Att: Lawrence Booth
Somewhere in the UK
Probably a location with nice views
I wish to bring to your attention a little matter of concern that may put you in a slightly uncomfortable position.
For this, I apologise upfront.
However, when you are the editor of a publication as esteemed as Wisden, you must be aware that hard calls will come your way.
Should the annual budget be extended to cater for creme biscuits in the staff lunch room?
How much can we afford to spend on the annual writers Xmas party?
Further stress is surely encountered at the end of English summer when you have to select your five Wisden cricketers of the Year.
This award has a history that goes back to 1889. That’s a really really long time ago. They probably didn’t even have Twitter back then. That’s how long ago it was.
It’s probably the second most prestigious award in world cricket, just behind the IPL Team Fair Play trophy. The Chennai Super Kings have won that a record 6 times. They are now banned for not playing fairly.
A recipient of the Wisden Cricketer of the Year award is held in high esteem by the sporting world. For to win this accolade, the main criteria one must meet is that the player had “influence on the last English season.”
Wisden Editors have used this criteria quite innovatively, including in 1997 when Sanath Jayasuriya was a recipient. He didn’t even play in England in 1996, but received the title on the back of his World Cup batting display that changed the way the one day game was played.
There are also examples where only one player, or only four players were given the award instead of five. There are examples of players winning it twice. There are examples when only bowlers were eligible. There are examples when only wicket keepers were eligible. There are years when the award was given to players who influenced cricket worldwide and not just in England.
Brilliant stuff and definitive proof that the selection criteria is malleable enough to allow for Wisden to be responsive to the drivers of the day.
But what of a player who has negative influence on the English season?
Say, someone who has received the Wisden Cricketer of the Year award, but is later found to have tarnished the game through immoral and illegal action?
No, I’m not talking about chuckers or of a players consensual sexual escopades appearing in the Daily Mail.
Instead, I talk of match fixers, spot fixers, perjurers and those under strong suspicion of cheating for money?
Because Lawrence, an example of each of these appear on the list of recipients that you are currently responsible for.
Take for example 1988.
Saleem Malik’s name sits comfortably along side Jonathan Agnew’s.
What about 1991, where Mohammad Azharuddin and Mark Waugh feature?
Didn’t one take money to share information with a bookie and the other take money to throw games?
Shane Warne was also guilty of taking money from a bookie yet is your 1994 winner. He is also a convicted drug cheat.
1993 was the year of Wasim Akram.
Justice Qayyum has acknowledged that if Wasim wasn’t such a favourite of his, he would have been more accurate about Akram’s naughty activities.
Here’s an extract from his initial report:
“This commission feels that all is not well here and that Wasim Akram is not above board. He has not co-operated with this Commission. It is only by giving Wasim Akram the benefit of the doubt after Ata-ur-Rehman changed his testimony in suspicious circumstances that he has not been found guilty of match-fixing. He cannot be said to be above suspicion.”
Marlon Samuels appears on your list in 2013. He is guilty of taking money to change the course of a game.
Most of these are criminal acts Lawrence.
They are crimes against the game of cricket.
It can be argued that Wisden is endorsing these acts by allowing these men to keep the cricketer of the year award.
So, the question now is should Wisden assertively represent all that is good and pure in the game and make a stand?
Yes, there will be outrage if Waugh, Warne and Wasim lost their badges of honour. They are all media personalities and “good blokes”.
Skilful cricketers all.
However, surely the Wisden Cricketer of the Year award represents more than just a guy who can swing it or a bloke who clips the ball off his pads like no one ever has?
The criteria for winning your award talks about the influence that the player had on the English season prior.
It is assumed that influence will be positive.
But what if it was negative?
It can be argued that through their actions, all of these guys had a negative influence.
A truly horrible influence.
For they have sullied the legacy of the matches played. They have disrespected their competitors and the game.
They have helped create an era where perhaps we should be placing a little asterisk next to some player’s records or particular match scorecards.
Now is your time to be brave Mr Booth.
Make a stand for cricketing good. Represent what the majority of cricket fans crave.
You have done it before.
Awards don’t have to be permanent.
For example, The BCCI once took Indian legend Kapil Dev’s records away because he commercially aligned himself with a competitor.
Pete Rose is unlikely to be ever voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame due to a gambling addiction.
How many Olympic athletes have had to return medals after being convicted of drug cheating?
It happens all the time.
Sports consistently choose to disassociate themselves with bad eggs.
Lawrence, do your part to help keep cricket clean and pure, because at the moment, Wisden’s honour board has some very ugly stains on it.
Purveyer of all that is clean and good in cricket