The new season is almost upon us here in England, and that means a new issue of the Nightwatchman must be ready, having been lovingly nursed into life over the winter months.I’m very pleased that two of our editorial team, Jon Hotten and Tanya Aldred –among the very finest writers on the game out there – have been tapping away assiduously at their keyboards. Jon brings Jack Hobbs to life a century after the Master scored 2,827 runs at 58.89 (second only to Patsy Hendren in the 1920 averages) and, to his great amusement, topped the national bowling averages with 17 wickets at 11.82.
He hit 11 of his 197 hundreds that season, four in succession in June, and you can watch him in action on the BFI Player site – well worth it just to glimpse his no nonsense elegance. Tanya has addressed the daunting ordeal of delivering the main speech at the Wisden dinner, which takes place every year as the Almanack is launched. The likes of Michael Palin, Tim Rice, Kamila Shamsie, Miles Jupp, Mike Brearley and Mark Lawson have all taken on the gig and lived to tell the tale. Tanya, with her customary aplomb, teases out the juiciest stories. Elsewhere, we have our usual eclectic mix. Scott Oliver gets misty-eyed over Minor County triumphs, Matthew Appleby details Cumbria’s current fight for survival, Daniel Rey and Rev Robert Stanier take sideways looks at Steve Smith – as artist and as reformed sinner –, RJ Lea itemises the sustained brilliance of the West Indies teams touring England from the 1970s to the 1990s, while Andy Duff charts the connection between cricket and the Church. Plenty to get your teeth into there, without even embarking on terrible tourists, the conditions women’s touring teams faced until very recently, a cricketing centurion of a different kind, and the career of possibly the greatest female cricketer of all time, Betty Wilson.
The death of Bob Willis late last year led many people to write in with their recollections of him both as player and pundit. James Mettyear takes us back to Headingley 1981 in the company of Bob Dylan, while Dominic Bliss discovers a little-known side of Goose.
And we pay our own tribute with a series of stunning photographs. I’d also point you towards Mick Pope’s portrait of Derbyshire’s Bill Bestwick as the county celebrates its 150th year of existence. Bestwick was someone I knew little about and is just the kind of figure that makes cricket’s early years so fascinating, bound up as it is with class and character and coal.
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Matt Thacker, March 2020