No South Africans among Wisden's Five‚ but there's progress

Kagiso Rabada during South Africa training session ahead of the 2018 Sunfoil Cricket Test Match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on 20 March 2018.
Kagiso Rabada during South Africa training session ahead of the 2018 Sunfoil Cricket Test Match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on 20 March 2018.
Image: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

Here we go again‚ you can hear South Africans thinking: Wisden has published its Almanack and named its “Five Cricketers of the Year” — and not a man among them is one of ours.

It’s been like this since 2013‚ which means none of the most recent 25 players so honoured has been South African.
WTF? Coupla things.

Wisden remains the most august authority in the game and it does a magnificent job of chronicling‚ year in and year out‚ what happens every time anyone anywhere picks up a bat in seriousness.

That’s quite some task considering 2017 was crammed with 323 matches across the formats. And that’s at senior international level alone.

So you can see why Wisden‚ while faithfully recording almost everything in the game — backyard stuff‚ shamefully‚ doesn’t crack the nod — pays special attention to cricket in England.

Last year that amounted to 66 Tests‚ one-day internationals and T20 internationals.

There were 146 other first-class games to take care of‚ too. To say nothing of the squillions of non-international list A‚ T20 and junior matches that also needed to find their spot in the 2018 edition’s 1 488 pages.

That explains why Hashim Amla‚ Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn featured among the famous Five in the Almanack in 2013: South Africa toured England in 2012 and won the series to go top of the Test rankings.

And why there are no South Africans among the awarded this year despite their tour to England last year — they lost the series 3-1‚ Dean Elgar was their sole centurion and no-one claimed five wickets in an innings.

England offered only two centurions‚ Joe Root and Ben Stokes‚ but a five-wicket haul each by James Anderson and Toby Roland-Jones and two by Moeen Ali.

None of them have been selected‚ either. Instead‚ for the first time in a practice that stretches back to 1889‚ more than one woman is among the honoured.

The gender barrier was broken in 2009 when Claire Taylor was on the list‚ as Charlotte Edwards was in 2014.

This time there are three: Heather Knight‚ Natalie Sciver and Anya Shrubsole were important members of England’s 2017 World Cup winning team‚ and their richly deserve enshrinement in the annals.

Shrubsole has earned the additional accolade of being the first woman to appear on the cover.

Anyone who wonders why clearly has not seen her bend the ball’s path through the air‚ apparently at will. She is the best swing bowler in the game‚ bar nothing and no-one.

Bravo to Wisden and its editor since 2011‚ Lawrence Booth‚ for having the balls to tell what probably remains a largely male‚ perhaps mostly conservative readership what many of them might not want to hear: women play cricket superbly‚ often better in a qualitative sense than men.

As Knight told the BBC on Wednesday: “We can’t mishit sixes.”

Men are indeed able to muscle their mistakes over the boundary. Women have to play more properly to clear the ropes.

South Africans who have seen that kind of light do have an argument to lay at Wisden’s yellow covers.

It has nothing to do with anyone who played in last year’s Test series in England.

Instead‚ it is that Dané van Niekerk didn’t make the grade despite taking the most wickets at the World Cup: 15‚ and at the scandalous average of 10.00.

She claimed four of them for no runs — a feat no woman nor man has matched — in 20 deliveries against West Indies in Leicester.

So‚ that not a man among Wisden’s Five is South African makes perfect sense. But Van Niekerk?

It helps to win the World Cup — South Africa lost an electrically tense semi-final to the champions in Bristol — and it bears remembering that Van Niekerk’s 4/0 came in the throes of a dreadful‚ even by the Windies’ mournful standards‚ innings of 48.

Still‚ c’mon Wisden: if Van Niekerk isn’t good enough to earn a leather-bound copy of the grand book embossed with their name in gilt — as is given to every recipient — who is?

But the fact that we can ask that question is indicative of something not often seen in a game too often determined to look backwards at a world moving steadily forward.

It’s called progress.