2007 in review: Staffers' picks - 4 January 6, 2008

Of captains and longed-for victories

ESPNcricinfo staff
A cultured World Cup classic; one captain comes, another goes; a Boxing Day miracle, and more: in the fourth part of our staffers' picks of the best and worst of 2007

No violence, all poetry: Jayawardene sweeps during the World Cup semi © Getty Images

Dileep Premachandran

Best: Mahela Jayawardene in the World Cup semi-final
He played one sweep with such precision that the fielders running across from deep square leg and fine leg nearly collided. After eking out 22 from the first 50 balls he faced, Mahela Jayawardene proceeded to illuminate the World Cup semi-final with an exhilarating exhibition of strokeplay. He bludgeoned the ball with a straight bat when given the chance, but it was the delicate touches that most enthused the fans of the George Headley-Lawrence Rowe tradition. He finished with 115 from 109 balls, and Sri Lanka won at a canter. "We were outclassed at key moments," said Stephen Fleming. He was right.

Worst: Viv Richards being cold-shouldered at the World Cup
A World Cup opening ceremony in the Caribbean without Viv Richards in attendance? A rock 'n roll retrospective without any footage of the Rolling Stones? This wasn't just the worst moment, it was sacrilege that deserved burning at the stake.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Sriram Veera

Best: Kumble being appointed captain
To see a bowler given the biggest responsibility was special. To see Anil Kumble get the job was heartwarming. It wasn't so much an honour earned after playing so many years of ruthless cricket but something he fully deserved.

Kumble has made a living of proving people wrong. They said he couldn't turn the ball, but he has nearly 600 Test wickets; they said he was too focused on his own art to be captain, but he has led the team well. The sample size is too small to pass a verdict, and critics have harped on the late declaration against Pakistan in Bangalore, or not picking Virender Sehwag to open in Australia, but generally, it has been a satisfying performance. Till Dhoni matures, Kumble has shown that he can do the job adequately. For a bowling captain, he has not over-bowled or under-bowled himself, and he took five wickets on the opening day of the first Test in a land where they have made a tradition of targeting opposition captains. Good start, Jumbo.

Worst: Pakistan suspected of involvement in Woolmer's death
It was human nature at its worst. The death of Bob Woolmer held up a mirror to our darker selves. Many suspected the hand of the Pakistan team. In the post-9/11 hysteria, old stereotypes were trotted out. Pakistanis have been accused of being involved in match-fixing in the past, and it seemed all to easy, for many, to go one step further and view them as murderers as well. Pity.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer with Cricinfo

Homeboy: Ganguly get his first Kolkata Test hundred © AFP

Anand Vasu

Best: Ganguly's comeback
As a journalist there is only one thing better than making a cricketing prediction and seeing it come predictably true, and that is being proven wrong in the best possible way. It sounds strange, but as a colleague of mine once reminded me, that's the beauty of sport: no matter how well you know it, how much or how carefully you've watched it, it will surprise you.

Sourav Ganguly surprised many, and reinforced the faith of those who constantly believed in him, by rediscovering the kind of batting that made him a genuinely great ODI batsman and a good Test batsman. His hundred at one of the genuine homes of cricket in the world, and his own, was a sentimental beauty, the kind of moment you want to be part of just so you can say, "I was there."

At the post-match press conference in Kolkata, one reporter asked Ganguly, "Century at Eden, now what's left a double-hundred?" He only smiled, and said, "Hopefully." Even in that emotional moment, even after all that happened in the year gone by, it was scarcely believable. And then it came, as inevitably as the hundred at home, in Ganguly's 99th Test. These are the moments that take sport from being merely a pastime to a compulsive obsession for some of us.

Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Worst: Dravid resigning from the captaincy
Why did he do it? Was he pushed? What did he know that we didn't? Rahul Dravid's stepping down from the captaincy raised a slew of questions and led to a passage of uncertainty that Indian cricket did not need. The one thing that was certain was the manner in which he stepped down: not just quietly but with stonewalling silence and elusiveness, not offering so much as an explanation beyond a two-line press release that the Board of Control for Cricket in India had sent out.

