Cricinfo writers pick their 2006 moments

Ganguly fires, ICC misfires

Cricinfo writers select their best and worst moments from 2006

Martin Williamson



Bangladesh had a good year winning 12 of their 14 ODIs and giving Australia quite a scare © AFP

Best: Bangladesh on the up
Bangladesh, so long the whipping boys of international cricket, have enjoyed handing out some drubbings of their own and ended the year flushed with success after 12 wins in 14 ODIs - their previous 129 ODIs had brought just 16 victories. While the opposition were not top class, Bangladesh more than underlined that they have opened a wide gap between themselves and the chasing pack. Although restricted to two Tests by the grossly imbalanced Future Tours Programme, they gave Australia some sleepless nights - and almost a follow-on - before the pressure got to them. Their aim in 2007 is to pick off the sides in eighth and ninth in the ODI rankings ... England and Sri Lanka.

Worst: Haves and have nots
Speaking of the gap between the best and the rest, 2006 was the year in which the ICC's brave new (albeit under-funded) plan to allow the top six Associates kicked in. However, there were no surprises, although Kenya hinted at what we all suspected, namely they are the best of the rest, by drawing a series in Zimbabwe although they were trounced by Bangladesh. That aside, no upsets were threatened and some woefully one-sided games were also in evidence, none more than when Sri Lanka piled on 443 for 9. The biggest disappointments were the highly-funded Bermudans and the Scots, who were thrashed in Bangladesh in December. But the main problem was still that the big boys simply didn't want to play with the minnows whose appeal to sponsors and TV companies was zero.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

Sriram Veera



Sourav Ganguly: India's highest run-scorer in the Test series against South Africa © AFP

Best: Dada returns
It was all set up for a fall. The critics were chuckling quietly, "Ah ... He's going to get buried on the bouncy South African track." Obituaries were dusted up and one more line, describing his latest debacle, was about to be added. He made them look sheepish with a gutsy 87 against Rest of South Africa. And by the end of the first Test, he had converted a few of the critics to his side. Ridicule had made way for respect. 'Dada ki baat sunenge na?" he had cajoled us in an astounding advertisement that I can't believe any other cricketer would have done. He impressed with his desire, if not with the scores, by playing every Ranji Trophy match and surprised some of us, with his show in South Africa. The redemption song is on. How long it will last is anybody's guess but, briefly, at end of the year, when old dies for new, Sourav Ganguly gave us a lilting tune.

Worst: Story of Sachin's life?
A little story first. During the ball-by-ball commentary of the second Test against South Africa in Durban, I had written this: "Two wickets down, in comes Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Another semi-crisis to deal with. The story of his life." Almost immediately, two feed-backers pinged me with, "Story of Sachin's life you said? How many times did he rescue India out of crisis? What a statement?"

What a statement indeed, the worst of the year. But to me, it's not a comment on the hero, more a reflection of the escapist-fantasy that we cling to. We don't like to watch our heroes turn into mortals. We like to see them riding off into the sunset. Some like Shane Warne do. Tendulkar can easily walk off now. He has runs, money and respect. To me it's fascinating to watch how a master is prepared to swallow his ego and is willing to look ungainly, even scratch around, for his runs and the team. The injuries have taken its toll on the mindset, the free-flowing man is slowly turning into a thing of past and yes it would be great if he returns to his pristine best. But till then, even if it never comes, his monk-like efforts in Sydney, his fight back, albeit brief, in the first innings at Durban are to be cherished. The horse can wait.

Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant of Cricinfo

Peter English



Ponting might have gotten away with two hundreds and an average of 88.50 in the Ashes but for Kasprowicz and MacGill Buchanan's boot camp meant a long break from international cricket © Getty Images

Best: Pidgeon II
Stuart Clark waited until he was 31 to make his mark on Australian cricket with a Man-of-the-Series performance against South Africa. A useful fast bowler for New South Wales, he quickly became a stand-out for Australia with his nine wickets on debut at Cape Town. Twenty dismissals came in his first series and his continued strong performances have shown there will be life after Glenn McGrath.

Worst: Boot camp busting
John Buchanan's boot camp might have bonded Australia's contract-holders successfully, but it pushed Michael Kasprowicz to consider retirement. Kasprowicz could cope with the various tasks, but he suffered a groin injury that later flared into a painful back problem and he is still waiting to return to domestic action. John Buchanan rated the camp as one of his greatest achievements, but it has almost certainly led to the end of Kasprowicz's international career. Stuart MacGill, who suffered a knee problem during the week, has also not appeared for Australia since the pre-season activity.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo

Nishi Narayanan



And so it all came together © Getty Images

Best: Hussey catches his destiny
If like the movies we could flashback a cricketer's life in quick rewind to 'where it all came together', Michael Hussey's catch to dismiss Ashwell Prince in the second match of the VB series this year, would be such a moment. Hussey ran in from mid-wicket to square leg with his left hand out. He stretched a little more than one's imagination could and flung himself towards the ball. The scoreboard innocuously read Prince c Hussey b McGrath 19. Hussey had played 22 ODIs before the one at the Gabba and in three months into his Test career he had three hundreds and was already a 'find of the year'. But the catch was the moment it all fit into place. No turning back from there. An ODI average of 77.11 and with four fifties and a hundred from six Ashes innings he is now on full fast-forward mode.

