Put down the glass of Bailey’s and take a break from charades. It’s time for The Bouncer’s end of year awards. We can’t promise the glitz and glamour of the Sports Personality of the Year, but we can promise that Stuart Broad will definitely win one of these.
It’s been a rum old year for cricket. We had one of the most exhilarating men’s Ashes series of all time, a contest that captured the public imagination in ways not seen since 2005. Perhaps playing it outside of the football season when the sporting media and fans could focus fully on cricket with no distractions was a masterstroke after all. The women’s Ashes was equally captivating, following a similar vein to the men’s with Australia taking a significant early lead before England attempted to reel them back in. Both series ended in draws which, given the cricket played by both sides, felt like a fair result.

We also had a strangely muted World Cup, which, at times felt like a party political broadcast for the BCCI, yet it also produced some memorable moments such as the Netherlands’ uplifting victory over South Africa.
The Hundred inarguably improved on last year’s tournament yet still divides opinion like nothing else in the game and Surrey continued their Manchester City-like march towards total domestic domination. We also had a surprisingly uplifting One-Day Cup Final as Leicestershire triumphed in a last over thriller against Hampshire, reminding us all of those halcyon days when the NatWest Trophy final was the highlight of the season.

So, without further ado, let’s hand out the awards.   

Cricketer of the Year – Zak Crawley

No one has proved their critics wrong more than Zak Crawley in 2023. At the start of the year there were some in the media seriously suggesting that he should be taken out of the firing line for his own good. With Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum in charge, that was never going to happen. England’s captain and coach backed their man and Crawley repaid them handsomely by becoming England’s leading run scorer in this summer’s Ashes, against all expectations. The Kent man certainly doesn’t have the traditional game of a Test opener, claiming that he doesn’t need to work on his defence as “I just need to back myself” but then this England side is not a traditional Test team. When Crawley fails with wild wafts outside off stump it can be infuriating in the extreme but when he comes off it is equally exhilarating. His 189 off 182 balls at the Old Trafford Test this summer was a remarkable innings of bravery, conviction and, it has to be said, a little luck at a time when the Ashes was on the line. Crawley caused the wheels to fall off the Australian juggernaut in a way has rarely happened before. It was the only time this year when Pat Cummins looked genuinely lost, as the ball disappeared to all parts of the ground and England scored 530 in a day. The Times labelled it “Bazball’s finest hour” and it was hard to disagree.

Performance of the Year – Tammy Beaumont 208 v Australia, Trent Bridge

No Englishwoman had ever scored a Test match double century before this summer. Enter Tammy Beaumont. Her epic 208 off 331 balls against the finest attack in women’s cricket was a masterpiece of concentration and resilience. It was worthy of winning any game but sadly for Beaumont and her teammates, Australia still triumphed by 89 runs. England, however, are made of sterner stuff than they used to be and Heather Knight’s side fought back to level the multi format series by winning four of the last five white ball games in front of record crowds.

Captain of the Year – Pat Cummins

The Englishman in me wanted so desperately to give this award to Ben Stokes, whose unflinching belief in his methods nearly inspired the greatest comeback in Ashes history. However, there was another man who refused to compromise his principles this year and that man hails from New South Wales. By any definition, Pat Cummins has had a remarkable year. The Ashes, World Cup and World Test Championship safely back in Australia. Cummins is a remarkable leader, determined to do things his own way. From resolutely sticking to old fashioned methods of Test cricket in the eye of the Bazball hurricane to bowling first in Ahmedabad in the World Cup final, Cummins has withstood the pressure of public opinion at every time and he has usually been proven right. Now, please try to be slightly less successful in 2024, Pat.

