The first century, 1989

Wisden's cricketers of the year

Anthony Bradbury

In his preface to the 1889 Wisden, the editor, Charles Pardon, wrote that to signalise the extraordinary success that bowlers had achieved in 1888, the Almanack was including six portraits specially taken by Messrs Hawkins of Brighton. Thus marked the start of the Cricketers of the Year feature in Wisden, which in 1989 now embarks on its second century. The articles have shown a consistency in two respects throughout the last hundred years. A player can be a Cricketer of the Year only once, and those selected are primarily chosen for their prowess during the English cricketing season. Success in other parts of the world may be only a marker for future consideration.

The Australians visited England in 1888. Their bowlers and some of their English counterparts had a remarkable season. Those whose medallion portraits enhanced the 1889 Wisden were, from Australia, J. J. Ferris, C. T. B. Turner and S. M. J. Woods, and from England, Lohmann, Briggs and Peel. Between them in eleven-a-side cricket in 1888 (not all first-class), they took 1,272 wickets at an average cost of 11.89. Turner alone had 314 victims.

For the 1890 Wisden, Charles Pardon recorded the decision of his proprietors to include portraits of Nine Great Professional Batsmen of the Year 1889. At that time the Almanack listed separately the averages of amateurs and professionals, and it may have been a brave to show portraits of the professionals prior to any of the amateurs. The selected nine were W. Gunn, Shrewsbury and Barnes from Nottinghamshire, Albert Ward and Frank Sugg of Lancashire (two of the first Yorkshire exiles), Louis Hall from Yorkshire and Abel, Maurice Read and Robert Henderson of Surrey. Henderson was a curious choice, for his highest score in 1889 had been 63 not out, but then five of the chosen nine had a season's averages of less than 30.

Still ringing the changes, the 1891 Wisden included portraits of Five Great Wicket-keepers -- Blackham from Australia, and Mordecai Sherwin, Gregor MacGregor, Harry Wood and Richard Pilling. The unfortunate Pilling had not played in 1890 and died of consumption before the 1891 season started.

The pattern of choosing five players each season was now established, although it was to be some years before the nomenclature Cricketers of the Year was regularly used. In 1901 the title to the feature was Mr R. E. Foster and Four Yorkshiremen and in 1912 Five Members of the MCC's team in Australia.

On four occasions special portraits of one man have replaced the regular feature. In 1896 there was a single picture of W. G. Grace, following his triumphal progress through the 1895 season. The jubilee issue of the Almanack was in 1913, and for that year the editor, Sydney Pardon, chose a portrait of the founder, John Wisden. Pelham Warner was duly honoured in 1921 to mark his leadership of Middlesex to the County Championship in his last match in 1920. Finally, in 1926, to celebrate the achievement of Jack Hobbs in passing W. G. Grace's record number of centuries, a special photograph of The Master was printed.

Only world war has otherwise stopped the feature, proving wrong the forecast of Sydney Pardon in 1892 that there was no likelihood of the Almanack ever being published again without a portrait. In the slim volumes for 1916 and 1917 the dominant features were the lists of those who died in the Great War (the Roll of Honour) and there was no place for cricketing portraits. But for 1918 and 1919 Sydney Pardon decided that portraits of leading school players would lend attraction to otherwise gloomy volumes. Two of the ten chosen young men went on to play international cricket, A. P. F. Chapman and Greville Stevens, Seven of the others later played some first-class cricket, but the mists of time have closed on H. L. Calder of Cranleigh School. A generation later there were to be no Cricketers of the Year between 1940 and 1946, although there were photographic features of those who played in wartime teams.

Until 1920 the portraits were all produced by Hawkins & Compy form their small specialist premises in Brighton. The clarity of their early work shows their particular skill. Medallion portraits from other sources were used up to 1940, and in 1947 action photographs accompanied the descriptive material. In 1988 a new breakthrough occurred with colour photography in the Almanack. It is just a little sad that inset photographs also have had to be used to show the features of cricketers without their helmets.

In the first 100 years, nearly 450 men have been nominated a Cricketer of the Year. The majority have been Englishmen, but more than a hundred players from the combined strengths of Australia, South Africa and West Indies have also been chosen. It is surprising, in view of their current standing in world cricket, that New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have less than 30 selections between them. That arithmetic is bound to change in the next century.

