Omission of Muralitharan leaves stain on ICC awards

You are the chairman of a committee that has to select a world Test and one-day side. Your team will take on Jupiter at a neutral venue on Mars after this month's Champions Trophy. The first Test starts on 8 October and will be followed by three one-dayers. Who would you pick? Richie Benaud, Ian Botham, Sunil Gavaskar, Michael Holding and Barry Richards, five greats from the world of cricket, were given their chance at the International Cricket Council's inaugural awards on Tuesday evening at Alexandra Palace, London.

You are the chairman of a committee that has to select a world Test and one-day side. Your team will take on Jupiter at a neutral venue on Mars after this month's Champions Trophy. The first Test starts on 8 October and will be followed by three one-dayers. Who would you pick? Richie Benaud, Ian Botham, Sunil Gavaskar, Michael Holding and Barry Richards, five greats from the world of cricket, were given their chance at the International Cricket Council's inaugural awards on Tuesday evening at Alexandra Palace, London.

And most of the leading names made their sides. Indeed, six of them - Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Jason Gillespie, Jacques Kallis, Brian Lara and Chaminda Vaas - were picked for both the Test and one-day team. Ponting, the Australian captain, was named as skipper.

With such a galaxy of talent to select from there was naturally going to be the odd notable omission. India's batsman Sachin Tendulkar, with 33 centuries to his name, failed to make the Test side despite averaging 55 with the bat between 1 August 2003 and 31 July 2004, the period during which the players were assessed.

New Zealand's Stephen Fleming, the man regarded by many to be the best captain in the world, was overlooked in limited-over cricket even though his figures were far better than those of Brian Lara and Virender Sehwag. And Gillespie - 32 wickets at an average of 30.03 - was selected ahead of Shaun Pollock - 48 wickets at 26.04 - in the Test team.

But the most startling omission was that of the Sri Lankan spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan. The world's highest wicket-taker, with 532 scalps, failed to gain selection for either team even though he took more Test wickets - 68 at 17.47 - than any other bowler during the last 12 months. In one-day cricket his figures were just as impressive. Here Muralitharan's wickets cost 17.71 runs apiece and he conceded just 3.38 runs per over.

It is not as though the 32-year-old's Test wickets were picked up against poor teams either. Fifty-four victims were bagged against Australia and England, teams currently ranked first and second in the world.

Shane Warne, meanwhile, who gained selection in the Test side ahead of Muralitharan, picked up 36 wickets in five matches at an average of 22.25. The Australian leg-spinner spent half of the allocated time banned for failing a drugs test.

"I am surprised that someone who didn't play for six months got into the side," Muralitharan said. "If you take Warne's career he should be there but if it's about one year's performance he should not because he did not play for six months.

"A few people are not keen on me because they think I am not bowling properly. That's the only reason it can be, but it's disappointing for me. The funny part of it is that they nominate me among the best four for the best player [which was won by Rahul Dravid of India] but they cannot put me in the team - that's why I think something funny is going on."

Views on the legitimacy of Muralitharan's bowling action vary considerably. Some think he is a genius who adds to the game, others, a chucker who should be booted out of cricket. The figures suggest that Muralitharan has not been treated fairly, and it is believed a couple of members of the panel, who are known to be critics of his controversial action, allowed this to influence the way they voted, rather than his exceptional performances on the field.

In previous years England would have struggled to provide any players but the appearance of Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff in the Test and one-day teams respectively highlights the progress made by Michael Vaughan's side. Flintoff won the One-day Player of the Year award and Harmison was short-listed for the Test Player of the Year only to end up in third place behind the Australian opening batsman Matthew Hayden, in second, and Dravid.

MAKING A HIT THE ICC AWARD WINNERS

World Test XI

  • M L Hayden (Aus)
  • H H Gibbs (SA)
  • R T Ponting (capt; Aus)
  • R Dravid (Ind)
  • B C Lara (WI)
  • J H Kallis (SA)
  • A C Gilchrist (wkt; Aus)
  • W P U J C Vaas (S Lanka)
  • S K Warne (Aus)
  • J N Gillespie (Aus)
  • S J Harmison (Eng)

Test player of the year: R Dravid
One-day player of the year: A Flintoff
Sir Garfield Sobers award: R Dravid

WORLD ONE-DAY XI

  • A C Gilchrist (wkt; Aus)
  • S R Tendulkar (Ind)
  • C H Gayle (WI)
  • R T Ponting (capt; Aus)
  • B C Lara (WI)
  • V Sehwag (Ind)
  • J H Kallis (SA)
  • A Flintoff (Eng)
  • S M Pollock (SA)
  • W P U J C Vaas (S Lanka)
  • J N Gillespie (Aus)

Umpire of the year: S Taufel (Aus)
Emerging player of the year: I Pathan (Ind)
Spirit of cricket award: New Zealand

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