date, which now coincides with the start of the season. For years, the Indian season was like god’s love: there was no beginning and no end. But now it stretches from August-September to the IPL final in May. I am usually too nervous to look at the edition when I first open it. I don’t know if there is a scientific term for it, this editorial anxiety. Forget the commas, what about the burnt toast that held up play for 30 minutes during a match in Australia? Well, that’s in place all right.
(Editor, Wisden India Almanack)