The world's top players during 2004

The Wisden Forty

Of the 40 players chosen, 29 have retained their places from last year. The 11 dropped are Michael Bevan, Andy Bichel, Mark Boucher, Gary Kirsten, Brett Lee, Darren Lehmann, Stuart MacGill, Mushtaq Ahmed, Makhaya Ntini, Mark Richardson, and Steve Waugh. Kirsten, Richardson and Waugh all retired during 2004. They have been replaced by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Michael Clarke, Danish Kaneria, Harbhajan Singh, Steve Harmison, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Jacob Oram, Andrew Strauss, Graham Thorpe and Shane Warne.

The country-by-country breakdown is as follows:
Australia 10 (14)
England 6 (3)
India 6 (5)
Sri Lanka 5 (3)
Pakistan 4 (4)
South Africa 4 (7)
New Zealand 2 (2)
West Indies 2 (1)
Zimbabwe 1 (1)
Wisden 2004 numbers in brackets.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul (West Indies) - No other player in world cricket was compared to an animal last year as often as Chanderpaul to a crab. Yet his game moved in two directions in 2004, and neither of them was sideways. First he regressed horribly during England's visit to the Caribbean, when his inelegance drew attention to his lack of runs, and cost him his place. Then he used the Bangladeshis as a route back into form for the return trip to England, where unbeaten innings of 128 and 97 at Lord's spared West Indies an even greater thrashing. Although he faded as the series wore on, his wicket became almost as vital to the England cause as that of Brian Lara. He also played a crucial role in West Indies' delightfully unexpected Champions Trophy triumph: a run-aball fifty to see off South Africa, followed by his side's top-score of 47 in the final - an innings that was forgotten amid the daring dusk raid by Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw.
2004: 10 Tests: 715 runs @ 47.66; no wicket for 0.
24 ODI: 668 runs @ 33.40; no wicket for 11.

Michael Clarke (Australia) - The blond streaks came from a bottle, but in everything else Clarke was an absolute natural. Having been made to wait what seemed like an eternity for his Test debut, he produced a performance for the annals with a wondrous 151 at Bangalore, imbuing it with an even greater lustre by pointedly and proudly swapping his helmet for the Baggy Green when in the nineties. His fresh face and fast feet breathed life into an ageing Australian team, and put a glint in the eye of world cricket: rarely had an Australian been taken so easily to hearts around the globe. If his youth damned him with inconsistency, it also blessed him with a striking fearlessness: throughout the year, Clarke thrived on the pressure points. He made two sparkling half-centuries at Nagpur, and a punishing 141 to wrench the First Test at Brisbane away from New Zealand. Everything he touched turned to gold, including a remarkable and unlikely spell of six for nine at Mumbai. Twinkle-toed, deceptively powerful and so wonderfully talented, particularly against spin bowling, Clarke was the original smiling assassin. Batting's golden age seemed to have found its golden boy.
2004: 8 Tests: 596 runs @ 49.66; 6 wickets @ 6.16.
26 ODI: 615 runs @ 32.36; 9 wickets @ 34.55.

Danish Kaneria (Pakistan) - The torch of Pakistani leg-spin traditionally burns fiercely, and in 2004 it found a worthy carrier. Danish Kaneria may be as deadly a googly-merchant as his predecessors Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed, but he is largely cut from a different cloth: his action lacks their waspish grace, and instead he relies on height, control and mental strength. But at the end of the year he had the best average of the three. Kaneria's previous successes had been largely against Bangladesh, but now he went toeto- toe with some of world cricket's finest players of spin. He chipped away at Sri Lanka to square the series in Karachi, and was one of the few Pakistan players to emerge with credit from the debacle in Australia. Afterwards, Shane Warne commented favourably.
2004: 6 Tests: 25 runs @ 8.33; 29 wickets @ 33.24.
1 ODI: did not bat; 1 wicket @ 26.00.

Rahul Dravid (India) - The Wall didn't quite come tumbling down, but Dravid regressed from the stratospheric standards of 2003. He was the ICC's inaugural Player of the Year - chiefly for his displays in Australia in 2003-04 - but struggled to influence the return series and made just one fifty in four Tests. Without the safety valve of Sachin Tendulkar below him for half the series, Dravid went into his shell: his strike-rate dropped from 51 in Australia to 27 at home. He still scored more one-day international runs than anyone else, and there were two trademark big Test hundreds. One - 160 against Bangladesh - was essentially meaningless; the other - a 12-hour 270 in a series decider in Pakistan when nobody else made a century - could barely have been of greater magnitude.
2004: 12 Tests: 946 runs @ 63.06.
31 ODI (22 as wicket-keeper): 1,025 runs @ 39.42; 22 catches as keeper, 3 stumpings.

