Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2008 - Five who somehow missed out

Never a cricketer of the year

Scyld Berry

Almost every cricketer of the highest skill since 1889 has been commemorated by Wisden for posterity. With occasional exceptions, as for the war years, the finest players of the time have been captured by photograph and printed word as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year.

The traditional criterion has been the player's performance in the English cricket season: before the Wright brothers took to the air the editor of Wisden could not be expected to base his judgment on events abroad, in Australia or India or South Africa. This has led to several cricketers of the highest skill slipping through the net: players who have been great in other lands but who have not excelled on a tour of England, or who have not been engaged in county cricket.

Inzamam-ul-Haq announced his retirement from international cricket last year, aged 37. In the expectation that he will not excel in a future English season, Wisden has decided to select Inzamam, surely the finest batsman not to have been a Cricketer of the Year, as one of five cricketers of times past - to make good, to fill the gap, to set the record straight, if not rewrite history.

The five who missed out come from overseas: almost inevitably so, because English cricketers have had so many more seasons in which to excel. They come from more recent times: almost inevitably again, because the pool of international cricketers has expanded as more countries have been accorded Test status. The finest player before the Second World War who was never one of the Five Cricketers of the Year was, to my mind, the South African all-rounder Aubrey Faulkner. He averaged 40 with the bat in Test cricket and, bowling leg-breaks and googlies, 26 with the ball; and he opened what could be termed the first academy in England in the 1920s, before committing suicide aged 48. But his best performance was on South Africa's first tour of Australia in 1910-11, when he scored 732 runs for the losing side in the five-Test series.

The other four cricketers, to go with Inzamam, are all bowlers. Again, this is not unexpected: in every country, save perhaps Australia, batsmen have always been more glorified. A wonderful quartet they are too: the spin bowlers Bishan Bedi of India and Abdul Qadir of Pakistan, and the fast bowlers Wes Hall of West Indies and Jeff Thomson of Australia. All have been profiled by writers who faced their bowling. Tony Cozier opened the batting for Lodge School against Hall, playing for Spartan, in the days when three schools participated in the first division of Barbadian club cricket; and he hit Hall's first ball through square leg for four. When Cozier reminded Hall recently of this happy event, he replied: "You lucky you still living!"

Ian Chappell faced Thomson in the Sheffield Shield; Mike Brearley faced Bedi in Test and county cricket. In 1987-88, the last day of a Test match between Pakistan and England at Karachi was called off early, simply on the grounds that the Pakistan captain, Javed Miandad, did not feel like playing on after winning the series: a touch of lordliness that would have appealed to Inzamam. And John Woodcock, on his last tour of Pakistan and an admirer of Qadir because he saved wrist-spin bowling from extinction, was given a bat by the England players and faced a few balls from Qadir on the outfield. Happy days, without security officers to warn everyone off. Other South African all-rounders, in addition to Faulkner, have slipped through the net. Not only Eddie Barlow, who also did his best work on a tour of Australia and must have come close when reviving Derbyshire; and John Waite, along with Les Ames a prototype of the modern keeper-batsman; but also Trevor Goddard and Denis Lindsay. Jacques Kallis, Wisden's Leading Cricketer in the World for 2007, has only to maintain his career graph to be a strong candidate this summer.

Assuming Kallis earns selection, the mantle of being the finest batsman not to have been one of the Five Cricketers of the Year will pass to Gundappa Viswanath, who scored over 6,000 Test runs for India, although Vijay Hazare and Polly Umrigar, and Sourav Ganguly, will have their Indian advocates, and Doug Walters his Australian ones. The finest wicketkeeper never selected has to be Pakistan's Wasim Bari.

If Chaminda Vaas does not enjoy a successful county season, he may go down in history as the bowler with the highest number of Test wickets never to be a Cricketer of the Year. Nobody can be selected twice, but there will always be some who deserved to be selected once, and weren't. One-day cricket has become ever more of a criterion for selection, but not soon enough for Michael Bevan. A calmer and more calculating run-chaser has yet to win a one-day international.

