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.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
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.
From a personal perspective, one of the great tragedies of modern Test cricket is that we don’t draw the curtains, switch off our phone and scrutinise each and every delivery bowled by James Anderson. He has been so brilliant for so long that what he does has become no more remarkable to us than the fact that human life exists.
Even the most extraordinary things can eventually become wallpaper.
You’re probably thinking ‘what about Steve Smith?’ because it’s all anyone’s been banging on about for the last few weeks. Honestly, why don’t you all just agree to live in a gargantuan harem and marry him?
Let’s put Steve Smith in context.
With 1,305 Test runs at 76.76 and six hundreds, he’d probably make the podium. However, the batsmen named Lord Megachief of Gold typically do better than that.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul averaged over 100 in Tests in both 2007 and 2008; MS Dhoni averaged 92.25 in 2009, plus he kept wicket and won a billion one-day games; Ian Bell averaged 118.75 in 2011; Michael Clark averaged 106.33 in 2012; Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews averaged in the 70s in 2014, but did so in such freakish and contrasting ways that each had a unique case; and Kane Williamson averaged 90 in 2015.
Even this year, Virat Kohli’s averaged 75.64 and he’s done so scoring 50 per cent quicker than Smith.
Smith’s is a lofty sustained brilliance defined by the fact that this year isn’t even ‘all that’ by his unique standards.
Also, it’s our website and we’ll pick who we want.
There are perhaps two other bowlers who also warrant a quick mention. Kagiso Rabada took 57 Test wickets at 20.28, but we’d argue it’s Nathan Lyon who’d push Smith down to the third step on the podium. 63 wickets at 23.55, largely playing against India or on flat pitches is a half decent effort by anyone’s standards.
Jimmy’s taken 55 Test wickets at 17.58 – and this despite playing his winter matches in a team that’s been getting royally battered.
There will again be the argument that many of these wickets were taken on green, seaming English pitches. Guess we’ll have to counter this again.
Imagine a hypothetical scenario where a player won half the Tests he played for his team but contributed nothing in the other half. A player who single-handedly gave his team victories in 50 per cent of its matches would be a name for the ages.
But it’s hardly like Anderson hasn’t been contributing Down Under. He’s basically been waging a one-man war. Well set batsmen annihilate bowling averages and the 16 wickets he’s taken at 26.06 would surely have come cheaper had the strongest support not come from Craig Overton (six wickets at 37.66).
Context, context, context, averages, averages, averages. We’ll be through all this in a second, we promise. We just want to frame the ‘English bowler takes wickets on green, seaming English pitches’ argument a bit better.
These were the returns of England’s other seamers in 2017:
Those are his team-mates, bowling in the same matches. Anderson’s basically been twice as effective as Stuart Broad, while Toby Roland-Jones might want to try and sustain that level of performance for more than four matches before getting too pleased with himself.
At the age of 35, we consider James Anderson to be the benchmark for swing bowling in a very real sense. If he doesn’t take wickets, we very rarely even consider the possibility that he could have bowled better. We tend to conclude that he achieved all that could be achieved by a swing bowler in those conditions and so instead look to his team-mates in our bid to pinpoint the team’s shortcomings.
Like R Ashwin last year, Anderson’s greatest achievement is in meeting and occasionally even exceeding expectations that are really quite unreasonable. There will be young England fans who have never really heard a commentator say about their team that it ‘failed to make the most of good conditions for swing bowling’.
Plonk Anderson in a low-scoring game on a September pitch and he’ll take 7-42. Gift him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bowl with a new pink ball under lights in Australia and he’ll actually make use of it.
The whippersnappers among you will have to trust us on this: failing to make the most of good conditions for swing bowling really is a thing. It will happen again – almost as soon as James Anderson retires.
A nod for Ben Stokes’ relentless Test excellence (904 runs at 45.2 and 33 wickets at 25.81); a second nod for Virat Kohli’s performance across all formats, which included 1,215 Test runs at 75.93; and a third nod for the homicidal capybara Rangana Herath, who took 57 wickets at 18.92.