Stephen Fleming (New Zealand) - As a captain, Fleming had a mixed year. He very publicly outpsyched South Africa's Graeme Smith during a one-day international at Auckland, but for much of New Zealand's miserable series in England he cut a forlorn, helpless figure at slip, arms folded, lip bitten. A record of three wins out of ten, two of them against Bangladesh, damaged his carefully crafted reputation as world cricket's cleverest leader, and there were rumours of a power struggle with the new coach, John Bracewell. As a batsman, however, things could not have gone much better. For once, his Test conversion rate - past fifty four times, past a hundred twice - kept the critics off his back. And his form in black at the top of the one-day order was simply superlative, as was New Zealand's record of four defeats in 20 completed matches.
2004: 10 Tests: 737 runs @ 46.06.
22 ODI: 921 runs @ 48.47.

Andrew Flintoff (England) - While he was busy lifting sixes and spirits, everything felt right in English cricket. Flintoff had first begun to apply his destructive talents on a regular basis in 2003, and in 2004 he kept going. A century in Antigua was followed by at least one score over 50 in the next seven Tests, including a monstrous 167 against West Indies at Edgbaston, when he hit seven of the 46 sixes he registered in both forms of the game in the calendar year. He was no less prolific in pyjamas: in six innings separated by the West Indies Tests, Flintoff made three centuries, and a 99 against India at The Oval, where he returned to the pavilion with the same broad grin he brought out in spectators. His bowling acquired new dimensions too, in spite of a bone spur on his left ankle that prevented him from sending down a single over during the NatWest Series at home. He collected his first Test five-wicket haul in Barbados and, when he returned from injury, adopted a more probing, stumpthreatening line. To top it all, his first child, Holly, arrived in September. By the end of the year, the talk was no longer of the new Botham. Thanks in no small part to Flintoff, the English game had finally moved on.
2004: 13 Tests: 898 runs @ 52.82; 43 wickets @ 25.76.
14 ODI: 633 runs @ 57.54; 16 wickets @ 21.31.

Herschelle Gibbs (South Africa) - After turning 30 most people might embrace a quieter life but, even by Gibbs's helter-skelter standards, 2004 was a year full of incident. It began with two blockbusting hundreds against West Indies, took in injury, burnout, an astonishingly poor run of form in Sri Lanka, and much soul-searching over whether he should tour India, for fear of reopening the Pandora's Box of match-fixing. Gibbs eventually pulled out and, when the new South African coach Ray Jennings called his performances "embarrassing", some felt his international career was done. But naked talent cannot be extinguished so easily, and Gibbs was fast-tracked into the side to face England after a finger injury; his (unavailing) 161 and 98 at Johannesburg in January 2005 put him right back among the best openers in world cricket. The fairground ride rumbled on.
2004: 7 Tests: 751 runs @ 57.76.
18 ODI: 398 runs @ 23.41.

Adam Gilchrist (Australia) - Gilchrist has always been the last player you should judge by statistics, and this year was no exception. In Test cricket in particular, he was an intoxicating mix of the binary and the breathtaking; as usual, his successes kept making the difference. His gun-slinging 144 in Kandy, to end a horrendous trot of 14 runs in five innings, turned the Second Test against Sri Lanka, and he set the tone for triumphs over India and New Zealand with centuries in the first innings of the series. Gilchrist, the reluctant captain, covered capably for Ricky Ponting in Australia's series victory in India, and his gladiatorial exclamation upon victory at Nagpur was a defining image of the year. Gilchrist also made 66 Test dismissals - the next-best was 34 - and he remained the only man in world cricket who could score a 103-ball century, as he did in Bangalore, and prompt adjectives like "restrained". He was anything but when he blasted 172 against Zimbabwe, his highest one-day score, at Hobart, and nobody with 500 Test or one-day runs matched his strike-rate. Gilchrist may have been approaching his cricketing dotage, but he remained one of the true wonders of the cricket world.
2004: 14 Tests: 837 runs @ 38.04; 58 catches, 8 stumpings.
21 ODI: 879 runs @ 43.95. 31 catches, 2 stumpings.

Jason Gillespie (Australia) - Gillespie could no longer be labelled the world's most underrated bowler, mainly because it was now impossible not to give him the credit he deserved. He finally convinced everyone that he was more than Glenn McGrath's foil with a heroic performance in India, where his 20 wickets came at the farfrom- subcontinental average of 16 and included a series-winning haul of nine for 80 at Nagpur. There, as everywhere else, a tight line combined with imaginative use of slower balls and leg-cutters proved enough. As Gillespie's mullet grew, so too did his prowess with the bat. An unbeaten half-century against New Zealand at Brisbane, his first in Tests, was followed by another against Pakistan at Melbourne. If Australia's work ethic was reflected in anything, it was in Gillespie's unlikely attempt to turn himself into an all-rounder.
2004: 14 Tests: 314 runs @ 19.62; 55 wickets @ 24.89.
21 ODI: 56 runs @ 28.00; 33 wickets @ 21.84.

