Wisden confused the world with their update on strawberries © Getty Images
Wisden confused the world with their update on strawberries © Getty Images

In its early days Wisden often came up with bizarre entries, though few could match the one that related to an incident that took place on November 12, 1875. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a few.

David Livingstone stayed back in Africa till he died of dysentery at Ilala, Zambia on May 1, 1873. When Sir Henry Morton Stanley (of New York Herald) met him at Ujiji on November 10, 1871 he supposedly greeted him with the words, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” When Livingstone responded in the affirmative, Stanley famously said, “I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.” It is another thing that the entire conversation may have been fabricated, since these lines do not appear on Stanley’s journal.

Do not scroll up. You are on a cricket website. The small but famous rendezvous between Livingstone and Stanley, for some reason, got reported in Wisden 1877 (WH Knight was the editor at that point of time). It was certainly one of the most surreal entries Wisden had witnessed since its inception in 1864.

The Livingstone-Stanley incident, despite its lack of relevance, remains a historic incident that has been passed on from one generation to another, irrespective of its untested authenticity. It would not have seemed out of place, even on the almanac that had absolutely no business to do with it.

The event on November 12, 1875 that got reported in the 1877 Wisden had a surreal feel to it: “Ripe strawberries found in Wales,” ran the headline. One can only fathom the reaction of the readers who waited a year for almanac to arrive and came across a news that dealt with Welsh flora.

They should have been prepared for the news. The previous edition ran a weather report of September 18, 1875, because it was — hold your breath — a “very hot day”; and that was certainly not the only such headline.

For example, when India was first mentioned on Wisden, it had nothing to do with a cricket. The first edition, published in 1864 (that went by the name The Cricketer’s Almanac for the year 1864, being Bissextile or Leap Year, and the 28th year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria) had the headline “28, Thurs. The Sikhs defeated at Aliwal by Sir Harry Smith, 1846” as a January entry. A March entry read “March: 31, Thurs. Interest due on India bonds,” and a similar one followed in September.

[Note: Cricket in the subcontinent was mysteriously ignored by the almanac till 1887.]

Things, however, turned saner after Sydney Pardon took over in 1891. The almanac seldom dealt with strawberries anymore, though they carried the obituary of the Victorian tearaway John Francis Power (how many cricketers have lived up to their surnames to his extent?). Power had once assured the umpire “don’t worry, I’ll use my false teeth”, when the latter admitted that he did not bring a bowling marker in a district match. Power also had red hair, which had earned him the nickname Strawberry.