However, this year’s Lord Megachief of Gold is R Ashwin, a man who can’t so much as look at a cricket ball without winning a Test match for India.
R Ashwin took 72 Test wickets at 23.9 in 2016 and also scored 612 runs at 43.71 during his downtime, which he mostly likes to spend with a bat in his hand. He is a strike bowler who does the donkey work who also bats well enough that his side can field an extra bowler. If his captain is higher profile, it is Ashwin who India would miss most.
To repeat a point we made a few weeks ago, pit a team of 11 Ashwins against one comprising 11 of any other individual player and the Ashwin XI would surely come out on top after the two teams had come up against each other home and away.
We’ll come to the bowling in a second, because that’s the heart of the matter, but before we do that it’s worth closing this section by pointing out that only three Indian batsmen scored more runs than him in 2016.
R Ashwin is not a mystery spinner. Mystery spin – in the form of the carrom ball – is just something he resorts to when necessary, or when he thinks the pitch suits that particular delivery. Once upon a time, mystery spin was something to aspire to, but Ashwin has transcended it. It is something he is occasionally reduced to.
Mystery spin is Plan B because Plan A generally works pretty well. Against England, Ashwin took 28 wickets, including three five-fors and that was far and away his least successful series of the year. In the West Indies, he took 17 wickets at 23.17 (while averaging 58.75 with the bat) and against New Zealand, he took 27 wickets in three Tests at an average of 17.77.
In all honesty, 2015 was probably more impressive in terms of his returns with the ball, but that is arguably what’s so admirable. This has been a continuation; a meeting of already lofty expectations.
Ashwin took no wickets in the first 2016 Test innings in which he bowled (against the West Indies). In the second innings, he took 7-83 and India won the match. Even when he seemingly lets India down – such as when they drew the next Test – you see that he still took 5-52 in the first innings.
Like a badly-trained dog, he has never been down for long. A slow start in the first Test against England was followed by 5-67 in the first innings of the second. As a UK website, we focused on the England batsmen’s response to pressure, but that pressure didn’t come out of thin air. It fizzed down, out of R Ashwin’s right hand.
The series against New Zealand was pretty much relentless wicket-taking.
As he skips around the outfield like a primitive robot inexplicably constructed out of wet concrete, you remember that R Ashwin isn’t actually flawless. Far from it. He is a trier. He is a ponderous and pondering man who has methodically hewn himself into the most influential cricketer around.
He is the nerdiest nerd who delivers the least fashionable style of bowling. He approaches the crease as if both his arms have been stuck on inside-out, indulges in a brief prance and then delivers the ball without the least bit of ceremony.
And it works.
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 previous winners.
Last year, the Lord Megachief of Gold award was split with both Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews honoured. This year, one man is out there on his own.
Destination: who knows? But the journey will take a while and it’ll feature many, many runs.
A number of players have made 200-300 Test runs more than Kane Williamson in 2015. All of them have played at least 50 per cent more matches. He averaged 90.15 for the year.
New Zealand only get short tours – batsmen don’t get long to acclimatise – but yet in every series he played, he made a hundred. Against England, at Lord’s, he made 132. Against Australia he made 140 at Brisbane and 166 at Perth. The year was also bookended by contrasting hundreds at home against Sri Lanka.
In Wellington, back in January, he made light of a 135-run first innings deficit and made 242 not out in the second innings. He trumped Kumar Sangakkara’s 203 and New Zealand won. It would have been a passing-of-the-baton moment if cricket had a baton to signify its finest batsman – which it doesn’t. It has a mace for best Test team though. Against that backdrop it doesn’t seem all that ludicrous to introduce a Baton of Blinding Batsmanship.
More recently, Williamson made a hundred in a fourth innings run-chase. You don’t get many of those. He alone contributed what you could realistically have expected the entire team to muster in those circumstances. New Zealand won.
In that mammoth double hundred in Wellington, Williamson made just 72 in boundaries. That’s not the way big innings are built in this day and age. When there’s a high score in New Zealand, it’s often at a small ground. There was no inflation here though. He faced 438 balls and just 18 of them went to the fence.
