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Wisden's Voyage Into Cricket's Future


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
by David Blackburn

Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, cricket is India's first faith – or so the cliché says. Wisden, the cricket Bible, announced earlier this week that is to launch an Indian edition.

I’m surprised that Wisden does not already have a sub-continent edition, given that money-spinning cricket innovations such as the Indian Premier League have accompanied the region’s boisterous economic expansion. You might think that Wisden is arriving at this party somewhat more than fashionably late.

Wisden and its publisher (and owner) Bloomsbury, however, exude confidence. Their press release notes, in the easy tones of a latter day Nabob, that the “local market for information on cricket in India is highly fragmented”. They plan to “unify the fragmented sections into a consolidated whole…to deliver year-round content on a range of platforms”.

Cricket coverage in India is certainly disparate. Fanatics distribute their epistles on streets, where children bat with flotsam and bowl with pebbles. Innumerable writers compete for space in innumerable newspapers, most of which have a significant online presence and mobile phone apps on the sport. Then there are the faded stars, the television commentators and the Bollywood pictures about the great game. But, there is one dominant voice in this rag-tag choir: Cricinfo.com.

Cricinfo is an internet pioneer, as strange and alluring as cricket itself. Launched in 1993 by Dr Simon King – a charismatic English academic, marooned at the University of Minnesota – it was one of the first content websites on the internet, built and serviced by volunteers from around the globe. Now, it is owned by ESPN, the sports-arm of the Disney Corporation and boasts 30 million page views a month from between 7 to 8 million unique users, most of whom apparently live in the sub-continent.

For those unacquainted with the site, it provides cricket journalism, live scorecards and hoards of opinion. And, as its unprepossessing name suggests, it also proves the adage that cricket is game governed by statistics. Millions of pages relay past match scorecards and the careers of even the most obscure player, an archive that reaches back deep into the 19th century. Submit to curiosity and wander about in this trivial sprawl. See the devotion that governs so many cricket fans, and which has served to create a sporting morality in which a player’s worth is determined by abstract numbers.

Of course, Wisden provides exactly the same service. Doubtless its famous yellow-sleeved volumes were plundered by Cricinfo’s first volunteers, unashamed to compile a trove of virtually worthless information and disseminate it freely. So, Wisden’s move is a direct challenge to ESPNCricinfo’s growing hegemony in a vital market, and there is a neat symmetry in Wisden India’s appointment of Alex Chamberlen, Cricinfo’s former head of sales, as an advisor. What appears to have begun as a cure for Simon King’s nostalgia for the English summer, has forced the most august voice in cricket to speak louder.

PS: Nike didn't make cricket bats when I was growing up in the '90s. Things are a little different now, as the advert above illustrates. YouTube is full of Nike adverts aimed at the Indian market.



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