Streaks and freaks, spats and prats
The feats and falls, hits and misses, weird and wonderful. All of those and more in our less-than-reverent look back at the last 12 months.
Shot of the year
The gallant Misbah-ul-Haq's infamous last-over paddle scoop to try and win the World Twenty20 championships wins hands down for testicular fortitude. Was it really necessary, with four balls and six to get? Probably not, but as an attempt to finish the best modern-day final, it was magnificently audacious. Joginder Sharma bowled it slower and wider and Sreesanth ended up taking the catch at fine leg, but Misbah insisted that he had no regrets over attempting the shot. Neither, really, did we.
Ball of the year
"I meant to spin it one way and the ball went the other way," said Murali of the ball that snuck past Paul Collingwood's defence, the doosra that wasn't. If he didn't know which way it was going to turn, how on earth would any batsman? The icing of course was that the wicket took him past Shane Warne as the leading wicket-taker of all time.
Catch of the year
Dwayne Leverock, that amiable, prison-van driving, doughnut-loving, slow left-arm spinning Bermudan, wins for the gravity-defying, one-handed leap at wide slip during the World Cup to send back Robin Uthappa. South Africans and Australians took more athletic catches, but none of them weighed 280 pounds while doing so. And none of them matched Leverock's winding, football-style-celebration crossed with headless-chicken-run afterwards.
Hottest streak of the year
Not much separated Jacques Kallis and Kumar Sangakkara, but finishing the year with an astounding five hundreds in seven innings stole it for the former. His lowest score in 15 innings was 18 and only five times did he fail to cross 50; and there wasn't a minnow in sight. His first ton, against Pakistan at Karachi, was his fastest, and his second-innings hundred in that game set up an eventual series win. As a riposte to being dropped from the Twenty20 World Cup squad, it was emphatic. And before the entire TV audience of Strictly Come Dancing and outraged Surrey fans bombard our inbox, an honourable mention for Mark Ramprakash, who short of becoming chief selector himself, did everything he could to win an England spot, scoring over 2000 county runs and averaging over 100 for the second year in succession.
Strangest streak of the year
Just edging out the streaks in Lasith Malinga's curls was Sachin Tendulkar's inexplicably bizarre bout of ninety-itis. Between June and November, he fell in the 90s an astounding six times, in 22 ODI innings in three different countries, including thrice on 99. In between whiles, he also fell for 91 in the Nottingham Test. It took 16 years to emerge, but here was the weakness they have all been looking for: get Tendulkar into the 90s, then get him out.
So touched was Bejan Daruwala, the Indian astrologer, by the master's plight, that he offered a remedy: "Because he is a loving and faithful husband, to get out of his nervous 90s, I would suggest that Tendulkar follow four steps:
1 Sleep in the lap of his wife and tell her to love him sweetly and gently
2 Cook his own mutton cheeseburgers and eat them
3 Have a terrific bath
4 Jump in his Ferrari and go for a drive.
Freakiest feat of the year
It's fair to say that even if Lasith Malinga was 12th man for his entire career, he would still be immediately recognisable. But add to that magnificent mop and remarkable action some special talent, as South Africa discovered at the World Cup. They needed five runs from five overs with five wickets in hand. Even they couldn't choke on that. Malinga, however, nearly made them do so, with four amazing wickets in four amazing deliveries. And he was a hair's breadth away from taking the last wicket as well, before South Africa sneaked home.
Freakiest feat of the year by a bald 38-year-old
Ottis Gibson, and not only because he was the only nominee. He became the first Durham bowler to take ten wickets in an innings in July, took 80 wickets in the season, was Man of the Match in a domestic final, and ended the year as England's bowling coach when they secured a remarkable ODI triumph in Sri Lanka. Did we mention he's 38?
Unlikeliest wins of the year Ireland beating Pakistan, Bangladesh pulling one over India, and Zimbabwe making the world smile by beating Australia at the Twenty20 World Cup were all worthy. But trumping them were two English triumphs beyond even JK Rowling's imagination. First, two pigs flying over Sydney, where the CB series concluded, nearly fell at the shock of England winning an ODI tournament featuring more than one participant. Then, eight months later, as the country forever known as the world's most inept ODI side beat the World Cup runners-up in Colombo to wrap up the series, travel updates to hell advised winter clothing.
