The world's top players during 2003

The Wisden Forty - part 1 of 4

The Wisden Forty, including the Leading Cricketer in the World, have been selected by Wisden as the world's top players on the basis of their class and form shown in all cricket during the calendar year 2003. The selections were made in consultation with many of the game's most experienced writers and commentators. In the end, though, they were Wisden's choices, guided by the statistics but not governed by them. The selection panel are no more infallible than any other selectors.

The Forty

Michael Bevan (Australia)
This was just another year in the life of the world's greatest one-day batsman. There was no sign of a Test recall, so Bevan contented himself with giving lesson after lesson in the art of finishing. Most notable were two eerily certain innings to redeem apparently lost causes against England and New Zealand in the World Cup, when he coaxed unprecedented performances out of his tail-end partner Bichel. Almost every innings Bevan played was an imperious study in risk management and, with almost half his innings marked by an asterisk, his average moved back above 55. With the pyjamas on, he was entirely without peer.
2003: 31 one-day internationals: 784 runs @ 65.33.

Andy Bichel (Australia)
In a team of celebrities, Bichel was an unobtrusive and unpretentious figure, but a winner none the less. His straight-talking seam-up got going with four for 18 in the first VB Series final against England, and after three games in the World Cup, he had 12 wickets at the staggering average of 2.75. But Bichel was knocking on the all-rounder's door too. With Bevan he added 73 against England (having already taken seven for 20), then 97 against New Zealand to transform defeat into victory. An innings of 71 in the Bridgetown Test confirmed Bichel could hold a bat, while every one of his 32 Test wickets was celebrated with the enthusiasm of an ordinary bloke who could not quite believe he was wearing the baggy green.
2003: 9 Tests: 233 runs @ 23.30; 32 wickets @ 33.25.
28 ODI: 243 runs @ 34.71; 38 wickets @ 26.05.

Mark Boucher (South Africa)
South Africa's obvious choice as wicket-keeper/batsman since February 1998, Boucher remained one of the most familiar - and combative - faces on the international circuit. Once he had got over his failure to score the single against Sri Lanka that would have spared South Africa their humiliating World Cup exit on a rainy night in Durban, Boucher got to work on another productive, consistent year with bat and gloves. He averaged over 30 in both forms of the game, and batted as high as No. 5 in the one-day side; the epitaph "c Boucher b Ntini", meanwhile, was one of the most common scorebook entries in world cricket. In early January 2004, he became the third-most successful wicket-keeper in Test history.
2003: 12 Tests: 520 runs @ 32.50; 38 catches, 5 stumpings.
23 ODI: 372 runs @ 31.00; 42 catches, 1 stumping.

Rahul Dravid (India)
Just when it looked like the man nicknamed the Wall could not scale any greater heights after a run-laden 2002, Dravid took his batting to another level. It is not easy to stand out in the Indian top six - who by the end of the year were established as cricket's answer to Real Madrid's footballing galacticos - but Dravid began India's unusually light Test year with 222 and 73 against New Zealand at Ahmedabad, and finished with a Man of the Series performance in Australia, where his tally of 305 for once out at Adelaide was one of the all-time great performances. Few batsmen anywhere could match his blend of patience, elegance, strokeplay and modesty. Through it all, he remained the backbone of the Indian line-up, as five unbeaten innings out of ten plus an average of over 63 at the World Cup - despite the burden of keeping wicket - confirmed.
2003: 5 Tests: 803 runs @ 100.37.
23 ODI (19 as wicket-keeper): 623 runs @ 41.53. 19 catches as keeper, 2 stumpings.

Stephen Fleming (New Zealand)
For most of his career, Fleming had been a legside-oriented David Gower - left-handed, upright, elegant, but with too many failures amid the aesthetics. (Maybe it's something to do with them both being born on April 1.) By the start of the year, however, he had devised a plan to make himself more productively Goweresque, subtly adjusting the position of his top hand to allow more freedom through the off side. A spanking unbeaten 134 against South Africa in the World Cup provided instant reward; scores of 274 and 69, both unbeaten, in the Colombo Test showed that the change was no flash in the one-day pan. There were still failures - five of his 11 Test innings ended in single figures - but 192 against Pakistan at Hamilton suggested he was giving it away less easily than in the past. In a disappointing year for New Zealand, his captaincy and slip catching were as imperturbable as ever.
2003: 6 Tests: 631 runs @ 70.11.
23 ODI: 681 runs @ 34.05.

Andrew Flintoff (England)
This was the year people began to take Flintoff seriously. After missing the Ashes with a groin strain, Flintoff was the World Cup's most economical bowler, while his performances with the bat during the English summer were rarely less than bar-emptying. Three consecutive match awards in Bangladesh confirmed that he could play pyjama cricket in his sleep. But it was as a Test batsman that he really opened eyes. A free-hitting 142 in a lost cause at Lord's was followed by a pair of fifties at Headingley and a murderous 95 at The Oval, this time to set up victory. In Sri Lanka, after another bout of subcontinental soul-searching, he added a more subtle shade to his palette, hitting a cathartic 77 during the calamity in Colombo and playing Muttiah Muralitharan with more care than his reputation would suggest. His bang-itin seam-up remained heartfelt but one-dimensional. Often he was England's best bowler, but rarely had the figures to prove it. A freakish attack of butter-fingers among his team-mates was one explanation; an inability to move his stock delivery away from the right-hander was another. But his value on pitches that demanded graft was underlined by nine wickets at 24.55 in Sri Lanka. By the end of the year, an England team without Flintoff in it seemed unthinkable.
2003: 8 Tests: 566 runs @ 40.42; 19 wickets @ 42.78.
20 ODI: 631 runs @ 45.07; 30 wickets @ 18.60.

