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Opinion

Cummins, Uzzy crowned world's best, legends laud 'wonderful servant' Starc for milestone, Bazball bingo with twin Tests

25th January, 2024
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25th January, 2024
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Pat Cummins has been named the ICC’s men’s player of the year, capping a dream campaign for the Australian fast-bowling captain.

Cummins was awarded the 2023 Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy, ahead of teammate Travis Head and India duo Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja, on Thursday night.

He’s the first Australian to be given the accolade since Steve Smith in 2015, while Usman Khawaja also celebrated his remarkable second-coming as a Test opener to win that format’s ICC men’s player of the year.

Shortlisted Australian women Ash Gardner and Beth Mooney were pipped for the  Rachael Heyhoe Flint Award for women’s cricketer of the year by England allrounder Nat Sciver-Brunt, who won for the second consecutive year. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 27: Pat Cummins of Australia celebrates the wicket of Babar Azam of Pakistan during day two of the Second Test Match between Australia and Pakistan at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 27, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Morgan Hancock - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Pat Cummins celebrates the wicket of Babar Azam. (Photo by Morgan Hancock – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Test and one-day skipper Cummins led the men’s team to a World Test Championship triumph, the retention of the Ashes and a record sixth triumph in the Men’s Cricket World Cup over a bumper calendar year.

Vital Ashes runs and wickets were followed by similar contributions in the World Cup, where his tactical nous also came to the fore when he bravely chose to field first against the hosts in the final.

The 30-year-old took 42 Test wickets in 11 Tests last year at an average of 27.50 and has already added 11 in five Test innings this year.

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“It’s well deserved, not just the last 12 months,” teammate Mitchell Starc said.

“He’s been phenomenal for a very long time, across the formats.

“The captaincy as well … the way he’s led the group.

“Comes on to bowl at the hardest times, makes an impact.

He was the leading run-scorer for either side in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in India and after the WTC final win over the same opponents in London, he finished once again as the highest run-getter in the Ashes series with 496 runs.

With a grand total of 1210 runs, Khawaja stood alone as the sole player to breach the four-figure mark for Test runs in the challenging and rewarding year of 2023.

Usman Khawaja celebrates his century.

Usman Khawaja celebrates his century. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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“A lot of the success of the group is because he’s at the helm and he hasn’t stopped in 2024.”

The acknowledgement followed Australian opener Khawaja’s announcement as men’s Test cricketer of the year.

The opener scored three centuries and six fifties on his way to 1210 runs at an average of 52.6 in the last calendar year. 

Khawaja performed in all conditions with a career-best knock of 195 not out in Sydney against South Africa and 180 in Ahmedabad against India.

His 141 and 65 in the first Test of the Ashes series in Birmingham were pivotal in setting up a two-wicket win for Australia.

The 37-year-old finished the Ashes series with 496 runs where his class and grit proved crucial in Australia retaining the urn.

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BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25: Mitchell Starc of Australia celebrates taking the wicket of Alick Athanaze of the West Indies during day one of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and West Indies at The Gabba on January 25, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Starc surges into rare air

Mitch Starc joined an illustrious club of Australian bowlers by claiming his 350th wicket when he nicked off Alick Athanaze to leave the West Indies’ top order in disarray at the Gabba.

He began the day on 348, but got opener Tagenarine Chanderpaul caught in the slips by Steve Smith early before adding Athanaze.

Just for good measure, he added Justin Greaves in the last over before lunch to make it 351. The next on the list is Dennis Lillee at 355.

On the Fox call, Isa Guha paid tribute to him, and to his amazing record in day/night matches.

“This crowd will get around him, his teammates will get around him,” she said.

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“He’s been a wonderful servant to Australian cricket and he keeps delivering. That’s 63 Test wickets in pink ball matches, and this is his 12th match, averaging 18. He loves that pink ball in his hand.

The other two legends on commentary, Adam Gilchrist and Mark Waugh, lined up to laud the quick.

“350 is a satisfying feeling for all concerned in the Australian team, particularly bowler and keeper,” said Junior.

“You can see Mitch Marsh and his teammates come in and congratulate him straight away, they knew he was hovering around a landmark.

“He’s behind the great DK Lillee now, so that’s the level of quality that we’re witnessing.”

