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Australia demolish everything in sight, a master returns, and an old-timer finds another landmark to reach. In part two of our staffers' picks of the best and worst of 2007
December 29, 2007
Best: The County Championship
The County Championship is often dismissed as an anachronism, lampooned by many from overseas as featuring substandard pie-chuckers, and many in England as being irrelevant and unloved. While not so many attend matches as was once the case, interest remains high, as Cricinfo's traffic figures for scorecards and coverage show. This year's final round of matches in Division One provided a thrilling finale and a reminder that a drawn-out climax is usually better than the crash-bang instant gratification of one-day cricket. The tense final hours on the last Saturday, as Sussex, who had won their match, had to sit back and watch Lancashire inch closer to a remarkable win, will linger in the memory for a long time.
Worst: The un-Caribbean World Cup
Only cricket could manage to take its showpiece event to a region so full of colour, character and vibrancy and render the whole thing bloated, soulless and sterile. Not since ... well, the last World Cup ... has a tournament been so unnecessarily sanitised in the name of commercial greed. The security, which caused so many delays and so much frustration, was more about brand protection than personal safety, and from the off the whole event was a mismanaged disgrace. Empty grounds were evidence of a misguided and overpriced ticketing process. Bemused non-cricket fans looked on and asked: if this was a World Cup, why were the stadiums empty? Sad though it was for players, spectators and the sport, it was somehow fitting that the final ended in utter farce. Remarkably, despite overwhelming criticism and the evidence of their own eyes, those running the whole thing steadfastly maintained the tournament had been a success.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo
Best: Australia winning the World Cup
It was a dud of a tournament, with awful organising and awestruck opponents, but nothing should take away from an imperious performance by the world champions. Australia steamrolled everyone on their way to their third successive World Cup win, and while many were bored with the re-run, you couldn't help but sit up and applaud the way Australia chalked out a clinical decimation of the other contenders.
One of the moments that stood out: South Africa briefly threatened to do another 438 in a group match, but a rampaging AB de Villiers was done in by an exceptional direct hit from Shane Watson in the deep. From then on, it was Australia all the way, with Glenn McGrath orchestrating perhaps the finest swansong in history.
Worst: Australia and India getting stuck into each other
The ODI champions clashed with the then recently crowned Twenty20 champions in October, but an unsavoury contest began even before the players took the field. Andrew Symonds didn't have any kind words for India's gaudy Twenty20 celebrations, while Robin Uthappa said India would fight "fire with fire". Mahendra Singh Dhoni's first assignment as ODI captain wasn't made easier by constant questions over the heated exchanges, and team-mates such as Sreesanth didn't help matters: he appealed for a non-existent run-out in Kochi, and allegedly had a go at the opponents while doing his duties as 12th man. The whole saga took a bitter turn when Symonds was subject to "monkey chants" in Vadodara and Mumbai, and even worse was the initial denial by the authorities. The spectators had taken the sport to a new low, but perhaps they were only taking cue from the nonsense on the field.
Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo
Best: The advent of Shaun Tait
Instinct is being bred out of modern players, so the sight of the rugged Shaun Tait clumping in to frighten batsmen is hard to beat. He is raw, regularly injured and determined not to change. A novice at the World Cup, he starred with Glenn McGrath and Brad Hogg, and after finally getting over elbow surgery, he upset New Zealand on his return to the one-day side. He bowls like an old-fashioned paceman and isn't sure whether he can land the ball where he's aiming. Tait might not be around for long, but hooray for unrefined pace.
Worst: The Sydney farewells
The SCG is the farewell ground for Australian cricketers and three more departed on the final day of the Ashes in January. There was plenty of celebrating, from the hoarse fans in the stands to the players' children on the ground, but deep down there was a feeling of sadness. This would be it for two heroes and one very good batsman. Justin Langer could be replaced, but Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath were one-offs. As they waved, another chapter of life passed by.
