Our annual Lord Megachief of Gold award is the highest honour in cricket. The title is recognition of performance over the previous calendar year. Here are all the winners.
Up until now we’ve always recognised players for their batting or their bowling or both. This year, something else has swayed us.
This is a bit tough on Babar Azam, who couldn’t have done a great deal more. Four Test hundreds and an average of 69.64; three ODI hundreds and an average of 84.87; and a T20 hundred too.
But Babar was also the losing captain in a T20 World Cup final and for a three-Test series at home against England.
Lord Megachief of Gold
Ben Stokes then. A man who can bat, bowl and take 82 per cent amazing catches, but who has achieved the highest honour in cricket this year for precisely none of those things. He is instead being named Lord Megachief of Gold for captaincy, or rather for taking a sad, dead bird’s carcass and restoring it to life with a couple of bonus superpowers for good measure.
We may as well recap the playing contributions first though. There was a hundred in the Caribbean and then a 173-run partnership with Ben Foakes against South Africa that turned 147-5 into an innings victory when England were one Test down.
While there was nothing too remarkable with the ball, he did keep his Test averages the right way round across the calendar year – 870 runs at 36.25 versus 26 wickets at 31.19.
Oh and he was also the top scorer in a T20 World Cup final. If we’re saying he only had an okay year, it was the very top end of only okay.
And now to the other stuff.
An awful lot has been written about exactly what England have done since Ben Stokes became captain. But you actually can’t really gauge that properly without first revisiting what the team had become leading up to his tenure.
This year’s achievements are one thing. What’s more remarkable is that they didn’t arise from a baseline of competence. England have leapfrogged adequacy, hopping from deathly underperformance straight to rewriting what may or not be possible. Even if we discover more of this side’s limits and frailties in the coming year – and we surely will – that transformation did happen. It’s not really about the team’s ‘feats’. It’s about wresting the team from awfulness and instantly flinging them at least some distance in the opposite direction.
We spent the first half of 2022 angry with the England Test team and the second half amazed with it. Angry to amazed with just a change of captain (and coach).
So before we get to Stokes’ 10 Tests in charge (nine wins), let’s first look at the previous 10 (one win).
Right-arm fast-medium and batting collapses
The pre-Stokes captaincy period we’re looking at here comprises a win and then a loss against India, four defeats and a draw in the Ashes, and then two draws and a defeat in the West Indies.
Those are the basic results, but let’s recall how they came about as well. The two main themes were batting collapses and wilfully samey and unexciting bowling attacks.
The second Test of this period, a 157-run loss to India at the Oval, was a fine example. With the ball, England went with James Anderson, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes and Craig Overton – all right-arm fast-medium seamers – plus Moeen Ali. With the bat, they fell to 62-5 in their first innings.
The next Test was the first of the Ashes and to mark the occasion they went two runs better, collapsing to 60-5 on day one. They then went into the second Test with no fewer than five right-arm fast-medium bowlers and no spinner. They managed a whopping 85 runs before the fall of the fifth wicket in their second innings, which started to feel like a high water mark when they were bowled out for 68 in the third Test.
By this point, England looked burned-out, mediocre and sick of cricket, yet somehow they saved the fourth Test, even after being 36-4. They also picked a spinner – which wasn’t the case for the fifth Test. They were 85-5 in the first innings of that one and all out for 124 in the second.
And then it was on to the West Indies, where any tiny shreds of joy and goodwill were incinerated with the dropping of James Anderson and Stuart Broad in a myopic bid to engineer something that looked like a fresh start. Draws in the first two Tests were followed by a match in which they fell to 67-7 in the first innings and 97-7 in the second.
That’s where they were when Ben Stokes was named Test captain.
The Stokes era
England won their next four Tests. And how.
Having been just about the collapsiest team in Test history, they chased over 250 four times in a row while scoring at about five runs an over. Jonny Bairstow’s innings against New Zealand at Trent Bridge in particular was a truly incredible thing.
While these feats could partly be ascribed to a slightly duff batch of balls, it was pretty obvious that the team was also now being run in a very different way.
Anderson and Broad were not just back but embiggened. Jack Leach was given a full-time job too instead of the shaky zero hours contract he had been on. Leach wouldn’t be omitted from the team again all year – a vote of confidence in him but also in spin bowling more generally. Stokes would show similar faith in Rehan Ahmed later in the year, even going so far as to bat him at three when he felt the wind was at the teenager’s back.
It’s unkind to do a Captain Stokes v Captain Root head-to-head, but things were unarguably cheerier too. Players felt wanted, supported and secure. Stokes didn’t just say he thought a player was great before leaving them out of the next game. For the most part he tended to stick with them.
He also demonstrated that he would support positive batting in the face of any mistakes by going completely overboard and making boatloads of batting mistakes himself. His often irresponsible approach was leadership by example. He knew that no-one was going to deliberately copy his errors. It was a self-sacrificial attempt to raise the ceiling of what was permissible under his captaincy. He figured that even if the change in mentality brought a few more misguided slogs, it would eradicate a greater number of equally suicidal uncertain prods. As that Bairstow innings and 500 in a day proved, more can be achieved by batting with freedom and conviction than by second-guessing yourself and trying to avoid doing the wrong thing.
Stokes’ one defeat as captain came in the first Test against South Africa. However, his team responded with an innings victory and then a nine wicket win before positively rollocking their way through three Tests in Pakistan. They won them all, despite not having played Test cricket there since Rehan Ahmed was in nappies.
This year may or may not see the same success, but that’s not really the point. The point is this: Immediately before Ben Stokes became captain, following the England Test team was incredibly unfun. Since he became captain – regardless of results – it has been incredibly fun.
Congratulations, Ben Stokes, you are 2022’s Lord Megachief of Gold.
Lord Megachiefs of Gold
- 2007: Shivnarine Chanderpaul
- 2008: Shivnarine Chanderpaul
- 2009: MS Dhoni
- 2010: Dale Steyn
- 2011: Ian Bell
- 2012: Michael Clarke
- 2013: Dale Steyn
- 2014: Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews
- 2015: Kane Williamson
- 2016: R Ashwin
- 2017: James Anderson
- 2018: Jason Holder
- 2019: Neil Wagner
- 2020: Postponed
- 2020/21: Kane Williamson