Worst: Coaching Videos
One had to tune into this one - Greg Chappell coaching Sourav Ganguly on playing the short ball - a nicely packaged 'unrehearsed' video of the coach and batsman in the nets going over the processes of hooking and pulling. Then Sunil Gavaskar, a commentator on the channel which broadcast these exclusive videos, gave Rahul Dravid some batting tips and Allan Donald, also a commentator, had a friendly chat with Indian bowlers Sreesanth and VRV Singh. As televisions were switched on to watch the fourth day of the Durban Test, Sreesanth and VRV stood awkwardly by the camera while Donald advised Sreesanth not to lose his cool on the field. Painful to watch, it reminded one of a teacher reprimanding a student while the rest of the class listened in. More painful was Harsha Bhogle's claim that the best reality tv is that which is spontaneous. There have been worse moments this year, but nothing so cringe-worthy.

Nishi Narayanan is an editorial assistant of Cricinfo

Sambit Bal

Best: Return of the sporting ODI
South Africa's chase of 434 at Johannesburg was breathlessly described by many, including Cricinfo, as the greatest one-day match ever. But I must admit that it made me queasy. It was, without doubt, the most incredible chase and a spectacle. But it was hardly a match. On that pitch and with those short boundaries, the bowlers didn't have a chance.

This year's Champion's Trophy somewhat restored my faith in one-day cricket. It wasn't by design, but the pitches prepared by the Indian curators brought bowlers back in to the game. Mohali provided bounce, Jaipur seam, and Brabourne spin. Batsmen were forced to buckle down, apply themselves and choose the right balls to hit. Most matches were low scoring, but almost each of them was a contest. One-day cricket has suffered grievously because of misplaced notion that big runs equals big excitement; to see the balance redressed, that too in India where plus-300 scores are boringly routine, was refreshing.

Worst: Viru walks on eggshells

I write this on the second of the Boxing day Test between India and South Africa and about an hour ago, Virender Sehwag has played the most horrendous of strokes to be out on zero. It was his first ball, wide, and on its way up when Sehwag flailed at it. It was not merely careless; it was the worst of Sehwag in what has been the worst year of his career.

To watch a confident player like Sehwag to be reduced to a bundle of confusion has been one of the most distressing sights of 2006. To say bowlers have sorted him out is simplistic. Watch him bat in the first Test innings it's easy to see that his batting has regressed; from a batsman who could play strokes all around the wicket, he now merely looks for space to free his arms to blast the ball square on the offside, which makes him one-fourth the player. Insouciance is a great virtue when married with common sense, Sehwag's first-ball swish made him more like a fool on a death wish.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine

Paul Coupar



Brian Lara can make even the savage demolishers of the Aussies look weak © Getty Images

Best: Aussies look mortal
Perhaps it was the tantalising mirage of the Aussies being made to look mortal ahead of the Ashes. Perhaps it was because I was puffing on a gym treadmill at the time and appreciated a distraction - any distraction. But watching Lara's front-foot pull for six, during the Champions Trophy clash at Mumbai, to a ball most would have nurdled through third man, was truly electric. More risky than Dravid, more inventive than Ponting, he remains thrilling to watch.

Worst: December 16
Every serious Test nation will be playing, with Bangladesh hosting a major series against Scotland. It's far, far too much cricket. It's dulling our appetite and the sharpness of our memories. It's weakened competition and diluted fine performances. Cricket becomes a meaningless blur.

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Anand Vasu

Best: Jubilation at Jo'burg



The win at the Wanderers may not keep the critics at bay for long but for a team often falling frustratingly short of what it's capable of this was a situation where even Australia couldn't have done better © AFP

When former Indian cricketers are baying for blood, when newspapers and television channels are shrill in their calls for immediate and brutal reaction, when the batting has failed and when the decisions and comments of administrators are not always what they seem, the Indian cricket team must be the worst possible place to be. And it was exactly the situation when Rahul Dravid courageously chose to bat on a fast pitch with damp spots on it at the Wanderers. Then, batsmen applied themselves, fast bowlers breathed fire from a good line and length, fielders held every catch and snaffled out run outs from half chances. When India won for the first time on foreign soil, it was for many, a vindication of the faith that they had in this team. It was total cricket from a team that frustratingly, often falls well short of what it is capable of. It was one of those rare moments when you don't think, "what would Australia have done in this situation?" for mighty as they are, even they could have done no better.

