Electrolux Wisden International Awards October 30, 2003

The Wizards of Oz and some twists in the tale

Two Australians stole the show at the National Centre for Performing Arts

Two Australians stole the show at the National Centre for Performing Arts. Shane Warne emerged from his diuretic-text-message-enforced seclusion to pick up his award for the Best Bowling Performance, while Ricky Ponting arrived at the Cinderella hour, decked in Travelex gear, to get his hands on the biggest prize of all.

Warne's appearance early on in the piece - only the strains of Van Morrison's Too Long in Exile were missing - guaranteed that everything that followed was heavily tinged with anticlimax. The man they call Hollywood arrived with his golden hair a cross between a mullet and a lion's mane. He made the right noises about wanting to return to the game he's loved since he was a kid, and there was also a nice line about Muttiah Muralitharan - who presented him with his statuette - having the potential to get to 1,000 wickets.

Graeme Smith, who was rightly voted Best Young Player of the Year, spoke briefly via teleconference from Faisalabad. Bob Woolmer, not exactly Smith's greatest source of support in the early days of his captaincy, sat on stage and expounded on his virtues without ever being overly enthusiastic. Perhaps some broken Hansie hearts never mend ...

The most vociferous cheers of the night were reserved though for the Moment of the Year nominations. Clippings from the NatWest Trophy final, and one of Sourav Ganguly indulging in topless celebrations, elicited tremendous applause , but nothing compared to the hysteria that greeted a clip of Sachin Tendulkar's slashed six over point off Shoaib Akhtar. Predictably, that World Cup moment from Centurion was voted pick of the bunch, even though one of the other contenders was Tendulkar's 30th century, the one that took him clear of Sir Donald Bradman.

During the panel discussion that followed, Harsha Bhogle opined that that one stroke was a seminal one in the history of India-Pakistan cricket, similar in impact to Javed Miandad's stunning last-ball effort against Chetan Sharma. But as the cheers rose to a crescendo, and the evening appeared in danger of being sidetracked into Jingoism Alley.

An award for "a seminal stroke in India-Pakistan cricket"

Luckily though, Shoaib emerged on stage soon after, to great applause. Dressed to the nines, Shoaib made all the right moves, earnestly saying that Tendulkar was the greatest batsman he'd ever bowled to.

After such mutual backslapping and camaraderie, there had to be a touch of farce to enliven proceedings. That arrived courtesy Bishan Singh Bedi, who showed that his mastery of foot-in-the-mouth disease was no less than his control over spin and flight. With John Buchanan and Tim Nielsen already on stage, waiting to receive a special achievement award on behalf of Cricket Australia, Bedi decided the time was right to debate the value of a cricket coach.

Having already questioned Wisden's Bible of Cricket tag - one that the organisation itself has always laughed off - Bedi was just getting stuck into Buchanan when the microphone was politely taken out of his grasp.

There was a completely vapid clip featuring Jane McGrath and Tracey Bevan, both English, illuminating the evening with gems like: "Jason Gillespie has a large ... personality."

That was still for one final twist in the tale, as Imran Khan - the greatest cricketer the sub-continent has ever produced - came on stage to present Ponting his award. The hush that followed was part reverence, and part confusion about how to respond in the wake of Imran's alleged remarks on Tendulkar's match winning credentials. But unlike certain other luminaries from this part of the world, Imran made plenty of sense when he opened his mouth, talking about how cricket needed to be spaced out better to prevent overkill, and a decline in quality.

The evening, which had started with cocktails, snacks and unbearably bright lights, ultimately was all about Ponting, who spoke candidly about the support he received from his mates when he was working his way through the hell-raiser phrase. He wears his maturity well these days, which is more than can be said for a certain former Indian captain.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.