Trophies for Tendulkar and more Ashes wonders
When we look back, we shall remember 2005 for an Ashes series that perhaps surpassed everything that had gone before, and for three of the game's titans - Shane Warne, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar - going past storied landmarks on their journey to immortality. It shall also be remembered, though, for a Super Series that was anything but, and the shambles that was Zimbabwe cricket, both on and off the field. With 2006 almost upon us, we asked Cricinfo's writers and correspondents what they wished to see in the coming 12 months. There were no turtle doves or partridges in pear trees on the wish list...
All I want for 2006 is for the ICC to get its act together and prioritise whatever it is they scribble down on the agenda at meetings. The handling of the Zimbabwe issue was a joke; the stipulation for bowlers and their 'correct' actions is far from worthy; and the use of technology needs to be re-examined before we have another incident like Inzamam's run-out.
All I want - indeed, I'm praying for - is a miracle: an end to Sri Lanka's cricket board shenanigans. A rotation of top-level officials, some elected and some government-appointed, mostly motivated by selfish reasons rather than the love of the game, have led the island into a cricketing crisis. A cliff-edge is approaching that only by honest, intelligent, cricket-loving men bound by a new constitution can prevent the national team from plunging down.
My cricket-watching experience is almost as old as Sachin Tendulkar's career and it saddens me that he's never been part of a team that has won a major international tournament. India came close in 2002 but were robbed by the weather in Sri Lanka. Twice. He probably has two shots at filling that gap and, while the world Cup in 2007 is the bigger fish, the Champions Trophy, with home advantage, next year is his best bet. Sachin has colossal individual records and a team triumph would be the perfect end to an illustrious career.
All I want for 2006 is for the fans who were captured by the magnificence of the Ashes series to continue supporting England. We may never see the like again on the field but, hopefully, the huge surge of interest generated during those incredible seven weeks can carry the English game forward with a new generation of supporter.
All I want for the year 2006 is for England to retain the Ashes. They can lose everything else (within reason) from now until next November for all I care - but the urn is not for returning. The events of 2005 were more seismic than just a single glorious fluke. It would be cruel if history was to report it as a mere blip in an ongoing tale of Australian hegemony.
I care little who wins or loses but let the game itself in the coming year have more of the endorphin rush of the chase and the adrenaline high of the capture, hunger and pride renewed match by match, if not ball by ball. The Ashes in Australia, the Pakistan tour of England and, preceding them by a distance, the India-Pakistan face-off are all likely to see some electric encounters. Hoping that cricket in 2006 will provide the ultimate voyeuristic experience.
Here's hoping that three marquee match-ups - Pakistan-India, India-England and the Ashes - live up to the advance billing. The heroics of Shane Warne and Andrew Flintoff gave Test cricket such an infusion of life in the last English summer, and it would be a shame if mismatches stemmed the revival. As for individuals, nothing would give me greater pleasure than a Jason Gillespie five-for against the auld enemy at the Gabba. Cricket just isn't the same without that Dizzy mullet.
Statisticians will tell you that India won their first Test series outside the subcontinent since 1986 when they beat Zimbabwe in 2005, but surely we all know what kind of a contest that was. In 2006, India have two chances to prove that they can triumph in a real overseas series - they tour West Indies in May and South Africa later in the year. West Indies may no longer be the force they once were, but at home they remain a handy side. A win in South Africa might prove beyond the Indians, but can we at least have a series victory in West Indies, please?
Seeing as the entire Pakistan team has turned virtuous and thus bereft of bad boys, is it too much to ask that our neighbhours stop going on and on about the Affair of Ganguly? Pick him, don't pick him but please just get over it. It's just so Pakistani and passe. Failing that, a conversion to Christianity by a Pakistani player would also be good for the general balance of the country.
All I want in 2006 is for more bad boys to emerge. The six highlights of the year gone by were Andre Nel's histrionics, Tino Best's irrepressibility, Shoaib Akhtar's manic outbursts, Shahid Afridi's dirty dancing, Kevin Pietersen's ever-changing hairdo and Kumar Sangakkara's holy utterances behind the stumps. Hopefully, none of this will change in the next year and a few more characters arrive to light up our mundane existence.
I'd like umpires to be more accountable for their mistakes, and for technology to be used more in making umpiring decisions, so that justice is done to the talent of the players. Umpiring should reach the same level of efficiency and professionalism as so much else in the sport has, and this can only happen if technology is used as an umpiring tool.
All I want for the year 2006 is for a few good men to further their ambitions, and in doing so help their teams play better cricket. There are few things as fulfilling in cricket as seeing a quality cricketer coming into his own and doing well. If Michael Hussey can keep scoring, Rahul Dravid take India forward, Ricky Ponting win back the Ashes, Mohammad Rafique lead his team to an upset, Brian Lara play an innings of beauty ... then, as a journalist, the words will flow so much easier, and beer taste so much more crisp.
All I want for 2006 is to see West Indies bounce back and charm us with some good old calypso magic. I would love to see Brian Charles Lara's flashing blade carve out some more breathtaking gems. As Sambit Bal wrote once: 'But for light and song, for bliss and glory and lifting the soul, who else but Brian Lara?'
All I would like in 2006 is for cricket to make the headlines and not administrative corruption and mismanagement, sledging, weak and inconsistent match referees, exhausted but off-the-pace umpires, TV rights, an utterly supine ICC, racism, security issues and so on. And how about we end 2006 reporting on Zimbabwe's remarkable Test win over anyone after the decisive and bold intervention of the ICC in January helped get them back on their feet.