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.
We don’t want to start all downbeat, but sometimes an exercise brings a particular situation into sharper focus. We all know that a lot of nations have been scheduling shorter Test series and we all know last year was a World Cup year, but by the well-masticated gum of Richards, a lot of excellent cricketers didn’t get to play many Test matches last year.
Just as a rough measure, let’s look back on previous 50-over World Cup years. In 2015, eight nations played eight Tests or more. In 2019, only six played so many. In 2023? Well you can probably guess that it was only the trio we may as well brand The Predictable Three who played that many five-day games.
New Zealand were the only other nation to manage more than half a dozen, while South Africa only played the same number as Ireland (four).
Winds of change? It’s more of a squall. But as Captain Ahab says in Moby Dick, you shouldn’t steer away from such things. You must always kill a squall – “fire your ship right into it!”
“The wind increased to a howl; the waves dashed their bucklers together; the whole squall roared, forked, and crackled around us like a white fire on a prairie, in which, unconsumed, we were burning; immortal in these jaws of death!”Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Not sure that sounds appealing. Captain Ahab was a mental case, of course.
Lord Megachief of Gold isn’t purely a Test award, but… it mostly is.
Usman Khawaja was the top run-scorer last year and averaged over 50. In large part due to the volume of cricket played, he, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Bangladesh’s Najmul Hossain Shanto were the only batters to hit more than two hundreds.
2020/21 Lord Megachief of Gold, Williamson, topped the hundreds list with four, but three of those were at home and he somewhat bizarrely failed to supplement these knocks with even a single fifty.
Joe Root went the opposite way, averaging 65.58 from 14 innings despite only hitting two tons. What an incredibly on-brand year from England’s former captain. He was close though. Another hundred or a stronger World Cup and he might have got it.
Moving to the bowlers, Nathan Lyon was top wicket-taker with 47 at the very-good-but-not-outstanding average of 24.95.
The next highest wicket-taker, Pat Cummins, will have his advocates too, his case strengthened by captaincy and a mighty fine knock with the bat. But an average of 27.50 perhaps betrays his workload and the World Cup and Test Championship wins are offset by a series defeat in India and a drawn Ashes series in England.
One bowler we were tempted by was Ravindra Jadeja, 33 wickets at 19.39 and 281 runs at 35.12. Throw in 16 wickets at 24.87 and barely four runs an over at the World Cup and what a supremely handy cricketer to have at your disposal – a utility player deluxe.
But no. We’re going with the other fella again.
Lord Megachief of Gold 2023 – R Ashwin
It is one of the tragedies of our time that India are so strong that they can put out a team without R Ashwin when conditions aren’t obviously favourable to him. Is there any bowler you’d sooner see trying to work things out and find a way? We put it to you that there is not.
It is a measure of Ashwin’s quality that he still occasionally forces them to give him a shot. A single underwhelming Boxing Day Test in South Africa (in which he was the most economical bowler) was his reward for being their finest bowler the whole of the rest of the year. 41 wickets at 17.02.
In many ways the current genius of Ashwin is his ability to meet lofty expectations. We said as much when he was Lord Megachief of Gold for 2016 and it’s even more obvious now.
For the last 10 years, touring Test teams have arrived in India knowing they need to combat R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on pitches that will more than likely turn a bit. And nobody has worked it out. As we put in February, when Australia were routed, facing Ashwin and Jadeja on pitches that will more than likely turn a bit is essentially unworkoutable.
In the first Test of that series, Ashwin took 8-79 either side of India making 400. In the fourth Test he took 6-91 on a pitch where Australia made 480, just before India made 571.
But his best performance was, unusually, away.
Some pundits talk about a Test series in the West Indies as an easy one to win. It isn’t. England have achieved the feat precisely once in the last 50 years, in 2004.
India won their three-match series 1-0 and R Ashwin took 12 wickets in the match they won.
He took 5-60 to bowl the Windies out for 150 in the first innings. These numbers conjure an impression of a minefield, except India then put on 229 without losing a wicket. The pitch was in fact sufficiently unresponsive that nine West Indian bowlers together garnered just five wickets before being asked to bat again, at which point Ashwin bowled them out for 130 with 7-71.
Congratulations, R Ashwin, you are 2023’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
- 2022: Ben Stokes