December 19, 2014

A year of triumph and disaster

While 2014 will be always remembered for the shocking death of Phillip Hughes, there was joy as well, courtesy Misbah, McCullum, and the ICC's efforts against chucking

Brendon McCullum's triple-hundred was the highlight of a resurgent New Zealand side's 2014 © Getty Images

Death is something I have contemplated lately, only because the medical experts say it's nearly time. Over the last few months my cancer turned from being in sleepy remission to transforming into a new monster, much like a bull in a china tea shop.

No longer was "it" a friend, as I had first described follicular lymphoma to be, in 2012. It had then brought me a crucial message that I badly needed, just as a friend would deliver when needed most. I needed to get rid of the egoist in me, and to get real.

So to hear it had transformed into a rare blood disease called double-hit lymphoma, turbocharged to apparently give me very little time left (only 5% of patients live up to 12 months), was a shock out of the blue, the pink, the red and the black. Fancy having a deadly cancer with a cricket connotation! I never got out hit ball twice and I don't plan to start.

While I originally coined the saying, "There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and a hundred at Adelaide", I definitely wasn't ready for the first, so I tidied up my affairs, as they suggested, sold the farm (literally), wrote out a will and a funeral note, and braced myself. It's fair to say I thought the situation was a tad unfair.

Then Phillip Hughes took guard, not out on 63. What transpired was unheard of, unprecedented. At age 25, he was truly denied, as we were, to watch him fight on in his quest to fulfil his dream as a boy. Who knows, he could have played 100 Tests, as Michael Clarke pronounced he would.

Whatever emotion I felt about my own plight subsided somewhat as the enormity of Hughes' death sank in. I didn't know him, and yet it had a great effect, as it rightly has had on many. I was left feeling I wanted to sit with him for a bit, to get some sense of his genuine passion for cricket and life.

It has been that kind of year in cricket. So much raw emotion has been felt, expressed and endured over a year that will forever be known as the one in which we lost a much-loved young warrior at the famous SCG, in the heat of battle.

Phillip Hughes' death put the needless scuffles and spats we are increasingly seeing in the game in perspective © Getty Images

The year, as always, started in Sydney, where we witnessed the final nail hammered into a large, heavy coffin - not for a man, but for a team, and an era in English cricket. If England were already dead prior, then they were buried deep down under at the SCG. We know exactly why. It has been that well-documented.

England then surged from bad to worse, losing to the visiting Sri Lankans, followed by more negative emotion when Jimmy Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja engaged in a needless scuffle at Trent Bridge. It turned into a lawyers' delight when the pantomime played out over almost the whole series.

The game should acknowledge that it must rid itself of the crass sledging that has so badly tarnished it lately. The Australians and Anderson could lead the way in fixing this if they cared enough.

We were left with an uninterested India, a disparate England, and a man under siege in Alastair Cook, stubbornly in serious denial that he is irreplaceable. His captaincy reign should be over, his run-making prowess should be reignited, or he will soon be left with nothing. Things can evolve that suddenly if one is not careful.

In other parts of the world, the game thrived on positive joy and growth, rebirths to the fore. Angelo Mathews, Brendon McCullum and Misbah-ul-Haq led their teams with magnificence, enjoying the achievement of posting records and performances that will stand for many years.

McCullum's triple-century, New Zealand's first, was the highlight of a resurgent team, a team that at one point seemed to be steering down a deep precipice, only to be inspired to climb back resourcefully. Misbah and his fastest Test hundred, Mathews with his Bradmanesqe form and stirring leadership in winning more trophies: these men and their teams were the success stories of the year, giving underdogs plenty of encouragement.

The ICC's initiative to weed out chucking from the game was an encouraging sign of a proactive administration © AFP

On the sadder side was the continual decline of Bangladesh and West Indies cricket. The tour cancellation by West Indies recently in India was a classic case of the game in the Caribbean simply being in the wrong hands. It's shaping like a slow death, and an unnecessary one too. If we lose West Indies and their cricketers only become joyous and effective in T20 cricket, then we have lost a part of the game's foundations.

Bangladesh have never had the infrastructure to succeed, and seem to be asleep at the wheel time and again. South Africa, on the other hand, remain solid and consistent and look secure as they settle into the post-Smith-Kallis era. They still remain one of the favourites to hoist the holy grail, the World Cup.

Each team had its story to tell, as we all do. Life is a roller-coaster. It ebbs and flows with the reality that we are only one thought or discovery away from triumph or disaster. It all comes down to how you respond to the turbulence, how quickly you learn enough to get back on your feet, head cleared, present and future challenges embraced. You just have to bounce back.

What a year for cricket. Oligarchs emerged as the Big Three, edgy player behaviour dominated, petulant public spats and tragic events occurred. Thankfully, chucking and match-fixing have been exposed again; ugly to have to do so, but it provides a sign that cricket authorities can perform their duty if they aren't conspiring to flex the muscles of dictatorship. The good, the bad and the ugly sums it all up.

Let's hope the year will help continue to clean the game up and come February, we can join together down under and celebrate all that is well with the cricket world.

I will see you there.

Merry Christmas and have a joyful 2015.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

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