Kapil Dev (the 1980s), Sachin Tendulkar (the 1990s) and Virat Kohli (the 2010s) have been named among the five greatest players of the five decades in which ODIs have been played in the 158th Edition of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2021 that also describes India as "the new masters" of cricket - and heaps praise on its 2-1 victory in the 2020-21 tour of Australia.
Vivian Richards (the 1970s) and Muttiah Muralitharan (the 2000s) are the other two in the list.
Ben Stokes is Wisden's Leading Cricketer in the World for the second consecutive year, while the five Cricketers of the Year are Zak Crawley, Jason Holder, Mohammad Rizwan, Dominic Sibley and Darren Stevens.
Wisden 2021 is made up of 1,248 pages and nine parts, including the Comment and Review sections which are the longest in Almanack history. The obituaries alone run to 85 pages. It has 129 contributors. Also within its pages are reviews of books, podcasts, blogs, television, print and social media, technology and the weather, as well as articles on cricket and the environment, and cricket in the courts.
In his Editor's Notes, Lawrence Booth described India as "the new masters" of cricket, remembers cricketers lost to Covid-19, praises the "swift measures" taken by the ECB to ensure the game could continue during the pandemic, says the England team were wrong to stop taking a knee in the struggle against racism and criticises the continued financial inequalities in the international game.
Expanding on the choice of the five cricketers of the ODI era, Booth said Kapil Dev "was central to India's World Cup success of 1983, a triumph that changed the way the one-day game was viewed in his country. He rescued them from 17 for five against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells with a magnificent 175 from 138 balls, then pulled off a famous running catch in the final at Lord's to dismiss Viv Richards. In all, across the decade, Kapil took 168 one-day wickets more than anyone else in the world, and scored 2,869 runs at a strike-rate of 102."
"In the 1990s, Sachin Tendulkar scored an astonishing 24 ODI hundreds, including nine in 1998 alone. The high point came in Sharjah in April 1998, when in the space of three days he hit two centuries against Australia. The first (his "desert-storm" 143) helped India qualify for the final, and the second (134) helped claim the Coca-Cola Cup trophy."
"Virat Kohli turned himself into the greatest judge of a one-day chase in history. In the 2010s, he notched up 11,125 ODI runs, nearly 3,000 clear of the next player in the list, Rohit Sharma. He made 42 centuries at an average of 60 and a strike-rate of 94. And in successful run-chases, he averaged an astonishing 95."
On The Leading Cricketer in the World, Booth said: "Ben Stokes becomes the first England player to be named Wisden's Leading Cricketer in the World more than once, retaining the title he claimed in 2020. His haul of 641 Test runs at 58 in the calendar year was more than anyone else, while his 19 wickets cost just 18 apiece. He did it all against a backdrop of personal tragedy: his father, Ged, died in December at the age of 65."
Darren Stevens was named a Cricketer of the Year at 44, the fourth-oldest on record since Leicestershire's Ewart Astill in 1933.
"His 29 Bob Willis Trophy wickets for Kent at an average of 15 confirmed his status as one of the domestic game's most unsung heroes," Booth said.
Former Australian Test captain Steve Waugh has won the Cricket Photograph of the Year award with his image of children playing cricket among sand dunes near Osian, India. The award is judged by an independent panel, led by former Sunday Times chief sports photographer, Chris Smith, and the award winning cricket photographer, Patrick Eagar. A keen amateur photographer during his career, Waugh took the image as he travelled around India making a TV documentary, "Capturing Cricket".
On the losses to Covid-19, Booth said: "Cricket, like everything else, had its heart ripped out... It lost family and friends. Cricket has never been less important than in 2020 and never more. As coronavirus spread, it seemed frivolous to wonder when the season might start, or whether anyone would be there to watch; months later, with the UK's death toll into six figures, even writing about runs and wickets felt wrong."
"The pace of events was dizzying, shocking. David Hodgkiss was the Lancashire chairman when Wisden 2020 was printing; by publication, he had died."
The obituaries this year include at least 15 others linked to Covid-19. They were all ages, and from every corner of the game. Lee Nurse was just 43, and had played for Berkshire. Riaz Sheikh, a former leg-spinner who was 51, once dismissed Inzamam-ul Haq. Phil Wright, aged 60, was Leicestershire's popular dressing-room attendant. The 73-year-old Chetan Chauhan will always be four decades younger, dragged by Sunil Gavaskar towards the pavilion after an lbw decision in a Test at Melbourne. Ken Merchant, a member of The Cricket Society, died at the age of 81, on the same day as his wife, in the same Southend hospital ward. Peter Edrich, cousin of Bill and John, was 93.
