Virat Kohli, Wisden

A photograph of Virat Kohli playing a reverse sweep in a Test match will be on the cover of the 2017 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. © Wisden India

Virat Kohli, who features on the cover of the 2017 edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, is also the Leading Cricketer in the World for 2016, an accolade put in place in 2003 when Ricky Ponting became the first honouree, it was announced by the ‘Bible of Cricket’ on Wednesday (April 5). The cover image shows Kohli playing a reverse sweep in a Test match, and comes in the wake of the Wisden India Almanack naming the captain of the Indian team the Cricketer of the Year for the second time in its 2017 edition.

The other significant feature of the 2017 edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack is that two Pakistani cricketers – Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan – have been named in the list of the five Cricketers of the Year, the first time this has happened since 1997. On that occasion, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saeed Anwar were chosen. In fact, Mohammad Yousuf in 2007 was the last player from Pakistan to be honoured thus. With Misbah and Younis making the list, the total number of Pakistanis to have been chosen Cricketers of the Year went up to 14, one less than India’s tally of 15.

Explaining the decision to have Misbah and Younis in the list, Lawrence Booth, editor of the Almanack, writes, “Misbah-ul-Haq was central to one of the most riveting series in England for years, a 2-2 draw that left fans longing for a decider. His century in the First Test at Lord’s set a benchmark for his team-mates, while his celebratory press-ups became one of the motifs of the year. Against the odds, he led Pakistan, without a home Test since 2009, to the top of the rankings – and all at the age of 42.

“With the pressure on, Younis Khan delivered. His classy 218 in the final Test of the summer, at The Oval, helped Pakistan square the series after successive defeats had left them in danger of squandering their win at Lord’s. It was his 32nd Test hundred – and a reminder that his struggles earlier in the series had been a blip rather than part of a decline.”

Booth was full of praise for the engrossing series and the “perfect guests” from Pakistan, writing, “Like the 2015 New Zealanders, the 2016 Pakistanis left England with everyone craving a decider; unlike them, Pakistan had arrived expecting headlines that went beyond the cricket. But, once Mohammad Amir had refused to overstep at Lord’s, the cricket is precisely what made the headlines. This had plenty to do with the leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq, who showed it was possible to combine dignity and success. He also provided a poignant reminder of the human cost of Pakistan’s exile, when – after his side’s victory at The Oval – he quietly pointed out that he saw his sister and mother only once a year. And, flourishing as an international sportsman in his early forties, he gave hope to more of us than he probably realised.

“Misbah was once mocked by sceptical fans for his ‘tuk tuk’ approach, as another ball thudded off the face of a dead bat. But it was a simplification. Captaining Pakistan has always required skills more suited to defusing a brawl. To do so in the years since the 2009 terrorist attack in Lahore has also required a more nuanced ability – to persuade players they are doing something worthwhile. Pakistan’s time as Test cricket’s No. 1 side was fleeting, but it was a miracle they got there at all. And throughout, Misbah seemed to be enacting Hemingway’s definition of courage as ‘grace under pressure’.”

Misbah is the first Pakistan player to win the ICC Spirit of Cricket award. © Getty Images

“Pakistan’s time as Test cricket’s No. 1 side was fleeting, but it was a miracle they got there at all. And throughout, Misbah seemed to be enacting Hemingway’s definition of courage as ‘grace under pressure’.” © Getty Images

Apart from Misbah and Younis, the other Cricketers of the Year – a tradition maintained by the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack since 1889 – were Ben Duckett, Toby Roland-Jones, and Chris Woakes, while Ellyse Perry was named the Leading Woman Cricketer in the World.

The other honourees included AJ Woodland, the left-hand opening batsman who scored 1200 runs across formats for St Edward’s School, Oxford who was chosen as the Wisden Schools Cricketer of the Year, Emma John, whose Following On was named Wisden Book of the Year, and Saqib Majeed, who won the Wisden-MCC Cricket Photograph of the Year award.

Booth, in his Editor’s Notes, praised the International Cricket Council for their determination in redistributing the wealth allocated to the Big Three of India, England and Australia, but condemned the ICC’s opportunism in trying to push through the changes while the Board of Control for Cricket in India was in the middle of a major churn.

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack honours
Leading Cricketer in the World – Virat Kohli
Leading Woman Cricketer in the World – Ellyse Perry
Five Cricketers of the Year – Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Ben Duckett, Toby Roland-Jones, Chris Woakes

“In February in Dubai – four words that now loom annually over cricket – something remarkable happened: the world ganged up on India,” wrote Booth. “At stake was the redistribution of ICC finances following the Big Three carve-up in early 2014, as craven an example of maladministration as cricket has seen. At the heart of the latest new world order was payback, quite literally.

