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Which of W. G. Grace's feats was the most resounding? And which aspect of Twenty20's gold rush best captured its impact on the modern game? These were the kinds of questions to which Wisden hoped to find a convincing answer when it chose the ten most seminal moments in the years spanning the Almanack's 150 editions. The list that emerged contains some that will come as a surprise: among readers who entered our competition to guess the ten, no one managed more than six. But then consensus would have spoiled the fun.
We stipulated that a moment could not be an era - though an era could be sparked by a moment, which we interpreted loosely, to avoid the reduction of everything ad absurdum and so awarding pride of place to the Big Bang. So West Indies' 15-year reign didn't count, but the series which triggered it - their thrashing by Australia in 1975-76 - did. And we made a plea for "lasting resonance". Don Bradman's duck in his final Test innings in 1948 felt like a one-off shock; Bodyline, a tactic designed to tame him, reached beyond the skeleton of statistics and deep into cricket's bone marrow. Few entrants were brave enough to omit it.
Otherwise, the Wisden team were guided by judgment and a little gut instinct. Who changed batting for ever: Grace in 1871 or Bradman in 1930? We went for Grace, who - as Ranjitsinhji explained - invented an entire methodology, of which Bradman would become the most ruthless exemplar. Was the first Gillette Cup in 1963 more significant for one-day cricket than India's 1983 World Cup win? We thought so, but only just.
Or did this clash with the choice of the Indian Premier League's first auction, in 2008, ahead of Twenty20's appearance on the county scene in 2003? We deferred to impact: in 1963, part of an otherwise forgettable decade for cricket, the Gillette Cup stood out; but the gates to Twenty20 mega-wealth opened widest at the IPL auctions, rather than five years earlier around the shires. After Bodyline, readers' most common picks were Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, the Oval Test of 1882 that spawned the sport's greatest and oldest rivalry (though it seems Wisden did not refer to the "Ashes" until the late 1920s), the Basil D'Oliveira affair, and the exposure as a cheat of Hansie Cronje. Many others failed to make the cut, though no individual wore more hats than Sachin Tendulkar (Old Trafford 1990, the first double-century in one-day internationals, 100 hundreds, and so on). In fact, Tendulkar does feature - as the victim of the first TV run-out - but, for our purposes, individuals were secondary to moments, not vice versa.
1871: W. G. Grace rewrites the record books
At first, bowlers held the upper hand in first-class cricket, helped by rough, almost unprepared pitches. Then came WG. He had hinted at exceptional talent, but in 1871, the year he turned 23, Grace reshaped the game. No one had previously made 2,000 runs in a season. Now he made 2,739, a record that stood for 25 years. The next-best was Harry Jupp's 1,068, and of the 17 first-class centuries that year, WG made ten. Batting was never quite the same again.
Grace buried the quaint notion that scoring on the leg side was ungentlemanly. He batted in a way we would recognise today: usually a decisive movement forward or back, bat close to pad, although he was also a master of what Ranjitsinhji called a "half-cock stroke", which we would probably term playing from the crease. In his Jubilee Book of Cricket, Ranji wrote: "He revolutionised cricket, turning it from an accomplishment into a science... He turned the old one-stringed instrument into a many-chorded lyre, a wand... Until his time, a man was either a back player like Carpenter or a forward player like Pilch, a hitter like E. H. Budd or a sticker like Harry Jupp. But W. G. Grace was each and all at once." STEVEN LYNCH
From Wisden 1872: MCC and Ground v Surrey at Lord's
In cold dry weather this match was played out in two days, MCC and G the winners by an innings and 23 runs. There was some superb batting by both Mr W. Grace and Jupp; in fact, it is the opinion of many that the 181 by Mr Grace and the 85 by Jupp in this match are their most skilful and perfect displays of batting on London grounds in 1871. Mr Grace was first man in at 12.10; when the score was 164 for four wickets Mr Grace had made exactly 100 runs; when he had made 123 he gave a hot - a very hot - chance to short square leg, but he gave no other chance; he was much hurt by a ball bowled by Skinner when he had made 180, and at 181 Southerton bowled him, he being fifth man out with the score at 280. Mr Grace's "timing" and "placing" the ball in this innings was truly wonderful cricket; he appeared to hit "all round" just where he chose to, and placing a field for his hit was as useless as were the bowler's efforts to bowl to him. Mr Grace's hits included a great on-drive past the pavilion for six, four fives (all big drives), and 11 fours.
