2014 ICC Awards: Missed opportunities for Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath?

Mitchell Johnson has had a fabulous 12 months in Test cricket

The winners of the ICC awards for the year 2014 were announced yesterday, with Mitchell Johnson claiming the ICC Cricketer of the Year as well as the ICC Test Cricketer of the Year, while Aaron Finch won the T20I Performance of the Year.

Even though the overwhelming feeling is that the awardees warrant the honours that come their way, there is dubiousness over the above two awards as far as I am concerned.

Cricketer of the Year

Mitchell Johnson became only the second cricketer after Ricky Ponting to receive the most coveted award for the second time. He was one of the four nominees for the award along with Kumar Sangakkara, Angelo Mathews and AB de Villiers.

It is easily understandable that the lethal bowler’s honour is a direct compliment for resurrecting the deadly art of fast bowling that rattled the English team in the Ashes series in the latter part of 2013.

In the period that was considered for picking the winners, from 26 August, 2013, to 17 September, 2014, the southpaw picked up 59 test wickets in 8 test matches at an eye-popping average of 15.23.

The staggering returns made Johnson the obvious choice for the Test Cricket of the Year award. After all, the cricketing world has brought back a bowler who would make the batsmen cringe in fear. In a world where scoring runs is like taking candy from a baby, the left-arm paceman’s ability to bring hostility into fast bowling must be rewarded.

But does that make him a well-deserved recipient of the Cricketer of the Year award, too? In my humble opinion, there is another player who completely deserved the award but was unfortunate to miss out.

The Australian’s returns in Tests in the period are as follows:

MatchesWktsBowl AvgBBIRunsBat AvgHS100s

In 8 Test matches, Johnson picked up 59 wickets and scored 231 runs at an average of 23.10. The 59 wickets included 5 five-wicket hauls and 2 seven-wicket hauls. Even though the numbers are truly outstanding and make him an automatic choice for the Test Cricketer of the Year, are the numbers sufficient to pave the way for him to be the cricketer of the year?

It must be noted that all 8 of his matches were played in Australia and South Africa, and came against two oppositions only.

The southern hemisphere nations are known for conditions conducive for fast bowling, and Johnson’s returns came in conditions that suit him the most. Five-wicket hauls in the sub-continent would have made him an undisputed champion, as is the case with Dale Steyn to whom the nature of the turf does not matter.

Even though spectacular performances become even more spectacular when executed in the Ashes, the contextual significance is relevant only to the Poms and the Aussies. In a holistic view, it is just Australia beating England.

On the other hand, Angelo Mathews of Sri Lanka, in 9 Test matches, scored 1094 runs at a whopping average of 91.16, including 3 centuries. As a bowler, meanwhile, Mathews averaged 40 with 8 wickets to his name.

The Sri Lankan skipper’s Test figures include a match-winning Test century at Leeds, Headingley, and a match-saving knock at Lord’s. Batting with the tail at Leeds, Mathews turned a match-saving innings into a match-winning one.

Sri Lanka were 8 down with a tiny lead when Mathews marshaled the tail and frustrated the English bowlers in the process. The innings of 160 set England a mammoth target of 350 which Sri Lanka managed to defend off the penultimate ball of the match, adding even more significance to Mathews’ innings.

It wasn’t just his batting that turned the game for Sri Lanka. His military medium-pace had earlier crushed the English batting line-up that once seemed to be running away with the match. Mathews picked up 4 wickets in 16 overs.

That was not the only innings of significance, either. Back in the latter part of 2013, Mathews stood tall when everyone else collapsed to take his team to a respectful first innings total against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates. Mathews scored 91 of the total 204 runs and was the only man to reach 50.

In the second innings of the same test, Mathews once again saved Sri Lanka from a collapse when he took his team to safety after they found themselves 4 down for 186 with a slender lead of 7. Mathews remained not out on the score of 157.

Johnson picked up 17 wickets in 12 ODIs, while scoring 53 runs. The left-armer averaged 31.88 with the ball with an economy rate of 5.13. Mathews, in the same period, scored 783 runs in 25 matches at an average of 48.93 and also picked up 11 wickets at an average of 43.18, giving away 4.46 runs per over.

