Andrew Miller does a spoof on the year's stars and shibboleths

M is for misogyny

An A to Z of the past year's players and happenings



Freddie Flintoff: Simply gargantuan. © Getty Images

A is for the Ashes

The Alpha and the Omega of the sporting year. For six glorious weeks in mid-summer, nothing else mattered. Which is what we faithful few have been telling all these newly-converted heathens for years. But let's not quibble.

B is for Benaud

Who seems to have been around for as long as the urn itself, but finally bowed out of British broadcasting on that final climactic day at The Oval, with a handover as crisp as the sharp bone suit he wore for the occasion. B is also for Botham, who in an alarming quirk of the ageing process celebrated his 50th birthday in November.

C is for Caprice

Is there a better antidote for cricket coolness than this aging bimbo with the wonky grin? Quite possibly not. Whenever the English game thinks it's in a position to get carried away by its own brilliance, there she is, lurking on the mainsail like a vengeful albatross. She was on hand in 1999 to help promote what turned into one of the most dismal World Cups in history, and six years later, she helped reduce Kevin Pietersen's street-cred by hanging off his arm at the ICC awards bash Down Under.

D is for Dalmiya

Who was finally prised from his throne at the BCCI, in the most hotly disputed board elections; well, since the last one. Sharad Pawar swept to power, leaving poor old Jagmohan to stir up trouble in his potting shed instead. But patriarchs and princes never go quietly, as a certain Sourav Ganguly is currently demonstrating. He'll be back for more before long.

E is for Edgbaston

My god, that match still brings me out in a cold sweat. Two runs, two proxy runs from the end of civilisation as we know it. And I kid you not. The timing was biblical, with the football season kicking off some two hours after Geraint Jones had achieved the polar opposite of what had been expected of him pre-series. He clung onto the catch that won the match that stunned the Aussies and kept the Ashes alive right up to the final day of the series.

F is for Freddie

Monstrous. Simply monstrous. Grinning, galumphing, gargantuan. More immense than anything that has ever before been classified as immense. A colossus, a statesman, a titan. You get my drift. He had rather a good year, and capped it all by making binge drinking cool again. Raise a glass then, to the BBC Sports Personality of this year, and every year.

G is for Ganguly

Will he go, won't he go? A nation holds its breath, and I drum my fingers while the latest deluge of splenetic feedbacks flood the Cricinfo servers. The man who, as Indian captain, went out of his way to suspend regionalism and ensure that the best eleven players available turned out for the national team, is now doing his utmost to re-instate that paralysing element and undo every ounce of good he achieved in a highly impressive five-year reign. For the love of God, Sourav, just go! Apart from anything else, I want my inbox back.

H is for Hayden

Few demises have given England fans more pleasure than the fall and fall of Matty "I never sledge but you can **** off anyway" Hayden. A walking wicket for the sharp end of the Ashes campaign, Hayden's vulnerability was living proof of the planning that had gone into England's campaign. The staggered slips, the catchers in the V, the hard handed pummels as the bully attempted to biff his way out of trouble. His subsequent successes against a supine World XI and West Indies were the equivalent of being humiliated at the office and going home to kick the dog.



Inzi in such fine fettle that it dwarfed even the likes of Shoaib Akhtar © Getty Images

I is for Inzamam.

Forget Ponting, Vaughan and those other pretenders to the crown. The greatest captain in the world at present is none other than the mighty Aloo. His public utterances are inaudible to the human ear and his tactical nous could be stored in a tea-cup, but none of this matters when you are batting like a prophet and turning men as willful as Shoaib Akhtar into meek little team-players. "I" could equally be for "Ins'hallah", for that has been Inzy's stock salutation throughout his incredible run of form. "God's had a pretty good series," as one journalist deadpanned at the end of the Faisalabad Test.

J is for Ja(c)ques

First there was Kallis - that bloodless abomination of a batsman who has all the gifts and none of the inclination to unfurl them, except when Bangladesh or Zimbabwe come to play. Then there was Rudolph - a left-handed, less talented understudy who rose above himself to produce one of the great rearguard centuries of all time against Australia at Perth last week. And now there is Jaques as well - Phil of that ilk. Boxing Day at the MCG is invariably a full house, but now it's home to three of a kind as well.

K is for KP

The hairstyles, the hubris, the humungous talent for self-promotion. Kevin Pietersen's nauseating ability to stay one step ahead of his detractors has been the sub-plot of a season that never looked like ending. He can't catch for toffee, but all his sins of the summer were forgiven in an instant at The Oval, when he flailed that deranged 158 to script the most remarkable ending to the greatest series of the century. After his mixed returns in Pakistan, the year 2006 will be spent assessing how far he still has to rise, or contemplating how much further he still has to fall. It's unlikely to make for dull viewing.

L is for Lara

From an instant phenomenon to a seasoned and indisputable great. The life of Brian has had its ups and downs, too many to mention here. But at the Adelaide Oval on November 26, he finally planted his flag at the ultimate summit, overhauling Allan Border's record of 11174 runs as Test cricket's greatest run-scorer. He did it in trademark style as well, flogging the Aussies - his favourite foes - for the eighth double-century of a career that, even in his 37th year, refuses to dim.

M is for misogyny

Bless the MCC, for it cannot help but offend. "Did you know that Brighton College are playing girls in their First XI? Girls!" spluttered Robin Marlar, the 74-year-old incoming president, in The Sunday Telegraph . "I think it's absolutely outrageous!" If a girl bowls at 80mph, he rumbled on, "then I'd be asking some serious questions about whether she's had a sex change." He was unable to comment further after being felled by an 80mph scone, hurled by Boris, the Long Room's new tea lady.

