The world's top players during 2003

The Wisden Forty - part 3 of 4

Stuart MacGill (Australia)
As well as providing respite for batsmen everywhere, the Shane Warne drugs scandal gave MacGill his biggest break yet in a frustrating career. Limited to 18 Test caps in five years by the presence of the only man in the world who bowled more beguiling leg-spin than he did, MacGill got to work immediately, taking 57 wickets in 11 Tests and fading only when the twinkletoed Indians used their feet to devastating effect. At that point, Australia badly missed Warne's ability to attack without offering regular four-balls. The highlights of a year in which only South Africa's Ntini claimed more Test scalps were a nine-wicket haul in the win at Bridgetown, and three successive five-fors against Bangladesh. Easy pickings or not, MacGill had waited too long to care.
2003: 11 Tests: 10 runs @ 1.11; 57 wickets @ 29.61.

Glenn McGrath (Australia)
After ten years of exploiting it with his peerlessly metronomic fast-medium, McGrath suddenly found himself in a corridor of uncertainty. Injury meant he played in only four of Australia's 12 Tests; in those his strike-rate was a fraction below 100, and his only notable contribution was taking the grumpy-old-man act a bit too far with Ramnaresh Sarwan in Antigua. McGrath's contribution to the World Cup was more worthy, however. His surgical dismantling of improper Namibian techniques was a predictable mismatch. More importantly, it took him just five balls to win the battle of the giants with Tendulkar in the final. How Australia could have done with him when they met the Indians again later in the year.
2003: 4 Tests: 19 runs @ 19.00; 8 wickets @ 35.25.
19 ODI: 6 runs (not dismissed); 29 wickets @ 19.65.

Damien Martyn (Australia)
It was not so much his Test returns that made this a memorable year for Martyn - every one of his nine innings reached 20, none passed 66 - but his part in Australia's World Cup-winning machine. Martyn hit 323 runs in the competition at 64.60, and saved the best until last, compiling an underrated, unbeaten 88 off 84 balls in the final against India and adding an unbroken 234 with Ponting. He was batting with a broken finger, and an operation soon afterwards meant he was unable to pick up a bat again for two months. But he was soon back in the one-day runs, scoring 100, 61 not out and 61 against the hosts in the one-day tournament in India.
2003: 6 Tests: 339 runs @ 42.37; no wicket for 57.
26 ODI: 878 runs @ 58.53; 1 wicket @ 78.00.

Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
It was a disappointing year for Sri Lanka but, for Muralitharan, 2003 was just another step on the road to becoming one of the great phenomena of cricket history. Not everyone approved of his controversial off-spinning action, and the whispers grew louder when his "doosra" (the off-spinner's googly) wrought havoc against England. But there was no escaping the fact that Murali - manic eyes gleaming, mouth open wide at the point of delivery - remained a uniquely absorbing sight. Without him, Sri Lanka would barely have been half the side. He took nearly 44% of their Test wickets, and conceded just 1.80 runs an over to go with his scarcely believable one-day international economy-rate of 3.34. But it was his desire to remain one step ahead of the opposition that underlined his status as one of the all-time greats. When England visited before Christmas, he hit them with a series of unpickable, big-turning wrong 'uns - a masterly response to series defeats in 2000-01 and 2002. Even England's most experienced batsmen said they had never seen anything like it. In the professional era, Murali remained that rarest of breeds - an entertainer, and a highly successful one at that.
2003: 7 Tests: 113 runs @ 16.14; 48 wickets @ 17.68.
24 ODI: 72 runs @ 6.54; 46 wickets @ 15.89.

Mushtaq Ahmed (Pakistan)
Eyebrows were raised around the counties when Sussex signed Mushtaq Ahmed, aged 32 and in the wilderness with Pakistan; hearts sank everywhere but Hove once he got to work with his leg-breaks and googlies. His competitive instincts were revitalised by a tantalising sterling-forscalps deal. And, arms whirring, seam buzzing in the air, Mushtaq was back to his most mischievous, and the county set - who still handle mystery spin like soap in the bath - had no answer. He was the dominant figure of the domestic summer, and the first man to take 100 first-class wickets since 1998. (Nobody else in the first division even exceeded 60.) More importantly, he was the key factor in Sussex finally winning the County Championship for the first time. Mushtaq got his international recall as a result, and, even though he found South Africa a much tougher proposition, nothing could take the gloss off a sensational year.
2003: 2 Tests: 20 runs @ 20.00; 2 wickets @ 99.50.
1 ODI: did not bat; no wicket for 65.