Herschelle Gibbs (South Africa)
Almost everyone got blamed for South Africa's World Cup farrago - from captain to coach to twelfth man to mathematician - but Gibbs was entirely exempt. While his team-mates were weighed down by history and expectation, he floated through the tournament like a butterfly, but with the ability to sting new-ball bowlers with his irrepressible strokeplay. Apart from a humbling spell as he acclimatised to English conditions, it was the same all year. Gibbs had always had the tools; now, by and large, he knew where and when to use them, as he showed with 179 on the first day of the Test series against England at Edgbaston. Yet even that barnstormer could not match his bewitching 228 off 240 balls against Pakistan at Cape Town. To most observers these were calculated, statement-making attacks. To Gibbs they were just hits in the park, the most natural thing in the world - as was his consistently brilliant fielding. And though his talk-first-think-later interviews continued to rub some people up the wrong way, few begrudged Gibbs his status as one of cricket's great entertainers.
2003: 12 Tests: 1,156 runs @ 64.22.
21 ODI: 693 runs @ 40.76.

Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
Gilchrist went into 2004 in the middle of the biggest slump of his Test career - but, when it comes to the best keeper/batsman in the history of the game, these things are relative. He still averaged nearly 60, and his strike-rate of 93 was miles clear of anyone else. For once, however, most of his best work was done in the shadows. His 94-ball century against England at Sydney hardly registered amid the Waugh fever; ditto his 84-baller against Zimbabwe in Hayden's match at Perth. Similarly, his tone-setting assault in the World Cup final was lost when Ponting went berserk. It was a dismissal - his own - that brought Gilchrist the most headlines, when he sportingly walked in the semi-final against Sri Lanka. He still held more Test catches than anyone else.
2003: 12 Tests: 714 runs @ 59.50; 43 catches, 7 stumpings.
31 ODI: 1,098 runs @ 37.86; 53 catches, 3 stumpings.

Jason Gillespie (Australia)
With Warne suspended and McGrath injured for long periods, the most deadly support act in world cricket had to become the main man in 2003. Gillespie grew a wild mullet for the occasion but, despite his flair, skill, sweat and more thought than might be obvious, he could not quite locate the door marked "greatness". He was injured quite a lot himself, perhaps because of all the effort involved, and missed most of the World Cup, though not before he had hoodwinked Tendulkar quite gloriously. He could not find an answer to India's batting riches later in the year, but came closer than any of his team-mates. As usual with Gillespie, there were few stand-out performances, just consistent, relentless, bat-jarring excellence - and the perpetual absence of just deserts as another sucker failed to nick that ripping, snarling leg-cutter.
2003: 10 Tests: 145 runs @ 29.00; 41 wickets @ 22.51.
11 ODI: 7 runs (not dismissed); 18 wickets @ 17.61.

Matthew Hayden (Australia)
For Hayden, the last three years have been one long, largely indistinguishable orgy of run-scoring. But one innings ensured that 2003 will always stand out - the Test-record 380 against Zimbabwe at Perth, which fulfilled Steve Waugh's alarmingly prescient remark a year earlier that Hayden would one day pass Brian Lara's 375. Yet when he began the year with a series of unfulfilled starts in the World Cup, it seemed the biggest bully in world cricket had lost some of his ruthlessness. As if. His conversion rate in Tests - five of his eight fifties were turned into hundreds - was indicative of a man still desperately hungry to make up for the lost years of his early international career. For cowering, panting bowlers, it was like facing a batting machine.
2003: 12 Tests: 1,312 runs @ 77.17.
32 ODI: 1,037 runs @ 39.88.

Inzamam-ul-Haq (Pakistan)
Jacques Kallis (South Africa)
Michael Kasprowicz (Australia)
Gary Kirsten (South Africa)
Anil Kumble (India)
Justin Langer (Australia)
Brian Lara (West Indies)
VVS Laxman (India)
Brett Lee (Australia)
Darren Lehmann (Australia)
Stuart MacGill (Australia)
Glenn McGrath (Australia)
Damien Martyn (Australia)
Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
Mushtaq Ahmed (Pakistan)
Makhaya Ntini (South Africa)
Shaun Pollock (South Africa)
Ricky Ponting (Australia) - The Leading Cricketer in the World
Mark Richardson (New Zealand)
Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)
Virender Sehwag (India)
Shoaib Ahktar (Pakistan)
Graeme Smith (South Africa)
Heath Streak (Zimbabwe)
Sachin Tendulkar (India)
Marcus Trescothick (England)
Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka)
Michael Vaughan (England)
Steve Waugh (Australia)
Yousuf Youhanna (Pakistan)

© John Wisden & Co