The Kamran Akmal award for services to wicketkeeping
Despite stiff competition from Matt Prior, Akmal retained the title for the second year running, one best summed up by the following conversation on a satirical TV show in Pakistan:
Anchor 1: "It's time Kamran Akmal caught a bus to take him away from Pakistan cricket." Anchor 2: "It is likely he will not catch that either."
Most thrilling shot-making
Herschelle Gibbs could only hit whatever was put in front of him (some ordinary Dutch bowling), but Yuvraj Singh's six sixes off one of the most promising pacers around was the real deal. Stuart Broad was lifted over cow corner, flicked off his legs and out of the stadium, smashed over extra cover, steered over backward point, swept over midwicket, and finally smacked over long-on - all for six, all in one over. Very few can ever think of doing it, fewer still can do it with the dismissive grace of Yuvraj, and nobody will do it a month after being hit for five sixes in six balls.
Best (failed) mental disintegration tactic of the year
Note to England: Taunting opponents with jellybeans is not particularly big, not particularly clever, and is found in Shane MacGowan's Book of Teeth Disintegration not Steve Waugh's Encyclopedia of Mental Disintegration.
False-hope peddlers of the year
Australia losing the CB series finals and then three ODIs to New Zealand on the trot, twice after having scored over 300, led to claims of "The most open World Cup ever", and "Australia past it". Two months later they cruised to a third successive World Cup triumph having broken less sweat than Mike Tyson once did in dispatching Michael Spinks.
Best use of squash ball
Not since the days of Jahangir and Jansher Khan has a squash ball been used as destructively as Adam Gilchrist did in the World Cup final. Gilly had struggled, but in the final took the unusual advice of former Australian board chief Bob Meuleman, who suggested putting half a squash ball in his left glove, thus making him less bottom-handed. And more violent, as 149 off 104 balls proved. Some complained it was unethical, only allowing Peter Young, Cricket Australia's spokesman, this chance to reveal some wit: "It's a storm in a teacup, or a batting glove."
Most expensive medical bills of the year
All fast bowlers. Beginning with Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif missing the World Cup, this was a dangerous year to be a fast bowler. Shane Bond got injured again, Shaun Tait did his elbow, England's magnificent 2005 quartet all but evaporated, and at one stage during Pakistan's tour to India, autograph hunters had a better chance of meeting their heroes in hospital than on cricket grounds.
Comeback of the year
There was greater chance of OJ Simpson being invited for dinner to the Goldman home at the start of this year than of Ryan Sidebottom leading England's attack, and Misbah-ul-Haq Pakistan's batting. Yet by year's end both had outflanked Britney Spears for comeback of the year: Sidebottom among England's few positives on a disastrous Sri Lanka tour, and Misbah single-handedly preventing Pakistan from being whitewashed 3-0 against India.
Comeback of the year II
Sourav Ganguly: All right, all right, so he won it last year, but can you really deny him in a year where he ended second leading Test run-scorer in the world, fifth-highest in ODIs, hit three Test hundreds, including a maiden double? We thought not.
Humblest self-appraisal of the year
"I look at it as one of my success stories," said Greg Chappell, of the successful return of Ganguly. Coaching manuals the world over were hurriedly rewritten to include the following mantra: "Tell captain he is cancer, sideline him completely and try to end his career. Wait till he comes back with a bang. Quickly claim all credit." John Buchanan, hitherto king of outside-the-box thinking, was last seen kicking himself for not coming up with the idea first.
Debut of the year
When Brad Hodge fell prey to that dreaded sporting ailment, the pulling-back-while-putting-trousers-on grade one strain, minutes before the Twenty20 international against New Zealand, Australia were in a bind. So the team manager called up Luke Pomersbach, a middle-order batsman from Western Australia, who turned out to be parking his car at the ground to watch the match at the time. "I thought it was one of my mates having a joke ... I asked him whether he was joking, and he said, 'No mate, get yourself to the rooms as quick as you can.'" Pomersbach had no kit and so had to borrow some until his brother Gavin was able to rush his own to the ground. He made 15 off seven balls, which isn't bad for a bloke who was at the time suspended by his state for going out on a drinking session.
Lone ranger of the year
West Indies said goodbye to the greatest lone ranger of them all this year and quickly recognised another. Shivnarine Chanderpaul scored over a quarter (446) of his team's total runs during the Test series in England. And this after missing one Test. His lowest score in five innings was 50, though it still couldn't prevent a 3-0 drubbing. Lara is dead, long live Shiv.
Farewells of the year
Loudest: Glenn McGrath retired, fittingly on top of the world, helping Australia to a third consecutive World Cup triumph and finishing as the leading wicket-taker in the Caribbean and all-time highest World Cup wicket-taker.
Brian Lara bid adieu, also fittingly with a loss in his final game, and though his role was minimal and the match inconsequential, it was one of the most entertaining games of the tournament. "Did I entertain you?" he asked us as he left. Most definitely. And how.
Inzamam-ul-Haq also left in failure - ODIs first, after a shocking World Cup, and Tests later, after a shocking dismissal that left him two runs short of becoming Pakistan's leading Test run-getter. Still, there was triumph in a dignified, if contrived, farewell, the likes of which no Pakistani cricketer has received. His bank account was also reportedly happy with the farewell.
Quietest: Little about Sanath Jayasuriya's cricket was quiet, apart from, ironically, his farewell. As goodbye, he smashed James Anderson for six fours in an over during a typically raucous 78. But as he came off the field, only a shy salute to the crowd, and a semi-embrace from the incoming batsman, hinted at the close-of-play confirmation: "This is the right time to retire. There are some young guys coming up, and I wanted to go while on top."
The only quieter exit was by his countryman Russel Arnold, who called it a day after the World Cup in order to continue playing domestically for his club, Nondescripts CC. Fitting, if not entirely accurate, for a vastly underrated batsman.
Angriest: Completing a diverse year for Sri Lankan exits, Marvan Atapattu went out with a verbal fireball. Frustrated as back injuries and selectorial machinations sidelined him, Atapattu lashed out at Sri Lanka's selectors while touring Australia, famously branding them "a set of muppets headed by a joker". Before the world's muppets and jokers could complain for being ridiculed thus, Atapattu announced his retirement, signing off with an elegant, fighting 80.
Most tragic: Bob Woolmer.
Most likely saviour of county cricket, 2008
Noah: Matches were affected, New Road was multiple times as rain swept through the 2007 season. Still, if it can bring about the most exciting, compelling finish in many a season, perhaps the rain dances should start now?
Short-lived retirement of the year
Abdul Razzaq emulated fellow Pakistani allrounder Shahid Afridi's antics of last year by retiring in a very public huff, as protest against being dropped from Pakistan's squad for the Twenty20 World Cup. The selectors "mentally upset" him, he signed for Worcestershire, then the Indian Cricket League (ICL), but reversed his decision a mere two months later. Not that anyone really noticed, sadly. Calls to make this award exclusive to Pakistan are rising.
U-turn of the year
Graham Ford reportedly wrote to the BCCI expressing his interest in coaching India, then travelled to India, was interviewed by the BCCI, was accepted by the BCCI, was all but announced as the new coach by the BCCI, said he was confident Kent wouldn't stand in his way of taking up the job, and then turned down the job two days later. About-faces don't come sharper, unless, of course, you are Mohammad Yousuf, who signed a contract with the ICL in a huff, went to preach for a month, finally came back, and was reportedly offered more money by the PCB to renounce his ICL contract and sign up instead with the IPL. Which he did: solid commitment, pending legal action of course.