1882: The Ashes are born
The history of England v Australia, the mother of all Test series, was first distilled into a minuscule urn-shaped vessel, then pressure-cooked to create a hyper-contest for the 21st century. But time and distance cannot diminish the role played in the creation myth by a single game. The Oval 1882 was a microcosm of the tension that has never left the Ashes.
Australia's indomitability was summed up by their first-day recovery from 30 for six and Fred Spofforth's demonic bowling - inspired, legend has it, by W. G. Grace's caddish run-out of Sammy Jones. More than 2,000 Tests have taken place since, but Australia's seven-run victory remains in the top ten tightest wins.
THE TEN MOMENTS
The paroxysms of the umbrella-gnawing spectator resonate with fans on all sides of all sporting divides, as does the Sporting Times's mock obituary shortly afterwards, the first truly memorable example of English cricket's gallows humour. England had lost to Australia before, but only ever while out of sight, out of mind, on the other side of the globe. This was an awakening in every sense. A rivalry that, according to the newspaper, was dead as soon as it began would attain a life of its own. ANDREW MILLER
From Wisden 1883: the run-out of Jones in Australia's second innings, leaving them 114 for seven and with their overall lead 76...
Jones was run out in a way which gave great dissatisfaction to Murdoch and other Australians. Murdoch played a ball to leg, for which Lyttelton ran. The ball was returned, and Jones having completed the first run, and thinking wrongly, but very naturally, that the ball was dead, went out of his ground. Grace put his wicket down, and the umpire gave him out. Several of the team spoke angrily of Grace's action, but the compiler was informed that, after the excitement had cooled down, a prominent member of the Australian eleven admitted that he should have done the same thing had he been in Grace's place. There was a good deal of truth in what a gentleman in the pavilion remarked, amidst some laughter, that "Jones ought to thank the champion for teaching him something".
...and England's run-chase
England, wanting 85 runs to win, commenced their second innings at 3.45 with Grace and Hornby. Spofforth bowled Hornby's off stump at 15, made in about as many minutes. Barlow joined Grace, but was bowled first ball at the same total. Ulyett came in, and some brilliant hitting by both batsmen brought the score to 51, when a very fine catch at the wicket dismissed Ulyett. Thirty-four runs were then wanted, with seven wickets to fall. Lucas joined Grace, but when the latter had scored a two he was easily taken at mid-off. Lyttelton became Lucas' partner, and did all the hitting. Then the game was slow for a time, and 12 successive maiden overs were bowled, both batsmen playing carefully and coolly. Lyttelton scored a single, and then four maiden overs were followed by the dismissal of that batsman - bowled, the score being 66. Only 19 runs were then wanted to win, and there were five wickets to fall. Steel came in, and when Lucas had scored a four, Steel was easily caught and bowled. Read joined Lucas, but amid intense excitement he was clean bowled without a run being added. Barnes took Read's place and scored a two, and three byes made the total 75, or ten to win. After being in a long time for five Lucas played the next ball into his wicket, and directly Studd joined Barnes the latter was easily caught off his glove without the total being altered. Peate, the last man, came in, but after hitting Boyle to square leg for two he was bowled, and Australia had defeated England by seven runs.
1932-33: Bodyline divides two nations
Lucky was the young sheep-station owner, Ian McLachlan senior, who spent the Sunday after Bodyline's fever-pitch Adelaide Saturday in the company of Douglas Jardine and others. A beach excursion to Victor Harbour; that night, McLachlan and Jardine roomed together. "It's going to muck up cricket," said McLachlan, as lights went out, "because you're going to have cricketers playing in things like baseball masks."
"Oh, don't be silly, laddie."