Of England players, two left-arm spinners Phil Edmonds and Phil Tufnell took more than 100 Test wickets without being chosen as a Cricketer of the Year, while another Middlesex bowler who was successful outside the game, Gubby Allen, often said that he should have been. Probably the finest seamer, though, never to have gained selection - for Wisden, that is, not England - is the late Tom Cartwright. At least this master craftsman has been commemorated in an admirable biography, which has been selected as Wisden's book of the year.


Abdul Qadir bowls during the third Test against England, Pakistan v England, Karachi, January 18, 1978
Qadir's 'influence, not only in © The Cricketer International
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Abdul Qadir

John Woodcock

Pakistan had been playing Test cricket for 25 years before they produced a wrist-spinner who brought a touch of magic to the game. Until then Intikhab Alam had been the best, and a very good cricketer he was, capable of hitting the ball as hard as anyone of his time and of bowling the best sides out. But ABDUL QADIR KHAN, who was born in Lahore on September 15, 1955, was the first with a full bag of tricks.

His influence, not only in Pakistan but wherever he played, was stimulating and beneficial, though nothing about him, other than his capriciousness, was ever to be taken for granted. Except in India, where Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan were still in power, speed was coming more and more to dominate cricket thinking as Abdul Qadir was growing up. The cult figures were Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee, while in the Caribbean the most formidable concentration of fast bowlers the world is ever likely to see was being put together. World Series Cricket, too, was made the more spectacular for the emphasis laid on pace and fury.

So when attention was suddenly drawn to an ebullient, highly strung, unconforming 22-year-old from the precincts of Lahore, bowling a potentially rich and sinuous medley of leg-breaks, googlies, flippers and gesticulations, it was altogether timely. Within a few days of watching the uneasy opening games of World Series Cricket in and around Melbourne late in 1977, I was in Lahore being beguiled by Qadir in the first of his 67 Test matches, against Mike Brearley's England side. Both technically and temperamentally, English batsmen are at their most uncertain against good wrist-spin, so it was no surprise when, in the first innings of the next Test, at Hyderabad, England were dismissed for 191, Qadir taking six for 44.

The reason for his never becoming a Cricketer of the Year owes something, but not everything, to English conditions. Because of them, England themselves never have produced, and probably never will, a seriously and consistently good bowler of the Abdul Qadir/Shane Warne type. To come to acquire such a degree of controlled and varied spin needs pitches with readier bounce and a lot more sunshine than are to be found in England. "Tich" Freeman's phenomenal success, bowling quite gentle leg-breaks and googlies for Kent (1,673 wickets in the course of six English seasons) came in a game which differed so much from today's as to be but a distant cousin, albeit a much-loved one.

On the first of his three tours of England, which came within a few months of his success at Hyderabad, Qadir did no good at all. It was wretchedly wet. By the time of the second, in 1982, he was established in the Pakistan side and did pretty well. It would have been a lot better, he felt, but for the umpiring, a matter which became an issue more or less wherever he played. On his last visit to England, in 1987, he missed the first 50 days on what might be called extended paternity leave, before taking ten wickets with some lovely bowling in the Fifth and last Test at The Oval. It was the only big occasion on which England really saw the best of him.

But in the pantheon of wrist-spinners he surely ranks near the very top. Facing him or Warne at their best must have been as severe a test of a batsman's nerve and capacity as any slow bowler has ever represented. Those best qualified to make a comparison between the two stress, first of all, the extraordinary difference between Qadir's bouncing, twirling, pumping runup and Warne's few measured and menacing strides - the marauder and the stalker. Bluff is, of course, the essence of their business, and here Warne is in a class of his own.

But unlike Warne, Qadir was always on the attack. He knew no other way. It was a great part of his attraction, as well as of his relative inconsistency. When it comes to deception, as in the way in which he disguised his googly and various leg-breaks, not to mention his flipper, he was a real little sorcerer. And whereas he may not have had Warne's occasional in-drift, perhaps with a leg-break on the end of it, in Pakistan he did bowl in front of umpires whose interpretation of the lbw law was not always conspicuous for its neutrality. But that is another matter, and should be allowed to take nothing away from Abdul Qadir's rare, often dazzling skills.