Harbhajan Singh (India) - Until his doosra was queried by the match referee Chris Broad, Harbhajan was well on the way to making up for the various disappointments of 2003. Not for the first time his opposition of choice were the Australians, who provided him with 11 wickets at Bangalore and a match-winning analysis of five for 29 on a Mumbai minefield. There was also seven for 87 against South Africa at Kolkata, just to prove that Harbhajan could beguile others too. His one-day success was limited to two meaner-than-mean performances against England. And he was left with a serious problem: the ICC had mooted a limit of 15 degrees of permissible straightening for bowlers of all types; his off-spinner's wrong 'un was believed to have been measured at 22.
2004: 7 Tests: 155 runs @ 17.22; 38 wickets @ 25.68.
11 ODI: 62 runs @ 20.66; 13 wickets @ 32.00.

Stephen Harmison (England) - Few could have predicted that the man who pulled out of the Bangladesh tour in October 2003 amid snipes about a lack of fitness and commitment would rise to the top of the world rankings in 2004. Statistically speaking, it all began on a warm March morning at Sabina Park, when Harmison blew away West Indies for 47 with the astonishing figures of seven for 12. But the groundwork had been done over the previous six months in his training sessions at Newcastle United, which opened his eyes and the floodgates: he took 23 wickets at 14.86 in the Caribbean to provoke comparisons with Curtly Ambrose, 21 at 22.09 against New Zealand, and 17 at 29.52 in the return series with West Indies. His below-par performances in South Africa cost him his place at the top of the rankings, but England still hoped they had a tall, hostile, opening bowler capable of making the world's best batsmen duck and dive for a while to come. Harmison's 67 Test wickets beat Ian Botham's England calendar-year record of 66, set in 1978. And there was a one-day hat-trick, against India at Trent Bridge, to celebrate too. His star was so rapidly in the ascendant that he even felt able to withdraw from the one-day series in Zimbabwe on moral grounds. This time, no one questioned his commitment.
2004: 13 Tests: 116 runs @ 12.88; 67 wickets @ 23.92.
17 ODI: 24 runs @ 12.00; 26 wickets @ 25.57.

Matthew Hayden (Australia) - By most batsmen's standards, Hayden enjoyed a productive year. By his own, it was no more than adequate. Unusually for a player who prides himself on big hundreds, Hayden failed to make the most of his starts: on 12 occasions he reached double figures without going on to pass 50. The high point was a pair of hundreds against Sri Lanka at Cairns, but Hayden's only other three-figure score in Tests was an innings of 130 at Galle. His opening double act with Justin Langer dropped to the merely world-class from out-of-this-world. The two added 255 against Sri Lanka at Cairns and shared three other century stands, but an average partnership of 54 in 27 innings was less than they had come to expect. Even so, Hayden remained the opener bowlers feared most.
2004: 14 Tests: 1,123 runs @ 43.19.
23 ODI: 946 runs @ 41.13.

Inzamam-ul-Haq (Pakistan) - Like many Pakistan captains before him, Inzamam discovered that leadership is not all it is cracked up to be. He continued to rack up the hundreds - two in each form of the game - with ursine power but, by the time he was making one and nought at Perth in December, the knives were being sharpened. His partnership with the new coach, Bob Woolmer, looked convincing until Inzamam chose to bat first on a dank September morning in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy against West Indies, and the Australia tour was an unmitigated shambles - the "hardest" he had ever been on, admitted Inzamam. Bouncers and yorkers were one thing, and Inzamam dealt with those as well as ever. Calls for his resignation from former team-mates, a 3-0 whitewash, and claims that one of his players had raped a woman in Melbourne were quite another.
2004: 6 Tests: 372 runs @ 37.20.
26 ODI: 911 runs @ 43.38.

Sanath Jayasuriya (Sri Lanka) - After years of relatively quiet performances, Jayasuriya returned to blow bowlers off course. It was his most productive 12 months in Tests since the annus mirabilis of 1997, and his runs came at a strike rate of over 70. There were the usual spurts of low scores that bedevil the touch player but, when his eye was in, he was seeing it like a football once again. Two innings stood out: a terrifying 131 that gave Australia quite a fright in Kandy, and a remarkable 253 against Pakistan at Faisalabad, when Jayasuriya added 101 for the ninth wicket with Dilhara Fernando - who contributed one. His gentle left-arm spin had a second wind, too: in the absence of Muralitharan, Jayasuriya shredded South Africa's top order in a series-winning burst at Colombo.
2004: 11 Tests: 1,130 runs @ 56.50; 15 wickets @ 25.53.
25 ODI: 724 runs @ 31.47; 16 wickets @ 40.25.