Bumper bombardments and throat-side field settings did not become the new normal, nor did baseball masks (nor, yet, helmets). Spin bowling survived as cricket's guileful art. Even Don Bradman - as exotic as a nine-legged octopus, his fast yet failsafe 1930 mega-scoring having triggered Bodyline's genesis - half-faltered only briefly. He put ointment on his bruises and for the rest of his days averaged 100.12.
What lingered was psychological, a suspicion of the English gentleman, a sense that, while Australians wish to win, the English will break bones / rules / morality to win, a slow-blooming independence. Australia's ride through our current decade's economic travails is something Treasurer Wayne Swan attributes partly to "an enduring determination for our country never again to be at the whim of anyone". That determination's cause, Mr Treasurer? "I believe, Bodyline." CHRISTIAN RYAN
From Wisden 1933: Notes by the Editor (Stewart Caine)
The ball to which such strong exception is being taken in Australia is not slow or slow-medium but fast. It is dropped short and is alleged in certain quarters to be aimed at the batsman rather than at the wicket. It may at once be said that, if the intention is to hit the batsman and so demoralise him, the practice is altogether wrong - calculated, as it must be, to introduce an element of pronounced danger and altogether against the spirit of the game of cricket. Upon this point practically everybody will agree. No one wants such an element introduced. That English bowlers, to dispose of their opponents, would of themselves pursue such methods, or that Jardine would acquiesce in such a course, is inconceivable.
To the abuse of this Law may fairly be traced the trouble which has arisen in Australia during the tour now in progress. In suggesting, as has the Australian Board of Control, that bowling such as that of the Englishmen has become a menace to the best interests of the game, is causing intensely bitter feelings between players and, unless stopped at once, is likely to upset the friendly relations between England and Australia, the Commonwealth cricket authorities seem to have lost their sense of proportion. The idea that a method of play to which, while often practised in the past by Australian as well as English bowlers, no exception had been taken in public could jeopardise the relations of the two countries, appears really too absurd.
From Wisden 1934: The MCC team in Australasia
Suffice it to say here that a method of bowling was evolved - mainly with the idea of curbing the scoring propensities of Bradman - which met with almost general condemnation among Australian cricketers and spectators and which, when something of the real truth was ultimately known in this country, caused people at home - many of them famous in the game - to wonder if the winning of the rubber was, after all, worth this strife.
1963: The Gillette Cup is launched
Like sex (according to Philip Larkin, at least) one-day cricket, in the manner in which we now know it, began in 1963. The year before, a pilot competition - the four-team Midlands Knock-Out Cup - had attracted some attention, but now all the counties were involved. In a 65-over-a-side knockout format (just imagine: 130 overs a day) was born the great-great-grandfather of all the World Cups, Premier Leagues and Big Bashes we see today.
So too, simultaneously, came the notion that county cricket could attract sponsorship. The story has it that those from Gillette charged with negotiating a deal arrived at their meeting at Lord's with a substantial figure in mind, and departed having apparently financed the competition from the petty-cash box.
But it was a beginning. Crowds flocked to the matches, ponderous though the first format was, and the Lord's final was established as the county game's day out. Such success spawned new competitions: the Gillette (still the name many think of when speaking of county one-day cricket) was reduced to 60 overs a side; then came the 40-over John Player League, the 55-over Benson and Hedges Cup, and finally Twenty20. The genie was out of the bottle. MIKE SELVEY
From Wisden 1964: The Knock-Out Cup
The new Knock-Out competition aroused enormous interest. Very large crowds, especially in the later rounds, flocked to the matches and 25,000 spectators watched the final at Lord's, where Sussex narrowly defeated Worcestershire by 14 runs in a thoroughly exciting match. It says much for the type of cricket that tremendous feeling was stirred up among the spectators as well as the cricketers, with numerous ties being decided in the closest fashion. At Lord's, supporters wore favours, and banners were also in evidence, the whole scene resembling an Association Football Cup Final more than the game of cricket, and many thousands invaded the pitch at the finish to cheer Dexter, the Sussex captain, as he received the Gillette Trophy from the MCC President, Lord Nugent.
There were two points which invite criticism. Firstly, the majority of counties were loath to include even one slow bowler in their sides and relied mainly on pace; and secondly the placing of the entire field around the boundary to prevent rapid scoring - Dexter used this tactic in the final - became fairly common. The success of the spinners at Lord's may have exploded the first theory.