Gilly added: “He’s not underrated, but he probably doesn’t get the plaudits of some of the other fast bowlers around the world, but he’s right up there. He’s a genuine wicket taker, Mitchell Starc, in all the formats.”

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Weird quirk has fans playing Bazball bingo

Despite the early obituaries on the death of Test cricket, Thursday afternoon saw something very unusual occurring, with two matches not only happening at the same time, but starting simultaneously.

Australia’s day/night Test against the West Indies at the Gabba began at 2pm local time in Brisbane, lining it up perfectly with a 9.30am start for the India vs England match in Hyderabad.

The two matches began within a minute of each other, and continued in lockstep, giving fans the chance to compare and contrast the vastly differing styles of play being worked out thousands of kilometres apart.

Both tourists won the toss and chose to bat, meaning England’s ultra-aggressive Bazball strategy was being tested for the first time in spinning conditions against the mighty Indian attack while the West Indies were facing perhaps an even bigger challenge, the famed Aussie pace trio with a pink ball in hand.

The difference was hilariously stark.

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By the time the Windies’ first wicket fell – captain Kraigg Brathwaite caught behind off Josh Hazlewood – the opening partnership was worth nine runs. Over in Hyderabad, England were on 41.

It took until the last ball of the ninth over for Kirk McKenzie to record the first boundary of the West Indian innings, by which point England had hit ten.

Mohammad Siraj was coming in for some serious tap. Earlier in the week, he had announced: “Bazball won’t work in India. If England plays Bazball then the match might end in one & half or two days”.

His figures? 0-28 off four.

Bazball, however, is a cruel mistress. After racing to 55, England lost 3-5 to end up roughly in the same position they generally end up in in India. It was, however, a moral victory (or something).

England ended up being bowled out for 246 with India giving them some of their own medicine when they batted late in the day, racing to 1-119 in 23 overs by stumps.

Quick puts hand up for Australia after BBL final heroics

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Spencer Johnson has set his sights on becoming Australia’s next first-choice left-armer, declaring he wants to be the man to eventually replace Mitchell Starc.

Johnson capped his incredible six months with a man-of-the-match performance in Brisbane’s BBL final win on Wednesday night over the Sydney Sixers.

The 28-year-old’s 4-26 ripped the heart out of the Sixers, and landed him the best figures in a BBL decider.

Virtually unknown at the start of 2023, Johnson has now made his T20 and ODI debuts for Australia, won a title and earned a $1.78 million IPL deal in the months since August.

Johnson has stated he owes his career to the Heat, who gave him a chance  last summer after injuries looked set to ruin his career before it began. 

But it is more opportunities for Australia he craves.

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Johnson was left out of the squads for next month’s white-ball series against West Indies, but still holds some hope of playing in the T20 World Cup in June.

“People have been coming up to me. asking how I’m going having missed Aussie selection, but 12 months ago if someone said that to me then I’d probably laugh,” Johnson said.

“The position I’m in now, I’m very grateful for. Hopefully I can play again for Australia and that’s what I want to do.

“(The T20 World Cup) is something I’d obviously like to be a part of.

“I watched the Aussies win the ODI World Cup in India. Unfortunately that was from the couch, but that looked unbelievable to be a part of.

“Playing for Australia is what I want to do so hopefully I keep performing.”

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Johnson hopes his big opening will come when Starc retires.

The veteran Australian quick has no short-term departure plans, but has previously indicated he will give white-ball cricket away first before eventually bowing out in the Test format.

Australia have had left-armers Johnson, Ben Dwarshuis, Jason Behrendorff and Daniel Sams play white-ball games in recent years.

But Johnson looks the most likely of the group, and wants to ensure he is the first man called upon to replace the 33-year-old Starc.

“I’ve always thought that when Starcy calls time, hopefully I’m ready to go,” Johnson said.

“If I can keep performing at this level and then go back to South Australia and play some first-class cricket and get some more overs under my belt, then who knows.”

The South Australian said he was hopeful his chances could extend into red-ball cricket, where he has played his first four matches in the past year after injuries plagued his early 20s.

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His returns are handy, however, with 20 wickets at an average of 23.15.

“It’s whatever my body lets me do,” Johnson said. 

“If I feel like I am ready for all formats of cricket.”

With AAP

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