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The 146th edition of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, launched today, reflects on 12 months in which Twenty20 has continued to reshape the game and cricket, in general, has been forced to confront a range of major challenges.
Scyld Berry, the Sunday Telegraph cricket correspondent who is editing Wisden for the second time, opined that due to the brevity of the matches, 20-over cricket lacked the "drama that a full day of intense cricket provides."
But perhaps more concerning, Berry writes, is the shift in players' priorities caused by the IPL, highlighted by Sri Lanka's withdrawal from its tour of England after 13 players demanded they be allowed to play in the lucrative Twenty20 tournament. And the problems are not confined to Asian nations. Berry also notes that England's IPL players are due back less than a week before the first Test against West Indies at Lord's.
As with last year's Almanack, Berry has commissioned players - both former and current - to be a key part of the editorial. Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, reveals an apocalyptic vision of cricket's future, with players serving as mercenaries and flying from one 20-over tournament to another without playing Test matches. Vaughan also discusses the pressures of captaining England and how he had to often hide his emotions.
Berry again voices concern about the lack of free-to-air TV coverage in the UK. While he acknowledges that the ECB attracted top dollar for the sale of international TV rights to BSkyB, he draws attention to chilling research carried out among more than 26,000 schoolchildren in South London.
The Pro-Active survey asked secondary school students which three sports they would like more access to. Cricket was ranked 21st on the list, behind archery and rounders. Berry concludes that much of the impetus gained from winning the Ashes in 2005 has been lost - and also draws attention to the near total disappearance of British-raised Afro-Caribbean cricketers.
Another blight on the game, Berry notes, is the failure of Test captains to adhere to over-rate guidelines, reducing games to a glacial pace and cheating fans out of action. Berry proposes two potential solutions to the problem: not allowing anyone onto the field except at the official intervals (other than in extreme circumstances), and insisting that lunch and tea only be taken after 30 overs have been bowled in each session.
As usual, Wisden is not afraid to break new ground and Claire Taylor's inclusion as one of the five Cricketers of the Year marks the first time a women has been included in the list. The other four honoured are James Anderson, Dale Benkenstein, Mark Boucher and Neil McKenzie. Virender Sehwag narrowly eclipsed Graeme Smth for the Leading Cricketer award after both openers enjoyed epic years.
In a new section, Wisden selects a Test XI of the year. Berry writes: "Almost every international cricketer, when questioned, says the ultimate form of the game is Test cricket…the highest, most skilled, form of the game, and the least subject to the intrusion of time."
The 2008 Wisden Test XI Virender Sehwag, Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Kevin Pietersen, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell Johnson, Dale Steyn, Zaheer Khan.
The Young Wisden Schools Cricketer of the Year went to James Taylor, from Shrewsbury School, following a phenomenal summer, scoring 898 runs in schools cricket at an astounding average of 179.60.
Sweet Summers, a selection of the classic cricket writing of JM Kilburn, is the winner of the Wisden Book of the Year award. Kilburn, cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Post for more than 40 years from before the Second World War until 1976, "possessed the eye of a reporter and the soul of a poet" according to Wisden's reviewer, Patrick Collins.