Worst: Read me a riot
They say subjects get the kings they deserve. But sometimes you are left wondering if India's cricketers get the fans they deserve - not quantity, but quality wise. One of the more distressing sights is watching Sachin Tendulkar fielding on the fence at an Indian ground and getting booed and barracked for not having made runs in a game. Cowards who yell anonymously from a group are one thing, but in Guwahati, when the appalling side of fan behaviour reached its crescendo. After no play was possible because heavy overnight rains had drenched the ground, even the most desperate attempts of the organisers failed. Angry fans rioted, destroying equipment, breaking down fences and walls, assaulting security personnel. Blood was shed and tear gas cannisters were fired. Riots and violence of this kind remind of all the things that are wrong in this world - communal violence, dictatorial oppression, that sort of thing. It's the sort of thing I never expected to see at a cricket ground, and hope I never have to write about again.

Sam Collins

Best: Bell tolls
As the vultures hovered over Duncan Fletcher at Perth, Ian Bell's treatment of Shane Warne in his spunky 87 drew attention to the many positive aspects of the coach's reign. Bell, for so long the golden-child of English cricket, had been comprehensively worked over by Australia in 2005 and a spell on the sidelines followed. However, rather than join the lost generation of Ramprakash, Hick and Crawley he seized the second chance afforded him by Flintoff's injury, and three hundreds against Pakistan signalled that in this England set-up players do not wither when dropped, they fight back.

Worst: Captaincy conundrums



How well will Flintoff hold up in the Ashes post-mortem? © Getty Images
Just when it seemed English cricket had finally emerged from the dark ages and embraced common sense, the mess following Michael Vaughan's injury showed that madness can only be hidden, never dispelled. Flintoff's premature appointment as captain for the summer followed his Mumbai heroics, and his subsequent injury made the whole affair farcical. Strauss then impressed in the role against Pakistan - but the selectors' hands were tied: Flintoff would captain in Australia. All the while Vaughan was still the official captain. Confused? Cue a media frenzy when Vaughan returned to action with England 2-0 down, only for Fletcher to belatedly rule out his involvement; the same Fletcher who then shoddily threw Flintoff a hospital-pass by blaming selection muddles on his captain. The real pity is the effect on Flintoff. Clearly not fit, the beaming smile of 2005 is a distant memory and we can only hope he retains his love for the game in the wake of the inevitable Ashes post-mortem.

Sam Collins is a freelance journalist based in London

Steven Lynch



One that snaked through - Monty sends back a stunned Younis Khan © Getty Images

Best: Monty python
It's one thing for a spinner to grab the wicket of an out-of-form batsman, or a wide-eyed rabbit. But the ball which announced Monty Panesar as a bowling star of the first magnitude was to a batsman at the top of his form, fresh from 173 in the first innings at Headingley. The recipient was Younis Khan, half of Pakistan's Two Ys batting pairing which troubled England all summer. Panesar dragged Younis forward, beat his jabbed defensive push, and the ball snaked back from the rough outside leg, just kissing the top of off stump and flicking the bail. It was a great delivery - one that should have been played on a continuous loop in a locked room to the England tour selectors before they made the ruinous decision to leave Panesar out of the Brisbane and, especially, Adelaide Tests against Australia.

Worst: Adelaide atrocity
Actually I wouldn't have minded Australia winning the Ashes, as long as it had been a decent series. And when England rolled past 500 in the second Test at least it looked as if the series would be still alive come Christmas. That predictable first-up defeat at Brisbane wouldn't have looked quite so bad if it had been followed by a strong draw - or even a surprise victory - at Adelaide. But then came that peculiar declaration-by-numbers, the expensive drop of Ponting ... and the strokeless collapse on the fifth day that gave Australia the chance of victory, which they greedily guzzled. If Australia had won the Edgbaston Test in 2005, and gone two up, it would have ruined the "Greatest Ever" Ashes series: their victory here killed this one stone dead. There was never any way back from 2-0.

Steven Lynch is the deputy editor of The Wisden Group

Brydon Coverdale



Michael Hussey - Sir Don's statistical twin (almost) © Getty Images
Best: A champion arrives
Michael Hussey is not Don Bradman. Statistically, however, he is pretty darn close. Few players have taken to Test cricket as quickly and impressively as Hussey, who Australia have discovered can plug any hole in the top six. Sadly, there is only one of him, because there could be a few leaks soon if any more batsmen call it a day. After 14 Tests, he averages 86.33 - Bradman averaged 94.45 at the same point in his career. Hussey's average will almost certainly decline but Australia's No. 4 spot is definitely in safe hands. Suggestions have even been made that Australia might not have lost the Ashes in 2005 had he played. That might be drawing a long bow, but his class and composure has been patently obvious in 2006.

