The world's top players during 2003

The Wisden Forty - part 4 of 4

Shoaib Ahktar (Pakistan)
The averages were stunning, particularly in Tests, but you suspect the stat that mattered most to Shoaib Akhtar was the 100.2mph ball he sent hurtling down to Nick Knight during the World Cup. Self-satisfied with breaking cricket's four-minute mile, Shoaib bowled like a drain in the games that mattered as Pakistan tumbled ignominiously out of the competition. In the subsequent fall-out, and with his hubris in danger of going off the scale, Shoaib was advised to "shut up and bowl, mate" by Waqar Younis. When he was not injured or suspended for sledging tailenders or ball-tampering, he did precisely that and more. He made only four Test appearances, but certainly made them count: he was way too hot for South Africa's starstudded top order at Lahore, and scalded New Zealand with a dazzling performance at Wellington. Of his 30 Test wickets, a third were out lbw or bowled without scoring. For most batsmen around the world he was too fast, too straight, too much. And boy, did he know it.
2003: 4 Tests: 17 runs @ 4.25; 30 wickets @ 12.36.
20 ODI: 151 runs @ 18.87; 33 wickets @ 22.93.

Graeme Smith (South Africa)
It seemed unfair to place the burden on a 22-year-old, but in 2003 Smith exceeded his brief, helping a nation forget the twin traumas of Hansie Cronje's demise and a catastrophic World Cup. The critics scoffed when Smith inherited the South African captaincy from Pollock. But after two innings wins in Bangladesh he set about proving them wrong: scores of 277 at Edgbaston and 259 at Lord's, full of square-jawed defiance and crunching leg-side strokeplay, quickly became part of his country's sporting folklore. Although South Africa ended up drawing in England, then losing in Pakistan, he was back on track with 132 at Johannesburg to help set up a series win over West Indies. If first impressions count, then Smith - articulate, precocious, and so very determined - made them count double.
2003: 12 Tests: 1,198 runs @ 63.05; 2 wickets @ 54.50.
19 ODI: 600 runs @ 33.33; no wicket for 53.

Heath Streak (Zimbabwe)
As Zimbabwe reached a nadir on and off the pitch, Streak's quiet dignity stood out. Some were offended by his refusal to condemn Robert Mugabe's regime, but generally he made the best of an unspeakably bad situation. His captaincy may have been one-dimensional, but he led by example. After the retirement of Andy Flower, Streak invariably stood alone: his bowling was as wholehearted and probing as ever, and his lower-order batting - strongarmed and full of rugged defiance - was a minor sensation. He averaged a shade under 40 in both forms of the game, and scored his maiden Test century. And he did it all with the minimum of fuss. International sport, Streak demonstrated, still had room for the strong, silent type.
2003: 6 Tests: 317 runs @ 39.62; 17 wickets @ 38.29.
23 ODI: 469 runs @ 39.08; 29 wickets @ 26.75.

Sachin Tendulkar (India)
In whites, an annus horribilis; in pyjamas, mirabilis. It was hard to know which was greater: the peak he touched in South Africa, or - until he redeemed himself with a consummate double-century at Sydney at the start of 2004 - the trough he entered in Australia. Tendulkar was the player of the World Cup, his genius in full, unfettered glory, displaying all the colours of the cricketing rainbow. His assault on Shoaib Akhtar in India's crunch match with Pakistan acquired immediate fame in his homeland. If his failure in the final - when India needed a miracle from him but got only a mistimed pull - stimulated the begrudgers' juices, his Test-match form drove them to distraction. Statistically and actually, it was the worst year of Tendulkar's Test career: six single-figure scores in nine, and the ignominy of being dropped down the order in the MCG bear pit - a bit like Eliot Ness being taken out of the firing line for his own good. But as Tendulkar's scorching beginning to 2004 showed, the gravity of genius cannot be defied for ever.
2003: 5 Tests: 153 runs @ 17.00; 4 wickets @ 51.25.
21 ODI: 1,141 runs @ 57.05; 3 wickets @ 67.33.

