There was a time when I was addicted to magazines. I still subscribe to Private Eye, When Saturday Comes and The Blizzard, but I’ve lapsed with The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Cycling Plus, ProCycling, The Economist, Vanity Fair, The Spectator, New Statesman, Marxism Today, and many more I’ve forgotten. Of course, I still subscribe to The Cricketer, a fixture in my life of over twenty years.
Like most relationships, mine with the mag has had its ups and downs – I cast occasional furtive glances at the likes of Wisden Cricket Monthly, Spin and All Out Cricket, but though there was a tiff or two, my fidelity to the 90 year-old grand dame never wavered (I still have all my copies somewhere in the attic, mouldering, except one I inadvertently left in a hotel room in Baku’s Old City – so when Azerbaijan are playing Afghanistan in the World Ten10 Final 2035, it’s my fault).
Over the last twelve months or so, the magazine had looked a little lost, a little unsure of its identity, a little bashed about in old media’s perfect storm of cost-free online reading and continual austere recession. Occupying the crease would merely delay the defeat, so, in a bold move for everyone involved, in came Andrew Miller from Cricinfo to play like Adam Gilchrist with the score on 126-5 with 243 still to get.
Having reworked its website so successfully that it is my score updater of choice in the office and acquired Test Match Sofa (for whom I commentate from time to time), Miller has now revamped the magazine, with its June issue arriving on my doormat, opportunely, the day before the start of England’s summer.
First impressions (and boy, do first impressions count in this business) are positive. There’s a cleanness in the design and a clarity in the marriage of text and images (some of which are very beautiful – the most stunning a photo of Sussex’s last match at Hastings in 1989). There are some very CGI looking graphics splashed about, adding to the 21st century feel – I don’t know design consultant Ian Findlay, but I suspect he has a very close relationship with Apple’s stable of gizmos. There are familiar names too: Mike Selvey has a new column full of his wry humour and pin-sharp observations; Michael Henderson has swapped bile for honey and writes a lovely piece about Chris Waters’ multi-awarding winning biography of Fred Trueman; and there’s space too for Simon Hughes and Nasser Hussain to tell us not just how it is, but how it should be. There are current players in the mix too, with the Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas de nos jours, Jimmy and Swanny, both billed as STAR COLUMNISTS.
So that’s the youngsters (whom every magazine must chase like second slip chases the ball edged to vacant Third Man) sorted, but what about the traditionalists, the old subscribers – PEOPLE LIKE ME FFS! Of course, many of the bells and whistles outlined above appeal generally – good design is good design after all – but those of us who move like Ramps at mid-on getting down to an off drive in April, get a few dollies too. David Frith is still encountering his 20th century Hall of Famers and there’s still a page or three for Eyewitness, this time with interviews from players who were down the other end when Malcolm Marshall was bowling six different balls every over at a mere 90mph.
All good – nothing bad? Well, almost. West Indies’ recent series vs Australia was much better than anyone expected and the grand old man of West Indian cricket journalism is on hand to report. But Tony Cozier has just two columns to tell the tale (the scorecards get three). While we can watch the series (if you have Sky) and read about it online (ball by ball or via the Australian or West Indian press websites), I miss the old reflective pieces on an overseas series, in which a Cozier or a Haigh would place the series in context, capture detail and set the teams’ agendas for the future. Speaking of Gideon Haigh, it’s great to see him writing a obituary – but 12 sentences? Which leads me to my final quibble – there are a few too many pages trying just a bit too hard. Pages 18 and 19 are a blizzard of font sizes and short paragraphs, 26 of which have some sort of introduction of their own (to go with seven photos). There’s busy and there’s Tokyo Metro busy, and this spread veers to the Japanese.
Nobody, least of all an old bastard like me, likes every aspect of change in an institution (and, perhaps, nobody should like everything – appeal has to be broad to succeed), but Miller and co have got far more right than wrong in this revamp. And the biggest thing they got right, was to have the sheer balls to do it in 2012. I hope their counter-attack is as successful as Gilchrist’s at Hobart in 1999.
You can tweet me @garynaylor999