He’s a tall man, Kevin Pietersen, and he casts a long shadow. It loomed large over the Long Room at Lord’s last week where the great, the good, and the not very good at all of the cricket world had gathered for the annual Wisden dinner, one of the most enjoyable events in the life of man. For starters, indeed only a few minutes before we did get stuck into our starters, the hapless Paul Downton had been suddenly sacked as managing director of English cricket.
It seems nonsense to blame Downton for all the failures of the England team, but he was the main man in the room for the botched firing of Pietersen last year. Rather than just drop him for cricketing reasons, Downton made much of KP’s general ‘attitude’, as if he was a naughty schoolboy rather than someone who had scored more than 8,000 Test runs.
In his editor’s notes to the 2015 Wisden, the admirable Lawrence Booth gave the ECB a deserved kicking for the KP shenanigans, not to mention the dropping of Cook, the World Cup catastrophe, and a ‘nexus of self-preservation’ led by the outgoing ECB chairman, Giles Clarke. Spot on, Lawrence, but not surprisingly Clarke, a guest at the dinner, didn’t take it well. There was much furious finger-wagging aimed at Booth by Clarke, who eventually stormed out. This all took place in front of distinguished guests including the schoolboy winner of the Wisden young cricketer of the year.
Ah, the timeless values of cricket. But if you need reminding what those values are, it’s always good to turn inside the golden covers of the Almanack. This year’s obituaries section is, as always, a haven of peace in a wicked world. It includes great sportsmen as well as those in for quirkier reasons. There’s Phillip Hughes, of course, tragically killed while batting in a Sheffield Shield game; Gary Gilmour, who took five wickets in the 1975 World Cup final; and Norman Gordon, a South African bowler who died at 103 and was the last man alive to have played Test cricket before the war.
But, and this is the joy, here also is Richard Attenborough, founder of the Lord’s Taverners and director of Gandhi,who was injured in 1950 playing for Stage vs Politicians; Clarissa Dickson Wright, cook and umpire; and Bob Miller, the Essex detective who snared Jeremy Bamber, and in later life organised a match between the P.G. Wodehouse society and the Sherlock Holmes society, played under 1894 laws in which facial hair was encouraged and leg-side play frowned upon.
For we completists there is an added joy this year, a ‘supplementary obits’ section, an exercise last undertaken more than 20 years ago, and rectifying several notable omissions from previous years. Here, for example, is Trevor Howard, the actor, who loved cricket so much that his contracts specified he would not appear on set during a home Test match. Here also is Thomas Verity, the architect of the Lord’s pavilion; Henry Chadwick, the English journalist known as ‘the father of baseball’; and Ron Lovitt, who took the famous photograph of the end of the tied Test at the Gabba in 1960. You can see everything even now — the shattered stumps, Kanhai’s leaping appeal, Worrell coolly going to the bowler’s end. Just in case.
Here also — a real joy this — is Robert Frederick Moore, who might, had things worked out differently, been at the Oval on 30 July 1966 for a championship game between Surrey and Essex, rather than lifting the World Cup at Wembley. Bobby Moore was a stylish and unhurried opening batsman who captained Southern Schools, was 12th man for England Schools, and offered a place on the ground staff by Essex. Then West Ham came calling…
It’s all totally magical. Do buy it.
Roger Alton is executive editor of the Times.