Bishan Bedi bowls, Surrey v Indians, Tour match, The Oval, 3rd day, August 2, 1971
'Besides being a gentlemanly cricketer, Bedi was also a terrific competitor' © Getty Images
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Bishan Bedi

Michael Brearley

The first epithet that comes to mind for Bishan Bedi's bowling is "beautiful". More than with any other slow bowler, this is the word that stays. He prepared to bowl with remarkably supple stretches for a man who was not slim: he must have practised yoga. His fingers were wonderfully supple too, and part of his theatricality was fizzing the ball from one hand to the other before starting his run-up. He was also striking in his choice of patkas, often pink or bright blue.

He was not an elegant mover with the bat, or in the field. In both departments he could be clumsy. Like Colin Cowdrey among batsmen, Bedi was one of those athletes whose athleticism was expressed almost exclusively in what he did best. A few easy rhythmic steps, perfectly balanced, and he moved smoothly into the delivery stride. There was no sense of striving, nothing rushed or snatched, no hiccoughs, just an easy flow. He bowled at the slower end of the spin bowler's range, though not dead slow.

Like most great bowlers, his variation was subtle. Of all the slow bowlers of Bedi's time, none forced you to commit yourself later than he did. With tiny, last-second adjustments of wrist and hand-angle, he could bowl successive balls that looked identical, perhaps as if each would land on a length just outside off stump. But with the first he would cock his wrist more, deliver the ball slightly higher - it would spin sharply, stay wider of off, and be shorter than you anticipated. The next ball, ever so slightly undercut and a little quicker, would pitch further up and come in towards middle and leg stumps. To the first ball you were likely to play inside the line, and away from the body; to the second, outside the line, and round your front leg, so that there was a risk of inside edge on to the pad. The error of judgment induced in the batsman could be as much as a yard in length and a foot in width. And he could make these changes according to what he sensed the batsman was trying to do, in the moment of delivery, so firm and balanced were his action and rhythm.

BISHAN SINGH BEDI, born on September 25, 1946, in the Sikh capital of Amritsar, was a gentlemanly cricketer. If you hit him through the covers for four he would say, "Well played." When David Hughes of Lancashire hit him for 26 in an over in a Gillette Cup final, Bedi applauded each of the three sixes. He didn't approve of the lap or sweep; being a purist he felt these were unworthy shots. He did not readily bowl defensively - flat and directed to middle and leg - though he could also do this. He liked to defeat the batsman in the flight, and have him stumped or caught off a skyer.

Having watched the England players being mesmerised by him in India in 1972-73, and written about them not using their feet, the author batted at Northampton for Middlesex a few months later. The outcome: Brearley st Sharp b Bedi 18 (though 57 in the second innings!). Of his 1,560 first-class wickets, he took 434 in six seasons for Northamptonshire, and 266 in 67 Tests for India.

Besides being a gentlemanly cricketer, Bedi was also a terrific competitor. Tony Lewis, who captained England in 1972-73, said he was a Dennis Lillee among slow bowlers. If he liked you, he would be extremely friendly (I greeted him with a namaste - the Indian greeting with hands together - when I came in to bat at Lord's, and he enjoyed that). But if he took against you, he could be a fierce antagonist.

Bedi is an extremely generous man. Being of a rare blood group, he gave blood in Karachi on a Cavaliers tour in response to a newspaper appeal; Benazir Bhutto sent him two carpets and a tea-set, while shopkeepers invited Bedi to help himself. A forthright man too. He is not diplomatic. He can be choleric. He declared in Jamaica in 1976 when he believed the umpires had been too weak to put a stop to intimidatory and dangerous bowling by West Indies. Recently he has not minced words about Muttiah Muralitharan or Shoaib Akhtar. He is worried for future generations, who will copy these actions. He has no faith in cricket's administrators. In retirement Bedi has run a cricket school in Delhi. He also writes and speaks on television about cricket, outspokenly.


