Saturday, May 26, 2012

New Zealand's Wisden Cricketers of the Year – who’s next?

Kane Williamson and Doug Bracewell - Wisden Cricketers of the Year in waiting?

For a country similar in size to Sydney, Australia (or the counties of Kent, Essex and Hampshire), New Zealand has produced some exceptional cricketing talent who have left an indelible mark on our great game. A dozen of them have received the game’s ultimate accolade, being named one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year.
  • Roger Blunt – 1928 Wisden
  • Stewie Dempster – 1932
  • Martin Donnelly – 1948
  • Bert Sutcliffe - 1950
  • John R Reid – 1959
  • Dick Motz – 1966
  • Glenn Turner - 1971
  • Bevan Congdon – 1974
  • Richard Hadlee - 1982
  • Jeremy Coney – 1984
  • Martin Crowe – 1985
  • Chris Cairns - 2000

After a lot of research I’m pretty sure I got them all – whether I did them justice is open for debate. Lawrence Booth (@the_topspin) even gave me a hand, inadvertently via Twitter – he wouldn’t know me from a bar of soap; though I’m not sure I had his attention. If per chance I have missed anyone, please send your concerns to him, though he's likely basking in the glory of his new yellow arrival - I'm sure it's the first of many; he'll soon have a whole clan.

Is it harder for New Zealand cricketers to get included in the Cricketers of the Year list now we are clearly a second class test nation? With a continued slide down the ICC rankings and the need to play more limited overs cricket to top-up the coffers, New Zealand generally only play two tests during a tour and hence will struggle to spend enough time in England to make a significant impact.

However, it’s not just the current crop of Black Caps who have struggled for opportunity to get their name into Wisden’s most coveted club. Kiwi cricketing luminaries such as John F Reid, Nathan Astle and Stephen Fleming have all been overlooked, though with such a small window to impress the odds are long – English and Australian players will always dominate the five. That Dan Vettori is unlikely to ever be included seems something of a cricketing travesty.

It’s not just a handful of New Zealand legends that have missed the cut. In 2008 Wisden identified five prominent players from the past who, for various reasons, had missed out on the Cricketer of the Year honour. Absentees Abdul Qadir, Bishan Bedi, Wes Hall, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Jeff Thomson show something of the limitations of the current criteria.

Similarly, with all bar Bairstow of the current England side having already been awarded Wisden’s highest accolade, there is a very real possibility that cricket’s bible may be bereft of England internationals in its select five for the 150th edition. It would seem a shame if the line-up consisted of only West Indians, South Africans and county cricketers in 2013.

A selfish view perhaps, but is it time to revert to the criteria of 2000-2003 when the Cricketer of the Year was based on a player’s impact on cricket around the globe? Over to you, Mr. Booth – as proud New Zealanders we live in hope.

It may be time for those with far more clout than an amateur Kiwi hack to start imploring Wisden’s new editor. The response I was offered when I questioned Booth about the criteria via Twitter? It has to be in England, I’m afraid (unless the criteria are changed!)

How long will we have to wait to see a local hero holding one of five places of pride in the cricketing bible?

Something of a rank outsider, Nottinghamshire’s Andre Adams, though holding a West Indian (yes, I know it’s not a country) passport, could still be an outside chance for next year’s list. With more than 60 wickets in each of the last two County Championship seasons he may at least be in the periphery. With half as many wickets to date this season already, and the international options for 2013 looking thin on the ground, the 150th edition could be a distant possibility for the former New Zealand international.

Promising youngster Kane Williamson would be a great fit as one of 2014’s Cricketers of the Year for his exploits on New Zealand’s tour of England in 2013. The ICC’s Future Tours schedule suggests New Zealand will play two tests (again - it’s not a series) and five ODIs in England either side of the Ashes though there may not be time enough to impress the editor. However given the green tops we’ll likely see, maybe Doug Bracewell will stay on for the County Championship (with Surrey, of course), dominate the English season and break New Zealand’s 14 year duck for the 2014 edition.

As a nation we suffer from Tall Poppy syndrome - we tend to look at those who are the most successful with a mix of envy and indifference. It's as if we wish to strip them down to our level - I will never quite understand that. The flip side is the reverence we then heap on them as a new generation emerges - rose tinted glasses come with age. I can but hope we are looking on Bracewell and Williamson in the same manner in years to come - it’s a sign they will live forever in our collective consciousness.

So, the future looks as healthy as the past – New Zealand may never sit atop the mountain but on our day a small country at the bottom of the world can knock over any of the glitterati. Our international record aside, New Zealand will continue to produce world beaters – cricketers who boys and girls will grow up trying to emulate and who will be discussed over a cold beer at a barbie for years to come.

 I’d love to hear your recollections of these great players, and some of the stories passed down through generations – post a comment below or send me a tweet @aotearoaxi. If my research is wrong, let me know – this blog is primarily for me to develop a stronger understanding of where New Zealand cricket has come from, and the players who have shaped our great game. If you enjoyed it, sign up for email alerts for future pieces from a cricketing Buddha.

If you enjoyed this, have a read of my previous pieces on New Zealand’s Wisden Cricketers of the Year:

Part 1: The trailblazers
Part 2: The firsts continue
Part 3: Sir Richard Hadlee

Part 4: Winning is a habit


  1. Don't Wisden cricketers of the year sometimes get selected on more than merit as cricketers? If there is an interesting story behind a successful player, might they be more likely to win an award?

    If that is the case, my pick for the next Kiwi on this list would be Chris Martin. If he survives until England, he could dominate in swinging conditions, as well as being an incredibly likeable player, a real crowd favourite as it were. Plus, he would possibly by then be the oldest test cricketer on the circuit, and his commitment to Tests over other forms of the game would win him some brownie points among English cricket aficionados.

  2. Hi Alex. The Wisden editor, at the moment Lawrence Booth, has full discretion as to who gets the award, given it sits within the criteria - some like Matthew Engel have changed the rules though.

    I'd love to see Chris Martin get recognised, and a back story would help - it certainly helped Kumar Snagakarra get named Wisden Leading Cricketer of the Year on the back of his MCC Lecture at Lord's.

    It I can find a spot during the Windies tour I'll try and pen a short piece on Tommy - he is a wholehearted cricketer and people forget he has over 200 test wickets and sits at number 3 on our all time list. I still remember stories of him going to first class practise on a bicycle.

  3. I really think that it was a very precise and deserved designation since New Zealand had a great performance that year


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