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In the very week Wisden went to press, Anil Kumble of India emphasised the global supremacy of wrist-spin by becoming the second player in Test history to take ten wickets in an innings. Just before that, the Australian captain Mark Taylor departed from international cricket, not so much retiring as ascending to post-cricket heaven in a fiery chariot: no captain since Mike Brearley has left the game with a higher reputation. And in Taylor's case, tactical skill was a smaller part of the mix. Even the media failed to disturb his equilibrium. He was straight-talking, straight-forward, dignified, a very fine batsman in his own right and - like all great leaders - damn lucky. He took over an Australian squad of remarkable (and perhaps unprecedented) ability and depth, at a time when England were groggily trying to stand upright but were still vulnerable to the merest sucker punch, and West Indies were plummeting towards the canvas.
Taylor is perhaps the only cricketer of the decade to acquire stature round the cricket world as a human being as well as a mere games player. Several of the world's most gifted batsmen and bowlers have lately been attracting more bad publicity than good: Wasim Akram, Brian Lara, Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. Meanwhile, Sachin Tendulkar kept himself squeaky-clean but had now become such a huge star in India that it was difficult to see the real person who might exist beneath the advertising icon.
Everyone agreed, even in England, that the game's most urgent need was for cricketers with enough personality to enthuse the public. The trouble is that when such people do appear, everyone spends their time slagging them off, the career of Ian Botham providing a particularly graphic illustration. Since Botham retired, England have had very few personalities worth slagging off.
Lord MacLaurin, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), has his own views on this. His major public pronouncement of 1998 was an article in the Sunday Telegraph, sending Mike Atherton, who had just resigned as England captain, on his way with a sharp kick: ... the general behaviour of cricketers and their appearance has to be addressed. No longer should we see international cricketers appearing on television unshaven, chewing gum and looking slovenly. Mark Taylor chewed gum, by the way, about as incessantly as cricket administrators miss the point.