The Faisalabad Befuddler, and a collective tribute to Chris Martin
Happy New Year to all Confectionery Stall readers. Here, in the brave new world of 2013, which has already seen New Zealand make a glorious contribution to the history of low scoring, is part two of the unremittingly and certifiably prestigious Confectionery Stall 2012 World Cricket Awards.
Confectionery Stall Planet Earth Cricketer of the Year: Marlon Samuels Other cricketers could claim to have had more statistically impressive years than Samuels. Not many, but some. None of them, however, could also claim to have spent the preceding decade and a bit underachieving spectacularly. In 2011, Samuels had given flickering hints that he might belatedly fulfill his talents. In 2012 he batted like a timeless master in Tests, and a rampant annihilator in catapulting West Indies to the World Twenty20 title. His back-foot off-side play in the Tests in England is set to earn him a Nobel Prize For Classical Batsmanship, his innings in the World Twenty20 final - or, specifically, the 52-off-18 blitz phase of it that turned the final on its confused head ‒ could have knocked down a well-constructed medieval castle.
Confectionery Stall Cricketing Economic Revolutionary of the Year: Marlon Samuels Samuels left the IPL in mid-season to join the West Indian tour party in England, thus effectively paying a vast wodge of his own money for the privilege of playing in the Test series. He promptly batted better than he had ever done before - possibly heralding a new age in cricketing economics, in which selectors will charge their players thousands of pounds to represent their country, hyper-incentivising them to justify their own personal financial outlay. If the BCCI has the courage to present Gautam Gambhir with an invoice for $3.5 million for playing in the forthcoming series against Australia, he will score three double-hundreds. At the very least. That is a fact.
Most Inept Top-Order Test Batting Performances of the Year New Zealand's spectacular 19-over first-session subsidence against South Africa in Cape Town has set a monumental standard for batting failure in 2013 that may well prove impossible to match. Two thousand and twelve, however, can hold its head high as a fine year for batting bloopers. This hotly contested award produced three deserving winners in three categories:
Worst innings: Sri Lankan top order v Australia, second innings, MCG
Sri Lanka had long set their cricketing GPS to take them to No. 1, Thrashed Street, when they walked out for their second innings in Melbourne last week. Minutes later, they had ploughed at high speed straight through the plate glass windows of No. 1, Thrashed Street, parked their car on the sofa, and politely asked old Mrs Hammered for a cup of tea. Karunaratne, Dilshan, Jayawardene and Samaraweera had departed for 1, 0, 0 and 1 in what looked suspiciously like a touching collective tribute to New Zealand tail-end legend Chris Martin as his career enters its twilight decades. It was only the seventh time in Test history that a team has lost four of its top five batsmen for nought or one. Not the ideal start to an attempt to bat two and a half days to save a Test match with two men already unable to bat through injury.
Worst match: Zimbabwe's top order v New Zealand, both innings, Napier
Zimbabwe had waited almost seven years to play an away Test match when they took the field in Napier in January. Two months previously, they had run the Kiwis close in an excellent chase in Bulawayo, so they would have walked out to bat in Napier with expectations of not being (a) completely humiliated, and (b) five wickets down for less than 20 in both innings. Those expectations were not met: 19 for 5 in the first innings led to an apologetic 51 all out, Zimbabwe's lowest-ever total. Following on, they collapsed like a nervous house of cards in an unusually enthusiastic elephant stampede to 12 for 5. A belated recovery took them to an almost-dignified 143 all out. They lost by an innings and 301 runs, the heaviest clouting of their clobber-speckled history. The 31 runs mustered by the first five wickets in both innings combined shattered the previous all-time Test-match top-order ineptitude record - 45 by West Indies at the MCG in 2000-01 (28 for 5, followed by 17 for 5).
Worst series: England's batsmen v Pakistan in the UAE
England began the series as they did not mean to go on, and then went on as they had not meant to begin. Forty-three for 5 (then 94 for 7) in the first innings of the first Test, was followed by 35 for 4 (then 87 for 7) in the second. After some decoy competence in the early stages of their first innings in the second Test, a flurry of wickets cost them control of the game, and then, chasing 144 to win, they suffered one of the biggest freezes by an English team since Captain Scott and the Snowy Squad picked up their posthumous Reaching the South Pole silver medals a century ago - Strauss and Cook anti-whacked 21 in 15 tortured overs, before they were tweak-skittled for 72, with Bell, Pietersen, Morgan and Trott amassing five runs for four wickets in 24 balls.
In the final Test, they were 7 for 2, then 98 for 6, as they again failed to capitalise on their bowlers' excellence after Pakistan had been dismissed for 99. In the first five innings of the series, England's top seven managed an almost heroically persistent 19 single-figure scores. By way of variation and to prove their flexibility, in their sixth and final effort, all seven reached double figures, and none converted them to a half-century.
England's first six wickets averaged 20.02 per partnership in the series, their lowest such figure since 1888, and their worst ever in a series of more than two matches. In their previous three series, the top six English wickets had averaged 67 in Australia, 64 against Sri Lanka, and 57 against India. Those three teams, however, had made the schoolboy error of not including Saeed Ajmal on turning pitches. England played the Faisalabad Befuddler with the confidence and expertise of a rhinoceros trying to build a matchstick Eiffel Tower whilst going down a bobsled run. By the end of the series, English pundits were even starting to concede that Abdur Rehman (19 wickets at 16) might be a useful bowler. And wondering whether 2011 had been a forgery.
Crcketing demographic of the decade so far: Batsmen over the age of 35 The over-35s have averaged 44.6 in the first three years of this decade, despite the recent declines of various ageing legends of the game. The 2010s are well-placed to smash the Highest-Averaging-Decade-By-Over-35-Batsmen record. The current record-holder is the Bradman-enhanced 1940s, when over-35 averaged 37.2.
Kallis, Chanderpaul and Hussey scored 11 hundreds between them in 2012. Australia have another over-35 Hussey who could replace their departing over-35 Hussey for the three-Ashes-series-in-two-badly-scheduled-years short-term future. Or they could try to recruit Kallis or Chanderpaul. Most likely, however, is that Cricket Australia elects to pump Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja full of a special serum that makes them age ten years in a week (concocted from the hormones that new fathers release when watching their first child being born).
● And finally, a few stats on New Zealand's Cape Town Catastrophe. This is not the first time the Protean pacers have inflicted abject misery on an opposing batting line-up in recent times. Three of the 14 shortest-ever team innings in Tests (and the two shortest opening innings of a Test since 1896) have come against South Africa in the last five years, the latest blitz following the 120-ball first-day scuppering of India in Ahmedabad in 2008, and the 18-over obliteration of Australia, also at Newlands, late in 2011.
On that last occasion, Vernon Philander took five wickets, Morkel three and Steyn two - just as they did this week. Philander became only the second bowler to take five wickets for less than 10 in the first innings of a Test
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer