Babar named ICC Men's Cricketer of the Year, Stokes wins Test award

By Sports Desk January 26, 2023

Pakistan captain Babar Azam has been named the ICC Men's Cricketer of the Year, while Ben Stokes landed the Test Cricketer of the Year award.

Babar was outstanding with the bat in 2022, scoring 2,598 runs in 44 matches at an average of 54.12 and raking up eight centuries.

The prolific right-hander was the only player to reach the 2,000 landmark in the calendar year across all formats and led his side to the T20 World Cup final, which they lost against England at the MCG in November.

It was the most successful year of Babar's career, earning him the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy. Babar was also named the Men's ODI Cricketer of the Year.

Stokes also enjoyed a year that he will never forget, making a huge impact after being appointed as England Test captain.

The all-rounder could not have wished for a better start to a new era with him as skipper and Brendon McCullum head coach, turning England's fortunes around with an incredible transformation in a short space of time.

England had won only one of 17 Tests when Joe Root stepped down, but secured series wins over New Zealand and South Africa, beat India in a rearranged Test and celebrated an unprecedented 3-0 whitewash of Pakistan away from home.

Stokes led the side brilliantly as an aggressive brand of cricket paid dividends, while the all-rounder produced another match-winning innings to seal a victory over Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final.

He scored 870 runs at an average of 36.25 last year and took 26 wickets at an average of 31.19.

India run machine Suryakumar Yadav is the Men's T20I Cricketer of the Year, having scored 1,164 runs in 31 matches at an average of 46.56 and a strike-rate of 187.43.

Nat Sciver also starred for England in 2022 and was on Thursday named as the winner of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy for the ICC Women's Cricketer of the Year.

All-rounder Sciver scored 1,346 runs and claimed 22 wickets from 33 international matches, starring as England were runners-up in the Women's Cricket World Cup 2022,

Sciver made a magnificent unbeaten 148 from only 121 in a defeat against Australia in the final.

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    Joe Marler is desperate to help England wrestle back the Calcutta Cup on Saturday after growing exasperated with Scotland’s recent dominance of the fixture.

    The 33-year-old prop grew up in an era when the Red Rose firmly held the upper hand over the Scots and he was on the winning side four times in a row after first playing in the highly-charged showdown in 2014.

    The tables have turned since 2018, however. Scotland have lost only one of their last six matches against the Auld Enemy under Gregor Townsend and go into this weekend’s match buoyed by having won each of the last three.

    That situation rankles with Marler, who is intent on ensuring England are celebrating on enemy territory come Saturday evening.

    “It would just be nice to be on the winning end of it for once because it has been so long since we have,” he said at Murrayfield on the eve of the match.

    “Obviously we had 2020, but the continued dominance from Scotland over us – it has been a long time now.

    “From the start, we hadn’t lost to Scotland. Then the 2018 game the tide started to turn, the players that have come through in the Scottish side, you go, ‘Hang on, they have got some world-class operators now’.

    “And it does shift the mindset slightly coming in as underdogs.

    “The last few years without that cup, seeing Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw, that video of them with their shirts off and singing with the cup.

    “I wish I could be doing that rather than watching it. Or that famous Finn Russell photo where he’s got his Spiderman hands up and he’s loving it.

    “That stirs passion in me to go, ‘I want that cup’, and I know a number of the other boys in the team want that cup back as well.”

    Marler is pleased to still be in a position to help improve England’s record against Scotland after wondering if the World Cup last autumn might signal the end of his international career before Steve Borthwick assured him he still had a part to play.

    “It’s almost like an addiction,” he said of his ongoing involvement with the national team. “I want to be part of a winning England team, creating new stories, creating new memories.

    “I thought the World Cup was going to be my last opportunity at that, but Steve rang to ask if I’m still hungry.

    “He asked if I had the desire to still crack on because he needed to blood some new players and move into the next cycle, but he also needed guys around to help with that.

    “I asked my wife first but for me, yeah, it’s that addiction to be part of a winning England team and helping those young guys come through. That’s why I keep coming back.”

    England will be led out at Murrayfield on Saturday by captain Jamie George, who lost his mother, Jane, a week last Wednesday following a short battle with lung cancer.

    Marler, who will start on the bench, has been hugely impressed with the way his friend and fellow 33-year-old front-rower has dealt with the situation.

    “Jamie has been incredible,” said the Harlequins prop. “I remember talking to him a few weeks before coming into camp, and he was talking about the captaincy being offered to him and he wasn’t sure whether he was going to take it up with things going on with his mum.

    “Having known Jane since I was 16, 17, coming through the age groups with Jamie, I said, ‘Mate, just flip it and tell her you’re not doing it and see how upset, disappointed and gutted she’d be if you didn’t do it. You’ve got enough support around you in terms of the senior group to help you with it and you’re the best bloke for it, so let’s crack on and do it.’

    “I’m pleased that he did. It has been tough since we found out about Jane, but he’s shown huge strength, and vulnerability which is great for the whole group, especially the youngsters to see that.

    “He’s very much thinking, ‘I want to come up here, get the job done’. He’s dealt with it incredibly well.”

  • Finn Russell relaxed about facing England’s blitz defence Finn Russell relaxed about facing England’s blitz defence

    Scotland talisman Finn Russell is unfazed by the prospect of being targeted by England’s new blitz defence in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown at Murrayfield.