There is no doubt that, provided the competition is conducted wisely, it will attract great support in the future and benefit the game accordingly.
1968: The D'Oliveira Affair exposes apartheid
The story of Basil D'Oliveira is one of the most romantic in the history of sport. A non-white man is prevented by apartheid from displaying his exceptional cricketing talents in his native South Africa. So he travels to Britain, where he endures a period of misery and loneliness before his genius is fully recognised and he is selected to play for England.
This part of the story is a fairytale come true. But D'Oliveira's selection for England was more than a dream: it was also a political statement, because it smashed the apartheid myth about the superiority of the white race. Elements of the British cricketing establishment were sympathetic to the apartheid regime, and he was initially omitted by MCC's selectors from the tour party for South Africa in 1968-69, despite having made 158 against Australia in the final Test of the summer. But when seamer Tom Cartwright pulled out of the trip, D'Oliveira was chosen to replace him. South Africa cancelled the tour.
The consequences of the international row that followed were enormous. Large sections of the British public were educated about the brutality and ugliness of racism. South African sporting links with England were broken off. The isolation of the apartheid regime deepened. Through it all, D'Oliveira maintained his integrity, and displayed a palpable decency in a crisis that transcended sport and helped bring an unspeakably evil social system to an end. PETER OBORNE
From Wisden 1969: The D'Oliveira Case, by Michael Melford
To the non-cricketing public, D'Oliveira's omission immediately after his innings at The Oval was largely incomprehensible. It was easy for many to assume political motives behind it and a bowing to South Africa's racial policies.
More knowledgeable cricketers were split between those who agreed that on technical grounds D'Oliveira was far from an automatic choice and who were doubtful if he would be any more effective in South Africa than he had been in the West Indies, and those who thought that after his successful comeback to Test cricket, it was "inhuman" not to pick him.
Some holding the latter opinion were also ready to see non-cricketing reasons for the omission... Much was said which was regretted later - four out of 19 members of MCC who resigned in protest applied for reinstatement within a few days - and Lord Fisher of Lambeth, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, was prompted to write to the Daily Telegraph condemning a leader "which appeared to cast doubt on the word of the selectors".
A group of 20 MCC members, the number required to call a special meeting of the club, asserted this right, co-opting the Rev. D. S. Sheppard as their main spokesman. For three weeks the affair simmered like an angry volcano.
1975-76: Defeat in Australia sparks West Indies' pace revolution
Their heaviest and most humiliating defeat created the philosophy that led to West Indies' domination through the 1980s and beyond. The 5-1 thrashing in Australia, inflicted mainly by the menacing pace of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, supported by Gary Gilmour and Max Walker, convinced captain Clive Lloyd of the effectiveness of "three or four quick bowlers on your side". He noted that every West Indian had "at some time or other felt the pain of a cricket ball, sent down at great speed, thudding into their bodies"; his players were "determined never to let it happen again".
India's record 406 for four to win the Port-of-Spain Test two months later, against a team containing only one genuine fast bowler, reinforced Lloyd's opinion. From George Francis, Learie Constantine, Herman Griffith and Manny Martindale before the war, to Wes Hall, Roy Gilchrist and Charlie Griffith two generations later, the resources had always been available. Now, through the vagaries of nature, and fired by competition, they exploded in profusion, mostly imposing giants who worked in tandem. In their 82 Tests in the 1980s - West Indies won 43 and lost eight - 16 fast bowlers gathered 1,257 wickets. Between June 1980 and February 1995, they went unbeaten in Test series. It was the greatest dynasty in the history of the game. TONY COZIER
From Wisden 1977: West Indies in Australia, by Henry Blofeld
Australia was the first time [Clive Lloyd] had found himself under real pressure as a captain and he did not find the going easy. When the strain was greatest he did not seem able to control his own nerves as he would have liked when batting and as captain he was never prepared to speak firmly to his batsmen and to tell them how he expected them to try to play the fast bowling on the steep bouncing pitches.