Makhaya Ntini (South Africa)
Ntini's graduation from hit-and-miss scattergun to the most potent weapon in South Africa's arsenal did not get the attention it deserved in 2003. He was the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket with 59, and third in the oneday international list with 45, one behind Brett Lee and Muttiah Muralitharan. Angling the ball in from wide of the crease with a lightning-fast arm action, he provided the perfect foil to Pollock's more measured, probing approach. Ntini could still be expensive, but he was a match-winner too, taking eight against Pakistan at Cape Town, ten - celebrated with an emotional kiss of the turf - against England at Lord's, and nine against West Indies at Johannesburg. An inspiration to South Africa's under-privileged communities, he made his presence felt far beyond the boundary.
2003: 12 Tests: 105 runs @ 21.00; 59 wickets @ 26.54.
23 ODI: 45 runs @ 15.00; 45 wickets @ 18.13.

Shaun Pollock (South Africa)
The bald statistics say it all: in 11 Tests, Pollock averaged 50 with the bat and 21 with the ball, which is not bad for a man who was dumped as captain after South Africa's World Cup debacle, and who might reasonably have spent the year sulking. Pollock did precisely the opposite, and yet most of his work went largely unnoticed - except by opponents. His jaunty hitting at No. 8 was a tiring bowler's worst nightmare, and his Chinese-torture seamers - every ball drip-dripped on the spot - tested batsmen's faculties to the full. With Pollock, the watchword was parsimony: he rarely hit even 80mph, and at Rawalpindi he bowled the thriftiest ten-over spell in South Africa's one-day history. In an age where batsmen deal in persecution, his economy-rate was outstanding: 2.22 in Tests and 3.51 in one-day internationals. On a flat track he was unhittable; on a feisty one, such as Trent Bridge against England, he was unplayable.
2003: 11 Tests: 452 runs @ 50.22; 45 wickets @ 20.97.
23 ODI: 170 runs @ 18.88; 27 wickets @ 25.77.

Mark Richardson (New Zealand)
There were few more self-deprecating, likeable cricketers in the world in 2003 than Richardson - and few more effective Test opening batsmen. He was the archetypal New Zealand anchorman, yet his self-imposed limitations, infused with humour and spirit, were absorbing rather than off-putting. Pigeon-holed - reasonably enough - as a Test player, he was restricted to 11 international innings in the calendar year, but made almost every one of them count, falling for under 40 on only three occasions. His 410-ball 145 at Mohali was typical of his unbending powers of concentration. A late starter in Test cricket, he was, at 32, established as one of the most bankable batsmen in the business. He was also one of a handful in the world who managed to blunt the threat of Murali.
2003: 6 Tests: 555 runs @ 55.50.

Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)
If Gilchrist was the world's most valuable keeper/batsman, Sangakkara came in a stylish second. His glovework was not always perfect - he often played as a specialist batsman - but he averaged over 40 in Tests with his silken strokeplay at No. 3, and hit successive unbeaten one-day hundreds at Sharjah. Had two flowing Test innings against England not ended with avoidable run-outs, his impact would have been even greater. He remained Sri Lanka's mouthpiece on the field, where a mixture of sharp banter (Oscar Wilde is one of his favourites) and incessant encouragement troubled opposition batsmen and umpires alike.
2003: 7 Tests (3 as wicket-keeper): 412 runs @ 41.20; 9 catches as keeper, 4 stumpings.
26 ODI (15 as wicket-keeper): 695 runs @ 36.57; 19 catches as keeper, 5 stumpings.

Virender Sehwag (India)
It was the year Sehwag forged his own identity. No longer was he just a Tendulkar doppelgänger; now he was big box-office in his own right. But though he was a year older, Sehwag was not necessarily a year wiser, and he continued to open the innings the only way he knew how. His live-fastdie- young style of batting was exhilarating when it came off, but with the hits came the inevitable misses - most notably during an underwhelming World Cup. Two breathtaking innings, however, stood out: a match-winning 112 in a one-day international at Auckland, when no other Indian reached 25, and a glorious 195 on Boxing Day at Melbourne. For its relentless risktaking, mass devastation and pure, unbridled talent, this was Sehwag at his most definitive.
2003: 5 Tests: 522 runs @ 52.20; 1 wicket @ 100.00.
27 ODI: 871 runs @ 32.25; 10 wickets @ 30.50.

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