A lot can happen in 12 months.

This time last year, the national team's form was a thing of wonder. It had just completed an undefeated run through an entire Australian summer; had extended an amazing streak of consecutive Test wins to 15; and a Test series win in India loomed as a likelihood on the impending tour of the subcontinent.

And Mark Waugh stood out as a clear favourite for the Allan Border Medal.

That Waugh's potential slice in history actually went his brother's way instead; that the India series turned expectation on its head; and that the national side now finds itself under challenge from the media rather than the subject of its admiration, adequately paints the tale that nothing is a certainty in Australian cricket.

Which is why - even though he's a standout choice to win the Allan Border Medal in its 2002 incarnation - Queenslander Matthew Hayden's chances of winning the award shouldn't ever ascend to unbackable odds.

By any measure, Hayden's last year has been outstanding.

He was not only Australia's leading Test run scorer of 2001, but no player in the world accumulated runs so prolifically. Across the 14 Tests that his nation played between March 2001 and January 2002, the left handed batsman collected an eye-opening 1509 runs in total at the average of 71.86.

It was a remarkable assertion of his qualities as a Test cricketer after an unstinting campaign to confirm his abilities in the top flight.

Before losing his spot late in the Australian season, the powerful opener also began to make important inroads in the one-day international arena over the last year, complementing his ravenous haul of Test runs with an authoritative limited-overs series in India.

Yet, all this being as it is, the presence within national ranks of a range of consistently high-performing players makes Hayden no outright certainty to claim Australian cricket's highest individual accolade in Melbourne tonight.

Representing a particular challenge will be the form of Western Australia's Damien Martyn. Like Hayden, Martyn used 2001 as the year in which he crowned his re-emergence as an accomplished international player after previous efforts at cementing a permanent Test berth had proved unsuccessful.

Martyn was not a part of the eleven that played out the fateful series in India, but gained the nod for the First Test on Australia's tour of England; marked his return with a century; and never looked back.

At a mark of 70.45 over the course of his 11 Tests during the voting period, his average represented only a fractionally less successful return than for Hayden.

Adam Gilchrist, whose Test centuries at Mumbai and Edgbaston represented arguably the two most distinguished innings played by an Australian at international level in 2001, should also poll well.

The potential of Ricky Ponting, Justin Langer, Michael Bevan, Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh to claim maximum votes from a number of games clouds the issue further.

And, if it had not been for a suspension incurred during the recently-completed VB Series of one-day internationals against South Africa and New Zealand, then inaugural winner Glenn McGrath may have been another to challenge.

Under the complex system of counting in operation for the award, votes have been cast by players, umpires and members of the media after each of the 14 Tests and 19 one-day internationals played by Australia over the period between 12 February 2001 and 4 February 2002.

The individual votes of the players have been combined after each match and a collective 3-2-1 vote has been calculated. The votes of the umpires and the media have also been combined with a collective 3-2-1 vote cast for the group. Under this system, a player can receive a maximum of six votes from any one match.

The votes have also been weighted to reflect the notion that fewer Tests have been played over the voting period than one-day internationals. The effect of this provision is to afford both Test and one-day international players equal opportunity to win the medal.

When the counting begins - at a glittering black-tie ceremony - Hayden should establish a significant early lead on the back of his remarkable individual Test and one-day series in India.

But Martyn and Gilchrist can each be expected to head a charge that will see significant inroads made into that advantage as the votes for the country's twin one-day and Test tours of England are counted.

If any of those three players wins, then they will carve another slice of history for themselves too. Having been awarded to McGrath and Steve Waugh in its two previous years of existence, this may be the year in which the medal heads outside New South Wales for the first time.