Wisden has announced the five cricketer’s of the year in the 2016 Almanack so congratulations to Jonny Bairstow, Brendon McCullum, Steve Smith, Ben Stokes and Kane Williamson for being recognised and awarded.
Somerset has been well represented in the past. In all 20 players have been named in this exclusive club whilst plying their trade for the cider county and it is those we look at in this article. But being awarded by Wisden was not always the start of great things. Another 11 players were recognised by Wisden before or after being a Somerset player and we will identify them in a separate article.
It was in 1889 that Wisden first selected their Cricketers of the Year list. In that year six players were recognised and this included Somerset’s first real cricketing superstar Sammy Woods, an Aussie that came to the county for education and ended up staying here. He represented England and Australia at Test Cricket whilst also playing 13 times for England at Rugby Union.
Four years later in 1893 two Somerset players were named in the same year with Herbie Hewett and his opening batting partner Lionel Palairet being recognised by Lords. Hewett had led Somerset to 3rd place in the County Championship in the 1892 season and the two entered the record books with a record breaking opening partnership of 346 against Yorkshire in that season. It was bittersweet for Hewett who would leave Somerset before the end of 1893 after a row with the club.
In 1902 Len Braund became the 4th Somerset player to be awarded. 1901 was his first full season for Somerset and he scored more than 1,000 runs and took over 100 wickets. He scored 107 in a remarkable match at Headingley when Somerset, 238 behind Yorkshire on the first innings, put up 630 in the second innings and won the match by 279 runs with Braund taking four wickets. He was also a Test Cricketer by now and played in all five Ashes Test’s in 1902.
27 seasons would pass before Somerset were represented again in the Wisden awards when Jack White was named. The player knows as “Farmer Jack” scored more than 1,000 runs, completing the “cricketer’s double”, in 1929 and 1930. Among his county records, he took 16 Worcestershire wickets for 83 runs in the match at Bath in 1919. He also captained the county and was President when he died in 1961.
When Arthur Wellard was named in 1936, thus becoming the 6th Somerset player recognised, it was barely a shock to locals who felt the award was long overdue. He was a hard-hitting, attacking batsman (but by no means a slogger) and in 1936 he hit a slow left-armer called Armstrong of Derbyshire for five 6s off consecutive balls: he had already taken nine wickets in the match and his 86 in 62 minutes brought his side a one-wicket victory.
It would be 17 years before a Somerset player featured again (although there were 6 seasons missing due to the 2nd World War) and, once again, the locals felt the award was long overdue. Harold Gimblett had made his bow for the county in spectacular style in 1935 and was a consistent high performer. 1952 had been Gimblett’s personal best but a poor one for Somerset who fell to the bottom of the County Championship and stayed there for 4 years. Gimmo scored 2,134 runs in all matches, at an average of 39.51. Against Derbyshire at Taunton, he became the first Somerset player to hit two centuries in a match twice, scoring 146 and 116 in a drawn game. He was awarded a benefit game against Northampton at Glastonbury. But he too would voluntarily leave Somerset soon after his recognition in controversial fashion as he was still under contract.
In 1962 Bill Alley became Somerset’s 8th representative in Wisden’s top five Cricketers of the Year at the ripe old age of 43. Born in Australia he played for New South Wales before finding a decent living in England playing in the Lancashire League for Colne and Blackpool. Somerset signed him in 1957 when he was 38 and his Wisden award followed a brilliant season where he scored 10 centuries which remained a county record for thirty years. He was the 8th – and last – player to record 3,000 runs in a season in English Cricket.
In 1971 Wisden named Roy Virgin as one of the select few after an amazing 1970 season where the player scored 2,223 runs at an average of 47 including seven centuries. He had been a decent enough player following his debut in 1957 but this was outstanding form – there was even talk of an England spot! But Virgin was another who found the award almost an albatross around the neck as his run-making fell away in 1972 and he left Somerset for Northants at the end of that season.
By 1977 Somerset were becoming a major force in Cricket and there started a period in the club’s history still known as the glory years and Somerset had four winners in four seasons. Young Antiguan Viv Richards had joined Somerset in 1974 and had demolished the England bowling whilst on tour in 1976. His finest year: Richards’ scored 1,710 runs, with an amazing average of 90.00, with seven centuries in 11 Tests. He was also named in Wisden’s top five cricketers of all time.