In contrast, when he made 140 in Brisbane, 96 runs came in boundaries. It’s almost like he was a different batsman, which in many ways sums up his brilliance.
Oh, by the way, Williamson was also the second-highest scorer in one-day internationals and during the World Cup, he demonstrated how to hit a six.
We hereby move that henceforth, whenever Williamson comes in to bat, all commentators must intone the words: “New Zealand are about to administer the Kane.”
We’re never sure why people are so averse to comparing apples and oranges. They’re both fruit, after all. It’s not like comparing ox heart and communism. Like apples and oranges, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews are quite different, but also have rather a lot in common.
There were plenty of other contenders this year. Kumar Sangakkara couldn’t stop scoring runs and Steve Smith developed a real taste for the Indian bowling, while last year’s Lord Megachief of Gold, Dale Steyn, has become so relentlessly brilliant that people don’t even bat an eyelid when he takes 39 Test wickets at 19.56.
However, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews have been the players who have stood out for us. We have spent the last week or so trying to choose, but their cases are so different that it has been like comparing crisps with ennui. In the end, we decided that as captains of lower profile Test nations who have led by freakish example, they both have an equal claim to the title, even if they have reached this point via entirely different routes.
We’ll start with McCullum because his case is more obvious. Until recently, he has always been far better in one-dayers than Tests, but in 2014, he averaged 20.33 in one-dayers and 72.75 in Tests. But even that doesn’t really give the full story because between the middle of February and the end of November, he didn’t get past 50 in the longest format.
Truth be told, McCullum didn’t register a single Test fifty all year. He was only an ounce of extra heft away from not having made a score between 100 and 200 either. His 134-ball 195 against Sri Lanka on Boxing Day seemed an almost childishly needless means of pointing out to everyone that he could also score normal hundreds as well as doubles and triples.
New Zealand won that match – their last of the year – just as they’d won against India in their first match of the year when McCullum had made 224. One match later, he made 302 after his side had surrendered a 246-run first innings lead to earn an unlikely draw. You can’t say he doesn’t influence matches and nor can you say that he doesn’t make the most of good form.
McCullum’s crowning achievement came in November, however. Australia had just demonstrated how hard it is to even compete against Pakistan in the UAE, let alone win, and the ‘home’ team had at first carried on in much the same vein against New Zealand. But a Kiwi side hewn in McCullum’s stumpy-but-still-up-for-a-fight image was having none of it. They drew the second Test and then minced Pakistan in the third.
Mark Craig was man of the match, but McCullum made 202 off 188 balls. It’s hard to respond to something like that and Pakistan couldn’t.
Angelo Mathews has been harder to spot. Not for him the double hundreds. In fact, even the single hundreds feel like aberrations. Mathews’ year has been almost the exact opposite of McCullum’s. He seems to have made 50 almost every time he has gone out to bat.
Only once in 20 Test innings was he dismissed for a single-figure score and despite only two hundreds, he averaged 77.33. If this is starting to sound like a celebration of mediocrity, factor in his one-day knocks and you start to get a feel for the scale of his achievement. Over 31 50-over innings, he averaged 62.20 and even when his team was rubbish, he was good. In five sad defeats to India, he delivered 92 not out after arriving with the score reading 64-3, 75 after arriving at 42-3 and 139 not out after arriving at 73-3.
Quite simply, he never lets his side down. At times in the past, he’s seemed a trifle bits and pieces. But nowadays his bits of bowling arrive alongside some magnificent pieces of batting.
His all-round performance at Headingley must rank somewhere reasonably high in some list or other of good cricket things. We’re not going to define that list or choose the ranking because that could only elicit nit-picking which is surely besides the point.
Mathews had taken 4-44 in England’s first innings when he walked out to bat. His side were 68 ahead with four wickets down and had just expended an extraordinary amount of energy in securing a nine-wickets-down draw in the first Test (a match in which he had made 102). Pretty soon, Sri Lanka were seven down and just 169 ahead. Surely the reservoirs of self-belief were running dry?