Worst: Losing a legend
Australian cricket fans considered losing the Ashes in 2005 a calamity. They probably should be thankful, however, because it postponed for just over a year the moment they would regard as an even bigger tragedy - Shane Warne's retirement. He would have quit had Australia retained the Ashes last year but his total commitment to regaining the urn pushed him on to 2006-07. Warne's departure was a desperately sad moment for world cricket because his complete mastery of legspin is as unlikely to be replicated as a Jason Gillespie double-century. There have been plenty of stars in world cricket in the past 20 years but few towering legends of the game. Warne is unquestionably one of them.

Brydon Coverdale is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

Vaneisa Baksh

Best: Lara's opera



Brian Lara was in his element at Multan © AFP
If Danish Kaneria had been bowling badly, it would have dimmed the sparkle somewhat. He hadn't been; and despite the two sixes Brian Lara had already taken off him, he couldn't have been more shell-shocked than at the end of over number 83 in the second Test at Multan. Stepping out, Lara dispatched the first ball, straight and true, with one bounce to the fence. He subsided for the next, but leant back to pull the short third ball outside leg stump clear over the mid-wicket boundary.

The fourth met a dancer's footwork, as Lara sashayed forward and lofted a powerful arc to long on. Like reaching a crescendo, the third six was the biggest, over the sight screen. Last ball was like waiting for the climax of a symphonic piece, and the full toss got a baton wave over mid-wicket. Three consecutive sixes and two fours, just two runs short of his record 28. Perhaps it was the second six, but the over had suddenly become musical, and Lara was composing an opera full of tragedy, drama, and enthralling conquest.

Worst: Windies' bumbling board
West Indies sank to the debacle between Allen Stanford and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) over the clash between fixtures for his Super Star tournament (Nov 10-12) and the West Indies tour of Pakistan. Discussions began early in the year between the parties, but somewhere wires got crossed and what was represented as a hardline position from the Pakistan board turned out to be flexible, but only after the tournament had been called off by an irate Stanford. A possible five million US dollars to South Africa was lost in the rush, while the WICB claimed that Stanford had backed out of a promised US $2 million donation.

The WICB President had refused to name the team for Pakistan on Brian Lara's advice, he said, which made it impossible for Stanford to select a team. Michael Holding, incensed that Lara's advice was the rationale offered by the WICB for not naming players, resigned from the Cricket Committee on the grounds that it had been sidestepped. He accused the WICB President of being economical with the truth after the Board issued a rebuttal, and with Clive Lloyd drawn in, things got even more unseemly.

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan



Sabina went bonkers and Dwayne Bravo's celebration was the symbol of Windies' one-day revival © AFP

Best: Slow death at Sabina
This was the one-day version of Steve Harmison's short ball to Michael Kasprowicz at Edgbaston. Ten needed off the last five, Bravo to Yuvraj, and Sabina Park is going delirious. A top-edged four sends down shivers and a blistering cover-drive that follows induces a sense of utter hopelessness. In a couple of minutes, a cheering arena was turned into a morgue. Two off three was too easy. India were going 2-0 up in a five match series and Windies were all but buried.

And then it arrived, ever so slowly. Rising from the adrenalin pool, Bravo resorted to guile when everyone expected force, delivering a quite audacious slower yorker. Yuvraj's attempted sweep around the corner was complete as the ball passed him and before he realised, the stumps were rattled. To a man, Sabina went bonkers, electricity pierced the concrete, and the pillars quaked under the mountain of noise. It was also an inflexion point for the two teams - West Indies won 11 of their next 17 games; India lost 12 of their next 16.

Worst: Runs and ruins
Strangely the Iqbal Stadium was full, on a the fifth day of a quite meaningless Test. A grand total of 1702 runs were scored in five days and chances of a result were as remote as Shoaib Akhtar embracing Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Then Afridi entered and, after an innings lasting three balls, edged to the keeper. And then, in one mighty wave, Iqbal was empty. Barring two sessions on the third day, nobody needed have turned up for this batting orgy. Six centuries, five half-centuries, eight bowlers conceding more than 100, 200 fours, 27 sixes ... On a tar road masquerading as a pitch, cricket wept, wailed and finally died.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo

Anil Nair

Best: Freddie at Alamo



Flintoff carried the torch for England at the Gabba till he was forced off the field with a sore ankle © Getty Images
Andrew Flintoff in the first innings at the Gabba will remain a sight to cherish despite the ignominy of the Ashes surrender. As the other English bowlers reduced themselves to pie-chuckers, Flintoff, wearing his size like a cloak and chewing gum, ran in over, after desperate over, with the mercury rising and the humidity touching 88%. He was the only one with the pace, accuracy and menace to hurry the Australians on a belter. In just his second over he had Ponting hopping around with a steepler, and, even if momentarily, reliving the nightmare of Ashes 2005. Finally, as Flintoff hobbled off with a sore ankle and an air of the knacker's yard about him, the enduring image was less the Charge of the Light Brigade than of Alamo - of martyrdom gilded and redeemed by the victories that preceded it.

