Australia captain Steven Smith has crowned a rare year of Test match achievement with his second Allan Border Medal, taking out the most prestigious cricket award down under by a wide margin from his deputy David Warner and the spin bowler Nathan Lyon. Smith’s performances over the voting period also earned him the Test player-of-the-year award.
Warner instead claimed the ODI award as Australia’s leading run-maker over the voting period, which was characterised by strong displays at home against the eventual Champions Trophy winners Pakistan, before giving way to less impressive results in New Zealand, England and India. Opener Aaron Finch, Australia’s leading run-getter in T20Is last year, collected the T20I player-of-the-year award, while 21-year-old Australia and Western Australia quick Jhye Richardson was announced as the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year.
In a year when the Australians faced down considerable doubts about their capacity to compete in Asia and then followed up by regaining the Ashes at home, Smith was the central figure in tallying 1305 Test runs over the voting period at 81.56, asserting himself as the pre-eminent long-form batsman in the game and also building his reputation as a leader. Smith had also accepted the medal in 2015, thus joining Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and Warner as multiple winners.
An overall tally of 246 votes put Smith well out in front of Warner (162) and Lyon (156). Pat Cummins polled a notable 111 votes in his first year as a consistent member of the Australian bowling attack in all forms of the game after being carefully managed over seven years of injuries and false starts since his Test debut as far back as 2011 in Johannesburg.
As the leading figure in both the India series and the Ashes, Smith mastered two contrasting challenges – how to find a way to succeed in the subcontinental conditions with which Australians are most unfamiliar, and then how to deal with the suffocating pressure of a home bout with England – in comprehensive fashion. Though Australia were narrowly unable to beat India away, their efforts won plenty of admiration around the world, particularly when lined up against previously abject displays in the UAE against Pakistan in 2014, and in Sri Lanka in 2016.
These performances, which also reaped Smith the Test award, were enough to ensure he wrested the overall garland of the Border Medal from Warner, who claimed it in each of the past two years.
Lyon, meanwhile, enjoyed his strongest year in Test cricket, and fell just six votes short of Smith – 32 to 26 – for the award in that format, a result of outstanding displays against India, Bangladesh and then England in the Ashes. While Lyon has always excelled in Australian conditions, making the most of the bounce on offer and proving an expert at supporting the Australian pace bowlers, in Asia he had struggled.
However he spent most of the summer of 2016-17 working on improvements to the way he would tackle Asian batsmen and conditions, notably improving his accuracy and subtle variations in pace and trajectory to trap batsmen on the crease and force false strokes. He was thus able to be a consistently dependable bowling weapon for Smith in India and Bangladesh, earning the respect of opposition batsmen who had previously needed little reason to fear him.
These performances then worked to build Lyon’s confidence for the Ashes series in more familiar territory, and also against an England batting order that featured plenty of left-handers. They found Lyon’s combination of turn, bounce and nagging accuracy too much to contend with throughout the Ashes, making him the standout bowler on either side and allowing Australia’s quicks the luxury of bowling at their fastest – safe in the knowledge that constant pressure was being applied at the other end.
Finch’s win was his second T20I player-of-the-year award, a reward for performances that made him Australia’s leading run-maker during the voting period. Finch seems likely to be entering a new phase of his international career as a middle-order batsman in T20 matches, with the younger D’Arcy Short keeping his place alongside Warner at the top of the order when Finch returned from a hamstring injury at the MCG on Saturday night.
Richardson’s win of the Bradman award comes as a sign of infinite promise, one that has earned him a place in the squad to depart for South Africa later this week. While lacking the height of many other young pace contemporaries, Richardson has shown plenty of speed and intelligence with ball in hand, so much so that he is now considered the back-up “impact” bowler to Cummins and Mitchell Starc.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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