Mahela Jayawardene (Sri Lanka) - Few players have done so well for so long while attracting as little attention as Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's strokeplaying heir to Aravinda de Silva in the middle order. The pièce de résistance was a near-epic 237 out of a total of 486 in the draw against South Africa at Galle, but just as important was an innings of 82 to set up victory in that series in Colombo. But if Jayawardene enchanted with the ruthless wristiness of his strokeplay, he also infuriated: in 20 Test innings, he was dismissed between 13 and 44 on 11 occasions. His one-day form was below par, although perhaps his most crucial contribution of the year came in the field. Jayawardene dropped Andrew Flintoff in the slips on one in the Champions Trophy: Flintoff went on to make a match-winning century.
2004: 11 Tests: 861 runs @ 45.31.
28 ODI: 676 runs @ 32.19; no wicket for 16.

Jacques Kallis (South Africa) - It was the year in which Kallis supplanted Rahul Dravid as world cricket's most immovable object. Throughout he was ensconced in a patch that was the deepest purple; it began with back-to-back 130 not outs against West Indies, and ended with the innings of his life, a regal 162 against England at Durban. In between there was another big hundred in New Zealand, and a masterclass against India at Kolkata. So immaculate was his technique and so cold his blood that, once he got in, bowlers could usually forget it. The numbers were irresistible, but there remained something curiously loveless about Kallis's orgy of runs, and the whispers that he batted for his average became increasingly voluble. His one-day form was no less impressive, but Kallis was swimming against the tide in a modest team: South Africa won just two of his 11 Tests and five of his 18 one-day internationals. Inevitably, something had to give. It wasn't his slip catching, which retained its bucket-handed brilliance, but his bowling: Kallis's strike-rate in Tests was exactly 100. A reluctant bowler at the best of times, he seemed now to be performing under duress. Opponents charged with the task of winkling him out knew how he felt.
2004: 11 Tests: 1,288 runs @ 80.50; 12 wickets @ 48.41.
18 ODI: 770 runs @ 59.23; 11 wickets @ 39.63.

Michael Kasprowicz (Australia) - There was a time when the Australian attack of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and Brett Lee appeared to operate above a glass ceiling. But in 2004 Kasprowicz broke through in spectacular fashion, relegating Lee to the ranks of drinks bearer and stamping his own understated, roundish-arm style on the role of third seamer. At times, he could be truly destructive. At Darwin, he demolished Sri Lanka with seven for 39; at Perth, he cut through Pakistan with five for 30. And his one-day form was little short of astonishing. The days when Kasprowicz would be summoned to do the donkey-work on a gruelling tour of the subcontinent were gone. At 32, he was more like a seasoned thoroughbred.
2004: 13 Tests: 107 runs @ 6.29; 47 wickets @ 23.74.
12 ODI: 11 runs @ 11.00; 26 wickets @ 14.46.

Anil Kumble (India) - If there were doubters before, there could be none now: this was the year Kumble cemented his place in the ranks of the all-time greats. No one claimed more than his 74 Test wickets, and no one could claim he had not earned them. His bunnies included the cream of Australia's batting: he dismissed both Simon Katich and Damien Martyn five times, Adam Gilchrist four, and Michael Clarke and Matthew Hayden three each. In all, Kumble's hurry-up assortment of top-spinners, googlies and the occasional leg-break accounted for 43 different Test batsmen. But three matches stood out: a 12- wicket haul in Steve Waugh's farewell game at Sydney, a further 13 in the truncated epic at Chennai, and the Dhaka Test against Bangladesh, when Kumble passed Kapil Dev's Indian record of 434 wickets. Tall, economical and ultra-competitive, he remained a captain's dream, even in his mid-30s.
2004: 12 Tests: 142 runs @ 12.90; 74 wickets @ 24.83.
13 ODI: 26 runs @ 8.66; 8 wickets @ 68.87.

Justin Langer (Australia) - It was the year in which the quiet achiever emerged from the hulking shadow of his opening partner Matthew Hayden - and everyone else, for that matter. Nobody scored more than Langer's 1,481 Test runs, and four of his five hundreds exceeded 160. There were fallow periods, most notably on the subcontinent, but at home he was irresistible, averaging 77 from seven Tests. That included the defining performance of his year, and probably his career: a fire-with-fire 191 in the First Test against Pakistan at Perth, when Australia were being charred like shrimps on the barby at 78 for five. The perception remained of Langer as the ugly sister of Australia's dazzling top seven, but his strike-rate of 54 for the year put him above some of cricket's great entertainers. More heads were being turned by the day.
2004: 14 Tests: 1,481 runs @ 54.85.

