Editor | Sports Writing
You should not miss out on Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2018, the 155th Edition, of the cricket Bible. It is a must-read for cricket lovers but all the more reason why Indian followers of the game should reach out for this year’s edition—Virat Kohli has been named the Leading Cricketer in the World for second year in a row and Mithali Raj is selected as the Leading Women’s Cricketer in the World. Among other things the subcontinental fans could take proud of the fact that Wisden’s new award for Leading Twenty20 Cricketer in the World was given to Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan.
Wisden Almanack Editor Lawrence Booth writes on Kohli: “For the second year in a row, Indian captain Virat Kohli is Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World. In all formats in 2017, he scored 2,818 runs – more than 700 ahead of Joe Root in second place. Three of his five Test hundreds were doubles, and the other two unbeaten, and his 1,460 one-day international runs were unsurpassed.” The only previous player to be named as Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World two years in succession is India’s Virender Sehwag (in 2008 and 2009).
Booth writes: “Mithali Raj made it an Indian double after she was named the Leading Woman Cricketer in the World. In the course of captaining her country to within a whisker of the World Cup title, she became the leading run-scorer in the history of women’s one-day internationals, and completed her seventh successive half-century, another record.” Raj told Wisden: “Very few people were aware of women’s cricket in our country before the World Cup. But young girls now see a career in women’s cricket. Today, when we walk on the street, even young kids recognise the players in the squad.”
The 155th edition of Wisden also includes a new section: Overseas Domestic Twenty20 Cricket.
As usual, there are Five Cricketers of the Year with each one of them getting a splendid portrayal : Shai Hope, Heather Knight, Jamie Porter, Natalie Sciver and Anya Shrubsole. But there is something unique to that list!
Booth says: “This year, Wisden includes three women among its Five Cricketers – all members of England’s World Cup-winning squad. Previously, only two women have been chosen: Claire Taylor in 2009 and Charlotte Edwards in 2014.
Booth writes: “When Heather Knight lifted the World Cup at Lord’s in late July, it was the culmination of a personal tour de force that helped change women’s cricket for ever. Not only had she captained England with aplomb throughout the tournament, but her 364 runs at an average of 45 – including a century against Pakistan – were central to their success.
“No stroke in 2017 was more memorable than Nat Sciver’s deliberate deflection between her legs, instantly christened the Natmeg. But she was more than a one-trick pony. She hit 369 runs in the tournament at an average of 46 and a strike-rate of 107, including hundreds against Pakistan and New Zealand, took three for three against West Indies, and scored a half-century in the final against India.
“The World Cup was slipping away from England when Anya Shrubsole embarked on a trophy-winning spell of five for 11. She finished with figures of six for 46, the best in a World Cup final, and the status of a national hero. That followed her winning hit in the semi-final against South Africa, which England won by two wickets in the last over.”
“Shai Hope produced one of the individual performances of the year. After West Indies had been thrashed in the First Test at Edgbaston, Hope made 147 and 118 not out to inspire them to a famous win in the Second at Headingley. He was the first player in 534 first-class matches to score two hundreds in a game there, instantly making him the West Indian wicket all opposition attacks craved most.
“Handed the task of leading the Essex attack, the 24-year-old Jamie Porter responded superbly. With his fast-medium swing and seam, he took 75 Division One wickets at an average of just 16 to inspire his team to their first County Championship title since 1992.
The Five Cricketers of the Year are chosen by the editor of Wisden, and represent a tradition that dates back to 1889, making this the oldest individual award in cricket. Excellence in, or influence on, the previous English summer are the major criteria for inclusion as a Cricketer of the Year. No one can be chosen more than once.
Extracts from the Notes
Don’t take the Ashes for granted
Booth writes: “Tom Harrison is presiding over a make-or-break era for English cricket, and the board have made some brave calls. But to claim 2017 was a ‘very good year’ suggested a changed landscape… Time was when a thrashing by Australia might have provoked questions in Parliament, which was barmy but strangely reassuring: Test cricket was part of the national debate. Now, it sounded like an inconvenience. It sounded as if surrendering the Ashes was being taken for granted.
“In late January, Michael Vaughan asked his Twitter followers whether they would rather England won the next World Cup or Ashes, both in 2019. This might not have been the most rigorous of polls, but the result was startling: of more than 21,000 who responded, 58% said the World Cup. A decade ago, this would have been heresy. Time is moving on, faster than Test cricket realises.
“It’s not so much that the ECB and their fellow boards have taken their eye off the ball – just that the ball has changed colour. How else to explain the continued marginalization of the County Championship, shoved mainly into April, May and September? There will be more seaming pitches, less incentive for counties to produce fast bowlers and spinners, and even less hope of England competing overseas.
“Overseas, England’s Test team are already going backwards. Too many games at the wrong time of year will only hasten the process… They will take part in their 1,000th men’s Test this summer, and deserve a slap on the back for leading the way. But if they refuse to address their inadequacies on pitches that don’t help 82mph right-arm seamers, and if the ECB treat another away Ashes defeat like a spot of bother in the colonies, fans will look elsewhere long before they reach 2,000.”
Women’s cricket: the work is not over
“Of the 26,500 who turned up at the women’s World Cup ﬁnal, an estimated 60% were attending cricket for the ﬁrst time. The crowd were happy to spectate, not make a spectacle. Only the long queues – Lord’s is not ﬂush with ladies’ toilets – harked back to the days when dinosaurs roamed St John’s Wood.”
“But there are constant reminders that more needs to be done. In a heartfelt piece in this Almanack about sexism in the sport, Tanya Aldred points out another sin of omission: the absence, as far as we know, of a meaningful monument anywhere in the world to a woman cricketer. The Sporting Statues Project lists 58 connected to the game, including six to Don Bradman alone. But if Barnsley and Hobart can honour Dickie Bird and David Boon, Lord’s can find room for Rachael Heyhoe Flint – preferably in the Coronation Garden behind the Pavilion, casting a mischievous eye in the direction of WG.”
The Ben Stokes affair
“To suspend Stokes while he awaited the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service was reasonable enough. To lift the suspension the moment he was charged was perverse… It was all so sad. The chances are England would have lost the Ashes with or without Stokes. But the Bristol brawl burdened an already difficult tour with an impossible load.”
English cricket’s South Asian statistics
“The good news is the ECB… after years of neglect, are treating English cricket’s South Asian question seriously. This is about more than doing the right thing, and bringing a passionate group in from the cold. It is a matter of survival. A report commissioned last year by the board conﬁrmed discrepancies cricket can no longer tolerate. While less than 5% of the British population is of South Asian ethnicity, the ﬁgure among recreational players rises to 30%. Then, at ﬁrst-class level, it drops back to 4%. The ECB are so concerned that they want to provide “unconscious bias awareness training” for recruitment within the game. Unpack the jargon and there is an overdue acknowledgment that Britain’s South Asian cricketers have not always been made to feel welcome. That’s putting it generously.”
Arguments for and against English cricket’s new Twenty20 tournament in 2020
For, by Tom Harrison, chief executive of the ECB
“A successful new tournament will benefit our more established competitions at both domestic and international level. We will invest in these, promoting them and ensuring each has a big role. If we are creating something to which more people can feel connected, then the long-term health of the whole game will benefit, at all levels and across all counties and boards.”
Against, by George Dobell, senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
“The problem with the ECB’s plans is that we stand to lose far more than we gain. Yes, the new competition could inspire new followers, but so could a rebranded T20 tournament involving all the counties – especially if it were broadcast free to air – and it wouldn’t carry the inherent risks.”