1977-78: World Series Cricket shakes the foundations
When media mogul Kerry Packer approached the Australian Cricket Board in June 1976 with a handsome offer to televise Australian cricket, the administrators dismissed him without misgivings, content with their existing relationship with the national broadcaster. They underestimated Packer's determination. Taking advantage of growing disgruntlement about pay and conditions, he secretly recruited dozens of players from Australia, West Indies, South Africa, England and Pakistan to participate in a punishing schedule of made-for-TV matches in Australia, including the first played at night under lights and in coloured clothing with white balls.
Administrators were immediately hostile, their rhetoric turning into bans and court actions, and World Series Cricket was slow to take off in the 1977-78 season, despite boasting the cream of the world's players. But in 1978-79 it became a success, as the official Australian team, denuded of talent, were badly beaten in the Ashes. Forced to sue for peace, the ACB agreed to welcome back their prodigal sons and award broadcast rights to Packer's Nine Network - rights they have retained to this day. The legacy of the enterprise was growingly acute understanding of the value of the sport as a television property, which others might exploit if cricket failed to do so, and better pay for elite cricketers. GIDEON HAIGH
From Wisden 1978: Notes by the Editor (Norman Preston)…
As things stand at the time of writing at the New Year no solution would appear to be in sight and the cricket authorities, particularly those in England, who spend thousands of pounds raising young talent to the top level, run the risk of losing players to any rich entrepreneur, for Packer could be only the first in the line. I feel that those who signed for Packer were placed in a dilemma - loyalty to those who nurtured them or the attraction of financial reward for playing another kind of cricket that excludes them from first-class recognition because it is outside the bounds of the International Cricket Conference.
…and The Packer Case, by Gordon Ross
At this point the only cricketing subject being discussed from the highest committee room in the land to the saloon bar of the tiniest inn, was "Packer", and from all the multifarious points raised, one was likely to be proved the dominant factor in the end. In this age of extreme partisanship, had non-partisanship cricket any future? Does the world not want to see England beat Australia, or Arsenal beat Tottenham, or England beat Wales at Twickenham - or vice versa, according to particular loyalties? Could a collection of players, however great, stimulate public interest, when there was nothing on the end of it, except a considerable amount of money for the participants? The fact that tennis players and golfers are a constant attraction was irrelevant; they are individuals playing for no one but themselves. And moreover, the whole crux of this matter was linked to big business - the business of television, and not so much to the furtherance of cricket or cricketers.
1992-93: Technology takes its bow
Some events develop significance later, others are recognised immediately. This belonged in the second category. There was surprisingly little resistance to the use of television replays for line decisions on India's trip to South Africa late in 1992. But it still felt bizarre to have finally reached this point after the embarrassment TV had been causing umpires for decades.
On the second day of the First Test at Durban, Jonty Rhodes swooped at backward point and flicked an airborne throw to Andrew Hudson at short leg. Umpire Cyril Mitchley was "almost certain" Sachin Tendulkar had been run out but, having been a consultant during the system's trials, had no hesitation in referring it. Third umpire Karl Liebenberg held his breath: there were no fixed cameras at square leg, and everything depended on the midwicket cameraman. But the shot was there. Liebenberg pressed the green light (for "go", which in those days meant "out"), and Tendulkar's dismissal had taken just 34 seconds longer than normal. "I felt instantly the game had changed for ever - and for the better," said South African captain Kepler Wessels.
After domestic use of the referral system revealed its imperfections, fixed cameras - known as the Pana-eye - were implemented in South Africa two years later. They became standard after that. Today, we have the Decision Review System, when money and politics allow. Even the umpires have accepted that their word is no longer necessarily final - a profound shift in the game's psyche. NEIL MANTHORP
From Wisden 1994: The Indians in South Africa, by Richard Streeton
The tour will be remembered for the introduction of ICC's scheme for independent umpires and even more for the South African board's experiment using television replays to settle difficult line decisions. It was a successful innovation, welcomed by most players and officials after some initial reservations. Hitherto, for as long as the game has been played, batsmen have received the benefit of an umpire's doubt. When officials on the field felt unable to decide, a third umpire in the pavilion watched video replays to rule on run-outs and stumpings (and hit-wicket decisions, though none arose). A green light signalled that the batsman must go, and red that he was not out. Invariably the crowd buzzed with excitement as they waited and at some grounds they were able to watch the big-screen replays at the same time.