At the time, we wrote about how batting with the tail is an amorphous puzzle where your goal oscillates between singles and boundaries with the field waxing and waning constantly. In short, it’s mentally exhausting, yet Angelo Mathews took his side from 277-7 to 437-9.
Even then, he wasn’t done. England fought back through Moeen Ali. When you’ve poured so much into a game and it seems it’s still not enough, you can crumple or you can redouble your efforts. Quite how you accomplish the latter is beyond us, but that is presumably what Mathews managed in captaining Sri Lanka to their first proper series victory in England.
Between them, they’ve got it all covered. Take a bow, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews – the sides you captain are better for your presence. You are 2014’s Conjoined Lord Megachiefs of Gold.
Same as 2010. In fact, it’s probably worth reading that article again because much of it still applies. We don’t try and overthink the Lord Megachief of Gold award. We don’t get too fancy with it. It was business as usual for Dale Steyn in 2013 and business brought him 51 Test wickets at 17.66.
When you’ve racked up 525-8, as South Africa did against New Zealand back in January of last year, you brace yourself for a long, tough stint in the field. Only in your wildest dreams do you imagine that your opening bowler will take 5-17 in that sort of scenario.
For most bowlers, that would be the standout performance of the year – perhaps even in their entire career. However, as we know, Dale Steyn ain’t most bowlers. He’s a vicious threshing machine into which helpless Test batsmen are fed. He spits out husks. Against Pakistan in February, he conceded eight runs and spat out six husks.
It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, or where: 6-8 is just stupid.
What really swayed it for us, however, was Steyn’s performance against India towards the end of the year. That highlighted the quality that separates him from those who are merely pretenders. Dale Steyn is simply unremitting. It’s tempting to list synonyms to drive this point home, but you’re smart people – you can read that one word and appreciate how much we mean it.
Even good bowlers can find themselves cowed from time to time. It might not be the opposition that cause this to happen – it might just be conditions – but at some point or other, pretty much every bowler finds themself ever so slightly disheartened. It’s entirely natural. It’s entirely logical. It would be freakish and delusional to feel any different.
In the first Test between South Africa and India, Dale Steyn took 1-61 and 0-104. In the second Test, India reached 198-1 and Steyn had conceded 62 runs without taking a wicket.
Did he relent? Did he bollocks.
His next 10 deliveries saw the departure of Cheteshwar Pujara for 70, Murali Vijay for 97 and Rohit Sharma first ball. Match and series suddenly veered down an unmarked side road. Then, at 316-5, he was at it again, dismissing MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma within the space of eight deliveries.
Steyn finished that innings with 6-100 and this is why he’ll finish his career with a better average than Vernon Philander. Even when going for runs and with nothing to show for it, he was still hell-bent on dismissing batsmen. That, after all, is what Test cricket is all about.
Congratulations, Dale Steyn. You are 2013’s Lord Megachief of Gold.
We know. Sickening, isn’t it?
If you don’t already know, Lord Megachief of Gold is the highest award in cricket. Each year, we name someone winner based on some stuff. After weighing up said stuff, it turned out Michael Clarke was the winner. We were less than impressed by this, but the more we thought about it, the more we decided it wasn’t quite as bad as having both legs blown off by a landmine.
Let’s start with some boring statistics, the value of which we can all pointlessly argue about in the comments. In 2012, Michael Clarke scored 1,595 Test runs at an average of 106.33 with five hundreds.
He scored the majority of these runs in Australia and a large proportion in a few huge innings, but Clarke’s job is to score lots of runs and in 2012, he scored lots of runs.
Against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground, he arrived at the crease with the score reading 37-3 and proceeded to score 329 not out. Against the same opposition in Adelaide, he arrived at 84-3 and scored 210. India were thrashed by Australia in that series, but that doesn’t devalue Clarke’s achievements. He was contributing to that thrashing more than anyone.