Brian Lara (West Indies One moment made it all worthwhile. Six months after losing his Test record to Matthew Hayden, Lara wrenched it back with an extraordinary innings of 400 not out - against England, in Antigua, in a dead rubber, just like his first record. If it was a wonderful reaffirmation of a talent from a different plane, it also papered over the cracks of a difficult year. Lara had spent much of that England series in Steve Harmison's pocket; in six live Tests against England, Lara made one fifty, and looked as if he had an allergy to chin music. His one-day form, too, was inexplicably modest - his highest score was 59 - and there was much criticism of his captaincy as West Indies lurched from one knockout blow to the next. Rumours of his imminent sacking proved exaggerated, though: Lara passed 10,000 Test runs in the final Test in England, and then his troops grabbed a romantic victory in the Champions Trophy. A Caribbean cricket revival? At 35, Lara would not be around to see it through; but the events of Antigua and The Oval at last gave long-suffering West Indian supporters something to keep them going.
2004: 12 Tests: 1,178 runs @ 58.90.
20 ODI: 484 runs @ 32.26.

VVS Laxman (India) - It was a year in which Laxman's pristine talent was soiled by the grubby limitations of mortality, and he had no answers. He began the year with an exquisite 178 at Sydney - an innings of such purity that, unthinkably, it outshone a Sachin Tendulkar double-century - but there was no mistaking the struggles that would follow. He continued his blistering Australian form with three hundreds in the VB Series, but then the house fell down around him. A match-winning century in the final one-day international in Pakistan was a reminder of Laxman's otherworldly ability, but there were just two fifties in his remaining 11 Tests, and he had a torrid time in the return series against Australia, against a vengeful Shane Warne. Anyone who had seen Laxman make batting look the easiest thing in the world had no idea what was going on. You suspected he felt the same way.
2004: 12 Tests: 513 runs @ 32.06.
25 ODI: 837 runs @ 41.85.

Glenn McGrath (Australia) - Just when startled batsmen thought it was safe to enter the corridor once again, McGrath came back. The man who had spent his career cackling gleefully at the technical inadequacies of international batsmen spent 2004 having the last laugh on the critics who thought he was finished after his ankle injury. He blew away the cobwebs with a five-for on his return against Sri Lanka and then got down to the serious business of conquering India. A peach of an off-cutter to Rahul Dravid - perhaps the ball of the year - set the tone in the First Test in Bangalore, and throughout, McGrath produced his usual challenging mix of line, length and lip. He scaled two new peaks: a career-best eight for 24 against Pakistan at Perth and, most joyously and improbably of all, a carefree maiden Test fifty against New Zealand in Brisbane. Almost all his ambitions had been satisfied, but he showed no signs of letting up.
2004: 10 Tests: 97 runs @ 13.85; 47 wickets @ 18.46.
9 ODI: no runs (not dismissed); 6 wickets @ 37.33.

Damien Martyn (Australia) - It was hard to stand out in a team like Australia, but in 2004 Martyn managed it. Only Justin Langer scored more Test runs than Martyn's 1,353, a sequence that restored his career average to virtually 50, where it had not been since October 2002. Six Test hundreds - all six against subcontinental sides, five in winning causes and four on the subcontinent itself - told the tale of a man in the form of his life, and it would have been eight but for a pair of 97s. Martyn had never looked more at ease in the privileged but pressured No. 4 position. His one-day form was less glittering but, as he reached his 33rd birthday, he was cashing in just when the whispers might have started.
2004: 14 Tests: 1,353 runs @ 56.37; no wicket for 27.
26 ODI: 611 runs @ 32.15.

Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka) - He took 47 wickets in six Tests, and at various stages was the greatest wicket-taker in Test history. Yet 2004 was, in many ways, a year to forget for Muralitharan. As usual, there was one main reason. The chucking allegations that have followed every step of his career again threatened to overwhelm it when the ICC outlawed his doosra, only to change the rules and permit it later in the year. But there was more to it than that: a shoulder injury kept him out for five months; he was called cowardly for deciding not to tour Australia, where his long list of enemies extended to the prime minister; and, earlier in the year, he lost his long-awaited wrist-off with Shane Warne in March - despite taking 28 wickets in three Tests. Australia got after him, and Murali did not always know what to do. His economy rate - 2.87 - was his least stingy since 1992. That does not mean anyone wanted to face him. And his selfless, energetic response to the Sri Lankan tsunami enhanced his reputation as a human being.
2004: 6 Tests: 83 runs @ 11.85; 47 wickets @ 22.02.
13 ODI: 11 runs @ 5.50; 23 wickets @ 19.82.

