Virat Kohli’s reputation as the outstanding cricketer of his generation has been further enhanced by a brace of accolades in the 2019 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, which is published today.
Kohli, who will lead India’s World Cup campaign in England later this year, has been named as the Leading Cricketer in the World for an unprecedented third year in a row.
He has also achieved one of the few accolades to have eluded him in his career so far, by being named as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year, the oldest individual award in the sport.
Jos Buttler and Sam Curran were also named among the five cricketers, following their key roles in England’s summer campaigns, alongside Rory Burns, Surrey’s championship-winning captain, and Tammy Beaumont, the outstanding player in another successful year for England’s women.
Kohli’s fellow Indian, Smriti Mandhana, is the Leading Cricketer in the women’s game, after racking up 1291 runs across limited-overs formats, including 13 half-centuries, while Rashid Khan, the Afghanistan legspinner, is the Leading Twenty20 Cricketer for the second year in a row.
Kohli, however, was the sport’s dominant figure in 2018, making 2735 international runs at 68.37 across all formats, more than 700 more than his nearest challenger, England’s Joe Root.
In that time, he scored a remarkable 11 centuries in 37 innings, seven of which came on India’s tours of South Africa, England and Australia, traditionally three of toughest venues for overseas batsmen.
His form on the Test tour of England was particularly outstanding – although India slipped to a 4-1 series defeat, Kohli himself made 593 runs in the five Tests at 59.30, including hundreds at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge.
And, as a consequence of making such a big impact on the English season, he was finally named as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year, an honour that dates back to 1889.
Wisden states that “excellence in, or influence on, the previous English summer are the major criteria for inclusion as a Cricketer of the Year”, and seeing as Kohli had managed just 134 runs at 13.40 on his previous Test tour in 2014, this was his first real opportunity to claim an exclusive honour that – unlike the Leading Cricketer award – can only be achieved once in any player’s career.
“Despite finishing on the losing side, India captain Virat Kohli shone with the bat, laying to rest his struggles in England in 2014,” said Wisden’s editor, Lawrence Booth.
“His Test batting, especially in England, was magnificent, while his 50-over form moved to a new level – if that was possible.”
Elsewhere in the 2019 Wisden, the Almanack’s 156th edition, Booth reflects on another eventful year for the sport, which included the fall-out from Australia’s ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town , and the retirement of England’s leading Test run-scorer, Alastair Cook, who features on the front cover alongside England’s leading wicket-taker, James Anderson.
“There was more to him than met the eye,” Booth wrote in his Notes By the Editor. “Sluggish between the wickets, he was ﬁtter than anyone. Possessing only three strokes against the seamers – the cut and the pull grew scarce as bowlers cottoned on, leaving the nudge off the hip – he made more Test runs than any other left-hander or opener.
“And he took his only Test wicket while impersonating Bob Willis. When Radio 4’s “World At One” cut to a clip of Cook “doing what he did best”, that wicket is what they came up with, as if his 12,472 runs had passed them by.
“But in one respect Cook was no paradox: for mental strength, England has never seen anyone like him. Even his parting shot – 71 and 147 against the world’s No.1 side [India] – required him to rediscover the edge he said had deserted him. We shouldn’t have been surprised.”
In Cook’s absence, Booth is pessimistic about the prospects of England’s Test team uncovering another top-order batsman to replace his grit and resolve – not least given the advent in 2020 of the ECB’s new competition, The Hundred, a format about which he is scathing.
“Quite what a 100-ball tournament will do to England’s search for a Test top order does not bear thinking about,” he wrote. “If only someone at the ECB had been on hand last year to explain why they thought it a good idea to stake cricket’s wellbeing on a form of the game played nowhere else in the world.”
“England’s openers were once the envy of the world; gutsy, stoical, pragmatic, they may even have embodied a certain Britishness. Now, it’s a pleasant surprise when one survives until lunch.”
“It is not easy to see what can be done while the domestic schedule treats four-day cricket as an inconvenience … unless the Championship can reclaim the turf of high summer, the flow of hopeful young openers will slow to a trickle.”