Not to forget his captaincy record that brags of a win in the Asia Cup, a series win against England in England , and wins agaisnt Pakistan and Bangladesh. His captaincy was also instrumental in helping Sri Lanka achieving the historic feat of beating Engalnd in their own backyard in a Test series.

Johnson played 2 T20Is in the stipulated period, picking up a mere 2 wickets. In comparison, Mathews played in 15 T20Is that includes a successful WT20 campaign. Mathews scored 195 runs and picked up 8 wickets at a miserly economy of 6.74.

His 23-ball 40 took Sri Lanka to a formidable 160, which the West Indies found too much in the semi-final of the 2014 World T20.

In conclusion, even though Mitchell Johnson’s Test figures are earth shattering, his records in ODIs and and T20Is are not as a exciting as in Tests. Mathews on the other hand, even though not as spectacular as Johnson in Tests, has been consistently winning matches for Sri Lanka, mostly single-handedly across all formats.

So did Mathews deserve the award more than Johnson? The question is left on a floor open to arguments.

T20I Performance of the Year

There were three nominees for the award, but it was palpable that the award would be going either Aaron Finch’s or Rangana Herath’s way, after both of them conferred T20 cricket with two gem of a performances for the rest of the world to cherish.

Finch blazed to an incredible 156 off 63 balls that included 14 sixes and 11 fours to take Australia to 248 in a T20 international against England. Herath, the left-arm slow bowler of Sri Lanka, picked up five wickets for just three runs, giving away a novel 0.85 runs per over against New Zealand in a virtual quarter-final match in this year’s WT20.

Comparisons between performances made with bat and ball are difficult to make. Hence, one cannot simply lay down Finch’s performance opposite to Herath’s and say which was the best. But in a format actively dominated by batsmen, shouldn’t an unbelievable feat of a bowler be recognized?

It is also necessary to look into the contextual relevance of the two performances. The Australian opening batsman’s performance came in a bilateral series against England, while Herath stunned the world at a global stage, which ultimately proved the inflection point of Sri Lanka’s path to victory in that tournament.

In the game in which Finch plundered 156 runs, Australia scored 248 while England riposted with 209. So it is all too obvious that the conditions were favorable for batsmen. Herath, too, bowled on a spin friendly track, but the track wasn’t as spinner friendly as his numbers suggest.

Nathan McCullum, the Kiwi spinner, who played in that game, managed to pick up only one wicket even though he bowled only 2 overs.

Rangana Herath wreaked havoc on NZ during the World T20 this year

Herath’s astonishing spell of bowling turned the match, which had slipped off Sri Lanka’s control, firmly in Sri Lanka’s favour. Batting first, Sri Lanka were all out for 119, a score that was considered below par.

In a do or die situation, with the winner progressing into the semi finals, Herath came onto bowl in the 4th over and ran out Martin Guptill off the very first ball. Of the last ball of the same over, Herath would send Brendon McCullum, the big fish, to the pavilion to give Sri Lanka some hope.

In his next over, Herath troubled Ross Taylor, New Zealand’s best player of spin, with not just conventional spin but also by using the arm ball to good effect. Taylor played roulette with Herath’s bowling before missing a slider to be rapped on the pads.

Jimmy Neesham, who supplanted Taylor, received a real gem that pitched on off stump and spun back to hit middle, courtesy of a big gap between bat and pad.

In his third over, Herath caught Ronchi lbw right in front of the stumps, this time with a ball that turned. The left-arm spinner’s figures read 2.3-2-0-3. He had given away no runs but had sent the entire New Zealand top order barring Williamson back to the pavilion.

Aaron Finch’s innings may be the greatest T20 innings of all time but to say that it is unbeatable is erroneous in my view. Herath’s spellbinding figures of 5 wickets for 3 runs is unlikely to be emulated in the future. It was a spell of a life time, a spell that made an island believe, fans find their voice and a team believe.

It was a match-winning spell, a World T20 winning spell and a spell that has reserved a special place in the history of a tiny island in the middle of the Indian ocean.

Whether or not Mathews deserved the accolade is debatable, but as far as the best T20I performance was concernced, there was only one winner – Herath.

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