Marcus Trescothick (England)
On the face of it, Trescothick enjoyed a triumphant year, hammering more runs - 1,003 in Tests - than any of his team-mates and cementing his reputation as England's best top-order batsman in one-day cricket. But the stats did not tell the whole story. Trescothick tended to dazzle only in patches, and although he rarely failed - there were just four single-figure dismissals in 24 Test innings - he rarely turned promising starts into big scores either, falling between 22 and 43 on nine occasions. Trescothick admitted to exhaustion after a long winter, but England would have been a lesser side without him, and he saved his magnum opus for their most important Test of the year. Against South Africa at The Oval, Trescothick bludgeoned 219 and 69 not out, crashing 188 runs in boundaries and squaring the series in the process. A century in the next Test, at Dhaka, confirmed that, when the mood took him, he left his contemporaries for dead, with the occasional exceptions of Vaughan and Flintoff. His sporadically volcanic one-day batting erupted with 409 runs in six innings, a summer sequence that included two unbeaten centuries. But the abiding impression was of a naturally gifted cricketer who had not quite come to terms with his talent. Passed over for the Test captaincy at the start of the summer, and his judgment ridiculed after the Headingley bad-light incident, he was dropping straightforward slip catches by the end of the year. Would the real Trescothick please stand up?
2003: 13 Tests: 1,003 runs @ 47.76; no wicket for 10.
25 ODI: 867 runs @ 37.69.

Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka)
His position at the top of the World Cup wicket-taking list went relatively unnoticed, but then that was typical of the left-armer Vaas - the world's best unsung seamer. He played all seven of his Tests on the merciless strips of Sri Lanka and the West Indies, yet chipped in regularly to prevent a Muralitharan monopoly. And he was a model of canny economy in the oneday game, conceding just 3.69 runs an over all year, and going for more than 40 runs in just six of his 23 matches. His hat-trick against Bangladesh with the first three balls of their World Cup game was unusually dramatic for him. More often, he would be quietly swinging the ball in, sometimes cutting it away, always on the spot, occasionally reaping the harvest.
2003: 7 Tests: 199 runs @ 24.87; 23 wickets @ 28.47.
23 ODI: 149 runs @ 12.41; 34 wickets @ 21.20.

Michael Vaughan (England)
Vaughan began the year with a sublime 183 at Sydney, and by April he was top of the world Test batting rankings. He spent the rest of it trying to justify that tag - and by the end of 2003 he was 13th. In May, Vaughan succeeded Nasser Hussain as one-day captain, and made a flying start, leading England to victory in two one-day series and barely raising his voice once. When Hussain returned to the dressing-room for the Test series with South Africa, he sensed a change of mood and dramatically resigned after one game, plunging Vaughan head first into the deep end. The carefree brilliance that had brought him 156 among the rank and file at Edgbaston was replaced by a series of distracted 20s, and Vaughan the captain went nine Test innings without a half-century. Under the circumstances, a 2-2 draw with South Africa was a mini-triumph. Bangladesh provided temporary respite from the batting blues, but Vaughan did not hint at a return to the heights of 2002 until Kandy, where he followed a first-innings fifty with an epic match-saving 105 in seven and a half hours. Vaughan rated it the best of his ten Test centuries and admitted, for the first time, that he was only just beginning to learn how to compartmentalise his various roles when he was at the crease. His one-day batting, though, waited for a breakthrough which never really came, while his off-spin remained underused and underrated, mainly by himself. As a leader, Vaughan could point to four Test wins to go with three defeats, but his tactical rawness was exposed on a belter in Colombo.
2003: 13 Tests: 958 runs @ 41.65; 1 wicket @ 90.00.
22 ODI: 587 @ 30.89; 2 wickets @ 72.00.

Steve Waugh (Australia)
For a man who has always enjoyed the symbolic gesture, it was appropriate that the final leg of Waugh's 18-year Test marathon should begin and end in his home town of Sydney. A stunning century against England at the SCG, reached triumphantly off the last ball of the second day, heralded for some the end of a glorious career, but Waugh kept going for another year, culminating in an emotional month-long farewell during the epic drawn series with India. In between, he led his side to victory in the Caribbean, and hauled his batting average back over 50 with two ruthless unbeaten centuries against Bangladesh. He finished with a world-record 41 Test wins as captain, and - despite the failure to beat India - a place on the topmost level of Australia's sporting pantheon.
2003: 12 Tests: 876 runs @ 79.63; 2 wickets @ 103.00.

Yousuf Youhanna (Pakistan)
It was business as usual for Yousuf Youhana: loads of runs, very few headlines. He was the world's leading one-day international run-scorer, and averaged a shade under 60 in Tests - but you would never have known it. Youhana was the invisible man of world cricket, with his serene batsmanship only really noticeable right at the end: in a low-scoring Boxing Day Test at Wellington he scored 148 runs for once out, guiding Pakistan to a famous victory. Typically, his performance was overshadowed by Shoaib Akhtar's whirlwind fast bowling.
2003: 6 Tests: 359 runs @ 59.83.
33 ODI: 1,168 runs @ 43.25.

© John Wisden & Co