Worst: KP and IQ
Kevin Pietersen's continuing tirade against alleged racism in the land of his birth is a blot on his otherwise remarkable story of courage and adaptability. South Africa does have a skewed quota system in cricket, official protestations notwithstanding, and Pietersen obviously was a victim of it. But there is the larger reality and his phenomenal success as an England player ought to have made Pietersen realise that what goes around comes around too. In the new South Africa, violent crime and rape is rampant but it is also a great experiment in multiculturalism, where the unity is willed, still not quite on strong foundations but not a facade either: the power is with the blacks, the money largely white and the balance between empowerment and exploitation is ever so steadily shifting towards the former. To call such historical redress racism is simply diabolical, but in this case it appears more a matter of a challenged IQ.

Anil Nair is managing editor (India) of Cricinfo

Will Luke

Best: KP takes on Warne
Some have numbed Shane Warne's spitting legbreak but precious few have silenced his venomous tongue. Kevin Pietersen's direct, planned attack on Warne has been this series' mesmerising sideshow. He smashed him for six fours and a six - 59 out of his masterful 158 at Adelaide - leaving Warne bemused and becalmed. Warne got his revenge in the second innings, bowling him around his legs - but his and Australia's euphoric celebration said plenty. Finally, an Englishman who could match Warne's ability as a cricketer - and with verbals, too.

Worst: Selection shocker
It was so depressingly inevitable. Wrongly chosen for the first Test, we hoped, a little naively, that Ashley Giles would be joined by Monty Panesar for the second at Adelaide. He wasn't. Giles dropped Ricky Ponting on 35 (he made 142); scratched around at Duncan Fletcher's precious No.8 position and bowled haplessly. Monty finally made his belated Ashes debut at Perth, took eight wickets and showed promising class and ability with the bat. Too late.

Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

Jenny Thompson

Best: When Claire soared



An out-of-form Steve Harmison could not prevent the Aussies from regaining the Ashes before Christmas © Getty Images
It was an innings fit to grace any stage, let alone the home of cricket. Claire Taylor's silky 156 from 151 balls eclipsed Viv Richard's record of fastest one-day hundred at Lord's, and she was immediately rewarded with an honours board at the ground. But the true value of that innings - and indeed of both England and India's immaculate conduct - will be measured when discussions are held as to whether to hold another women's match there. Taylor couldn't have done more to help the cause and hopefully the women will be back before long.

Worst: Wide, wider, widest
From the sublime to the ridiculed... England took fewer than 16 months to lose the Ashes they'd taken 16 years to regain - and poor Steve Harmison's first ball in the first Test at Brisbane set the tone. That wide was so wide it flew to Andrew Flintoff at second slip and at that point the England captain must have thought the urn could easily slip from their grasp. So it proved, with an out-of-sorts Harmison typifying England's woes. They did play well in parts, but not the vital ones, and Ponting had the Ashes all wrapped up for Christmas.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Sidharth Monga

Best: Uttar Pradesh find their Gary Pratt
Ali Hamid Zaidi had had nothing to do with Uttar Pradesh's Ranji campaign till the final, where he fielded as a substitute. The whole innings went without him having to do anything significant. Until Bengal were nine down and needed 15 runs to gain the first innings lead that would, in all probability, decide the Ranji Trophy final. For three days and a bit, the game had meandered towards this climax. The lack of action and pace could have been a good excuse for missing the defining moment when it came your way. Not for Zaidi.

Top-scorer Lakshmi Ratan Shukla swept Piyush Chawla, all fielders, except the slip, were at the boundary. The ball took the top-edge and flew towards square-leg. Zaidi ran in 15 yards from the boundary, knowing if he missed it could go for four (more than one-fourths of the required runs), dived and did not let the ball touch the ground. Nothing else mattered then; the whole team mobbed him. There was another innings to be played, but that could be negotiated with reasonable batting. The Ranji Trophy was won.

Zaidi later said he hadn't the time to think about the four runs he could have given away in going for the catch. This was the closest they had ever come to the title, and a miss could have cost them the Ranji Trophy. And he didn't have time to think such thoughts. Ah, for such absence of cobwebs.

Worst: I swear
Walking off after being bowled by Monty Panesar at the WACA, Justin Langer's attention was attracted by somebody from the crowd. To his credit Langer didn't say anything, didn't scream, but his look said it all. A disrespectful word from who could be a loser but thinks he is a hero, hiding in the crowd, is the last thing you would want to hear when you are walking back.

The year saw worse. After the South Africans last year, the Australian crowds reportedly racially abused the Sri Lankan players in this year's VB series. And Australia is not the only place where spectators abuse players. And the abuse is not limited to only the opposition players, as Langer's case showed. Aakash Chopra, playing a Duleep Trophy game, got his share of abuse from the crowd just because he was the most known face on the field.

The ICC have done their bit to try and stop players swearing at each other, but a player would rather deal with a man-to-man swearathon than a faceless drunk, whose kids, ironically, perhaps look upto the abused party.