"How did cricket go on? The trite answer is it had to; those above would have had it no other way," Booth said, adding India had much to do with it.
"India's strength in depth became the story of the (2020-21) tour, quite possibly of the sport... India had finally won cricket.
"On dark mornings in the bleak midwinter came sunshine from a distant land: Australia v India, now reliably the most gripping Test series of the lot. Australia had once avoided the fixture: not until more than 15 years after India's maiden Test, at Lord's in 1932, did Don Bradman's side deign to play them. But recent clashes have been a battle of empires: the game's historical superpower against a team with the potential to oust them. In the other-worldly light of a southern summer, anything seemed possible.
"India's 21 victory rubbed shoulders with other epic Test series: Australia vs West Indies in 1960-61, India vs Australia in 2000-01, the Ashes in 2005. Those, though, were all won by the hosts. This was won by a team battling on many fronts: quarantine, Virat Kohli's paternity leave, an injury list that required a second side of A4, crass sledging, and racial abuse from the crowd. Any of these alone might derail a touring side; that India overcame all five made it the most astonishing fightback in Test history.
"The transformation was a thing of wonder. At Adelaide, they had been bowled out for 36, and immediately condemned by pundits to a whitewash. By the Fourth Test at Brisbane, where Australia hadn't lost since Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, India were missing so many bowlers that their attack had over 1,000 Test wickets fewer than their opponents'. To cap it all, they chased down 328.
"It shouldn't have been a contest, yet India's strength in depth became the story of the tour, quite possibly of the sport. It was as if they had achieved the ultimate piece of cricketing alchemy, turning the base metals of a huge population and an unrivalled love of the game into gold. In 1992, Francis Fukuyama argued that Western liberal democracy had finally won politics. At the Gabba, it was tempting to imagine India had finally won cricket," Booth said.
He is extremely harsh on the inequalities in the game, saying a "predictable theme" had emerged.
"At the end of West Indies' tour of England, Jason Holder spoke passionately about inequality in the game, and demolished one of the early platitudes about the virus's spread that it was indiscriminate, affecting pauper and prince alike. The figures proved this was not the case, and so did cricket.
"A predictable theme emerged. England had been grateful for the visits of others, then left South Africa in a hurry, even after two positive Covid-19 tests in their own camp proved false. Australia snubbed Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, West Indies and Afghanistan but travelled to England, and moved heaven and earth to accommodate India (who had already cancelled series against Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka).
"At the last minute, the Australians then called off a Test tour of South Africa, who had bowed to numerous demands. The Sri Lankans who did visit South Africa insisted on strict quarantine rules for Bangladesh, who stayed at home, but relaxed them for England," Booth wrote.
Enough of excuses
"On July 8, at a near-deserted Rose Bowl, the West Indian and England teams took a knee. They were paying tribute to George Floyd, who had died at the hands of Minneapolis police a few weeks earlier, and to the Black Lives Matter message... It was quiet, dignified and powerful and one of the images of the year. Also that morning, Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent gave moving accounts on Sky Sports of their own experiences of racism. It was a moment to pause, and reflect. Players past and present had already begun telling stories of prejudice; the trickle became a torrent. The rule of thumb was simple, and brutal: if you weren't white, you had suffered.
"For a while, cricket said and did the right things. The ECB admitted they had let things slip, and promised action But cricket isn't fond of radicalism (unless there is money to be made). Predictably, it lost its nerve. By the time Pakistan arrived, taking a knee had been quietly dropped, amid supposed concerns about the politicisation of BLM.
"Cricket has been here before: a sympathetic ear, a pat on the shoulder, a promise that things will change. They never do, but this time they must... By not taking a knee, cricket raised a finger."
"If cricket's response to racism is one of expedience rather than repudiation, everyone loses. When Indian Test batsman Cheteshwar Pujara revealed in 2018 that his Yorkshire team-mates had christened him 'Steve', the news came and went. Apparently, they found his first name hard to pronounce; Pujara was too polite to complain. Then it turned out he hadn't been the only Steve at Headingley. As Yorkshire investigated allegations of racism from their former all-rounder Azeem Rafiq, one ex-employee Taj Butt said the name was routinely given to every person of colour.
"But the Rafiq case has confirmed that self-examination does not always come easily to cricket... If cricket's response to racism is one of expedience rather than repudiation, everyone loses," Booth noted.
( 1780 Words)