Umpiring cock-up of the year
How did they screw up this year? Let me count the ways. Technology continued to be an uneasy bedfellow, there was the usual glut of poor decisions, but can anything trump the masterpiece at the game's showpiece match of the year? Everyone knew the World Cup final between Australia and Sri Lanka was over when Sri Lanka's batsmen went off for bad light after the 33rd over of their chase. Twenty overs had been completed for both innings and under the D/L rule, the match was complete. Everyone, that is, apart from the men officiating the game. Aleem Dar, Steve Bucknor, Rudi Koertzen and match referee Jeff Crowe incorrectly insisted that the match continue, which it farcically did. Thus was created a new joke: how many umpires does it take to screw up a World Cup final?
Umpiring cock-up of the year II
Darrell Hair had reason to be peeved with the ICC, for according to the laws of the game he actually did nothing wrong during the forfeited Oval Test. But to believe that his subsequent sidelining was racially motivated - and not a result of his overbearingly officious ways - was stretching it. Predictably, seven days into a hearing for Hair's case of racial discrimination against the ICC, at the London Central Employment Tribunal, he dropped the case unconditionally. In return, he undergoes a rehabilitation programme, the results of which will be analysed in March. In other words, this isn't over yet.
Spectacular fall from grace/pedalo
He was the new Ian Botham in 2005; two years later Andrew Flintoff was still Sir Beefy, but the mid-to-late 80s version. He didn't play a single Test for England, and though he played 22 ODIs, did well enough with the ball, and led England to an unexpected CB series triumph, it is mainly for drunkenly falling off a pedalo that Fred will remember 2007 (hazily, admittedly). Just as his rise coincided with English cricket's renaissance, so too his fall heralds the end of a golden age.
The McWorld Cup Award of the year
Short of super-sizing matches, muttering "Have a nice day" and using a clown named Ronald as the tournament mascot, the ICC couldn't have done more to strip away the soul of a game and region. Exorbitant ticket prices, the banning of musical instruments at grounds, the officiousness of officials - this World Cup was cricket gone horrendously, homogeneously wrong. Unfortunately for cricket, there was no equivalent of Jose Bove, the French farmer who famously smashed up a McDonalds in 2003 as protest against the onslaught of globalisation.
Kerry Packer award for sabre-rattling of the year
Subhash Chandra Goel and his mates at Zee TV for scaring the bejabbers out of the cricket establishment with the ICL. Shame, then, that it turned out to be cricket's version of the ATP Seniors Circuit.
Unwanted captaincy of the year
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, so don't, thought Rahul Dravid and Younis Khan, wear it. Younis, widely regarded as a natural leader, turned down the captaincy after the World Cup, traumatised by the fans' reactions to Pakistan's early exit. It continued, through the year, to be an uneasy subject for him. Dravid, India's most cerebral captain in recent years, gave it up after winning a series in England for the first time in 21 years. And he led them to a first series win in the West Indies last year for the first time in 35 years.
Costliest runs of the year
It was rumoured that Brian Lara was paid US$1 million to play for the Mumbai Champs in the ICL. That meant that each of the 31 runs he made in six matches (his team finished near the bottom) worked out to US$32,258 per run. Not the worst way to retire.
Most contrived finish of the year
The bowl-out between India and Pakistan at the Twenty20 World Championships: it's cricket, not football.
Most auspicious trophy-unveiling of the year
Noble as the Warne-Muralitharan trophy sounded, it seemed at one stage unlikely that either could bear to be on the same continent as the other, let alone the same room. Warne suggested testing Murali's action in a Test, Murali's measured response was to call Warne "a miserable man in his life" - as opposed to the miserable man in someone else's life. Luckily for future Australia-Sri Lanka series, they kissed and made up. It was all a miscommunication apparently. Next time perhaps Warne should text Murali his actual thoughts?
Unwanted statistic of the year
When your average touches 50 as an international player, you qualify as a potential modern great. Unless you are Mohammad Sami and the average in question is that of your bowling. Sami wouldn't have played this year had it not been for injuries to others, but play he did, try he did, though succeed he didn't. Four wickets at 118.75 in three Tests against India finally pushed the average to 51.37 after 33 Tests. On the bright side, he is the only bowler to have over 50 wickets and a 50-plus average.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo