When in 2003 the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack first put a photograph on the front cover, it wasn’t universally welcomed. As long-term editor Matthew Engel recalled a decade later, many saw the move as an “act of sacrilege”. The sport’s bible has a knack for prompting strong opinions.
But an “easy” decision for the current makers of cricket’s good book to land, according to editor Lawrence Booth, was putting Somerset seamer Anya Shrubsole on this year’s cover – the first woman to be recognised in such a way.
The 26-year-old was literally matchwinning in the 2017 World Cup final, her spell of 5-11 in 19 balls claimed when India required 39 with seven wickets in hand. Shrubsole finished with figures of 6-46 and England held the trophy aloft for the first time since 2009 in front of a capacity Lord’s following the stunning triumph.
When picking a moment of 2017 to feature, Booth told The Cricket Paper there was never much doubt about the image the famous yellow jacket would carry after that pulsating July afternoon.
“Wisden is fundamentally an English book and we do focus on the home summer,” he explained. “So when you have got someone who has just produced the best figures in a World Cup final by a man or a woman she suddenly shot to the top of the pack. The World Cup was a momentous occasion for the women’s game and therefore for all cricket.”
Also speaking with TCP, Shrubsole relayed her shock and excitement when receiving a text from Booth to inform her that she would be fronting the tome in 2018. “Like with all of the things that have happened it really was unexpected,” she said. “I was surprised, but also honoured. Of all the people who had incredible years they decided to choose me.”
Of those “things” Shrubsole is referring to, they also included, to pick but a couple, her making the final of BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year and earning an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list.
“It was surreal,” she said of the awards season circuit. “After the World Cup, we were so quick into the Super League and then the Ashes that it almost felt like there hadn’t been the opportunity to let it all in. It served that purpose, looking back and seeing that we had a pretty amazing year.”
Carrying deep affection for the game’s traditions, Shrubsole understands the significance of this latest acknowledgement. “I am really aware of it,” England’s vice-captain said of Wisden giving their cover to a woman. “I know plenty about it and how much historical weight it has. It is just another thing to show how far the women’s game has come.”
With Shrubsole’s performance speaking for itself, Booth believes this is the logical time to make a forceful statement about the progress and place of women’s cricket. Already under his editorship, Wisden has introduced the Leading Woman Cricketer gong (in 2015) and now has a dedicated women’s section to document all domestic and international games.
“It just felt like the right time to have a woman,” he said. “I wanted to avoid accusations of tokenism and I felt confident that we wouldn’t be, simply because she had done this amazing thing that no-one had done before. So it was quite easy in the end. Apart from Anya totally deserving it, we thought it would be a great talking point.
“It is about time that Wisden reflected the way the women’s game has changed.”
Editing his seventh edition of the chronicle, Booth is comfortable arguing that the book has an important role shaping the conversation around the game, with the cover integral to that process.
“It is a chance for Wisden to say something about its overall take on cricket,” he continued. “Take Virat Kohli’s reverse sweep (2017’s cover). To me, that was an important statement about the fact that all cricket these days isn’t played with a high left elbow.
“Moeen Ali (2015) deserved his place because he bowled brilliantly the year before against India, but also an important cricketer in terms of a massive demographic that gets overlooked in English cricket, the British Asian demographic.
“I want each cover to be able to justify itself in its own right, and I think they have been able to do so.”
Claims of tokenism will emerge from predictable corners, but Booth is effusive that they lack substance. “You do have to reflect the game but you also have to drive it forward,” he said.
“Now is the time to do both. You have to reflect the fact that was a game-changer last year. Lord’s was packed with 60 per cent of people who hadn’t paid to go to a match before. Many were young girls who were enthused. But what we are talking about is half the population for goodness sake. If we weren’t going to put a woman on the cover this year then when in the hell were we? I’ve already seen a couple of tweets from women saying they are going to buy an extra copy for their daughter or niece. That’s precisely the sort of reaction we want.”
The last word belongs to Shrubsole, who (sure enough) likes the shot that has been selected of her holding the World Cup. “I’ll never get used to it,” she said when thinking that her fact will leap off bookshelves for generations to come. Much like the footage of the famous Lord’s spell.
“I watched it a few times immediately after the World Cup to almost remember what happened and it is the sort of thing I will never tire of seeing.
“It immediately brings you back to that day and how it all felt. I definitely have times when I wish I could have that day over and over again. But to be involved in it once was pretty special.”