Jacon Oram (New Zealand) - It was hard not to notice Oram in 2004, and not simply because of his 6ft 5in frame. In the space of a year, he had become a serious international all-rounder, despite a modest Test return with the ball. He began the year with scores of 119 not out and 90 against South Africa, faded slightly in England, then fought back with a vivacious unbeaten century against Australia in his first innings of the series at Brisbane. Oram's left-handed hitting - and he could hit the ball almost as powerfully as Andrew Flintoff - made him New Zealand's natural heir to Chris Cairns, while his rapid ascent provoked talk that he might one day succeed Stephen Fleming as captain. A consistent year with the white ball suggested good control; now he just needed to add penetration.
2004: 10 Tests: 690 runs @ 57.50; 13 wickets @ 57.76.
21 ODI: 221 runs @ 20.09; 32 wickets @ 24.09.

Shaun Pollock (South Africa) - Second only to Glenn McGrath, Pollock was turning, at 31, into the doyen of the seam-bowling fraternity, dispensing line, length and maidens - 129 out of 470 Test overs - with the affable certainty of an old don. If the wickets were a little more expensive in 2004, it was possibly because he did not make the batsmen play as much as usual, although six Test hauls of four in an innings suggested this was merely relative. His batting, though, fell away badly, with seven of his 16 Test innings in single figures - a significant factor in South Africa's decline. In the one-dayers he was steady rather than penetrative. But in both forms of the game he was still the South African bowler opposition batsmen looked to see off before tucking into the less parsimonious fare behind him.
2004: 11 Tests: 251 runs @ 17.92; 43 wickets @ 29.62.
18 ODI: 278 runs @ 39.71; 18 wickets @ 32.44.

Ricky Ponting (Australia) - After the feast came the famine. Having scored 11 centuries for Australia in 2003, Ponting failed to reach three figures in 2004. He insisted it had nothing to do with him succeeding Steve Waugh as Test captain, but the statistics suggested otherwise: 11 of his 19 Test innings were between ten and 28, which hinted at a mind that was wandering to the bigger picture. That was hardly unreasonable: 2004 was the year in which Australia had the chance to exorcise not one but two subcontinental demons; though it seemed impossible, they reached another level under Ponting's captaincy. Whereas the Waugh vintage were happy to pummel the opposition into oblivion, leaving their jaw exposed in the process, Ponting's men chose to box clever. Subtlety was to be embraced, not pooh-poohed. It enabled them to win 3-0 in Sri Lanka, despite trailing on first innings every time, and to conquer the final frontier in India. Ponting missed the business end of that series with a fractured thumb, but in many ways the time off did him good. He returned for the Australian summer with his batteries recharged and, after a couple of near misses, began 2005 with that long-awaited first Test century as captain. When he turned it into a rampaging double-hundred, it was like 2003 all over again. Normal service had been resumed.
2004: 10 Tests: 697 runs @ 41.00.
24 ODI: 840 runs @ 38.18.

Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka) - It was the year in which Sangakkara, the angry young man of Sri Lankan cricket, hinted tantalisingly at maturity. Where once a red mist undermined his talent, now he was a beacon of consistency in both forms of the game: only six of his 43 innings ended in single figures. But there were still vestiges of the past: Sangakkara was twice fined for breaching the ICC's code of conduct, and the penchant for losing his wicket to delusions of grandeur was still there. Few could argue with an average of over 50 in both forms of the game, however. Sangakkara mercilessly plucked 270 pieces of candy from the Zimbabwean babies at Bulawayo, and blasted 232 against South Africa in victory at Colombo. The only cloud was a series of unconverted starts against Australia; but even that was partially redeemed by a stunning 101 against them in a one-dayer in Colombo. Erudite, easy on the eye and increasingly engaging, Sangakkara was in serious danger of becoming likeable.
2004: 11 Tests (5 as wicket-keeper): 1,114 runs @ 55.70; no wicket for 4; 15 catches as keeper, 4 stumpings.
27 ODI (25 as wicket-keeper): 1,010 runs @ 53.15; 30 catches as keeper, 12 stumpings.

Virender Sehwag (India) - When he was in full flow, there were few finer sights in world cricket in 2004 than Virender Sehwag at the crease, playing with a God-given instinct that left most mortals in his wake. Three innings stood out: 309 against Pakistan at Multan - India's first Test triple-century - out of 509 while he was at the wicket; 155 out of 233 against Australia at Chennai; and 164 out of 294 against South Africa at Kanpur. Not even his glittering team-mates could hack the pace. There were times when Sehwag appeared to be playing in a bubble, apparently oblivious of the quality of the bowling or the context of the match. That made him enchanting and exasperating in equal measure, although no captain in his right mind would have had it any other way. A moderate return in one-day cricket could not detract from Sehwag's standing as the most exciting opener in the world.
2004: 12 Tests: 1,141 runs @ 63.38; no wicket for 82.
27 ODI: 671 runs @ 25.80; 15 wickets @ 38.86.