    The Red Rose have adopted a more aggressive approach for this year’s Guinness Six Nations after highly-regarded defence coach Felix Jones joined Steve Borthwick’s backroom team in the wake of helping South Africa win the World Cup. 

    England are expected to try to swarm stand-off Russell and his midfield colleagues in an effort to neutralise Scotland, but the 31-year-old has no issue with the possibility of being singled out.

    “It’s probably similar to a lot of teams in that the 10s are the key players in attack,” said co-captain Russell. “I’m not sure what England are going to do – if they are going to fire out the line and try to take me out or shut me down from the outside.

    “That is something we will have to figure out in the game. We will have to be able to adapt, with myself and Sione (Tuipulotu) and Huw (Jones) being on the same page and having Blair (Kinghorn) out wide as another option.

    “Although the 10 controls a lot of the attack, it is not just down to me to create things. We will be looking to other boys to get away from them.”

    Scotland were tamed the last time they came up against a Jones-inspired blitz defence when they lost 18-3 to South Africa at the World Cup in September, but Russell insists they have learned from that encounter.

    “We have looked back and talked about that game, and obviously looked at England’s first two games of this campaign,” said Russell. “I think our learnings from the World Cup were not to go into our shells if we do feel the pressure.

    “There were chances in that game against South Africa that we probably never saw on the pitch. Under pressure we probably went into our shell a little bit.

    “Tomorrow we just need to have belief in ourselves and trust the work we have put in over the last six months to a year.

    “At times we will be under pressure and it will be tough, but we can fall back to what we have done building up to this game.

    “We can have belief and confidence in ourselves and hopefully we can take the chances that will be out there.”

    After Russell lost his first three Calcutta Cup matches, including a 61-21 defeat at Twickenham in 2017, the Scots have won each of the last three meetings and have lost only one of the last six.

    “With us and England, we have been progressing and over the last few years they have potentially not been as good as they can be,” said Russell. “But the World Cup showed how good they can be, getting to the semi-finals.

    “Obviously they have won their first two games of this campaign so they are getting back to where they should be. They are one of the best teams in the world.

    “We can’t look back at the last few games and think it has turned in our favour. Every time we play England, it is always a huge challenge and we have got to be at our best to be able to beat them.”

  • We never doubted him: Zak Crawley says ‘phenomenal’ Joe Root ‘always comes good’ We never doubted him: Zak Crawley says ‘phenomenal’ Joe Root ‘always comes good’

    Zak Crawley insisted there was never any doubt “phenomenal” Joe Root would return to form for England following his unbeaten century against India.

    Root came into the fourth Test having not reached 30 in the series while a couple of uncharacteristic dismissals recently led to scrutiny on whether he should tailor his methods to fit the ‘Bazball’ philosophy.

    The argument has been Root does not need to alter his approach and he put his lean patch behind him with a more traditional Test innings to amass 106 not out as England went to stumps on 302 for seven.

    The 33-year-old rescued England after they had slipped to 112 for five in a helter-skelter opening session on a cracked Ranchi pitch and Crawley believes the Yorkshireman is the only batter who could have dug the tourists out of the fire.

    “He’s probably the only bloke in our team who could have done that knock, he’s that good and he’s stepped up when we needed him to,” Crawley said.

    “He’s a phenomenal player. We fully expected him to get a good score at some point in this series. He was due, he’s the best player we’ve ever had and he played phenomenally.

    “We’re so happy for him and we never doubted him. If anything we know that when he’s got a couple of low scores he’s even more likely to get the big one, and we expected that from him.

    “He deserves everything he gets, he works so hard at his game and he always comes good.”

    Root’s 31st Test hundred – brought up off 219 balls, the slowest century by any England batter under the leadership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum – was marked in understated fashion as he kissed the badge on his helmet and raised his bat to team-mates who were celebrating enthusiastically on the dressing-room balcony.

    There was no sign of the reverse ramp he had gotten out to in Rajkot, which proved a sliding doors moment in England’s heavy defeat as they went 2-1 down in the five-match series, while conventional and reverse sweeps were rare occurrences.

    Root was unbreachable in defence, judicious off front and back foot and unfurled his customary late cuts and leg glances behind square, while there was also the odd cover drive.

    Crawley, though, insisted a surface offering early movement and uneven bounce throughout dictated Root’s more classical innings, rather than widespread criticism he has faced in the last few days.

    “If the pitch had been truer, I reckon he would have still played those shots,” Crawley said.

    “It might have just been the variable bounce which stopped him sweeping and paddling, it wasn’t really the pitch for that kind of thing; it was too inconsistent.

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    England went at 4.63 an over in the morning thanks to counter-attacking knocks from Crawley, who made a run-a-ball 42, and Jonny Bairstow’s 38 off 35 deliveries.

    But the tricky surface, rather than a brain fade, was largely responsible for England’s precarious position at lunch, with Crawley bowled twice by Akash Deep, the first off a no-ball, as the India debutant bagged a three-wicket haul.

    While the odd one still kept low, batting conditions improved upon the resumption as Root and Ben Foakes (47) combined to put on 113 to stabilise the tourists.

    Crawley hopes England’s seamers can make similar inroads with the new ball but anticipates spin to dominate for the remainder of the match.

    “I got out still fairly early but it looked like it wasn’t bouncing anywhere near as much or as quickly as earlier on against seam,” Crawley added.

    “It got harder against the spin, it will continue to break up. It might be a new-ball wicket, hopefully it is when we bowl but the I think the spin’s only going to get harder.”

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