Inevitably, Test players dominate the list of Cricketers of the Year. However, not all distinguished Test players have been chosen. Sir George Allen is the only captain of an England team against Australia in the last century not to make the list. Wisden made up for this omission by including a special article upon the occasion of his knighthood. Philippe Edmonds is the only English Test player with more than 50 caps not to be chosen. Three distinguished county batsmen -- Jack O'Connor of Essex (72 centuries), and Les Berry and Ken Suttle, who each scored more than 30,000 runs -- were never chosen. Not were those long-serving bowlers, R. T. D. Perks (Worcestershire) and E. G. Dennett (Gloucestershire), who took more than 4,000 wickets between them. From Australia no place was ever found for Doug Walters, who scored fifteen Test hundreds, four of them against but none of them in England. Nor for Jeff Thomson, whose partnership with Dennis Lillee was at its most prolific in Australia. Archie Jackson, Jack Fingleton and Ian Johnson were also never chosen.

Jack Cheetham, Waite, Russell Endean, T. L. Goddard and Eddie Barlow are not on the South African list. From New Zealand no place was found for an outstanding leader, Geoff Howarth, and while Charlie Griffith was honoured for West Indies, his new-ball partner, Wes Hall, was not V. S. Hazare, one-time captain of India, and surprisingly Viswanath, who played 91 times for his country, are not on the list, and Pakistan supporters will look in vain for Mohsin Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz and Intikhab Alam. Only one player, Sidath Wettimuny, has been chosen form Sri Lanka. Others must follow from that island.

In contrast are those players not of Test status who have been chosen over the last century, and who number in excess of 50. As they include Graeme Hick, Ken McEwan and Vintcent van der Bijl, one cannot say that they are not of Test class. Some well-known county captains have been chosen -- Brian Sellers and Vic Wilson of Yorkshire, Stuart Surridge, Jack Bond, Ossie Wheatley and more recently David Hughes and Peter Roebuck. Then there are those who at times have been so close to the threshold of Test selection. Trevor Jesty is a notable recent example, as are Alan Jones and David Shepherd, both from Glamorgan. They were all unlucky not to play in official Tests. Other post-war stalwarts chosen from the county game have included John Langridge, Peter Sainsbury, Brian Taylor and Jack Simmons.

Pre-1939 seasons are reflected by some of the dashing amateurs who were outstanding on their day, and these include Hubert Ashton and Hugh Bartlett. Some players were selected on the strength of one outstanding performance; the Australians Bob Massie, with his sixteen Test wickets at Lord's in 1972, and Kim Hughes, who hit a wonderful hundred in the Centenary Test at Lord's in 1980, provide prime examples.

The editor's choice for each edition of Wisden must be subjective. Therein lies the fascination of the feature, for every cricketing enthusiast tries to read the editor's mind prior to each annual publication. Consider some of the decisions and choices made by different editors since 1945. The outstanding bowler of 1946 was a 43-year-old Yorkshireman, Arthur Booth, who had been for a generation in the shadow of Hedley Verity. That year he took 111 wickets at 11.61 apiece and headed the national bowling averages. However, he was not chosen as a Cricketer of the Year and his name no longer appears anywhere in the current Wisden.

In 1948 there was tremendous enthusiasm when Glamorgan won the County Championship for the first time. Yet not one of that splendid team ever became a Cricketer of the Year -- not even Wilf Wooller of Clay. Of course in 1948 the all-powerful Australians were in England, so no-one could complain at an editorial choice for the 1949 Wisden of Hassett, Lindwall, Johnston, Morris and Tallon. Even Keith Miller and Neil Harvey had to wait for another year. The 1951 Wisden recorded the first dominant year of West Indian cricket, and how fitting that to join Godfrey Evans should be the quartet of Weekes and Worrell, Ramadhin and Valentine. It was a shame in retrospect that no place could be found that year for Clyde Walcott, but his turn came subsequently.

Sometimes, rivals for places in the England team appear together as Cricketers of the Year. So it was that Johnny Wardle and Tony Lock appeared in the 1954 Wisden. Colin Bland of South Africa was a fielding star. Is he perhaps the only Cricketer of the Year chosen predominantly for that ability? Characteristically his photograph in 1966 shows him about to throw to a stump at lightning speed.

At times an editor has a chance to choose an international quintet of worldwide stature. In 1977 the selections were Mike Brearley, Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding and Bob Taylor -- every one of them a world leader in his branch of the game. Probably they narrowly shade the 1982 selection of Hadlee, Alderman, Miandad, Marsh and Border.

The permutations and the possibilities are endless. The decisions and choices remain difficult, but long may the Cricketers of the Year remain an essential feature of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.

© John Wisden & Co