On tour in the West Indies, he only managed one fifty in what was a fairly low-scoring series, but he did take 5-86 in Dominica.
Against South Africa, he scored 259 not out after arriving at 40-3 and then made 230 in his very next innings after arriving at 55-3. He then finished the year with another hundred against Sri Lanka, although 117-3 was positive luxury compared to what he’d been used to.
This is a tale of making huge hundreds when the top three have been crap.
Michael Clarke was once named ‘cricketer most likely to make people wince and who they would also like to slap and then push away’ three years in a row. That is a FACT. (That is not a fact.)
Then, just before he was named Australia captain, a load of surveys were carried out to find out how Australians felt about this development. The aim wasn’t to find out whether he was a popular choice or not; it was to establish just how much people hated him. The answer was ‘a lot’.
Yet look at him now – some people actually quite like him and he is generally considered to be a pretty damn fine captain. We won’t claim to know how good his captaincy really is, but we do consider him an interesting captain and that’s probably more important to us.
In Bridgetown, he declared with a first innings deficit. Australia were nine down, so that wasn’t really amazingly bold, but it was interesting. He didn’t try and eke out 20 more runs via his tail-enders. He got on with the game. Australia then beat the Windies and the light in the final session of day five.
Against Sri Lanka, he gave his wicketkeeper an over. The value of this might be questionable, but again, it’s interesting. There’s nowt wrong with a mischievous bowling change. It’s not like he had Matthew Wade bowl eight overs with a ring of defensive fielders. He was just trying something.
In a team short of half-decent batsmen, Michael Clarke batted for several men. In a team which frequently lacked fit fast bowlers and with no real spinner to speak of, he engineered Test wins as captain. He also seemed genuinely enthusiastic about Test cricket and we can’t help but feel a certain degree of warmth to someone like that.
Congratulations, Michael. You are Lord Megachief of Gold 2012.
That’s right – Ian Bell. Weird but true.
11 Test innings, 950 runs, five hundreds, an average of 118.75 and he scored at about four runs an over as well. That’s the kind of year that can sway even someone who once made indifference to Ian Bell an official editorial stance.
And we did need some swaying as well. We never wanted to name an English player Lord Megachief of Gold. We didn’t want such a respectable award to be sullied by allegations of bias. There shouldn’t be any danger of that, considering the above.
For his first couple of innings of 2011, it was easy to overlook Bell. He hit hundreds in both of them, but they were the usual ‘someone else got there first’ hundreds.
The first was at Sydney where England won the Ashes. The second was against Sri Lanka and that series saw some selfless batting from the man. As well as that support act hundred, there was a solo effort in the third Test and some feisty declaration batting sandwiched in between. It’s that flexibility that elevates Bell above Alastair Cook in our eyes. He is now seemingly a batsman for all situations.
Ian Bell had always bleated on about being a number three batsman to anyone within earshot while simultaneously making an extraordinarily compelling case that he was anything but that. Put him in the middle order and he scored runs quite happily, but move him to three and suddenly Tim Munton was his batting role model.
Midway through the second Test against India, he got yet another chance at three after Jonathan Trott knacked his shoulder in the field. England had conceded a first innings deficit of 67 and then lost Alastair Cook in the fourth over of their second innings. Bell hit 159 and England won by 319 runs.
Of course the dopey knobhead undermined his efforts to some degree by getting himself temporarily run-out. India’s noble decision to allow him to bat on overshadows that innings a bit, so Bell needed to do something else.
In his last Test innings of 2011, he hit 235. England won by an innings. From winning the Ashes to becoming the top-ranked Test side, Ian Bell was there throughout. He has played so well that we now actually give a toss whether he’s in the team or not. It’s a staggering transformation.
Congratulations, Ian. You are Lord Megachief of Gold 2011.
It was MS Dhoni in 2009. It’s Dale Steyn in 2010.
Sachin Tendulkar ran him close, hitting seven Test hundreds, but it can’t be a batsman every year. Graeme Swann took more Test wickets, but 44 of them were against Bangladesh and a spattered Pakistan side that barely ever looked like limping to 200.
