The 148th edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, launched today, reflects on a year of dramatic contrasts for the game, from the soul-searching that accompanied the Pakistan spot-fixing scandal at Lord's, to the near-perfection of England's Ashes campaign in Australia. But between those extremes, one of the game's most constant presences is recognised for attaining new heights of brilliance.
In 2010, Sachin Tendulkar enjoyed a year that even by his own exalted standards was phenomenal. He hit over 1,500 Test runs and seven Test hundreds, including an unparalleled 50th. Tendulkar also became the first to hit a one-day international double-hundred. Wisden acknowledges his greatness by naming him as the Leading Cricketer in the World for 2010.
It's the first time Tendulkar has won the award since it started in 2004, although Wisden 2007 identified him as the player who would have won such an award for 1998 - had it been devised then. Ramachandra Guha traces the three phases of Tendulkar's career, and reveals that he is held in such esteem by the Australians that they do not sledge him; and by his team-mates so that the Indian dressing-room, once riven by turf wars and petty jealousies, is now calm.
With the ongoing criminal investigation restricting Wisden's reporting of the spot-fixing affair, the decision to name just four Cricketers of the Year instead of the usual five is a subtle but damning verdict on a summer that turned sour. Elsewhere in the book, Paul Kelso carefully pieces together the events before, during and after the England-Pakistan Test at Lord's last August, while Rob Crilly visits an illicit gambling den overlooking the slums of Lahore.
Crilly's arresting first-hand account brings to light a murky world that will prove difficult to dismantle. "The den was in full swing the day after Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif had received lengthy bans for their role in the spot-fixing scandal. Yet nobody thought the punishments would help clean up Pakistani cricket." One of the gamblers could hardly have been clearer: "I don't think this will put people off getting involved in fixing."
Writing from Pakistan on the reaction to the sanctions applied to the three Pakistan cricketers by the ICC, ESPNcricinfo's Osman Samiuddin reveals the power of denial. He reports on how Mohammad Amir, especially, was greeted more as a rock star than a cheat, and how the actual events were lost in the world of feverish conspiracy theories.
If England's home season was utterly overshadowed by the affair, they made sure that their cricket made all the headlines in Australia three months later. In his fourth year as Wisden's editor, Scyld Berry hails the team's Ashes performance by saying it was "hard to think of a sizeable human organisation that has come closer to perfection for a couple of months than England's cricket team during the Ashes".
Their achievements, however, were immediately undermined by the ensuing limited-overs series that saw England play two Twenty20 internationals and seven one-day internationals, before flying half-way round the world to pause for breath at home - and then, four days later, heading for the World Cup. "Unsurprisingly," says Berry, "the players, especially the bowlers, fell like flies."
The former England captain, Michael Vaughan, and the former Australian legspinner, Kerry O'Keeffe, complement the Almanack's coverage of the Ashes. "The key difference," Vaughan believes, "between the two teams lay in their spine. England had an excellent pair of opening batsmen and opening bowlers, a very good wicketkeeper in Matt Prior, and a captain who led by example." By contrast, the "Australian attack had no X-factor". O'Keeffe castigates the Australians for their poor preparation - "a little like swimming the English Channel to tune up for the London Marathon" - and berates the Aussies' lack of determination: "England counted their batting in hours (and days). Australians looked at minutes."
Despite those exploits, only two of England's cricketers make Wisden's Test team of the year - James Anderson and Graeme Swann. Instead the side is dominated with players from the No. 1-ranked team in the world, India, with Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan bring their contingent to five. For the first time since the Wisden Test XI began in 2008, there is no room for an Australian - but there is a Bangladeshi, with Tamim Iqbal having been chosen by a panel comprising Ian Bishop, Ramiz Raja, Ian Chappell and the editor, Berry.
The 2009 Wisden Test XI 1 Virender Sehwag (India), 2 Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh), 3 Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), 4 Sachin Tendulkar (India), 5 Jacques Kallis (South Africa), 6 V. V. S. Laxman (India), 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (India, capt & wk), 8 Graeme Swann (England), 9 Dale Steyn (South Africa), 10 Zaheer Khan (India), 11 James Anderson (England).
As one of Wisden's four Cricketers of the Year, Tamim becomes the first Bangladeshi to secure an honour that dates back to 1889. The other recipients are Eoin Morgan, whose innovative strokeplay added a new dimension to England's one-day cricket; Chris Read, who captained Nottinghamshire to a memorable County Championship triumph and Jonathan Trott, who announced himself as England's most consistent run-scorer in both Tests and ODIs.
For the first time in its history, Wisden gives proper recognition to the photographer's art, with Scott Barbour winning the inaugural Wisden-MCC Photograph of the Year award. Will Vanderspar, from Eton College, is the Young Wisden Schools Cricketer of the Year, while Eric Midwinter's synoptic history of the game, The Cricketer's Progress: Meadowland to Mumbai is the winner of the Wisden Book of the Year award.