Three Englishmen, a Sri Lankan and a Pakistani have been named as the Five Cricketers of the Year, cricket's oldest accolade, in this year's Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, published today.
Paul Collingwood, Monty Panesar and Mark Ramprakash were chosen alongside the Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene and Pakistan's prolific Mohammad Yousuf. All were chosen for their influence on the past English season, the traditional criteria for selection.
Though four of the five were chosen largely for their impact on the international season, it was Ramprakash's remarkable form and consistency in the County Championship which earned him the honour, reminding many what he might have achieved in Test cricket. He finished 2006 with 2278 runs to his name and became only the fifth batsman in the history of first-class cricket in England to complete a full season with an average of over 100. Such prolific scoring would earn most England batsmen promotion to the Test side but, at 37, Fletcher wasn't tempted.
Whereas 2006 was a reminder of one man's lost talent, for Collingwood it was a year in which his tenacity and bottle were recognised. Seemingly forever the "fall guy," he transformed himself into England's most undroppable batsman; his maiden hundred against India at Nagpur confirmed his ability, more to himself than the public, and then followed a run of consistent scores, including a memorable 206 against Australia. Truly England's scrapper.
While Ramprakash dominated county attacks, Yousuf controlled the world's. Pakistan's run machine notched 1788 in the calendar year, beating Viv Richards's 30-year-old record of 1710 and, with nine hundreds, he was virtually unstoppable.
From one bearded wonder to another and, though Panesar's statistics don't gleam as bright as the other four recipients', his was a year no less successful. Sachin Tendulkar was his first Test victim, prompting the frolicking-like-a-lamb celebration which endeared him to the public. It was no fluke: a five-for against Sri Lanka confirmed his immense ability (and equally plate-sized hands) and, after being dropped for the first two Tests of the 2006-07 Ashes, he responded with eight wickets.
Jayawardene was rewarded as much for his captaincy as his batting, helping to save the Lord's Test with 61 and 119 - before blitzing England in the one-dayers. Then followed an epic 374 against South Africa, the fourth-highest Test score to confirm his status as one of Sri Lanka's very best.
Another Sri Lankan, Muttiah Muralitharan, was named as the Leading Cricketer of the Year.