Sidharth Monga is staff writer of Cricinfo Magazine

Charlie Austin

Best: Mahela's rearguard



A series-draw in England turned Sri Lanka's bad year into a new beginning under the leadership of Mahela Jayawardene © AFP
During the first seven sessions of the first Test at Lord's Sri Lanka were abject. Even diehard Sri Lanka fans agreed with Geoff Boycott: "My granny could provide better practice for the Pakistan series." But during the next eight sessions the team salvaged their pride with one of the greatest rearguard's in the game's long history: Sri Lanka's very own Dunkirk. At the centre was Mahela Jayawardene, a captain under the microscope and extreme pressure. His splendid 119, an innings of beautiful touch and unbending determination was the innings that turned a bad year into a landmark tour and a new beginning.

Worst: A blot on the spirit
Call me old fashioned if you must, but I cherish cricket's long-held commitment to sportsmanship. The "Spirit of the Game" is a woolly concept, but it enshrines values of great importance. Brendon McCullum's run out of Murali during the first Test in Christchurch may have been lawfully correct, but it was wholly at odds with the spirit of the game.

Kumar Sangakkara had just completed a magnificent century and Murali was overeager to congratulate him. Yes, he was foolish in the extreme to leave his crease before the ball was in McCullum's gloves, but he was not attempting a run in the context his excitement in his close friend's achievement was understandable. In the Champions Trophy, just a few weeks before, Sangakkara could have run out Nathan Astle, who was patting down the pitch, but he choose instead to give him a gentle warning.

Even if McCullum's natural instinct as a wicketkeeper was to break the stumps, Stephen Fleming, an international captain of high regard who has a responsibility to protect cricket's ethics, could have called Murali back. It was an opportunity to do the right thing; to set an example for thousands of young cricketers around the world. Sadly, instead, the match was soured and cricket was hurt.

Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent

Jamie Alter

Best: Monty!



Monty Panesar: Comical spinner to bona fide match-winner © Getty Images

The sight of a turbaned, Asian spin bowler bringing English crowds to their feet, waving flags, chanting his name, cheering his every move, was especially endearing. Monty Panesar, the first Sikh to play for England, shot up from comical spinner to cult hero to bona fide matchwinner - heck, he's even had football players copying his enthusiastic, unabashed wicket-taking histrionics - and will prove an inspiration to many others like him. For an Asian to establish himself in England, where British Asians feel misrepresented, was something very, very special. England's cricket make-up, seen for decades as institutionally racist, has hopefully woken up to an opportunity.

Worst: Dope, undope
The lifting of the bans on Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, after they had tested positive for banned steroid nandrolone. How a three-member panel was allowed to decide the verdict for a matter as serious as doping, and for a national federation such as the Pakistan board, to tell an international federation what rules it is going to apply for the controversial case, was shocking and unacceptable. The PCB-appointed tribunal acquitted Akhtar and Asif with the reasoning that they had not been warned about dietary supplements blamed for their positive tests. The bottom line is that they tested positive. Enough said, case closed. International athletes must be aware of the risks involved and a lack of knowledge was no excuse.

Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

Andrew Miller

Best: The M&H show
It looked like a vision of a glorious future when Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar combined their mercurial talents to deliver a remarkable innings-and-120-run victory against Pakistan at Old Trafford. England's odd couple thrived on a trampoline pitch to share 19 wickets between them - 50 years to the week since Jim Laker had managed that number all by himself, on the same ground. Teasing tweakers and menacing lift. It had a nation in raptures, in anticipation of similar conditions Down Under. Oh well ...



The Mirror launches a scathing attack on England's dismal one-day form © The Mirror

Worst: Nightmare in pyjamas
Where do we start with this one? That dismal 5-1 drubbing against India? That dismal 5-0 drubbing against Sri Lanka? That dismal and hollow victory over a hopeless Irish team at Stormont? That dismal capitulation against Australia at Jaipur. Dismal, dismal, dismal. England couldn't give a toss about one-day cricket this year. The Ashes (past and present) was all that mattered. Which is rather ironic, seeing as the disciplines and momentum that Australia carried over from their Champions Trophy triumph were precisely what seized that decisive final day at Adelaide.

Andrew Miller is the UK editor of Cricinfo

Kanishkaa Balachandran



Rahul Dravid gave the cricket world a batting lesson at Sabina Park © AFP

Best: The Wall stands
Rahul Dravid's twin half centuries on a minefield of a pitch in Jamaica highlighted the gulf between the good and the great. Dravid's impeccable technique and unfazed concentration combined to guide India to its Holy Grail - a Test series victory abroad against a credible opposition, which took 20 years of waiting. The innings was a throwback to an earlier era, as Dravid gritted it out on a two-paced pitch, cutting down on flamboyance and playing the ball on its merit. The fact that he faced more number of deliveries in his first-innings 81 than the West Indians did in their first-innings capitulation was an indication that it was one man against the rest.