In 1978 it was the turn of young superstar Ian Botham to join the exclusive club. The man a.k.a. Beefy had made his international bow in 1977, with his Test début for England on 28 July 1977 in the Third Test against Australia, where he took five wickets for 74 runs in the first innings. It was the start of a 15-year stint in the national team and a fabulous, and often controversial, career.
In 1980 Somerset again had two players in the final five when skipper Brian Rose and Barbadian fast-bowler Joel Garner were awarded. Somerset had won the first trophies in their history in 1979 with Garner particularly influential for the cider county. Technically the club had a 3rd winner that season as Sunil Gavaskar, the brilliant Indian, had also been recognised and he would play for Somerset after receiving the award in 1980 as a replacement for Richards who was touring with the West Indies.
There were only two more winners in the 80s. Martin Crowe was a relative unknown when he joined Somerset for the 1984 season but whacked 1,870 runs, including 6 centuries and 11 fifties, and was recognised in the 1985 Almanack. He was described as the “best young batsman in the world” by Wisden and went on to carve out an excellent career.
In 1988 controversial captain Peter Roebuck was named after he had struck 1,199 Championship runs for the county in 1987, a new dawn for Somerset after the departures of Botham, Richards and Garner. Roebuck had accepted the lion’s share of the blame (and flak) for the break-up of the glory year’s team but managed the criticism manfully and led the team well. It was testing times for the new team and a 1st Round exit in the Gillette Cup to Buckinghamshire was as testing as testing could be.
In the 90s there were two more winners, but neither was home grown. South African Jimmy Cook was a run machine, simple as that. He was named in 1990 after a season where he plundered an amazing 2,241 runs in 37 completed innings’ at 60.56. This could not help Somerset to finish any higher than 14th but the team made the Benson & Hedges cup semi-finals.
In 1997 Pakistan spin king Mushtaq Ahmed became Somerset’s 17th player to be named in the high five! Mushy joined the club in 1993 and played 62 first-class matches in all claiming 289 wickets at an average of 26.32. Wisden described him as being a member of “a glittering triumvirate of wrist-spinners who adorn the modern game.”
In the noughties there were again two players named. Andrew Caddick came to England from New Zealand with a view to playing for the Three Lions. He achieved this whilst becoming one of the country’s finest ever fast bowlers. In 2000 he enjoyed three 5-wicket hauls playing for his adopted country; 7 for 46 in Durban and twice against the touring West Indies with 5 for 16 at Lords and 5 for 14 at Leeds.
The only current player to be named as one of Wisden’s top five is Marcus Trescothick who became the 19th Somerset player to be awarded in 2005 alongside four other Englishmen; Ashley Giles, Steve Harmison, Robert Key and Andrew Strauss. 2004 had been a season when Tres was undoubtedly England’s most consistent one-day player and he even captained the Test team in place of the injured Michael Vaughan.
And the final player to be named in the Wisden elite whilst a Somerset player was honoured in the 2013 Almanack. Nick Compton had scored over 1,000 runs for Somerset in 2011 and 2012 and was called up by England to tour India and New Zealand in 2012/13 following the retirement of Andrew Strauss. It was in NZ that he scored his two Test centuries and this prompted his inclusion in the hall of fame and all looked good as he looked nailed on to play for England in the upcoming Ashes series. But a lukewarm series against the Kiwis, this time in England, meant that he was dropped for the young Joe Root. It was tough on Compo who left Somerset to return to Middlesex after the 2014 season but he did manage to regain his England place in 2015.
So it is a very exclusive club, those that were picked by Wisden as the very best players in world cricket and a big honour. But it was not always career enhancing – Hewett, Gimblett, Virgin and Compton may argue that the award was somewhat of a poisoned chalice leading to their leaving Somerset. There are also notable absentees from the list with justified calls that the likes of Peter Wight, Graham Rose, Ian Blackwell and Rob Turner are just a few who arguably did enough to get Wisden recognition.
So who is next to win Wisden recognition whilst playing for Somerset? I am sure the likes of Tom Abell, Lewis Gregory and the Overton’s will all give it a go in the next few seasons.