The Wisden Cricketers of the Year are cricketers selected for the honour by the annual publication Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, based primarily on their “influence on the previous English season”. The award began in 1889 with Somerset’s Sammy Woods named as one of the six players of the season but one year later the exclusive list was reduced to five players. In 2016 the honour went to Jonny Bairstow, Brendon McCullum, Steve Smith, Ben Stokes and Kane Williamson.
In all 20 Somerset players have won the award whilst playing for the county with another 11 players honoured either before they joined Somerset or later in their career and we look at those players in this article.
Brian Close was named in 1964 having led Yorkshire to the County Championship in 1963. Close was part of the county side that won the title in 1959, 1960 and 1962 and went on to captain Yorkshire to the county championship again in 1966, 1967 and 1968. He joined Somerset in 1971 after a fallout with his home county when we were neither fashionable nor successful and changed the whole landscape of the club leading a team of youngsters, including Rose, Botham, Richards and Roebuck, to the fringes of trophy success and set the catalyst for five trophies won in five years.
In 1967 young Australian Greg Chappell wrote to Somerset Somerset, asking for a contract to play county cricket to further his development. They agreed and he played in two seasons scoring 2493 first-class runs at a moderate average of 30 and finished with 71 wickets, including 7 for 40 against Yorkshire at Leeds in 1969. He was honoured by Wisden after this in 1971 when he was an established international player.
In 1980 Sunil Gavaskar was named by Wisden and played for Somerset for one season – the same season – with limited success. Two centuries, including an impressive undefeated 155 against Yorkshire, formed part of his 686 runs at 34.3 in a season where the cider county missed the touring West Indians and Botham struggled with back problems. But in international cricket he holds legendary status and was the first Test player to make over 10,000 runs.
In 1987 young Australian Steve Waugh joined Somerset as a replacement for Martin Crowe and played four games scoring two centuries and one fifty in a side that was rebuilding after the departures of the three greats – Botham, Richards & Garner. He returned in 1988 hitting a further six centuries and four fifties thus establishing himself as one of the most adaptable players in the world. He was part of the Australia team that set a world record 16 consecutive victories and was named by Wisden in 1989.
Dermot Reeve had started his career at Sussex but joined Warwickshire in 1988 where he had most success. Reeve was named as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1996, and received the OBE for services to cricket that same year. He moved on to become coach to Somerset in 1998 and played several one-day games for the county. Despite being here only briefly many say that Reeve was another who changed attitudes at Taunton, bringing in a winning culture to the club.
Sanath Jayasuriya came to Somerset in 2005 with much expectation but simply did not acclimatise to the English conditions. He is one of the Sri Lankan greats and won the Wisden award in 1997 but played only seven first-class matches with a solitary century against the touring Australians.
Justin Langer is a Somerset legend leading the county back to the top tier of the County Championship in 2007 where the club have remained since. He came to Somerset in late 2006 as a replacement for Cameron White and to get some batting practice for impending Ashes series. Before all that he was named by Wisden in 2001 and he will be mostly known for his opening partnership with Matthew Hayden in Test cricket.
In 2004 young South African captain Graeme Smith was named by Wisden and one season later he briefly captained Somerset, leading the team to victory on finals day to secure the Twenty20 Cup trophy therefore joining a select list of captains that have led Somerset to silverware. Smith made 64 not out from 47 balls in the final. Earlier in the tournament he hit Northants for 105.
He also scored a century in a tour match against the Australians in preparation for the 2005 Ashes series and against Leicestershire at Taunton he scored his maiden first-class triple hundred (311 off 255 balls).
Another Australian great was briefly a Somerset player when Ricky Ponting joined up in 2004, playing just three first-class matches but hitting two centuries in his total of 297 at an average of 99. He would be one of those players who would go onto to win the Wisden award after his time at Taunton and was named in 2006.
Neil McKenzie was briefly a Somerset player in 2007 signing as a Kolpak player. He had been recommended to the county by Graeme Smith with whom McKenzie shared a world record opening stand of 415 against Bangladesh in 2008. In that same season McKenzie became one of only twelve players to score more than 1000 test runs in a calendar year and was named in Wisden’s exclusive list for the 2009 Almanack.
The final player to feature on this list is current Championship captain Chris Rogers, who joined Somerset this season and was named by Wisden in 2014 following his heroics for his country in the Ashes and for his then county side Middlesex.
In all seven players have won the award before joining Somerset and four enjoyed the honour after their time at Somerset had ended.
There is one other Somerset connection. In 1998 Glamorgan captain Matt Maynard was named by Wisden having led the Welshmen to the County Championship in 1997 (sealing the title with a win at Taunton). He is, of course, the current Director of Cricket at Somerset.