Peter English is Australasia editor of Cricinfo
Best: Sachin Tendulkar hitting his stride
On September 5, India were fighting to keep the seven-match ODI series against England alive. Yuvraj Singh had been hit for five sixes in the 50th over, which set India a target of 317. Just about then we came to learn that Sachin Tendulkar might retire from ODIs after the home series against Australia.
While that story developed, Tendulkar was putting up a display at The Oval - the clock was turned back; he stepped out and hit the pacers, making room and hitting through extra cover, walking across and scooping past fine leg. There was nothing ordinary about that innings of 94. Imagination and inspiration had taken over. Every unbelievable shot firmed the belief that he had made his mind up to retire and was now playing with a much freer mind.
Though the retirement notions were soon put to rest, the form continued. He came up with more gems over the next two months, playing like the Tendulkar we knew better and had yearned for.
Worst: Inzy and Lara retiring on lows
Brian Lara was uninspiring and was sold a dummy by Marlon Samuels, Inzamam-ul-Haq just wanted to get a record done with and was stumped trying to do so. The two final memories of two of the best batsmen ever weren't of the sort one would want to cling on to. They were disappointing, but then again, they were hardly ever perfect and so could be allowed that fallibility.
What hurt was the sight of them in their moneywhore avatars, playing for the Indian Cricket League. With the kind of competition they were up against, money seemed the only motivation. By all means, there was money to be made and they were free to make it. But they needed to realise there were several domestic cricketers who had put their careers on the line for, among other things, a chance to play with and against the likes of the two of them. Lara looked disinterested and Inzamam average, against bowling they could have murdered in their sleep. If I had joined the league wanting to compete against a Lara, I would have felt cheated.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo
Best: Kallis in Pakistan
When South Africa opted for younger legs in the World Twenty20, an early ejection from the world of cricket looked on the cards for Jacques Kallis. Unhappy, Kallis gave up the vice-captaincy as the "omission caused me to question my future for the first time". However, a 155, 100 not out, 59 and 107 not out in four innings in Pakistan later, the ill memories were washed away and the future secure as ever. Crucial wickets and sensational catching by South Africa complemented the artistic flow off his bat, and Pakistan suffered under the blazing sun in the holy month. The home side's fielding ought to get some credit, but it will be Kallis' stride forward and the flick of his wrists that will haunt Pakistan, and South African selectors, for a long time.
Worst: Pakistan losing the plot against South Africa
A spot in the World Twenty20 can do wonders for a team's decision-making abilities, as Pakistan realised to their wrong side of it as they went into the first Test against South Africa with only four specialist bowlers. The impact was felt when, with the South African batsmen strolling away, Shoaib Malik had to introduce no less than six bowlers, including two part-timers. All this within the first hour on the first morning of the first Test. So much for planning. And when your frontline fast bowler walks off due to injury, as did Mohammad Asif in the second Test, with Kallis in the middle of a turkey-feast with the bat, it all but made one ponder if the game was still worth watching.
Best: Kumble's Test hundred
Several sights stand out from India's victory in England; Anil Kumble cover-driving on one knee at The Oval was the most endearing. The oldest man on the park, and a tailender too, he defended with an awkward technique and attacked with child-like freedom, bounding towards a memorable hundred. The way he reached the landmark - with a heads-up charge and a bottom edge that flew through Matt Prior's legs to the boundary - prompted both laughter and a raucous cheer. It was a packed house acknowledging a champion.
Worst: India's World Cup loss to Sri Lanka
It was probably the defeat to Bangladesh that really hurt India's World Cup chances, but it was the collapse against Sri Lanka that was more depressing. A target of 255 wasn't out of reach, but reading Muttiah Muralitharan certainly seemed impossible. It was the last chance for some great players to make an impact in a World Cup. Now they would be remembered as a bunch who couldn't even clear the first hurdle. They probably didn't deserve to advance, as their captain admitted, but it was a forgettable night anyway.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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