Shoaib Akhtar (Pakistan) - With Brett Lee's star falling, Shoaib established himself as the world's undisputed No. 1 fast bowler. Not that he ever doubted the fact himself. The scepticism came mostly from his countrymen: when Shoaib pulled up halfway through the pivotal Third Test against India with a wrist injury and back pain, some felt he was faking it - especially when he returned later to freewheel a 14-ball 28 - and an investigation was launched. A bone scan eventually cleared him, but some mud had stuck and the issue was raised again on the Australian tour. On the pitch, Pakistan lost five of Shoaib's six Tests. But with the suspicion remaining that his chief commitment was to his own cause, Shoaib would have been content with three first-innings fivefors and a strike-rate of 44. In his swaggering pomp - hair flapping, batsmen hopping, stumps flying - he remained the most visceral experience in world cricket. It was a shame his antics made it such a guilty pleasure.
2004: 6 Tests: 114 runs @ 10.36; 26 wickets @ 28.34.
23 ODI: 47 runs @ 6.71; 31 wickets @ 29.22.

Graeme Smith (South Africa) - After the dream-sequence beginning to his captaincy career, Smith woke up to the harsh life of international cricket with a jolt in 2004. Reality bit fiercest on the subcontinent, where a declining South African side lost Test series to India and Sri Lanka. There was also a run of 11 defeats in 12 oneday internationals, the start of an ultimately fruitless struggle with England, and personal humiliation after some wily mind games from Stephen Fleming in Auckland. Yet for the most part, Smith continued to crunch runs aplenty. There was one minor epic: an unbeaten 125 to square the series in New Zealand that was made of granite. Smith yielded to no man physically, but he could be brought to his knees by more insidious means. By the end of the year, as Matthew Hoggard's in-swinger had him fumbling around his front pad time after time, even the runs had started to dry up. It was yet another cloud on an increasingly murky horizon.
2004: 11 Tests: 921 runs @ 46.05; 3 wickets @ 62.00.
18 ODI: 652 runs @ 38.35; 3 wickets @ 47.33.

Andrew Strauss (England) - In January, Strauss was just another player England were keen to shoehorn into their one-day team; by December, he was one of the first names on every teamsheet. No Englishman had taken to international cricket so comfortably since Ian Botham. Not that the comparison went much further: Strauss's game was all about minimalism, based around three shots - cut, pull, drive - and an indecently even temperament. Fortune came his way with the freak injury to Michael Vaughan that gave him his debut, but from there he made his own luck: a nerveless debut century against New Zealand at Lord's was the prelude to a remarkable sequence of run-scoring. Records came and went: first man to score centuries in the first innings of his first three Test series; first man to score a century and a half-century in his first Tests at home and overseas. Only a low exposure to high-class spin bowling nagged against the sensation that Duncan Fletcher had unearthed a truly world-class talent from nowhere. Strauss's one-day form was barely less impressive. He became the heir to Graham Thorpe as England's finisher at No. 4, and his cameo in the Champions Trophy semi-final against Australia was nerveless. It was a microcosm of his year.
2004: 9 Tests: 971 runs @ 60.68.
21 ODI: 655 runs @ 40.93; no wicket for 3.

Heath Streak (Zimbabwe) - Streak's year was dominated by the murky politics of Zimbabwean cricket, and as such felt like an extended sabbatical. But the truth was that, with the possible exception of Australia, he would still have made every side in the world. Before he resigned the captaincy at the start of April, Streak showcased his worldclass talents, first in the VB Series, then in the Harare Test against Bangladesh. He subsequently shone in his first match for Warwickshire with figures of 13 for 158 against Northamptonshire at Edgbaston - the best figures by a county debutant in the history of the Championship. But injury intervened and, as his dispute with the Zimbabwe board rumbled on, the worry was that international cricket would lose one of its few high-class all-rounders.
2004: 2 Tests: 68 runs @ 68.00; 5 wickets @ 12.60.
11 ODI: 317 runs @ 52.83; 22 wickets @ 19.04.

Sachin Tendulkar (India) - Having spent his career delighting the purists, Tendulkar spent 2004 whipping the statisticians into a frenzy. In Tests, he played a remarkable three-card trick: 495 runs without being dismissed to start the year; then seven single- figure scores in eight innings either side of tennis elbow; finally normal service resumed with an average of 284 in the series in Bangladesh. Apart from a glorious, nothing-to-lose 55 against Australia on a Mumbai terrortrack, watching Tendulkar became a colder experience: after his humbling 2003, he seemed to reject his bewitching fusion of majesty and human frailty in favour of a mechanical, robotic accumulation. The end - an average of 91 for the year - justified the means, but the game was the poorer for it.
2004: 10 Tests: 915 runs @ 91.50; 5 wickets @ 55.20.
21 ODI: 812 runs @ 40.60; 19 wickets @ 24.26.