Wes Hall bowls at the nets, London, April 22, 1966
Hall was the first West Indian © Getty Images
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Wes Hall

Tony Cozier

At six foot three, with the physique and strength of a bodybuilder, a longjumper's approach of 30 galloping paces and an explosive action that propelled the ball at above 90mph, Wes Hall was the embodiment of West Indies fast bowling.

In association first with Roy Gilchrist and more famously with his fellow Barbadian Charlie Griffith, Hall revived the legacy of pace that had waned since the heyday of Constantine and Martindale more than a quarter-century earlier. His arrival coincided with the emergence of Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Basil Butcher and Lance Gibbs - the nucleus of the formidable team that developed in the 1960s under the significant guidance of Frank Worrell.

But for a twist of fate, WESLEY WINFIELD HALL, who was born at Station Hill, St Michael, on September 12, 1937, might never have entered such company. His obvious physical attributes were inexplicably overlooked at one of Barbados's leading schools, Combermere, where he was consigned to keeping wicket.

The first time he bowled competitively was as a fill-in in a club game for Cable & Wireless, the company he joined on leaving school. He took six wickets, abandoned the gloves and, within two years, was fast-tracked on to the 1957 England tour. Aged 19, with the inadequate background of a solitary first-class match, he had a predictably rough time, and future prospects did not seem promising. Once more, luck intervened: when Worrell withdrew from the 1958-59 tour of India and Pakistan, he was replaced by Hall and Eric Atkinson, a seam and swing bowler.

What seemed an irrational option proved a stirring success. Hall took 46 wickets in the eight Tests, and was the natural leader of the attack for the next decade, ending up with 192 wickets from 48 matches. He called his autobiography Pace Like Fire, and there was little subtlety to his approach. "Hall merely puts his head down and lets you have it, and it's pretty hot," wrote C. L. R. James of his pomp in England in 1963.

He was the first West Indian to take a Test hat-trick, against Pakistan on that 1958-59 tour. But his reputation for spirit and stamina was more defined by his final overs of two memorable Tests: the Brisbane tie of 1960- 61, and the draw at Lord's in 1963 when Colin Cowdrey, his arm in plaster after Hall broke it the previous day, re-entered for the last two balls at the nonstriker's end.

A combination of willpower and adrenalin kept Hall going each time. At the Gabba, he had already sent down 17 eight-ball overs on the final day when he began the last. At Lord's, he bowled unchanged for the 200 minutes of a shortened last day, on the sustenance of just two hard-boiled eggs, provided by Worrell on the team bus after his bowling spearhead had overslept.

Yet Hall was much more than a tearaway fast bowler. His wholehearted enjoyment of everything he did made him one of the most popular cricketers of his generation. The Australian commentator Johnnie Moyes described him as "a rare box-office attraction, a man who caught and held the affections of the paying public" after the 1960-61 series, while James's impression was that "Hall simply exudes good nature at every pore".

His batting was usually brief but entertaining, his vivid descriptions of it often more so. His only first-class century came early on the 1963 tour of England, against Cambridge University. "Ah, but it wasn't any old hundred," Hall would say, "it was against the intelligentsia."

He was eventually weakened by his physical efforts for various teams at home and abroad, as well as the effects of a couple of car crashes (his approach to driving was much the same as to his bowling). The signs that his powers were declining were evident some time before he limped off a Test field for the last time, midway through the first match against New Zealand at Auckland in February 1969.

It was also Griffith's last series, ending a bowling alliance now commemorated by a stand at their home ground, Kensington Oval. Hall's passion for the game - and for life - remained strong, and he turned his attention to an unlikely combination of cricket administration, politics and the church. He established a youth league in Trinidad, and became a West Indies selector, manager and even board president.