“Shashank Manohar, the ICC chairman and that rarest of beasts – an Indian administrator with a conscience – had promised to spread the funds more fairly, or less unfairly, which is the best cricket can generally hope for. Yet when the majority of Full Members came down in favour of a proposal to cut India’s net share of the profits from the 2015–2023 broadcasting-rights cycle from $450m to $260m, the BCCI’s complaints would have rung a bell with anyone who recoiled at their heist three years earlier: India felt blindsided and bullied, and grumbled that two wrongs didn’t make a right. It just wasn’t… fair!

“Not only did this suggest the Indians were finally acknowledging the iniquities of that heist, but it sounded suspiciously like the objection many had raised against the BCCI’s behaviour under N. Srinivasan. During his reign, Indian officials would happily let it be known that they were simply doing to cricket what England and Australia had done for decades – treating it like a fiefdom. For many, the boardroom bargaining of February 2017 was a delightful irony.

“Yet schadenfreude isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The provisional vote in Dubai took place at a time when the BCCI were struggling to rebuild after being hobbled by India’s Supreme Court, and thus at their most vulnerable. Machiavelli would have approved of the ruthlessness, but it didn’t say much for cricket’s democratic processes. And among those happy to undo the bad work of 2014 were – you guessed it – England and Australia, the junior partners of Big Three Inc, who seemed determined to prove that opportunism takes many shapes and sizes.

Shashank Manohar has agreed to defer his resignation from the post of the ICC chairman. © BCCI

“The provisional vote in Dubai took place at a time when the BCCI were struggling to rebuild after being hobbled by India’s Supreme Court, and thus at their most vulnerable. Machiavelli would have approved of the ruthlessness, but it didn’t say much for cricket’s democratic processes.” © BCCI

“If the proposals are officially approved later this year (though even an enfeebled BCCI can suck others into their orbit), then cricket could find itself on a new kind of terra infirma. The sport may be closer to financial equality than it was three years ago. But it will have got there using the same machinations that caused it such grief in the first place.”

Booth was similarly displeased at the spectator experience he was privy to when he attended the fourth Test between India and England at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium in December last year. He wrote, “A visit to Mumbai provides confirmation that cricket is, more than it has ever been, an Indian sport. Its greatest metropolis has three Test grounds past and present within 20 minutes’ walk, as well as countless future stars on the maidans and in the backstreets. Mumbai has cricket in every pore and artery. There are days when nothing else matters.

On ICC’s rollback of the Big Three model
“Yet schadenfreude isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The provisional vote in Dubai took place at a time when the BCCI were struggling to rebuild after being hobbled by India’s Supreme Court, and thus at their most vulnerable. Machiavelli would have approved of the ruthlessness, but it didn’t say much for cricket’s democratic processes. And among those happy to undo the bad work of 2014 were – you guessed it – England and Australia, the junior partners of Big Three Inc, who seemed determined to prove that opportunism takes many shapes and sizes.”

“This makes what happened at the Wankhede Stadium during the Fourth Test against England all the sadder. While Indian cricket administrators were busy trying to save their careers during a stand-off with the Supreme Court, Indian cricket lovers suffered a string of indignities as they sought a pleasant time at the Test.

“Queues outside the ground suggested little room for manoeuvre within, though the opposite was the case. If they hadn’t lost the will to live by the time they reached the gates, Indian fans had to dump their rucksacks in an unguarded pile outside the stadium, while their English counterparts were allowed to take theirs in – because, according to one policeman, they couldn’t be parted from their passports. One local was told that bottled water inside the ground was on sale to tourists only, an oversight that wasn’t corrected until he took his grievance to Twitter. Many seats were soiled by bird poo, but then many seats were useless anyway, exposed to the sun until around 4pm, half an hour before the scheduled close; and, of course, bottles of sunscreen were also banned. Those seats that were shaded often sparked squabbles, regardless of who had booked what. The toilets were filthy. An Indian friend swore never to go again.

“Yet Mumbai was hardly alone in turning what should have been a pleasure into an ordeal. The stadiums at Rajkot and Visakhapatnam, both making their Test debuts during the England series, are unhelpfully situated out of town; at Chennai, three vast stands stood empty because of an ongoing political dispute, which mocked the hordes of supporters stranded outside. Those who did gain entry should have been able to read all about it, except that staff were confiscating newspapers, without explanation.

“Such is the lot of cricket lovers in India, who are fast becoming television’s useful idiots – reassuring proof to those who invest in the game that it really is a sport for the masses.”