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Ben Stokes has been named as the leading Cricketer in the World in the 2020 edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, which is published today, after a remarkable 2019 in which he guided England to their maiden World Cup title before producing one of the great Test innings to beat Australia in the Headingley Ashes Test.
Stokes succeeds India's Virat Kohli, who had been honoured by Wisden for three years running, and becomes the first English player since Andrew Flintoff in 2005 to be considered the best contemporary player in the world.
"Ben Stokes pulled off the performance of a lifetime - twice in the space of a few weeks," said Wisden's editor, Lawrence Booth. "First, with a mixture of outrageous talent and good fortune, he rescued England's run-chase in the World Cup final, before helping to hit 15 off the super over. Then, in the Third Ashes Test at Headingley, he produced one of the great innings, smashing an unbeaten 135 to pinch a one-wicket win."
"Last year, these pages urged [Stokes] to rediscover his mongrel as a matter of national urgency," Booth added in his Notes by the Editor. "He did, and more: in the World Cup final and the Headingley Test, he was playing fantasy cricket. In between came an Ashes hundred at Lord's - normally a career highlight, scarcely a tremor on the Stokesograph.
"When England stumbled during the World Cup, losing to Sri Lanka and Australia, he stood tall. Without him, this Almanack might have been another English hard-luck story. Instead, it's a celebration. Stokes is their all-weather cricketer, a giant come rain or shine. The next few years should be fun."
Australia's allrounder Ellyse Perry was named as the leading woman player in the world, an honour she also attained in 2016, and was also named as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year - the Almanack's oldest and most prestigious honour, which represents a tradition dating back to 1889. She is the seventh women's cricketer to pick up the honour, and the first from overseas. West Indies' Andre Russell was named as the leading T20 player in the world.
"Ellyse Perry dominated the women's Ashes like no one before her," Booth said, "inspiring Australia to a crushing victory. She was devastating with the ball, claiming seven for 22 in the ODI at Canterbury, and remorseless with the bat, not least during the one-off Test at Taunton, where she made 116 and 76 not out."
The Almanack features on its front cover the decisive moment of last summer's World Cup final, when Jos Buttler removed the bails to run out New Zealand's Martin Guptill and secure England's maiden title. And the man who bowled that over, Jofra Archer, is also named as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers after his remarkable maiden season in international cricket.
"Jofra Archer had an unprecedented impact in his first summer as an international cricketer," Booth said. "He showed astonishing poise to bowl the super over that delivered England the World Cup, then produced some of the quickest and most memorable spells in recent Ashes history, knocking over Steve Smith at Lord's, and finishing the series with 22 wickets at just 20 apiece."
"Pat Cummins was a constant menace as Australia retained the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001," said Booth. "He was fast, hostile, accurate - and rarely without a smile. His haul of 29 wickets was the most in a series by a bowler not taking a five-for. He looked what he was: No 1 in the world.
"Marnus Labuschagne began his Ashes as a curio, becoming Test cricket's first concussion substitute, and finished it as Australia's best batsman behind Smith, having ticked off four successive half-centuries. That followed a prolific stint with Glamorgan, where he notched 1,114 Championship runs at 65. Later in the year, he averaged 112 in the Australian summer."
England's World Cup win is celebrated by Wisden in a special 80-page section, with New Zealand's magnanimous response to their defeat in the final being signalled out for special praise.
"Boundary countback is one of those regulations that angers no one until it comes into play, at which point it is plain daft," Booth writes. "When the ICC scrapped the rule three months later, sensibly replacing it with a further super over, it was regarded in darker corners of the web as proof - proof! - that New Zealand had been robbed.
"This was silly and simplistic, classic post-rationalisation. Yet there was no denying cricket had been left with a bit of a philosophical poser, in which England appeared to have won and tied simultaneously, and New Zealand to have tied and lost - Schrödinger's bat, perhaps."
Elsewhere in the 2020 edition, Wisden urges the government to ensure England's matches at future home global events are made freely available to all, and warns English cricket about unconscious racial bias, following some uncomfortable treatment for the team's black and Asian stars.
"Last year, English cricket couldn't shake off the suspicion that unconscious bias is part of the furniture," Booth writes. "First there was Jofra Archer, regarded in some quarters as an interloper, until he helped win a World Cup, when he became a national hero. Then, as soon as his pace dropped, or he struggled on heartless pitches in New Zealand with the Kookaburra, his motivation was questioned. Out came the stereotypes: he was too cold; he was too laid-back; he was a natural athlete, so why couldn't he bowl at 95mph on demand? It was the sort of inquisition the injury-prone Mark Wood has never had to face.
"Then there was Moeen Ali, whose religion helps him see cricket for what it is. When he flourishes, the English game applauds. When he doesn't, it whispers about Anglo-Saxon work ethics. Ali confessed to feeling a scapegoat. He looked, as some may see him, like an outsider.
"We could go on. Adil Rashid has been suspected by Yorkshire fans of not caring. Before him, Usman Afzaal was flashy, and Alex Tudor frustrating. Before them, Devon Malcolm had a wonky radar, and Phil DeFreitas kept being dropped. In isolation, these labels might be unremarkable; together, they grow ugly."