He also found the time to be elected to Barbados's parliament, served as a cabinet minister for ten years, and was ordained in the Christian Pentecostal Church - positions that reflected his commitment to public service, and offered scope for his always engaging, often prolonged, oratory.


Inzamam-ul-Haq opens up over midwicket, South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, January 20, 2007
Inzamam 'led the side for longer than anyone else since © AFP
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Inzamam-ul-Haq

Simon Barnes

We really shan't see his like again. Inzamam-ul-Haq was almost certainly the last of his kind: the last - now is not the time for euphemism - unapologetically fat fellow to become a genuinely great cricketer. But he was no Falstaffian biffer, blaster and roisterer: he was a man of quietness, mildness and grace.

He possessed that rather unearthly elegance you find sometimes, but rarely, in large people who are completely at home in their own bodies. When he batted, his touch and footwork were every bit as remarkable as his power. It is tempting to compare him to the hippo-ballerinas of Fantasia: but that is wrong. There, the joke is about incongruity. Inzi never looked incongruous at the crease: his balance, his eye - he was always able to play sublimely late - his lyrical flow, especially with the pull-shot, made every one else look undersized, awkward, malformed.

He scarcely ever hurried. INZAMAM-UL-HAQ was born on March 3, 1970, in the sweaty city of Multan, a place where the only thing that hurry does is spoil your shirt. At his best, he seemed to move cricket into a different time, a different space. The entire game seemed to adjust itself to Inzi's rhythm. He was not suited by build or nature to the frenetic into-the-advertising fielding of modern cricket, though he was a brilliant slipper. But he always brought with him a faint touch of absurdity: for alas, it behoves a batsman sometimes to run. Most agree that as a bad runner between the wickets, Inzamam carried all before him: though his record of 40 times run out in one-day internationals is only second-highest, behind Marvan Atapattu. The greatest thing about Inzamam was that he did it when it mattered.

He was a century-for-your-life man. That ability was first shown in 1992, in the Cornered Tigers World Cup. Imran Khan, the Pakistan captain, always backed him, and stuck with him during that campaign despite poor performances. In the semi, Inzamam scored 60 off 37 balls; in the final 42 off 35. Pakistan won.

Inzamam is one of only 11 batsmen to have scored 25 Test hundreds. But the best stat of all is that 17 of those centuries helped Pakistan to a victory. Inzamam was always a cricketer of substance.

He has mostly been a mild, but rather enigmatic presence in international cricket. He has never played the character, as his build suggested he might. It has suited him to remain slightly unknowable. "It's my nature," he said. "I'm a quiet person." All the same, he has been involved in a fair amount of scrapes. He was once charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon in question being a cricket bat, after an altercation with a heckling supporter in Toronto, of all places. The charge was later dropped. His amnesia during the Qayyum Inquiry into match-fixing also raised a few eyebrows.

But, for the last four years of his international career, he was the Pakistan captain, and made a good fist of one of the most insecure jobs in sport. He led the side for longer than anyone else since Imran. His reputation gave him authority, while his unemphatic nature was better suited to the job than that of many follow-me-lads types. He took Pakistan to third place in the Test and one-day rankings.

He presided over a team that prayed together five times a day and believed it had left its equivocal reputation behind: a belief that accounted for the dismay the team felt when punished for what the umpire Darrell Hair believed was ball-tampering in a match against England in 2006. As a result of that botched, mishandled and in truth rather absurd affair, Inzamam is on record as the only captain to have forfeited a Test, after his team were late to take the field after tea. The whole business, more ridiculous than meaningful, needs no going into here: suffice it to say that in most of cricket Inzamam emerged with his reputation undamaged, and actually enhanced, insofar as that is possible, in Pakistan.

He retired three runs short of being Pakistan's leading run-scorer in Test cricket, tripping over the last hurdle rather uncharacteristically. Perhaps he now regrets all those short singles he turned down over the course of his career, but probably not. His cricketing life has been notable for a kind of other-worldly serenity: a gentle, baffled wonder at the way cricket balls can be so readily despatched towards boundaries, a phenomenon strange but really rather gratifying, not least because it obviates the need for violent exercise.


