England sweep board in Wisden honours

Wisden, cricket's bible, has rewarded England for a year of almost unblemished success by naming five members of Michael Vaughan's side as its cricketers of the year. It is the first time this has happened in 45 years with Ashley Giles, Steve Harmison, Robert Key, Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick repeating the feat of Ken Barrington, Donald Carr, Ray Illingworth, Geoff Pullar and Mike Smith in 1960.

Wisden, cricket's bible, has rewarded England for a year of almost unblemished success by naming five members of Michael Vaughan's side as its cricketers of the year. It is the first time this has happened in 45 years with Ashley Giles, Steve Harmison, Robert Key, Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick repeating the feat of Ken Barrington, Donald Carr, Ray Illingworth, Geoff Pullar and Mike Smith in 1960.

There are many similarities. In the summer of 1959 Peter May's side won all five Test matches against India before winning a series in the West Indies. Under Vaughan - a previous winner of this award and therefore, like Andrew Flintoff, ineligible - 2004 began with a series victory in the Caribbean and was followed by seven consecutive Test wins against New Zealand and the West Indies.

They extended this run to eight - a record for England - when they defeated South Africa in Port Elizabeth, and it was only brought to an end when bad light saved the hosts from certain defeat in the second Test in Durban. During the period covered by the 2005 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, England won 12 and lost only one of the 16 Test matches they played.

These honours are not solely bestowed on players who have performed with distinction in the international arena - they are also awarded to county cricketers who have put in years of endeavour - but each of the five made significant contributions to England's success.

Giles had his best year as an international cricketer and became only the 10th England player to achieve the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets. Harmison, despite a poor tour of South Africa, took 70 wickets in 16 Test matches and Trescothick made a valuable contribution with his consistency. Key scored 221 against the West Indies at Lord's and also played a key role for Kent.

Strauss has had an outstanding start to his Test career. "It is a huge honour to be named," he said, "especially when you look at the names preceding you. That all five are English is a testament to how far England have come in the last 12 months."

An Englishman, however, failed to capture Wisden's newest accolade: the leading cricketer in the world. This title was won by Shane Warne, who made a remarkable comeback after being banned for a year when he failed a drugs test, taking 92 wickets in 16 Test matches at an average of 24.5 since March 2004.

The leg-spinner, with 583 victims, is currently the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket and few would bet against him passing 600 during this summer's Ashes series against England.

Atapattu reaches double landmark for Sri Lanka

Marvan Atapattu, the Sri Lanka captain, hit a century in the opening Test against New Zealand in Napier yesterday to become the fourth player to score hundreds against all nine Test opponents.

Atapattu made 127 while his team-mate Mahela Jayawardene hit an unbeaten 118 to help Sri Lanka reach 351 for 3 before bad light ended play early on the third day at McLean Park.

The tourists were still 210 behind New Zealand's first-innings total of 561, but on a placid pitch offering little encouragement to the bowlers, a draw remains already the most likely outcome.

Atapattu crawled to his half-century in 119 deliveries but accelerated after lunch, reaching his hundred off 196 balls. He then went on to become the fourth Sri Lankan to make 5,000 Test runs before being caught by Stephen Fleming off the bowling of Nathan Astle.

He joins Gary Kirsten, Steve Waugh and Sachin Tendulkar as the only players to reach three figures against nine different Test opponents. "It's so special, thinking about the start that I had in Test cricket," Atapattu said. "I knew I was capable of scoring runs at this level and the faith in me helped me come back into the side again."

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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