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Lawrence Booth on the difficulties of choosing Wisden’s Five in 2020

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

To discuss the 2020 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, editor Lawrence Booth joined Yas Rana and Jo Harman on the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast.

Booth explained the decision-making process behind choosing this year’s Five Cricketers of the Year, with a World Cup and Ashes summer leading to plenty of competition for places. It prompted Booth to write a short explainer in this year’s edition that revealed why he opted for Marnus Labuschagne, Ellyse Perry, Simon Harmer, Pat Cummins and Jofra Archer.


Yas Rana: Am I right in saying this is the first time you wrote an explainer?

Lawrence Booth: Yeah.

YR: Do you want to talk about why you decided to do that this year?

LB: This year was difficult. There were lots of people who could have made it. I expect to get a lot more flak than usual when the Five are announced on social media. Partly because lots of people have a good case. Someone like Mitchell Starc would have had a good case, or Jack Leach, or Josh Hazlewood, or Jason Roy. There’s no right or wrong answer with any of these things. The Five we’ve ended up with are strong. There could have been five other strong ones too. So I felt it was worth explaining how we do it and it’s not a personal insult if you’re not chosen. And it was probably the toughest year of the nine I’ve edited so far.

YR: Jo, what are your initial thoughts about the five?

Jo Harman: Initially I was outraged that Kane Williamson wasn’t included and then remembered he had won it previously so can’t blame you for that one! I was actually thinking about this a few months ago, what a difficult task you would have this year. If you remember the year previous, it didn’t feel like there were too many arguments about the Five. It might have felt a bit different to you on social media Lawrence, but it didn’t seem like you could argue a case against the Five. And the same, you can’t argue against them this year, but there were so many other contenders. Dom Sibley was another one you didn’t mention there, but in any other year he would have to be right in amongst it because he just stood so far out from the crowd in terms of runs scored in a difficult summer in the County Championship.

And another thing I wanted to get your thoughts on Lawrence – you don’t necessarily say this in your explainer but it looks like selection still leans more towards Test cricket, long-form cricket in that Labuschagne is there over Rohit Sharma, or Jason Roy. Is that a conscious decision? Does Test cricket still come first for the Wisden editorial team, or is it a kind of semi-conscious thing when you’re deciding these candidates?

LB: I think it would be subconscious if it did exist. You’re looking at the overall balance of the summer and what impact was made, and of course that is open to interpretation – let’s take Rohit Sharma for example, who broke the record of five hundreds at a World Cup. In any other year, he would have walked in. But because the benchmark was so high this year we looked at India’s big game in the semi-final of the World Cup against New Zealand and he was out for 1. That sounds like a really harsh reason not to include him, but he wasn’t the only opener to flourish in the World Cup. A lot of openers did really well. He did a bit better than the others but if you’re looking for an absolute standout we decided that Sharma didn’t quite tick the box.

You might say, why does Labuschagne beat him for example? Labsuchagne felt like a really good story: he began his Ashes as a concussion substitute for the best batsman in the world and somehow ended up strengthening Australia despite the absence of Steve Smith for one and a half Test matches, and then went on to his Australian summer, and that’s not a criteria for the Wisden award, but I suppose it backed up the decision in a way. And of course, he scored 1,000 runs for Glamorgan in advance, so we’re taking county cricket into it too.

You’re maybe right, maybe there is some sort of subconscious draw to the red-ball game. Mitchell Starc, could we have picked him after he played one Ashes Test and played for a team that was knocked out of the World Cup semi-finals? That would have been an interesting choice. Jason Roy, similarly, he turned around England’s World Cup, but then averaged nine as an opener in the Ashes. I think people would rightly have questioned that had he been made a Cricketer of the Year. David Warner – great World Cup, flopped in the Ashes. Who knows – maybe if the Ashes had happened first and the World Cups second, we might have looked at it differently.

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