Wisden and its annual awards have been around since Younis Khan was born.
Given we think that was circa 1890, they have therefore existed for a very long time.
Over the years, the awards have ebbed and flowed in regards to what they represent and who is eligible.
Very much like the English cricket side itself.
The majority of the content found within Wisden doesn’t actually excite me all that much.
In fact, I’ve never read one.
Long essays on some County team’s rise surprisingly do not get my juices flowing.
I assume a peruse through a Wisden journal would be akin to spending fifty dollars each year to read about Tasmania’s reserve wicketkeeper or a Stuart Binny 4-fer that happened nine months ago when Maharashtra last played Tamil Nadu.
Because isn’t that is what Wisden is supposed to be? A capture of the English domestic season with the odd foray into international cricketing affairs?
Despite this, Wisden awards historically have carried weight.
Probably because there is not a flood of cricketing awards out there.
The ICC have their team of the year. The player of the year is voted on by the public, so it will always be an Indian. Australia have the Allan Border medal. No one can ever remember who won the last one.
But being a Wisden Cricketer Of The Year used to represent nobility and achievement and all that is good and quaint in the sport.
Traditionally to win one of these, one must meet the criteria of having a rather large impact on the preceding summer “in England”.
Not in Australia, or South Africa or India.
You didn’t necessarily need to be English. You just had to have done something useful on English shores.
Bad luck if you have won it before though. That makes you ineligible.
One time, an alleged match fixer won the award but had his name withheld. All other match fixers who have won it remain title holders.
It is not a great look for a publication that is publicly so strong against administrative abuses of power and unethical challenges to the sport, yet chooses to keep cheats on the honour roll.
It’s all a little inconsistent and flawed.
However, that is also part of the charm.
But this year it appears that the criteria of having an impact on the previous English summer while in England has been thrown out the door like Harsha Bhogle’s IPL commentary career.
Exhibit A: Ben Stokes.
He adorns the front page.
But what did he achieve in England last year?
Not much to be honest.
He made one First Class century and averaged over 42 with the ball.
Before you chuck his amazing Test double century at me from Cape Town, let me remind you that South Africa is not in England.
Feel free to insert your own Kevin Pietersen joke here if you wish. Now is an appropriate time.
So what are Wisden doing?
Well, one way to interpret it is that their eligibility criteria is weakening the award.
Given you cannot win it twice, half of the current English squad is ruled out including Broad, Cook, Moeen, Morgan, Root, Compton and Anderson.
When the most recent Ashes tour had virtually no Australians stand up apart from Chris Rogers (who is ineligible as he has already won it) and Smith, that then leaves you with a Two Test series against New Zealand, some meaningless white ball games, the County season or even the T20 Blast should you so desire.
And where are the bowlers?
Chris Rushworth took 83 First Class poles last year in County Division 1. Not quite a hundred though is it? It is probably why Ben Stokes was chosen above him.
Have Wisden given up on County cricket performances in order to artificially prop up the gravitas of its award?
“Who won your award?”
“Actually, I mean Brendan McCullum and Steve Smith”
And what happens this summer.
With Stokes and Bairstow now ineligible, and with James Taylor retired, what Englishmen are left to win the thing?
Ballance? Nup. He’s already won it.
What about a random silly name like Lyth? Nup. He’s got one as well.
Essentially, the only blokes who played in England’s last Test team left who are eligible are Hales and Woakes.
If either of them play all home Tests this summer, I guarantee they will be a 2016 Wisden Cricketer Of The Year.
Bookmakers should be all over this thing.
And therein lies the issue with the award.
The 2016 Wisden Cricketers Of The Year needs renaming.
It should become “The Wisden Last Men Standing Who Probably Played One Decent Innings Through The Summer. Stuff it. If You Made An 80, That Will Do.”
And don’t get me started on the Wisden Photo Of The Year.
This time around, it was a bloke holding a broken bat in the Big Bash.
Not English. Not in England. Not traditional red ball cricket. Not even an important moment in that day’s play.
Apparently, there were no decent pictures of Afghanistan beating the West Indies, nothing happened during The Ashes, nor the World Cup, nor any of the other bilateral series in the past 12 months anywhere in the world. The first women’s professional T20 tournament didn’t start and Srinivasan never left his post. Richie Benaud didn’t leave us and the pink ball Test was all just a bad dream.
Wisden have basically ruled that there were no decent photos of any of these momentous cricketing events.
But there was one of a broken bat. So that will have to do.
Because broken bats represent how the Wisden awards should be currently perceived.
A slightly edited version appeared originally at First Post