Prizes go to Michael Holding for showing why Black Lives Matter and the BBC for bringing cricket back to the masses
At first, after the unbeatable thrills of 2019, the men’s international cricket season of 2020 looked like being an anticlimax. Then, as one nation after another locked down, it looked like not happening at all. Next, it looked like happening after a fashion but being too weird to cast a spell. And finally, it happened, without a hitch, and with many a magic moment. Now was our Easter of discontent made glorious summer.
After four months of nothing at all, we had 10 weeks of escapism without leaving the sofa. Now, at the end of term, it’s time for prize-giving.
Player of the Year
Babar Azam was a delight, Jermaine Blackwood a matchwinner, Glenn Maxwell a man reborn and Adam Zampa a revelation, not least for his mullet. But the winner has to be an England player, if only because they were in action throughout. When the Times asked its writers to choose one, they went for Chris Woakes (three votes) or Jos Buttler (two). No one picked Stuart Broad, who may be forced to express his feelings about this in a candid interview. Broad was England’s leading wicket-taker in all formats with 29, even though he appeared only in the Tests, and he famously missed the first one. Once recalled, Broad maintained the lethal fuller length that had done for David Warner in 2019, and even managed to resuscitate his batting. He can be maddening but he’s still an immense competitor.
Partnership of the Year
So many contenders. Zak Crawley and Buttler’s 359 against Pakistan was monumental, but inconsequential. Alex Carey and Maxwell’s 212 for Australia gave the one-day series a superb twist and handed England a dose of their own medicine. Andy Balbirnie and Paul Stirling had blazed a trail for them, adding 214 to propel Ireland to their first victory on English soil. But best of all, because it came in the fourth innings of a Test, was the stand of 139 between Woakes and Buttler that turned near-certain defeat into a series win over Pakistan.
Find of the Year
With his princely 267 against Pakistan, Crawley became England’s youngest double-centurion since David Gower. A dedicated self-improver, he will be aware that big runs are not quite the same as significant ones. The 267 led to a draw, as huge scores often do; his next-best effort, 76 against West Indies, came in defeat. He averages 107 when England draw, only 24 when they win. But his fluency is what you need after watching Dom Sibley.
Frustration of the Year
England’s habit of disregarding form. Facing Ireland, Jason Roy made 24, 0 and 1. Returning to Surrey, he made 4 and 14. In training with England, he picked up a side strain and missed the Twenty20 series against Pakistan, giving Tom Banton a chance. And yet Roy was still rushed back for the ODIs against Australia, even though they had picked the very Test attack that had silenced him in 2019. He duly handed in a near-photocopy of his performances against Ireland (3, 21, 0). When he eventually found the middle of the bat, it was for Surrey’s T20 team, too late for England. If they had retained Banton or Dawid Malan, their fastest scorer of the summer with a strike rate of 133, England would surely have won the ODI series.
Statement of the Year
Michael Holding, showing the largely conservative cricket lovers of England why Black Lives Matter. Credit to Sky for spotlighting the subject at the start of a Test series, and to Ebony Rainford-Brent for playing her part – but especially to Holding, a giant of the game reduced to tears as he told of the racism his parents had to put up with.
Ploy of the Year
For Eoin Morgan, often bereft of star players because of the bubble arrangements and Ben Stokes’ father’s illness, it was a fitful summer that ended with six wins and five defeats. But it would have been worse had he not been there. As Australia were romping towards a series win in the second ODI, Morgan reacted like a cornered grandmaster. He bowled out his spearheads, Woakes and Jofra Archer, in the middle overs, and entrusted five of the last 10 to Sam Curran, who had taken two wickets in ODIs – whereupon he took two more in his first three balls. Curran’s confidence, never exactly low, soared so high that six days later, playing for Chennai Super Kings in Dubai, he went in to bat with 29 needed off 17 balls and settled the matter by walloping 18 off six.
Match-up of the Year
England and Australia. Last year it was 1-1 in ODIs (both in the World Cup) and 2-2 in Tests, the first Ashes series to be drawn in 47 years. This year the T20 series finished 2-1 to England and the ODIs 2-1 to Australia, so it was 3-3 all told. Whatever the format, these two nations are currently inseparable, as long as England have home advantage – with or without the silence of the fans.
Comeback of the Year
BBC TV, returning to international cricket after a 21-year gap. First came the highlights, sometimes a touch too frantic, but sparky and welcoming, with the right presenter in Isa Guha. Then came live coverage of selected white-ball games. Instantly, England’s home audience tripled, from around 800,000 to 2.5m. Among those extra viewers, there will have been countless children getting a first taste of live cricket. In 10 years, some of them will be playing for England, and the national team should be a lot more representative. It remains to be seen whether the poor old Beeb is still with us.
Landmark of the Year
Only two contenders – Jimmy Anderson and Broad, the most durable fast bowlers in England’s history. Broad took his 500th Test wicket, not bad for someone who was an opening batsman at school. But then he was pipped as Anderson, bouncing back from a bad patch, took his 600th. There’s just one niggling doubt. Can he do it on a blazing Friday in Brisbane? His bowling average in Tests there is 75.
Unsung Heroes of the Year
There’s a strong case for the unnamed official who was in charge of all the hand sanitiser – let’s hope he or she is not among the 62 England and Wales Cricket Board employees now facing redundancy. But the joint winners are the two groundsmen who between them prepared every one of this season’s international pitches – Matt Merchant at Old Trafford and Simon Lee at the Rose Bowl. Merchant became the first groundsman in this country ever to have to cope with three successive Tests (all of which England won). Lee laid on nine internationals in as many weeks in his first summer since moving to Hampshire from Somerset. Both kept serving up something for everyone – spinners and seamers as well as batsmen.