Worst: Mumbai mania
India's hapless surrender for 100 in the final day of the final Test against England at Mumbai would rank high among the Test cricket's meek capitulations. The injury-hit Johnny-Cash inspired England side led by Andrew Flintoff were treated like royalty, as the Indians gifted away wickets at a frenetic pace, courtesy some diabolical shot selection. Relative unknowns and newcomers in international cricket had their moments under the sun, as did a certain Monty Panesar, who was given a second chance in the deep after dropping a sitter just two balls before. India renounced their stranglehold in the series, settling for a 1-1 draw after 49 overs of madness. Gracious hosts? Well done India...

Kanishkaa Balachandran is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

Jayaditya Gupta



'Remember us?' - Zaheer Khan and Sourav Ganguly were back at their best © AFP

Best: Roaring back in style
This was the year of the fightback. It happened with players - Zaheer Khan, Sourav Ganguly, Chamara Silva (whose match-winning century and half-century in Wellington came after a pair in Christchurch) - who defied the odds, conventional wisdom and the crushing weight of expectation to record personal landmarks. It happened with teams in a match situation; most famously, South Africa, who chased down Australia's 434 at the Wanderers; Australia themselves, who fashioned a victory out of sheer self-belief at Adelaide; Pakistan, recovering from Irfan Pathan's first-over hat-trick at Karachi. And in the context of a tradition: Australia again, for so emphatically winning back the Ashes.

The Worst: India's leviathan board
The BCCI, like Topsy, just grow'd. And grow'd. And somewhere along the way the pounds, dollars, rupees and whatever other currency they were raking in, stopped making sense. Full credit to all those manning the bean counters but the list of things left undone is far too long: Rotting stadiums, a shoddily-run domestic structure, an overpowering stench of ad-hocism...and, above all, the belief that big bucks alone can change everything. It's a monopolist leviathan thriving in a free-market economy. Not much room for cricket there.

Jayaditya Gupta is senior editor of Cricinfo

Dan Brigham



THAT shot again - Pietersen reverse-sweeps Muralitharan for a six © Getty Images

Best: KP goes gonzo
The crowd's gasp was as loud as it was revealing. Pietersen had just fallen after a breathtaking 142, and the crowd knew that some of the greatest, most creative hitting ever seen in a Test arena was at an end. Once regarded with suspicion by the English for his South African-ness and his love of celebrity, this magical innings famous for the left-handed sweep for six over point off Muralitharan changed all that.

Worst: Flights of madness
England's preparations for retaining the Ashes were bad enough. Then someone took the ridiculous decision to fly the team home from India following their inept Champions Trophy showing rather than heading straight to Australia to prepare for the Ashes. There was everyone thinking this was the most important series since, well, Ashes 2005, and yet England were flying half-way around the world to spend a couple days at home before again flying half-way around the world. Was it vindicated? Was it hell?

Daniel Brigham is staff writer of The Wisden Cricketer magazine

Neil Manthorp



'That will cost you five bucks...sorry...runs gentlemen' - Darrell Hair at The Oval © Getty Images

Best: Mick takes the mickey
Mick Lewis (10-0-113-0): "It's not like I bowled a heap of pies. I actually bowled quite well. It was just one of those freaky games. I wouldn't have bowled 10 overs if I was bowling a heap of crap. I'm not a selector, but they're in the job for a reason, they're smart and I'm sure they don't just look at one game and say 'He's not up to it'." The game needs its comedians and delusionists.

Worst: Hair's Ovalgate
The moment Darrell Hair's superiority complex and 'sense of theatre' over-ruled common sense and persuaded him to signal five penalty runs against Pakistan at the Oval. If only he had considered the consequences - or, at the very least, caught Inzamam with a pen knife and a bottle top in his pocket.

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency

Andrew McGlashan

Best: Shaggy! You beauty
Every dog has its day and for Shaun 'Shaggy' Udal it couldn't have come much sweeter than the third Test against India at Mumbai. It was his last chance to make a mark in international cricket after being overlooked for the first two Tests following a poor tour of Pakistan. Shortly after lunch on the final day, Sachin Tendulkar propped forward and an inside edge popped to short leg and an hour later he'd help to wrap up a famous England victory. One to tell the grand kids about.

Worst: Harmy the scatter-gun
There has been plenty to bemoan about England's one-day cricket over the last 12 months, but Harmison's scatter-gun spells are up there with the worst moments - and they have infected his Test form. His mauling at the hands of Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga at Headingley was the most damaging to his figures (0 for 97), but for his mental state his performance against Australia at the Champions Trophy had longer side-effects. It is time for him to leave the white ball behind.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

Osman Samiuddin



Mohammad Asif goes one step above cricket's pop idol © Getty Images

Best: Asif the snake
There existed few reasons for cheer during the summer tour to England. Through the series their batsmen battered Pakistan's bowlers. Kevin Pietersen wasn't the most successful but he went about it with a more brutal relish than any. He is, as Australia found out, a batsman designed to dominate. But where McGrath and Warne failed, Mohammad Asif prospered. In four matches after his belated return, Asif tormented Pietersen. Twice, he fell first ball and every other time cricket's pop idol was taunted, teased, set up and chicken-danced at before being sent back. Nobody has done it to him before or since. It was but an isolated symbol of resistance for Pakistan's bowling, but what a symbol.

