It was a day to celebrate for the Sri Lankans, as their National cricket team’s new arrival Ajantha Mendis became the first Sri Lankan to win the Emerging Player of the Year award at the fifth ICC Awards Ceremony in Dubai on Wednesday. The National team, meanwhile, walked away with the prestigious ‘Spirit of Cricket award’, presented to the team that has upheld the values of the sport to the maximum.
Four Sri Lankans were also named in the ICC’s Team of the Year with Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan occupying places in the Test side and Farveez Maharoof being named as the all-rounder in the ODI side.
Mendis has had a roller coaster ride in international cricket so far and the man known as the Mystery Spinner beat England all-rounder Stuart Broad, Indian fast bowler Ishant Sharma and South African Morne Morkel for the title.
With his mesmerizing brand of spin bowling, the 23-year-old Mendis has exploded on to the international scene in recent months. In just three Tests against India in July and August, he claimed 26 wickets at an average of 18.38, leaving batsmen trying to work out a new way to play, due to his unique array of deliveries.
During the voting period, he also picked up 20 wickets in just eight ODIs at an exciting average of 10:25. His career best six for 13 in the final of the Asia Cup, helped the Sri Lankans to win the regional tournament in Karachi.
Mendis was the top choice of the 25-person voting academy.
Mendis accepted his award from his skipper Jayawardene and said, "I am delighted to win the award. It’s an honour to play for Sri Lanka and I hope to continue to play for my country for a long time."
Players who are under the age of 26 years are eligible for the Emerging Player of the Year award and should have played no more than five Test matches or 10 ODIs before the start of the voting period, which was August 9, 2007.
It’s the second time in a row that Sri Lanka have won the Spirit of the Cricket award which is presented to the team which, in the opinion of the elite panel of ICC umpires and match referees, has best conducted itself on the field within the spirit of the game.
The award was presented to Jayawardene by Tim May, the chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (FICA).
Upon receiving the award on behalf of his team, Jayawardene said: "The captain has to set the example but at the same time every player in the team has to take responsibility and play the game in the right spirit.
"You have to be aggressive and passionate when you play for your country - you want to win. But you don’t have to cross the line and be personal. There are ways of being aggressive while still controlling your anger and passion.
"It feels great to win this award because it is a team award. On the field the lads give everything they’ve got, so to do it in the right spirit as well means a lot to me and my team-mates."
This spirit is described in the preamble to the Laws of Cricket: "Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself."
The preamble goes on to say: "The Spirit of the Game involves respect for your opponents, your own captain and team, the role of the umpires, the game’s traditional values."
This is the second time that Sri Lanka has won this award. Previously, England won it in 2005 and 2006, while New Zealand took the honour at the inaugural ICC Awards in 2004.
Sri Lanka was one of several teams that demonstrated the Spirit of Cricket to great effect over the past 12 months and eventually they finished ahead of Bangladesh, New Zealand.
Jayawardene was also picked in the ICC Test team of the Year and was named as the team’s number three batsman. Graeme Smith was named the captain of the side that also had two other Test captains. Kumar Sangakkara, although he doesn’t keep wickets for Sri Lanka in Tests, was named as the wicketkeeper of the side at the number seven position. The lone spinner in the side was Muttiah Muralitharan.
Farveez Maharoof was the only Sri Lankan named in the ICC ODI team of the year after the Sri Lankans had a tough year in one-day cricket during the voting period.
West Indian middle order batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul was named the Player of the Year. The former captain fought off stiff competition from Jayawardene, South Africans Gareme Smith and Dale Steyn to win the award.
Jayawardene was also short listed for the Test Player of the Year Award, but lost out to Steyn. India’s one-day captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the ODI Player of the Year award.
Yuvraj Singh, meanwhile, became the inaugural winner of the Twenty20 International Performance of the Year award in recognition of his amazing six sixes, in one over off Stuart Broad during the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa last September.
Australian umpire, Simon Taufel, was named as Umpire of the Year for the fifth successive time. Taufel, 37, received his votes from the captains of the ten Full Member nations, as well as the eight-man elite panel of ICC match referees. "I’m delighted to win this award, but I don’t set this as a goal at the start of a season," he said.
England women’s captain Charlotte Edwards won the Women’s Cricketer of the Year award.
Netherlands all-rounder, Ryan ten Doeschate, was named as the Associate Player of the Year.
ICC Test Team of the Year: Graeme Smith (SA, capt), Virender Sehwag (Ind), Mahela Jayawardena (SL), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (WI), Kevin Pietersen (Eng), Jacques Kallis (SA), Kumar Sangakkara (SL, wk), Brett Lee (Aus), Ryan Sidebottom (Eng), Dale Steyn (SA), Muttiah Muralitharan (SL). 12th man: Stuart Clark (Aus).
ICC ODI Team of the Year: Hershelle Gibbs (SA), Sachin Tendulkar (Ind), Ricky Ponting (Aus, capt), Younis Khan (Pak), Andrew Symonds (Aus), Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Ind, wk), Farveez Maharoof (SL), Daniel Vettori (NZ), Brett Lee (Aus), Mitchell Johnson (Aus), Nathan Bracken (Aus). 12th man: Salman Butt (Pak)