Not since John Wisden graciously accepted the Wisden Cricketer of the Year award for 1913 (despite being dead for 29 years) has cricket shown such enthusiasm for end-of-season gongs. With a packed awards season in full swing, AOC picks out 10 contenders who found a piece of gilded tin with a ball on top was no guarantee of greatness.
10) DAN CULLEN
Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year Award 2006
Life after Warne didn’t always look so gloomy. Soon after finishing his lap of honour that was the 5-0 Ashes send-off, the great impresario nominated off-spinner Dan Cullen (pictured above), Australia’s reigning Young Cricketer of the Year, as his ready-made replacement. The South Australian had already made his international debut in the ‘Jason Gillespie’ Chittagong Test, and would go on to win five ODI caps, but soon after Warne’s anointment his form fell away, and the prized scalp of Mashrafe Mortaza would remain the first and only highlight of his Test career. Subsequent disappointing domestic returns led to the withdrawal of his national contract, and by the end of the 2009/10 season he was dropped from his state side, aged only 25.
9) GARY PRATT
NBC Denis Compton Award 1999 (Durham)
Most famous as the gun sub fielder who provoked Ricky Ponting’s sweary exit from Trent Bridge in the 2005 Ashes, Gary Pratt was once considered more than just a brilliant extra-cover. Having risen through the ranks with Durham, he won the county’s NBC Compton Award for the club’s best young player in 1999, receiving specialist tutelage in South Africa alongside fellow starlets Ian Bell and Ryan Sidebottom. By 2003, Pratt had established himself in Durham’s first team, passing 1,000 runs for the season, but that was as good as it got. Two years after the Ponting moment, which many felt swung the series in England’s favour, Pratt was playing non-league football for Crook Town FC; hurt by his release from Durham in 2006 and partly blaming it on the run out, which he felt marked him unfairly as “just a fielder”. Pratt went on to torment bowlers across the north-east, enjoying a prolific spell for Bishop Auckland and as captain of Cumberland.
8) GREG WOOD
NBC Denis Compton Award 2005 (Yorkshire)
A superb all-round talent as a teenager, a stellar professional career appeared assured for the young Yorkshire prodigy. He won the 2004 Bunbury Festival spin bowling scholarship (despite being widely recognised as a keeper-batsman), captained England under 19s in 2007 aged all of 17 and was sent out to a South African finishing school alongside fellow 2005 NBC Compton Award winners Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad and Luke Wright. Despite this promise, Wood only managed a solitary outing for Yorkshire’s first XI, making a run-a-ball 26 against Sri Lanka A in 2007. Frustrated by a lack of opportunities, he parted company with the Tykes at the end of the 2009 season.
7) IRFAN PATHAN
ICC Emerging Player of the Year 2004
Thrust into an international debut against Hayden, Ponting, Gilchrist and friends, the 19-year-old left-arm seamer appeared the natural heir to Zaheer Khan following a host of wickets and Man of the Match awards. Capping his first season with India by becoming the first man to take a hat-trick in the first over of a Test match, Pathan was the natural choice for the ICC’s Emerging Player gong for 2004. Yet, as his embryonic batting career blossomed, his swingers mysteriously lost their nip. Has since found a new home as a limited-overs specialist, but it might have been different…
6) DAVID LAWRENCE
Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer of the Year 1985
A cult hero of the county scene during the 1980s, this West Country warrior offered pace and heart by the bucketful. Having become a firm favourite at Gloucestershire, Lawrence impressed with his early England performances. A list of victims including Richie Richardson, Desmond Haynes and Viv Richards gave a tantalising glimpse of his talent, before horrific injury struck. Screaming in to bowl at the fag-end of a dead Test in New Zealand, Lawrence suffered a shocking knee fracture; the pistol-crack sound of his shattering knee cap could be heard all around the empty stadium. He never played for England again. With typical spirit, Lawrence battled back to regain fitness and returned for Gloucestershire five years later, but he was forced to quit for good in 1997, unable to generate the pace that was previously his hallmark. He later turned his attentions to running a successful nightclub in Bristol.
Here’s the moment. Beware: this video’s not pretty…
5) CHRIS GAYLE
ICC LG People’s Choice 2011
It’s 2011, and the people have spoken… Drum roll please… The WINNER of the ICC’s ‘People’s Ineffable Champion in the Category Sponsored by a Washing Machine Company’ is… CHRIS GAYLE! That’s right folks! Let’s hear it for the Chris Gayle who in 2011 refused to play for West Indies after YET ANOTHER contract dispute! Who STILL won’t play for his country! Who turned up TWO DAYS before a Lord’s Test in 2009, when, wait for it… HE WAS TEAM CAPTAIN! Who “wouldn’t lose any sleep” if Test cricket DIED OUT! Who can BARELY SURVIVE on his IPL contract! Come up and accept this award, Chris, as voted by YOU the people, and LONG LIVE DEMOCRACY!
4) AJANTHA MENDIS
ICC Emerging Player of the Year 2008
A right old hoopla accompanied the emergence, in 2008, of Sri Lanka’s fingery ex-army officer turned mini-Murali mystery man. And quite right too, because Ajantha Mendis’ early brilliance suggested the great void in spin bowling left by the retirements of Warne, Kumble and Murali would at least be partially filled. But the wonderful oddness of his trademark carrom ball, flicked out of the front of his fingers and which made mugs of batsmen during that first year, has not been as effective since; players have got wise to the magic, and Mendis, struggling for big spin and accuracy, has found himself in and out of Sri Lanka’s team. A miserable English summer in 2011 saw him return a combined 11 wickets for both the touring Sri Lankans and Somerset, at an average of 50.
3) SIMON JONES
Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2006
What would Simon Jones have achieved if injury hadn’t cut him short? It’s one of the lingering questions carried over from an era when England had an answer for just about everything. He was the fragile thoroughbred of that 2005 Ashes, the frail Adonis, a natural matchwinner who ripped through Australia that summer, reverse-swinging his name into the Ashes annals and bagging, along with Kevin Pietersen, a celebrity invite to London Fashion Week – proof of sorts that cricket was scrubbing up nice again. But with Wisden’s award safely bagged and the champagne still flowing, his body, rebelling prematurely against that devastating whiplash action, just gave up on him, and despite numerous operations and stuttering comebacks with Worcestershire, Glamorgan and Hampshire, he’s not quite got back on the catwalk again.
2) MARK LATHWELL
Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer of the Year 1993
Hailed by his Somerset coach Bob Cottam, as “the best young player I’ve ever seen,” Mark Lathwell’s career was blighted by the weight of expectations. Following a free flowing start to his career that moved a swooning Wisden to compare him to Gower in his pomp, the wristy opener was fast-tracked into England’s 1993 Ashes team when Graham Gooch’s sinking ship threw out the old guard and plumped for kids. Up against a rampant Australian side and with his early season form having deserted him, the shy, homespun 21-year-old was mercilessly bullied by Merv Hughes and dropped after just two Tests. Being voted Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer of the Year was some consolation, but in truth Lathwell was already on the slide. He never graced the international stage again and retired in 2001, after too many seasons of disappointment, to become a postman.
1) MOHAMMAD AMIR
ICC Emerging Player of the Year nominee 2010 (removed)
Mohammad Amir was a shoo-in for the ICC’s hip young buck award in 2010. In a summer of terror for England’s batsmen he had just become the youngest bowler ever to take 50 Test wickets. Then he overstepped gigantically at Lord’s, the cricket world caved in and the ICC were forced into action. The nominees for the glitzy ceremony that was taking place later that September had already been announced, with Mo Amir one of the star turns. Now, with the spot-fixing scandal engulfing the game, the ICC figured he had to go. And so, three weeks before the big event, an ICC spokesman confirmed that Amir had in fact been expunged from the shortlist, adding darkly: “Amir’s removal could be confirmed by ‘reading between the lines’.” Six months later the ICC’s stance was vindicated when Amir and two other Pakistani players were found guilty of spot-fixing and he was banned for five years. In a more nuanced but no less meaningful statement, Wisden’s ‘Five Cricketers’ of the 2010 season were reduced to four, leaving a gaping hole where the outrageously talented Amir would otherwise have stood.