No such thing as bad PR

Australia

Far from becoming dispirited by the public outcry that followed their naming of the Cricketer of the Year shortlist, the ICC must have been delighted by the Saeed Ajmal furore.

Far from becoming dispirited by the public outcry that followed their naming of the Cricketer of the Year shortlist, the ICC must have been delighted by the Saeed Ajmal furore.

Of course it's never ideal when one of your members threatens to boycott your glittering ceremony, but what the episode has shown is that a great number of people actually care about the ICC Awards. For a ceremonial set of gongs that could do with some genuine validation, the outcry in Pakistan has been about as good as the ICC are likely to get.

The idea of the awards is a noble one – to pick the best player in the world for that year, and to celebrate performances in each of the major cricketing fields. Yet one wonders to what extent they are treasured by the players. Do they hold them in higher regard than the accolades handed out by Wisden, for example?

Wisden has the weight of history behind it, and many of today's cricketers would have grown up aspiring to become one of the almanac's five cricketers of the year. But it is also trapped in its Englishness since it places an emphasis on performances during the English summer, which rules out the majority of international cricket.

The ICC Awards are all-encompassing, but they are only in their ninth year and therefore lack a sense of history. When the next generation of players comes through, a generation that will have grown up worshipping the likes of Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Claire Taylor, then winning the same awards as their childhood heroes might mean a bit more.

For the moment, it's vital that the awards retain some sort of credibility, and it is here where the ICC selection panel has fallen down by excluding Ajmal.

Statistics are not everything, but they can not be ignored either, and Ajmal's 24 wickets in a three-match series against an England side that was the No 1 team in the world are irresistible. It could be said that all of his Tests were played in conditions that were conducive to spin bowling, but that argument is not strong enough for him not to be included in the shortlist at the expense of one of the three batsmen.

The fact that there are three batsmen and only one bowler is a reflection of the way that batting feats tend to be more easily noticed. We recognise fifties and hundreds easily, and perhaps don't appreciate that a three-wicket haul is at least equal to a half-century.

Ajmal only picked up one five-wicket haul against England, and was thus not noticed as often, yet his consistency was incredible. The same applies to his one-day performances over the past year.

The voting panel also appear to have included Hashim Amla mostly because his triple century against England was so fresh in the mind, so I would suggest that Ajmal deserved to be included ahead of the South African, and also should have scooped the main prize on Saturday evening in Colombo.

But since he has not, I'd like to see Michael Clarke named Cricketer of the Year and Vernon Philander win the Test Cricketer of the Year Award. Clarke has had a busy year since he took over the Australian captaincy, but has responded to the new responsibility in style.

Not only has he been the most attacking captain on display, injecting some fresh ideas into an art that has otherwise relied on conservatism, but he has played some of the finest knocks as well – his century in the first innings of the Cape Town Test arguably the best of the lot.

Philander's achievements in Test cricket have been phenomenal for a player in his first season, and his rookie status deserves to be taken into account in the final reckoning. The step up to Test cricket should not be underestimated – a fact shown by Philander's record of being the fastest bowler to 50 wickets in over a century. But of course he played just one ODI, so his overall feats do not stack up to those of Clarke and Kumar Sangakkara.

Sangakkara has also had a stellar year, but in truth he only performed at a high level in Tests against one team – Pakistan. The Sri Lankan averaged 112 against them, and 44 against Australia at home, but had an ordinary tour of South Africa (average of 30) and a wretched one against England (average of 8.75).

This year's awards are refreshingly unpredictable though, thanks to three excellent candidates. It's a pity that Ajmal isn't there to provide a fourth, but at least the reaction to his exclusion has confirmed a growing interest in what's up for grabs.

<b>Tristan Holme</b>

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