Coach of the Year – Brendon McCullum

At least one of these awards had to go to a part of the duo that revolutionised English Test cricket in the last two years. Many commentators, this website included, were writing premature obituaries for Bazball after two Tests of this summer’s Ashes. It was understandable, given infuriating the sight of Harry Brook giggling like a schoolboy while swatting carelessly at a barrage of short balls as England self-destructed at Lords. However, the most impressive thing about Stokes and McCullum is that they had the courage and conviction to stick with their methods against an avalanche of public opinion. It would have been so easy to panic and revert to tried and tested methods with England one game away from surrendering the Ashes 3-0 but McCullum and Stokes regrouped and, with a few adjustments, stuck to their principles. England’s fearless brand of cricket may have led to them falling 2-0 to Australia but it was also the inspiration for what, but for the Manchester weather, would have been a historic series comeback. By the end of the summer, England had the Australians out on their feet, like a boxer clinging to the ropes and begging for the bell. In doing so, they also energised the nation and made cricket the talk of the bars, football pitches and back pages in a way not seen since 2005, giving us memories that will last for a lifetime.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Cleeve @matthewcleeve on X

Hollywood ending of the year – Stuart Broad England v Australia The Oval

He writes his own scripts doesn’t he? Stuart Broad was never going to bow out of Test cricket quietly but even he cannot have envisaged the sort of ending to his career that he achieved on a balmy July evening at the Oval. A wicket with the last ball of the series to tie the Ashes, that of his nemesis Alex Carey no less, not to mention walking out to bat for the last time with his old pal Jimmy Anderson and hitting his last ball for six. If Carlsberg did retirements…..

Sore loser of the Year – Jay Shah, Narendra Modi and the whole BCCI

They tried everything didn’t they? The BCCI and their allies in the ruling BJP party in India was so determined to make sure that the hosts won white ball cricket’s greatest prize that they were prepared to use every trick in the book to ensure it happened. They denied visas to Pakistani fans and journalists, thereby ensuring arguably the most partizan crowd in the game’s history for the two sides’ fixture in Ahmedabad. There was the last minute switching of the pitch for the semi-final against New Zealand, the late fixture changes that made it almost impossible for any other nation’s fans to travel in large numbers and a schedule designed to suit the home team. Yet none of it worked, and boy did they make their displeasure known. From BCCI chairman Jay Shah’s barely concealed fury as he shoved medals into the hands of the Indian and Australian players at the end of the final to Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaving Pat Cummins standing awkwardly by himself on the podium with the trophy, the BCCI and Modi made it clear what had been obvious to the rest of us from the start, the 2023 World Cup was not a global celebration of cricket, no, it was all about them. Despite all their efforts though, it was Australia who left India with the World Cup in their luggage. Turns out there are some things money can’t buy after all.  

Anti-Bazballer of the year – Dom Sibley

Human beings are pack animals, it is in our default nature to want to follow the herd and to be like everyone else. Whatever the fad or cultural norm of the day, you can be sure there will be millions of people seeking to copy it to fit in with their peers. Dominic Sibley, however, is wired differently. While the Bazball phenomenon swept the country, leading otherwise orthodox county cricketers to attempt ramp shots and blistering scoring rates in the hope of catching the eye of Ben or Baz, Sibley stood alone. His scoring rate this season was one of the slowest in Division 1 of the Championship. His crowning glory was an unbeaten 140 off 415 balls in Surrey’s record 501 run chase against Kent at Canterbury.

Sibley is a man apart. Standing in his hunched stance at the crease, jumper yellowing with age, firm forward defensive readied, he reminds us of the stodgy, immovable opening batsmen we grew up with before cricket became cool, like a latter day Chris Tavare. With Alistair Cook gone, Sibley now carries the torch for cricket’s Captain Slows all by himself.

Long may he continue to occupy the crease for the game is richer for its’ difference and variety. If everyone was Jos Buttler what a dull sport this would be. Now I wonder how Tavare would have coped with Bazball…

Photo courtesy of Matthew Cleeve @matthewcleeve on X

Team of the year – Uganda

The world of cricket can be a pretty depressing place at times. It seems like every passing week brings news of another meaningless franchise tournament being planned with players defecting from international cricket to chase untold riches. But then up pops the Cricket Cranes to remind us all why we love this wonderful game. In Zimbabwe last month, Uganda achieved qualification for an ICC tournament for the first time in their history, they then followed this up by winning the African T20 Cup. Despite ICC funding being weighted shamefully in favour of India and the other powerful cricketing nations, teams such as Uganda still manage to produce players and develop their game, often with minimal funding. They are the true heroes of our sport and, here at The Bouncer, we would rather watch Uganda play Kenya in the African T20 final than the IPL any day.

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