Dale Steyn, however. Dale Steyn has been an unqualified success. The Test figures (and who cares about any others?) are 60 wickets at 21.41 in 11 matches. Those are statistics from a long gone era, but that’s barely half the story.
So far, in his Test career, Dale Steyn has taken a wicket every 39.7 balls. Shane Bond and Steve Finn are in the same ballpark, but they can only boast of 133 wickets between them. Steyn has taken 232.
He is, quite simply, the most destructive bowler of modern times. In the all-time list, only George Lohmann has taken 100 or more wickets at a faster rate and he played in the 1890s.
Lohmann played on a grand total of nine grounds over the course of his Test career. Dale Steyn played on 11 in 2010.
He went through England at Johannesburg; India at Nagpur; West Indies at Port of Spain; Pakistan at Abu Dhabi; and through India again at Durban. If Dale Steyn played a World XI on the moon, you’d bet on him getting a five-for. Even if there weren’t any fielders.
The Nagpur demolition was the most memorable. We’re brought up to believe that you need great spinners to succeed in India, but after South Africa had made 558-6, Steyn went and took 7-51, unzipping his flies and urinating in the face of conventional wisdom.
No, not really. Dale Steyn is Lord Megachief of Gold 2010 because he makes every Test match he plays in exciting.
When wickets aren’t falling in a Test, the match isn’t progressing. You can score as many runs as you like, but TEST CRICKET IS ABOUT TAKING WICKETS. Steyn drives Test matches. Without him, they’re far less likely to go somewhere.
Plus, he means it. He bloody means it. During the Cape Town Test against England in January, we wrote:
“If you saw Dale Steyn’s celebration when he dismissed Kevin Pietersen on day four, that was quite something; that was a fast bowler on the verge of combustion, so full of adrenaline-fuelled power that he could have towed the continents back into place to reform Pangaea.”
He is hell-bent on taking wickets and it shows. That is watchable in itself. In the same match, he bowled the most spectacular spell to Paul Collingwood with a new ball. It was mystifyingly unsuccessful, but as a passage of play, it was as memorable as anything that’s happened all year.
No-one is doing more for Test cricket than Dale Steyn right now.
You may not realise this, but the title of Lord Megachief of Gold is only granted for a one-year term. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Lord Megachief of Gold 2007 and Grand Lord Megachief of Gold 2008, stands down. MS Dhoni steps up.
Cricket is about winning. It’s not about hitting the fastest hundred or the most runs. Those are achievements in as much as they help you win games. Winning is the ultimate aim. MS Dhoni knows this.
Dhoni might not have scored as many runs as some, but he’s hit more meaningful runs than anybody and he doesn’t care how he’s done it. The man who can hit the ball further than anyone has been the ultimate second fiddle in a number of partnerships.
He only had six innings, but he averaged 92.25. In the Wellington Test against New Zealand, he arrived at the crease with India 182-5 in their first innings. Shortly after, they were 204-6, but Dhoni spurred the lower order resistance with his 52 before taking six catches as New Zealand were bowled out for 197.
In the first Test against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad, India were 157-5. Dhoni hit 110 and India made 426 although the match then degenerated into a ludicrously high-scoring draw.
Fittingly, the year ended with him scoring 100 not out in the match that India won to become the number one side in Test cricket.
There’s no shortage of innings here. Most people have Tillakaratne Dilshan as their one-day player of the year, but Dhoni’s scored more runs at a better average. Dilshan’s scored them quicker, but as an opener, he basically faces the same situation every time and really just has to score as fast as he can.
Dhoni has played all sorts of innings, but what’s most remarkable is how often he’s helped his side to a win. You don’t need to score at a run a ball if you get your side home.
Here are some of his best one-day innings from this year:
We identified him as one of the five best all-rounders over the next five years and even said that his haircut was as thorough and well-organised as dad when he makes a bookcase (compliments don’t come much higher than that).
Congratulations, MS Dhoni, you are 2009’s Lord Megachief of Gold.