Of course, having completed his tenure of two years, he did not owe anyone - save his team-mates - an explanation, but it still left those who had the best of Indian cricket at heart with a feeling of being stranded. To call it a selfish decision is harsh on a cricketer who has done all he has been asked to, and more, for Indian cricket. To think it was an impulsive decision based on something a selector said is to not know Dravid.

It was sad that one of the country's greatest cricketers ever did not want the captaincy, the job everyone who has ever picked up a bat or a ball as a child dreams of. Dravid's resignation said more about the job itself than the man, and what it left you with was not a happy feeling.

S Rajesh

Best: West Indies winning in Port Elizabeth
No one gave West Indies a chance when they began their three-Test series in South Africa, but they needed just four days to prove all the pundits wrong. Their 128-run win in Port Elizabeth wasn't special just because it was their first Test win in South Africa, or because it broke a seven-and-a-half-year barren run against meaningful opposition overseas. The win was a result of contributions from almost their entire line-up, who displayed an intensity and passion that has long been missing in West Indies cricket. Here's to more good times for the Caribbeans in 2008.

Worst: Rahul Dravid's rut
He has long been India's go-to man, especially overseas, but 2007 was an entirely forgettable year for Rahul Dravid. He oversaw India's World Cup debacle, but it was as batsman that he let the team - and himself - down. He failed in two successive series outside the subcontinent, and by the end of the year batting had become such a struggle for him that was it was painful to watch. Nothing typified the rut more than his last three innings outside the subcontinent: 12 off 96 balls at The Oval, followed by a match total of 21 runs from 180 deliveries at the MCG. Two thousand and eight will show if this is only a temporary blip or the beginning of the slide.

S Rajesh is stats editor at Cricinfo

Leslie Mathew

Best: Australia v India, World Twenty20
Relentlessly electric - a game where both sides kept raising the stakes with their chests puffed out, cranking out the thrills till our eyes popped.

And Australia's third defeat in under two weeks. It's not just in fairytales that monsters are bested.

Nearly there: Bravo bowls Harris in the final innings at Port Elizabeth © AFP

Worst: McGrath's retirement
How did it happen? Who told Glenn McGrath he could retire?

All good things must not come to an end. The point of being a metronome is, you go on and on endlessly, running in in that calibrated, sweatless way, like a marvel of German technology. Then you walk back, eyes on the ground, muttering about how the fringes of your eggs weren't trimmed just right at breakfast that morning and how bloody humans can't be relied on to get the simplest things right.

Cricket can sell its soul all it likes. It was sold in the Caribbean, apparently, and not for a lot either. But to lose the clockwork ticking away at the heart of the Australian machine in the same year? Tragic. Worse, Australia didn't even have the good grace to drop a few Tests in acknowledgment of the magnitude of their loss. Sheer gall.

Leslie Mathew is features editor at Cricinfo

Siddarth Ravindran

Best: Hayden in 2007
A couple of months before the World Cup, Matthew Hayden wasn't even a certainty to make the trip to the Caribbean for cricket's showpiece event. Not only did he make the tournament, he finished as the leading run-scorer with an astounding 659 runs. In his team's first match against significant opposition after a run of five straight losses, Hayden made a ferocious century (off 66 balls) which set the tone for Australia's clinical campaign, and earned him honorary citizenship of St Kitts as well. The first match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was graced by Hayden's masterly 158 - an innings that would have made the Antiguan genius proud. Hayden rounded the tournament off with small but significant contributions in the semis and finals.

Worst: Shoaib Akhtar's spat with Mohammad Asif
Given Shoaib Akhtar's disciplinary record, one should perhaps not have been surprised that he was involved in an altercation with a team-mate just days before the start of a major tournament. But in an era where batsmen have it easy, it was exasperating to see Shoaib, one of the few bowlers around who batsmen fear, miss out on a third global tournament in less than a year. And for a Pakistan team that had spent much of the year grappling with off-field issues, another controversy was the last thing needed. While there were several calls for a life ban for Shoaib's latest transgression, he escaped with a 13-match ban.