Which of W. G. Grace's feats was the most resounding? And which aspect of Twenty20's gold rush best captured its impact on the modern game? These were the kinds of questions to which Wisden hoped to find a convincing answer when it chose the ten most seminal moments in the years spanning the Almanack's 150 editions. The list that emerged contains some that will come as a surprise: among readers who entered our competition to guess the ten, no one managed more than six. But then consensus would have spoiled the fun.
We stipulated that a moment could not be an era - though an era could be sparked by a moment, which we interpreted loosely, to avoid the reduction of everything ad absurdum and so awarding pride of place to the Big Bang. So West Indies' 15-year reign didn't count, but the series which triggered it - their thrashing by Australia in 1975-76 - did. And we made a plea for "lasting resonance". Don Bradman's duck in his final Test innings in 1948 felt like a one-off shock; Bodyline, a tactic designed to tame him, reached beyond the skeleton of statistics and deep into cricket's bone marrow. Few entrants were brave enough to omit it.
Otherwise, the Wisden team were guided by judgment and a little gut instinct. Who changed batting for ever: Grace in 1871 or Bradman in 1930? We went for Grace, who - as Ranjitsinhji explained - invented an entire methodology, of which Bradman would become the most ruthless exemplar. Was the first Gillette Cup in 1963 more significant for one-day cricket than India's 1983 World Cup win? We thought so, but only just.
Or did this clash with the choice of the Indian Premier League's first auction, in 2008, ahead of Twenty20's appearance on the county scene in 2003? We deferred to impact: in 1963, part of an otherwise forgettable decade for cricket, the Gillette Cup stood out; but the gates to Twenty20 mega-wealth opened widest at the IPL auctions, rather than five years earlier around the shires. After Bodyline, readers' most common picks were Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, the Oval Test of 1882 that spawned the sport's greatest and oldest rivalry (though it seems Wisden did not refer to the "Ashes" until the late 1920s), the Basil D'Oliveira affair, and the exposure as a cheat of Hansie Cronje. Many others failed to make the cut, though no individual wore more hats than Sachin Tendulkar (Old Trafford 1990, the first double-century in one-day internationals, 100 hundreds, and so on). In fact, Tendulkar does feature - as the victim of the first TV run-out - but, for our purposes, individuals were secondary to moments, not vice versa.
1871: W. G. Grace rewrites the record books
At first, bowlers held the upper hand in first-class cricket, helped by rough, almost unprepared pitches. Then came WG. He had hinted at exceptional talent, but in 1871, the year he turned 23, Grace reshaped the game. No one had previously made 2,000 runs in a season. Now he made 2,739, a record that stood for 25 years. The next-best was Harry Jupp's 1,068, and of the 17 first-class centuries that year, WG made ten. Batting was never quite the same again.
Grace buried the quaint notion that scoring on the leg side was ungentlemanly. He batted in a way we would recognise today: usually a decisive movement forward or back, bat close to pad, although he was also a master of what Ranjitsinhji called a "half-cock stroke", which we would probably term playing from the crease. In his Jubilee Book of Cricket, Ranji wrote: "He revolutionised cricket, turning it from an accomplishment into a science... He turned the old one-stringed instrument into a many-chorded lyre, a wand... Until his time, a man was either a back player like Carpenter or a forward player like Pilch, a hitter like E. H. Budd or a sticker like Harry Jupp. But W. G. Grace was each and all at once." STEVEN LYNCH
From Wisden 1872: MCC and Ground v Surrey at Lord's
In cold dry weather this match was played out in two days, MCC and G the winners by an innings and 23 runs. There was some superb batting by both Mr W. Grace and Jupp; in fact, it is the opinion of many that the 181 by Mr Grace and the 85 by Jupp in this match are their most skilful and perfect displays of batting on London grounds in 1871. Mr Grace was first man in at 12.10; when the score was 164 for four wickets Mr Grace had made exactly 100 runs; when he had made 123 he gave a hot - a very hot - chance to short square leg, but he gave no other chance; he was much hurt by a ball bowled by Skinner when he had made 180, and at 181 Southerton bowled him, he being fifth man out with the score at 280. Mr Grace's "timing" and "placing" the ball in this innings was truly wonderful cricket; he appeared to hit "all round" just where he chose to, and placing a field for his hit was as useless as were the bowler's efforts to bowl to him. Mr Grace's hits included a great on-drive past the pavilion for six, four fives (all big drives), and 11 fours.