The ICC's prestigious annual awards appears to have run into a controversy with several high-profile figures from South Africa, including Gerald Majola, the national cricket board's chief executive, criticising the final selection process for not including a single South African player. Majola questioned the credibility of the awards - which will be presented in Johannesburg on October 1 - and said it appeared to him that the only way to get on the shortlist was to play the Ashes.
Majola's views have been echoed by Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, who said the "very disappointing" nominations shortlist would motivate his players to perform better in the ICC Champions Trophy starting on September 22. Allan Donald, the former South Africa fast bowler and a member of the awards voting panel, admitted that he was surprised by the shortlist. Journalist Neil Manthorp, the only other South African on the 25-member panel, wrote that the honour of being on that jury had turned into an embarrassment. Cricinfo has also received angry emails from readers complaining about the omissions.
When contacted, an ICC spokesperson said that the awards nomination "is a completely independent process in which the ICC has no say whatsoever".
"To me, it looks like the only way to get on these nomination lists is to play the Ashes," Majola told Cricinfo. "Unfortunately, our players don't play for England or Australia. That seems to be the criteria to select these awards. I don't know what the criteria are for these nominations but I simply can't believe that this has happened to South African players. My personal opinion is that this doesn't lend credibility to this year's awards, for sure. To rub salt to our wounds, the awards ceremony is being held in our country.
"I am totally dismayed and disappointed. The last season was one of the best ever for South Africa and there were a lot of outstanding performances by our players. In my personal opinion, there were at least three South African players who should have figured on the shortlist. But I am not going to name them because I don't want to drag our players into this issue when they are preparing for the Champions Trophy. I haven't spoken to them about this either."
Donald revealed that he had nominated two South African players for the shortlist. "But I am surprised to see that there is no one from South Africa in the final list," he told Cricinfo.
The long list of nominations for the individual awards was prepared by a five-member ICC panel headed by Clive Lloyd, the ICC's cricket committee chairman, and including Anil Kumble, Mudassar Nazar, Bob Taylor and Stephen Fleming. The performance period taken into account was August 13, 2008 to August 24, 2009. This list was then sent to the ICC's independent panel of 25 members - including two South Africans, Allan Donald and Manthorp - to vote for the shortlist of the top four contenders in each category.
The independent panel included former players Ian Healy, Ramiz Raja, Athar Ali Khan, Allan Donald, Bob Willis, Sidath Wettimuny, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Ian Bishop, Jeremy Coney, Dave Houghton, Roland Lefebvre. The media was represented by Jim Maxwell (Aus), Osman Samiuddin (Cricinfo's Pakistan editor), Sayeed Uzzaman (Ban), Neil Manthorp (SA), Scyld Berry (Eng), Ramil Abeynaike (SL), Sharda Ugra (Ind), Fazeer Mohammed (WI), Richard Boock (NZ), Enock Nuchinjo (Zim) and Jon Coates (Associates). The officials were ICC referees elite panel representative: Alan Hurst; ICC umpires elite panel representative: Billy Bowden and chairman of the ICC cricket committee: Clive Lloyd.
While the shortlist was announced on Tuesday, the category winners will be known only on awards night. The votes have already been collated by Ernst and Young, who acted as independent auditors.
South Africa are currently the No. 1 Test and ODI team on the ICC rankings and the long list, reflecting this, featured four South African players. Graeme Smith, who led his team to their first Test series win ever in Australia, and AB deVilliers, who hit two match-winning centuries against Australia - one of them set up that historic away series win - were nominated for Cricketer of the Year and Test Player of the Year; Dale Steyn, who was ICC's Test Player of the Year in 2008, also featured on the long list for the best Test player; and Wayne Parnell, the left-arm fast bowler, was nominated for the best Twenty20 International Performance of the year.
None of them made it to the final four in their categories.
Writing on the SuperSport website, Manthorp said the fault lay not with the ICC but with the system used for determining the award winners. The 25-member panel has to select the final nominees from a dozen or more names on the long list, which, he said, was simply too time-consuming to be done thoroughly. There were "plenty of Proteas" on the long list, he said, but not having played for three months meant they were "out of sight and out of mind."
Andrew Strauss, the England captain, and Mitchell Johnson, the Australian fast bowler, figure in both the shortlists (of four players each) for Cricketer of the Year and Test Player of the Year. MS Dhoni, the India captain and Gautam Gambhir, the India opener, are the other shortlisted nominees for Cricketer of the Year; Gambhir and Thilan Samaraweera, the Sri Lankan batsman, are also in the race for the best Test player.
However, South African players can still be part of the awards night by featuring in the best Test and ODI teams for the last year that will be announced at the ceremony. Smith, for instance, was named captain of the best Test selection last time in a team that also featured Jacques Kallis and Steyn. Herchelle Gibbs was part of the best ODI selection last year.