Jeff Thomson in full flow during the 1982-83 Ashes series
'Aww, mate, I just shuffle up and go wang' © Getty Images
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Jeff Thomson

Ian Chappell

When asked to describe his bowling action, Jeff Thomson replied in typically laconic fashion: "Aww, mate, I just shuffle up and go wang." It was the perfect description for what he did, except that it failed to reveal the carnage resulting from a simple "wang".

For two years until he badly injured his shoulder at Adelaide in December 1976, Jeff Thomson was the most lethal bowler on earth, with a better average and strike-rate than Dennis Lillee. And there wasn't a stat for what his presence did to opposing batsmen's psyches.

Admittedly, the West Indian off-spinner Lance Gibbs was no batsman, but before the 1975-76 series he said to me, "I can sort out Lillee, he has a wife and kids like me, but you're responsible for that mad man Thomson. You must convince him not to kill me."

"But Gibbsy," I said, "I'm not captain."

"I don't care," Gibbs responded with his distinctive cackle, "I'm holding you responsible."

His concern probably stemmed from Thomson's infamous quote before the 1974-75 Ashes series that "I'd rather see a batsman's blood on the pitch than his stumps lying on the ground." Although he denied ever saying that, it had the desired effect on opponents. Thomson was nothing like that in reality, but the ferocious image did him no harm.

Once batsmen realised "Two-Up" (the nickname came from Thommo's, a famous Sydney gambling den which stayed one step ahead of the law) was quite a normal, decent human being, he was handled with a little more ease - but that also coincided with his serious shoulder injury.

He was bowling like the wind on that fateful day at Adelaide. He was agitated after Alan Turner had dropped Zaheer Abbas; when Zaheer mistimed another pull and Thommo saw Turner circling under the ball he took off for the catch. They collided, and Thomson was never quite the same bowler again.

He obviously knew he was in trouble, because when he finally sat up clutching his shoulder he cursed, "I'll kill that ****" - adding, after a long pause, "if I ever bowl again." No one has ever worked out whether he was referring to Zaheer or Turner. Actually Adelaide was a hoodoo ground for him. In January 1975 he was in the process of rearranging the stumps, fingers, ribcages and life priorities of the England tourists when he injured his right shoulder. The first day was called off as rain had got under the covers, so a few of the Australians played tennis on the grass courts behind the members' stand.

Apparently Thomson had felt a click in his shoulder while serving, but hadn't mentioned it. On the rest day he played tennis again, and this time his shoulder gave out. This is not altogether surprising, because he liked to do everything flat out: he bowled quicker than anyone, drove dragracing cars, and attempted to serve as fast as John Newcombe.

In those two years before his injury, JEFFREY ROBERT THOMSON, who was born in Sydney on August 16, 1950, was the most lethal bowler I've seen. In Australia, he was able to make the ball rise alarmingly at express speed to throat height from just short of a length - but following the injury some of that steep bounce went missing. He was still quick, but no longer just shuffled up and went wang. He began to use a longer run-up and, although the extra bounce was elusive, he could still dial up the express speed.

In 1991, some 13 years after a Bridgetown Test in which Thommo had sent down an intimidating spell to Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge, I went into the Kensington Oval's Pickwick Stand. The aficionados there knew their stuff: they had seen plenty of Barbadian pacemen, from Manny Martindale in the 1930s, through Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, to Malcolm Marshall and Sylvester Clarke. They'd also witnessed quickies from other islands like Andy Roberts and Michael Holding.

I asked, "Who's the fastest you've ever seen?" To a man they immediately replied, "Ooh man, dat Jeffrey Robert Thomson. He don't bowl fast, man, he bowl like de wind."

That Jeffrey Robert Thomson left an impression wherever he went. Sometimes it was a mental picture, other times it was a bruise, but he left his most indelible mark on cricket when he just shuffled up and went wang.

© John Wisden and Co.