Graham Thorpe (England) - England's Mr Fixit was at his DIY best in 2004. No longer the thrilling counter-attacker of old, Thorpe had become an utterly dependable, no-frills accumulator, especially when Tests were in the balance. Each of his four centuries almost doubled in value because of the context in which they were made: an unbeaten 119 in Barbados, where England's next-best score was 17; an undefeated 104 at Trent Bridge to make light of a target of 284; a brave 114 amid a lot of dross at Old Trafford; and a vital 118 not out at Durban that first insured against defeat, then so nearly set up one of the great comeback wins of all time. It was as though he only troubled to make runs when the situation was worthy of his attention. If Thorpe's fielding was beginning to fall prey to an ageing frame, his batting was the regular heartbeat of the middle order. Others took the breath away; Thorpe merely nudged and scampered at a steady pulse. And hardly anyone did it better.
2004: 12 Tests: 951 runs @ 73.15.

Marcus Trescothick (England) - Once again, Trescothick was England's leading run-scorer in Test cricket; once again, his achievement came with caveats. While his home form was still out of the top drawer - in seven Tests he hit 641 runs at 53.41 - he was less of a menace overseas, where he made 363 runs at 33.00. Had he not scorched a blistering 132 at Durban in his final innings of the year, the discrepancy would have been even more marked. Yet, overall, England would have been a much weaker side without him, and he struck up a harmonious partnership at the top of the order with his fellow left-hander Andrew Strauss, putting on over 150 on four occasions. He made twin centuries against West Indies at Edgbaston to atone for a miserable Test tour of the Caribbean, and continued to sparkle every now and then in the one-day game. A century in gloomy conditions in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy, when Ashley Giles's 31 was the next-highest score, should have been a match-winner. And his slip fielding, particularly off the fast bowlers, was world-class. Critics still noted a refusal to move his feet, but then they always have. Only against the fastest bowlers on the fastest pitches was this truly dangerous.
2004: 13 Tests: 1,004 runs @ 43.65; no wicket for 82.
17 ODI: 670 runs @ 41.87; 2 wickets @ 36.00.

Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka) - Vaas's reward for continuing to carry Sri Lanka's seam attack with his canny and reliable left-armers was a place in the ICC World Test and One-day XIs at their inaugural awards evening in September. If that raised a few eyebrows it was only because, in many people's eyes, Sri Lankan bowling remained synonymous with Muttiah Muralitharan - even when he was injured. But Vaas was as much the team man par excellence as he always has been, making regular incisions with the new ball and chipping in with useful runs down the order. His ability to swing it both ways meant that 45% of his Test victims were either caught behind or leg-before, while batsmen in the one-day game were rarely able to take liberties when faced with an economy rate of 3.83. It has been the story of Vaas's career.
2004: 11 Tests: 369 runs @ 30.75; 40 wickets @ 28.65.
21 ODI: 105 runs @ 11.66; 37 wickets @ 18.72.

Michael Vaughan (England) - It was a year of confounded expectations. Just as few people thought Vaughan's captaincy could reach such ruthless heights, so nobody thought his batting could plumb such mundane depths. It will be remembered as the year in which he led England to a record eight consecutive wins, infusing the side with a strangely serene kind of steeliness, but also in which his batting lost its freedom, perhaps for ever. His three Test centuries, all against West Indies, and two in one Test at Lord's, were workmanlike affairs, and only two innings - 61 against New Zealand at Trent Bridge and 86 against Australia in the Champions Trophy semi-final - engaged the hairs on the back of the neck like the Vaughan of old. As his head fell over and he struggled desperately for form in South Africa, while also presiding over an outstanding victory, the comparisons with Mike Brearley gathered pace. It was a double-edged sword.
2004: 12 Tests: 712 runs @ 35.60; 1 wicket @ 116.00.
21 ODI: 557 runs @ 30.94; 3 wickets @ 57.00.

Shane Warne (Australia) - See Leading Cricketer of the World.
2004: 12 Tests: 211 runs @ 11.72; 70 wickets @ 24.07.

Yousuf Youhana (Pakistan) - In a Pakistan batting line-up that blew hot and cold, Youhana was a warmingly reassuring presence. It was typical of the team that his two Test centuries - at Multan against India, and at Melbourne - were made in losing causes, but his 72 at Lahore, also against India, helped set up a series-levelling win and underlined his role, as he touched 30, as the team's elder statesman, along with Inzamam-ul-Haq. But his value to the side was never more apparent than during an innings of unobtrusive class to see off India in the Champions Trophy at Edgbaston. And when Inzamam hurt his back in Australia, Youhana took over as captain. Like many of his innings, that generally went unnoticed.
2004: 7 Tests: 539 runs @ 41.46.
27 ODI: 768 runs @ 36.57; no wicket for 1.

© John Wisden & Co