It was under Sydney Pardon's stewardship that Wisden really cemented its place in the English national conscience. He oversaw every issue from 1891 to 1925, and in that time the size of the book ballooned from 420 pages to a 1924 high of 1010. Pardon's great skill was delegation. He found the ideal sidekick for every aspect of the business, and in FS Ashley-Cooper, he had a man with the most meticulous eye for statistics imaginable.
But, already, it was clear that Wisden was about more than just the numbers of the game. As LES Gutteridge wrote in his 1963 history of the book, Pardon had a cultured mind, which produced definite opinions that he was not afraid to state, and through the growing influence of Wisden, he stated them. On his watch, the Notes by the Editor - Wisden's yearly comment on the state of the game - were introduced and expanded, until they became an essential part of the cricket calendar.
No less influential an institution is Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year, a stroke of genius that Charles Pardon hit upon in 1889, shortly before his untimely death. It took most of the decade to condense into the coveted award that now marks the start of every English season, and it first saw light as an accolade for Six Great Bowlers of the Year, "to signalise the extraordinary success that bowlers achieved in 1888."
The first recipients were legends one and all - Johnny Briggs, JJ Ferris, George Lohmann, Bobby Peel, CTB Turner and Sammy Woods. In 1890, nine great batsmen were recognised, followed by five great wicketkeepers, and in 1894 the allrounders had their moment in the limelight as well. In 1896, that giant of the game, WG Grace, was the sole award-winner and thereafter, the format settled down, and has remained unchanged ever since.
And therein lies the essential beauty of Wisden. For nearly a century-and-a-half, it has altered subtlely to ride with the times, but it remains, to all aficionados of the game, a constant benchmark of quality in cricket's rapidly changing landscape.
Editor Sydney Pardon
Price 1/- (paper) 2/- (cloth)
W. G. Grace
W. G. Grace.