2000: Hansie Cronje admits to match-fixing
The unmasking of Hansie Cronje marked the end of cricket's jolly, even deluded, innocence - both because of the nature of the offence and the identity of the offender. Cronje was a national captain of enviable standing, the prototypical hard-but-fair, principled, devout, all-round competitor. He was exposed as the ultimate con artist, the betting mafia's perfect partner, ready to manipulate the scripts behind scorecards. These extremes of his persona contained the game's essential truths, its well-disguised lies and the distance it had travelled in the last few decades of the 20th century.
With Cronje came the deadening awareness that cricket's ethos could be easily corrupted by its best practitioners; that players from all over the world, not merely from the shadowy Orient, could be primed to participate in a world of faux cricket; that the simplest of temptations - starting with friendly free dinners, a wad of cash and, ridiculously, tragically, a leather jacket - could lure respected pros into a dragnet of organised crime. Through his acts and, as importantly, his confession, Cronje became living proof that an old, much-loved game had been poisoned at its very roots. Cricket remains sullied by the cynicism. SHARDA UGRA
From Wisden 2001: Notes by the Editor (Graeme Wright)...
Cronje's worst crime was not against cricket - accepting the bookies' bribes or trying to fix matches - but against morality and decency. It was in the way he ensnared the two most vulnerable members of his team, Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams. Cronje's white team-mates could afford to send him on his joking way with a rejection; he was just the captain, one of the boys. For Gibbs and Williams, however, even in the rarefied atmosphere of the new South Africa, Cronje was the white man in charge. It takes more than a rainbow for generations of social conditioning and economic deprivation to be washed away.
... and A Game in Shame, by Mihir Bose
Cricket corruption, like taxes and poverty, may always be with us. But after cricket's annus horribilis of 2000 we can, for the first time, understand how a combination of players' greed, dreadful impotence and infighting by cricket administrators, and a radical shift in cricketing power from England to the Indian subcontinent helped create cricket's darkest chapter.
2008: The first IPL auction puts a price on everything
The Australian seamer Nathan Bracken put it best: "You want to know what you're worth - and you don't want to know what you're worth." In no dressing-room did the tussle for players' services cause as many ructions as it did in Australia's. At a glittering auction in Mumbai on February 20, 2008, Cameron White got more money than the recently retired Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, while David Hussey was considered a more valuable prospect than Ricky Ponting or Matthew Hayden. "It's probably only me and Matty that will have any reason to be jealous of anybody else," wrote Ponting in a newspaper column after Andrew Symonds went for $1.35m.
There were raised eyebrows in India as well, with Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma getting far more lucrative contracts than Anil Kumble, who had carried the country's bowling for more than a decade. The traditional yardsticks of a player's worth were disregarded, as the franchises' bean-counters spoke of "marketability" and other imponderables. Lalit Modi and his cohorts constantly emphasised "bigger, better, faster, more". It seemed futile to deny this was more seductive than "smaller, worse, slower, less". DILEEP PREMACHANDRAN
From Wisden 2009: Notes by the Editor (Scyld Berry)
The IPL is a clever mixture of ingredients because its administrators have understood their market - their mass market. Although it is impossible to be sure from such a recent perspective, it looks as though the supranational IPL is the single biggest change in cricket not merely since the advent of the limited-overs game in the 1960s but of fixtures between countries in the 19th century: that is, since the invention of international or Test cricket.
Above all, until the time of writing, the IPL has had luck on its side. As the world went into economic crisis, the IPL gave every appearance of bucking the trend. The two auctions of players which it staged, the second on February 6 this year, must have appealed to anyone who has played Monopoly: they gave the franchise-owners the feeling they had power over the world's finest cricketers, and everyone else the illusion. At a time of the most serious recession since the 1930s, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen were signed for two years at $1.55m per six-week tournament (or pro rata for the number of games they played). The IPL radiated wealth, well-being, exuberance, and prospects for future growth: in a word, hope.