Worst: Pakistan's Jonty? You wish
Even by Pakistan's standards, this was a particularly shambolic fielding year. And slap, bang in the middle of it was Imran Farhat, the man Jonty Rhodes had tipped as the best catcher during a futile two-week stint as fielding consultant. The first thing Farhat did after Rhodes's tips was to drop three catches during the Lord's Test. The last thing he did before it was to drop chances in Sri Lanka. At slip, at point, at crucial stages, at irrelevant junctures, anywhere, anytime, Farhat spent the year shelling chance after chance, easy or difficult. At one point, it seemed he had dropped more catches than he had scored runs and if there was a record kept of these things, Pakistan would have had another record-breaker in their ranks. Jonty what were you thinking?

Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Edward Craig



That wasn't just a dream - Jubilation at the Wanderers © Getty Images

Best: Wanderers' wonder
South Africa and Australia's record-breaking ODI at Johannesburg. It was gruesome, dirty, unfair cricket but completely absorbing. This was not the greatest game ever, not even close, but it was as exciting a spectacle as the sport can produce - the noise of the crowd, the buzz in the press box, the look of shock on people's faces as they left the ground. And the world champions lost. Brilliant.

Worst: Good tournament, wrong name
The Champions Trophy - not because it was a superfluous tournament, an ICC cash cow clogging up the international fixture list - but because it wasn't the World Cup. This is the format and time-scale the World Cup should be played over. I'd even argue that these are the type of wickets the World Cup should be played on. Low-scoring ODIs are, on balance, more exciting than run-fests - a Johannesburg-type match every game (which is what the ICC want) would be very dull.

Edward Craig is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer


John Stern



Andrew Flintoff: inspired by Johnny Cash at Mumbai © Getty Images

Best : Freddie fires in the ring
We know now that this Flintoff-fuelled comeback victory was not a turning point in England's mixed post-Ashes fortunes but a joyous blip in a miserable year. Inspired by their larger-than-life stand-in captain and his choice in music (Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire) England drew the three-match rubber by bowling India out for 100 on the final day. It was a day to be remembered for Monty holding a steepler to dismiss Dhoni two balls after he'd completely missed a similar chance and for the never-to-be-repeated scorecard entry: Tendulkar c Bell b Udal.

Worst: Curioser and curioser
The departure of Marcus Trescothick from the England team (twice in eight months) has been a desperately sad affair. Sad for him and his family, sad for team-mates and supporters who harboured hopes of retaining the Ashes. But also sad because it has shown the ECB in its worst obfuscatory light.

Privacy is one thing but to stage-manage a TV interview in which Trescothick claimed he had a virus was an insult to people's intelligence. To think that a month off to miss the Champions Trophy would see him right for the biggest tour of his career when he had been having treatment for his "stress-related illness" for most of the year was naïve not to say unprofessional.

John Stern is the editor of The Wisden Cricketer magazine

George Binoy



Sreesanth does his thing © Getty Images

Best: Pump up the volume
It's the second innings of the Johannesburg Test between South Africa and India. Andre Nel steams in to bowl his first ball at Sreesanth. He lets loose a bouncer and spouts his usual dose of verbal diarrhoea at Sreesanth who had hurried out of the way. We didn't have a clue to the scenes that would follow for Sreesanth's body language indicated nothing. Nel runs in to bowl his second ball. This time it isn't a bouncer, Sreesanth backs away again but flat-bats an astonishing six over long-off, an ungainly slog. His riposte doesn't end there for as he reaches the bowler's end he does something that is best viewed and not described. I hope more batsmen give as good as they get from Nel.

Worst: Robbed at Fatullah
Not many will remember that 2006 was also the year that Bangladesh nearly derailed the Australian juggernaut. And it wasn't just a sliver of a chance. Bangladesh piled up 427 in the first innings and then secured a lead of 158. At one stage during the run-chase, Australia needed 76 with four wickets in hand. They were close to suffering the most humiliating defeat in history. And that prospect of seeing Goliath felled by David's little brother was mouth-watering. For who doesn't love supporting the underdog? Beating Australia in a one-day at Cardiff was surreal enough, but a Test win would have been ... But Ricky Ponting played spoilsport to millions of hopefuls like myself and scored a matchwinning hundred under circumstances where the humiliation of defeat weighed more heavily than the task at hand. Glorious uncertainty of sport? Bah humbug.

George Binoy is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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