South Africans fade from Wisden’s pages

Times Media


WISDEN Cricketers’ Almanack named two Pakistanis and three Englishmen as its “Cricketers of the Year” at the launch of its 2017 edition on Wednesday, while Virat Kohli was crowned “Leading Cricketer in the World”.

India’s captain, who evidently is not short on self-regard, may wonder what took Wisden so long.

If so, here’s hoping he’s placated by having his photograph on the front cover and by the editor, Lawrence Booth, lauding him as the “spiritual successor to Sachin Tendulkar”.

But South Africans will wonder something else: why their players have disappeared from the pages of the august publication.

The last of them so honoured was Dale Steyn, who was the “Leading Cricketer in the World” in 2014 – the year after he, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis were among the “Cricketers of the Year”.

In fact, four of the five were born in South Africa: England’s Nick Compton is from Durban.

They joined 10 South Africans – 11 if we count Kevin Pietersen – who have made it onto the list of cricket’s elite players since re-admission in 1991.

That none have had their efforts recognised for three years has to do with retirement, injury, and the fact that South Africa are no longer the force they were when they rose to the top of the test rankings in August 2012.

But, even accounting for their crash from No. 1 to No. 7 in 2016, South Africans could argue that their team has been given a raw deal by Wisden.

Starting with their victory at Lord’s on July 20, 2012 – which took South Africa to the top of the rankings – they have played 43 tests, won 22 and lost nine.

Of their 43 tests before that game at Lord’s, stretching back to January 2008, South Africa also won 22. They lost 10.

And all they have to show for their success between 2008 and 2012 on the Wisden scorecard are Dale Benkenstein, Mark Boucher and Neil McKenzie, who all made the grade in 2009.

Then again, it took Wisden 20 years and 99 players to name a bona fide South African among its “Cricketers of the Year”.

No. 100 was Swartwater-born leg spin and googly bowler Ernie Vogler, who cracked the nod in 1908.

Reggie Schwarz, Vogler’s teammate, also did so that year. But he was born in Kent and became a major in the British army.

Of course, Wisden is largely a book about cricket in England, and therefore about players who are prominent there regardless of where they’re from.

That it was the global authority on the game until the internet age was due to England’s pre-eminence in all matters cricket, sometimes more off the field than on.

This kind of nostalgia still holds with a certain sector of the game’s following.

How many, for instance, insist that Lord’s is the “home of cricket”?

Officially, that place is the International Cricket Council’s offices in Dubai.

Realistically, it’s anywhere in India.

Spiritually, Lord’s it may be. But only for those who consider cricket quintessentially English.

And even among some of them The Oval, with its less stuffy atmosphere and more knowledgable crowd – ask Ian Botham – or Headingley, bleak as a Yorkshire moor but as primed for passion, will stand out more than Lord’s.

For all that, Wisden is less part of cricket’s creaking past than it is of its bracing present.

The 2017 edition cover photograph, for instance, is of Kohli playing a reverse sweep during a test match.


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