N is for the New

To meet the requirements of the new leather-and-willow craze that swept the nation last summer, daily columns of stunning banality sprung up in every gossip forum, from the Daily Mail to Cosmopolitan. "Is cricket the new football?" "Why cricket is the new football" "Cricket, is it the new football?" The answer, we can now confirm, is a loud and resounding "no!" And frankly, thank goodness for that.

O is for Open-top bus

Upon which 12 ordinary heroes cavorted with open bottles of champagne, bemused offspring, assorted wives and girlfriends, and the gratitude of a nation ringing in their ears. Happy days.

P is for Powerplays (and Supersubs)

"How shall we liven up one-day cricket," asked the ICC one sunny morning in its new ivory towers in Dubai. "I know," said one bright spark, "let's introduce some new and unfathomable regulations, give them a nice gimmicky name to appeal to the "yoof" vote, and let nature take its course. Oh, and let's not spoil the surprise by having a trial run in state or county cricket or anything dull like that." Absolute genius.

Q is for Queuing

Specifically around the block, for that is what they were doing outside Old Trafford on the fifth morning of the third Test in August 2005. Aerial photos from the assorted 24-hour news stations that reported the events showed 10000 fans being turned away at the gates, some of whom had travelled overnight and even camped on the pavement outside. And all this for a draw!

R is for Ricky

AKA the Australian captain who surrendered the Ashes. Poor chap. He batted like a God at times this year, not least to save the afore-mentioned Old Trafford match. But he was fighting a losing battle, long before the Trent Bridge incident, where his façade of insouciance crumbled over the issue of ......

S is for Substitutes (Super or otherwise)

At the BBC Sports Personality awards, England's off-duty posse of Michael Vaughan, Ashley Giles, Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard were joined by one other bloke, seemingly plucked at random from the crowd. Oh yes, that's right. He had been plucked at random from the crowd. For this was Gary Pratt, the deliciously named everyman whose pick-up-and-throw to run out our Ricky was the turning point of the decisive match of the series. In a summer that brought the game back to the masses, here was a member of the masses being given his chance to script his own ending - like the winner of some reality TV show. The ECB have already patented the concept, just in case.

T is for Tennis elbow

Before the 2002 World Cup, England's football fans learned a new medical term - "metatarsal" - and applied it with wearisome sagacity whenever David Beckham's injured foot dropped into the conversation, as it was prone to do. The same and more could be said of Sachin Tendulkar and his dodgy elbow, which has bumped Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi down to second place in the search for India's most renowned tennis-related double-act. They thought it might finish him off for good, but back he came with singular resolve, to claim his 35th Test century and another of Sunil Gavaskar's remaining records.



Darrell Hair: provoking quite a rumble © Getty Images

U is for Umpiring

Which came under ever more exacting scrutiny, as a string of howlers helped condemn West Indies to a beating that was already on the cards in Australia, while a string of Darrell Hair-isms helped add a frisson of controversy to what was otherwise a mercifully incident-free series between Pakistan and England. There are still people out there, such as myself, who are willing to give umpires the benefit of the doubt when the rumblings arise, but it would be nice if, in return, they could learn the rules before setting foot in the middle, just so we all can have a leg to stand on.

V is for V-sign

Which is what Greg Chappell was most certainly not performing out of the window of the Indian team bus in Kolkata last month. Nope, no sir, not him. He was just exercising the digits that he has just injured in fielding practice, and not under any circumstances responding to the vitriolic Ganguly-related abuse he had been copping from his Bengali fanclub.

W is for Warne

"We wish you were English," chanted the Oval crowd, which is perhaps the most touching tribute that Shane Warne has received in 12 years of Pommie-tormenting. His 40 wickets, a career-best haul, were not enough to secure his seventh consecutive Ashes win, but they were enough to reaffirm his credentials as the greatest legspinner the world has ever seen. Ripping the ball with a vigour not seen since his maiden series of 1993, he has broken Dennis Lillee's record of 85 wickets for a calendar year, and could yet top 100 if the Melbourne Test goes to plan. All of a sudden, he is looking good for a fifth Ashes tour in 2009.

X is for X-shaped celebrations

Flintoff's spread-limbed celebratory stance - arms aloft, legs akimbo, stumps a-splattered - has been adopted and imitated by kids all over Australia, according to Brett Lee, whose own fist-pumping, high-skipping alternative has been bumped off the best-seller's list this year. And as several of this summer's photos demonstrated, Freddie's stance puts a considerable strain on his, err, groin region, and has led to his kit manufacturers providing him with reinforced trousers. Which is in itself somewhat X-rated.

Y is for Yousuf Youhana

Or Mohammad Yousuf, as he now prefers to be known. Whether he converted from Christianity to Islam this year, as was initially reported, or three years ago, as the rumours would suggest, it has done nothing to halt his prolific appetite for run-scoring, as a career-best 223 against England at Lahore would testify. Christmas lunch will have been a strained affair this year though. "I'm ashamed to give him my name after what he has done," said his less-than-impressed mother.

Z is for Zzzz

Which is what England's cricketers would much rather have been doing, instead of sitting in a makeshift studio in Pakistan at silly o'clock in the morning, being ridiculed on primetime TV by Gary Lineker. Still, these are the hardships that sportsmen must put up with when the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards deign to come calling.

Z is also for Zimbabwe, but frankly, that's long since ceased to have anything to do with cricket.

Postscript

K is also for another KP - Kerry Packer, cricket's ultimate revolutionary. RIP.

Tomorrow: Quite a Cinderella story - Women's cricket in 2005

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo