The year-end essay January 1, 2009

Graeme the Conqueror and other stories

Also, Australia's decline, the effects of the IPL, and the little allrounder who made a big impression
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I'll take it from here: South Africa are a shoo-in for the No. 1 team in the world, and Graeme Smith is easily cricket's man of the year © Getty Images
 

Two thousand eight was an epochal, tumultuous, rancorous, but eventually fulfilling year. It was a year of revolution and churning, of big money and big egos, of acrimony and conflict, but also of wonderful spirit and luminous cricket. It was the year of the possible, the year in which the world of cricket turned upside down and yet landed on its feet.

For a while money threatened to overshadow everything. Certainly players, the chosen ones, got richer quickly, but fear loomed that the game itself would be left poorer if Twenty20, the brash, muscular new form, began to marginalise Test cricket, the grandest and richest version. The Indian Premier League was a roaring success, but the shambles that the Stanford gig, which offered cricket's biggest-ever booty, ended up as was comforting evidence that money alone can't buy success. And as the year wound down, Test cricket bloomed in the most glorious manner possible.

The year began in the ugliest manner imaginable, and traces of the anger, ill-will and malice that Sydney generated can still be found in the readers' comments sections on Cricinfo. But it ended with a powerfully humane gesture from England, who returned to India to complete their tour, which had been disrupted by the Mumbai terror attacks, and in the warm glow of two wonderful Tests, in Chennai and Perth.

It was also the year the umpiring review system was trialled, cricket dried up in Pakistan and all but died in Zimbabwe, and the ICC grew even more irrelevant. But most of all, 2008 will be remembered as the year cricket changed: judgment must stay suspended whether for the better or the worse.

Life after the IPL: an opportunity to reshape cricket
Who could have imagined that a domestic tournament would transform cricket so radically and so profoundly? The IPL was the biggest thing to happen to the game since Kerry Packer, and its impact is likely to be more far-reaching.

Of course, the focus in the first year was money - eight franchises were sold for over US$730 million; over 150 players, including 72 foreign players, were bought for over $45 million, and the television rights were sold for $1 billion. The tournament was an unqualified success. It attracted unique viewership in excess of 100 million in India, an 18% increase on the number that watched the World Twenty20 in 2007. Stadiums spilled over with fans, some of whom had never been to a cricket ground before. Most of all, the cricket was of the highest quality. What had seemed like an audacious gamble the previous year had paid off spectacularly. The IPL took cricket beyond a new form - it created a new world for itself.

The challenge for cricket now is to accommodate the new entrant in the existing universe, and therein lies a huge opportunity. In a sense, the biggest impact of the IPL is yet to be felt. If the administrators play it right, and are able to rise above self-interest, they can use the compulsion to find windows for IPL and its offshoot, the Champions League, to force through some much-needed reforms.

In theory, the Future Tours Programme of the ICC is an egalitarian concept, aimed at providing equal opportunity to each Test-playing country. In reality, it is a blight. Administrators cried themselves hoarse in 2008, hailing Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game. Without doubt it is, but not when it is a mismatch. In between playing India and South Africa, Australia swatted aside New Zealand despite having collapsed in the very first innings of the series. Brett Lee took two wickets per Test against India away, and is averaging 249 against South Africa; against New Zealand, he took nine wickets in one Test.

Test cricket is the pinnacle because it presents the ultimate test of skill. Between mismatched teams, it can feel farcical, and be economically unviable. Rich nations have an obligation to sustain and develop cricket - not by indulging weak countries with a quota system, but by providing a competitive playing field. India have got away with not inviting Bangladesh home even once since they were admitted to the Test fold - at India's behest. At one level, it seems hypocritical, at another it is pragmatic and justifiable. England are likely to follow suit next year, and it is a welcome decision. Bangladesh, their performance in the final Test notwithstanding, boost only one thing in Test cricket: the batting and bowling averages of their opponents. If they can offer a semblance of competitiveness, it is at home. It is futile having them play Test cricket in conditions that render them hopeless.

What cricket needs is not a lot of Tests, but more meaningful ones. When the current FTP expires in 2011, it will be a good idea to bin the formula altogether and start clean. There can only be so much cricket in a year: let it be the best possible the game can provide.

 
 
For years India have dominated world cricket with their financial muscle, but now they have a team that is beginning match their wealth. When they travel abroad now, they will be expected to win. That's a significant change
 

Australia's decline: a more level playing field
It was inevitable and anticipated. No team can lose three of its biggest match-winners and carry on like before. Between them, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne took 750 wickets at 20.78 in the 71 Tests Australia won with them playing together. McGrath took 377 wickets of batsmen from numbers one to six, of which the top three accounted for a staggering 225 at an average of 18.22. Australia lost only one Test match in which Adam Gilchrist scored a hundred. It was always a question of how much the team would fall after the departures, not if.

For the record, Australia had their worst year in 15. Since winning the fractious Sydney Test at the start of the year, they didn't manage to beat India, losing to them thrice. They lost twice in Perth, their fortress, and failed to take 20 wickets in four out of their last six Tests of the year. They turned to six different spinners in an attempt to replace Warne, including Cameron White and Nathan Hauritz, who were not the first-choice spinners even for their state sides. Their last Test of year, where they struggled to finish off South Africa's first innings, merely highlighted a problem that has haunted them all year: Harbhajan Singh scored four Test fifties against them.

Australia's decline is both good news and bad news. It opens up the field, makes Test cricket more exciting. For years they have almost been competing with themselves: Can Ponting's Australians go one-up on Waugh's Australians by winning 17 Tests in a row? After you were done being awed and dazzled by them, it got monotonous and boring. A more level playing field makes for better watching. This year will carry huge anticipation: Any one of the four top teams - Australia, South Africa, India and England - could end the year on top of the Test ladder.

But the bad news is that the level playing field hasn't come about as a result of others raising their game but because Australia have fallen. For years they have set the benchmark for excellence in world cricket, and that mark has been lowered now. India's series victory in 2000-01 felt far more special than the one this year because it came against Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Wonder if opposition batsmen will feel the same satisfaction in milking Mitchell Johnson, a fine bowler, but no more, and whichever spinner Australia might fancy putting up?

After their first series loss at home in 17 years, even Ricky Ponting will be forced to concede that the sun has set on a glorious era. Australian cricket must now ponder if Ponting is the man to lead them out of a slump. A team of winners can almost run on auto-pilot, but a struggling team needs a leader. A feeling has been growing that Australia under Ponting have grown too triumphalist, too blinkered and too self-absorbed. They have also been living in denial. Cricket needs a strong Australia, but the regeneration will need a fresh approach: It will need both strength and humility, steel and statesmanship. Ponting is still Australia's best batsman, but is he is the leader they need at this hour?

The challengers: take a bow, South Africa
It was apt that South Africa and India split the Test series they played this year. They were the teams of the year, the ones that brought Australia down. India began the process and South Africa completed it resoundingly. But South Africa ended the year ahead: They haven't lost a series in over two years; they now hold the trophies in all but one of the bilateral Test series they compete in; and they won 11 out of their 15 Tests in 2008, seven of those away from home. Now that they have dispelled the cross that weighed them down, repeated ignominy against Australia, they are the legitimate No. 1 Test team in the world. India, who lost to Sri Lanka away, and needed a rank turner to draw level with South Africa at home, have some catching up to do.

To Graeme Smith must go a large share of the credit for fashioning a team in his own image. Smith has always been an impressive leader and cricketer, but in the early years of his captaincy, the South African team reflected Smith's own personality then: angst-ridden, overwrought, and somewhat desperate. Smith has mellowed since, without losing his fire, and the team under him now plays mature, confident and controlled cricket. Of course, it helps that Smith is also playing the best cricket of his career: He has led every South African charge this year, reeling off match-winning and match-saving hundreds Test after Test. He is, by some margin, cricket's man of the year.


Shakib Al Hasan punched above his team's weight all year © AFP
 

In many ways it was India's year. While South Africa were ruthless and clinical, India were sparkling and captivating. They were the ones who first ambushed the champions in Perth, the Australian bastion, and beat them in the one-day finals. For the last few years India have been crossing items off their to-do list: Test wins in Australia and South Africa, series wins in West Indies and England, openers providing hundred-run partnerships abroad, batsmen coming to terms to pace and bounce, and pace bowlers coming to the party. For years India have dominated world cricket with their financial muscle, but now they have a team that is beginning match their wealth. When they travel abroad now, they will be expected to win. That's a significant change.

Shakib Al Hasan: Bangladesh's little dynamo
Bangladesh maintained their familiar routine through the year: the occasional sparkle extinguished by overwhelming inconsistency. The final Test of the year promised to be their best, when they mounted a spirited chase of an improbable 520 and ended only 107 short. But even this featured a familiar failing. The bowlers did their job in the first innings but fell away in the second, and the batsmen left too much for the final innings after having been miserable in the first.

But one man kept shining through the year: Shakib Al Hasan was Bangladesh's best bowler and best batsman in Tests, and their best bowler and third-best batsman in all forms, both qualitatively and numerically.

Hasan will be 22 in March, but all through the year he batted with an assurance and composure that eluded his more experienced team-mates - standing firm against New Zealand when all collapsed around him, not wilting against South Africa, and finally, giving Sri Lanka the scare of their lives with a skilful and nerveless innings during which he worked Muttiah Muralitharan away dexterously off the back foot. That he fell four short of his first hundred was one of the tragedies of year. With the ball, he was equally exceptional, claiming four five-wicket hauls, including a 7 for 36 against New Zealand, the best-ever Test figures by a Bangladeshi spinner. With over 500 runs and 30 wickets he was the surprise allrounder of the year, not just for Bangladesh but in the world at large.

Read part two of the year-end essay here

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fyrestorm on January 7, 2009, 15:46 GMT

    I do not believe that South Africa are the best team in the world right now. They are certainly the form team. India are easily the most talented team, although their consistency needs to improve next year. Fairplay to SA beating the Aussies on home soil, but one has to consider the weaknesses of the current Aussie side. They have no quality spinner, and their pace attack is extremely thin (barring Johnson), not to mention an out of form Hayden and Hussey. @ace1983, this is verbal faeces. SA beat india on a greentop in India, when was the last time SA prepared a dustbowl for India in SA? And as for you Kanpur whiners, SA need to get a real spinner before they can talk. Harris couldn't spin a CD in a CD player. India have the talent, India have the money, and like it or not, we will dominate cricket in several aspects for a long time to come.

  • CricketLoversRuleTheWorld on January 3, 2009, 17:15 GMT

    @James88.. just give us those pitches.. we r gonna make a paste of u this time.. and well plz do win the toss again..

  • CricketLoversRuleTheWorld on January 3, 2009, 16:51 GMT

    @nonsouravcaddy well in 2001 autralia vs india series Aus' bowling attack had McGrath,Gillespie,Kasprowich,Warne & Miller .. In Chennai Harbhajan played a square drive of McGrath to win the series for India..Samir Dighe was at the other end.. 155 was the target what I can remember.. well @ace1983 in 96-97 series the pitch in durban was an underprepared one.. lets face the fact.. U can get injured on a bouncy green top what actually not at all possible on the turner ..u can get out thats it..and in that series SA robbed the victory of India in the final test by not allowing Donald to face even a single .. do u remember..u should mate..but I do accept currently SA is the best side in the world..true

  • nonsouravcaddy on January 2, 2009, 16:15 GMT

    Sorry to nitpick, but the article mentions India beating Australia and the Australian side including McGrath and Warne - the side that toured India in 2001 did not include Glenn McGrath, if my memory serves me right... pls confirm or deny.

  • Thasneem on January 2, 2009, 14:07 GMT

    Last year has been a fantastic year for cricket. There was Drama in Australia, Comedy with IPL-ICL clash and Standford 2020, action in Australia and South Africa which saw a new hero and solidarity with England returning to India for the test series. But the one thing which cricket missed was a equal opportunity for all teams. ICC may start looking at giving same number of tests for all teams and we would have a lot of colour to the game. This year may show the world who the best team is - India or South Africa. Last year SA have one in different conditions and Ind have mostly gaurded their home soil. Lets see what this year holds for us? I put my money on SA.

  • plsn on January 2, 2009, 11:20 GMT

    PLEASE tell these guys who are naive and idiotic -- bouncing fast tracks and spinning & turning tracks are just like having pace & spin bowlers; they are all part of a game called cricket. If a batsman cannot face spin on a turning track, he is as bad as one who cannot face pace on the fast & bouncy ones. No one has the right to discount wins on any type of pitches BECAUSE BOTH TEAMS HAVE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES TO WIN ON ANY KIND OF A PITCH..

  • SachinIsTheGreatest on January 2, 2009, 9:24 GMT

    @StaalBurgher, India cleaned up South Africa for under 100, I think, at Johannesburg. The highest score was 97 by Prince in the whole test. So? Its fine because its in SA and they went on to win the series? Don't make playing spin a sin. India got hammered at Durban in 1997 and scored 66 and 100 in the two innings. That was because India was pathetic playing pace in those days. It doesn't make the wicket bad. And coming to Kanpur, remember that South Africa lost the test when they could not dislodge the last wicket pair of Sreesanth and Ishant and then got psyched out when it turned. If playing 2-3 spinners is bad then why is it quite fine if teams play 4 pace bowlers? We might as well play on turfed wickets, then.

  • ace1983 on January 2, 2009, 7:54 GMT

    India and South Africa cannot be compared. India won their tests only at Home in raging turners, the South Africans by comparison won seven tests abroad including in Pakistan where the pitches are vicious subcontinental kind- and in England and Australia. India are yet to win a series in Australia and have never ever won in South Africa- so obviously you cannot compare

  • ace1983 on January 2, 2009, 7:53 GMT

    The Australians might have declined considerably since 2006-7 owing to the retirement of Warne and McGrath- but please remember they had many other weaknesses as well which contributed to their woeful year of 2008. Hayden out of form, Hussey struggling, Lee and his foot, Symonds and his Knee, Watson and his back, And a very weak command. If these players were still at the top of their game, especially Symonds- the capitulation would not have been that quick or that bad.

    The playing field is much more level now.

  • cardshark08 on January 2, 2009, 3:46 GMT

    The concept of the top teams only playing against each other in tests is disgusting. Perhaps the editor would like to recall the woefulness of India's away performances in previous years? Should India have been denied test series abroad, knowing they wouldn't play entertaining, competitive test cricket? No way - India have now played a bunch of good teams over the last three years, and we're seeing the benefits of that now. Denying other countries that chance would be the move of a very foolish and very short-sighted person or board.

    Also, Mitchell Johnson being considered "a fine bowler, but no more" is a joke: everyone drools over Ishant Sharma, but never seem to acknowledge that Johnson has played merely TWO more tests than Sharma!

    How about a mention of the crippling of New Zealand and Pakistan cricket due to the atrocious treatment of the ICL by the BCCI? Oh right, it's ok for those countries to be treated poorly, as the editor doesn't have them playing test cricket by 2011.

  • fyrestorm on January 7, 2009, 15:46 GMT

    I do not believe that South Africa are the best team in the world right now. They are certainly the form team. India are easily the most talented team, although their consistency needs to improve next year. Fairplay to SA beating the Aussies on home soil, but one has to consider the weaknesses of the current Aussie side. They have no quality spinner, and their pace attack is extremely thin (barring Johnson), not to mention an out of form Hayden and Hussey. @ace1983, this is verbal faeces. SA beat india on a greentop in India, when was the last time SA prepared a dustbowl for India in SA? And as for you Kanpur whiners, SA need to get a real spinner before they can talk. Harris couldn't spin a CD in a CD player. India have the talent, India have the money, and like it or not, we will dominate cricket in several aspects for a long time to come.

  • CricketLoversRuleTheWorld on January 3, 2009, 17:15 GMT

    @James88.. just give us those pitches.. we r gonna make a paste of u this time.. and well plz do win the toss again..

  • CricketLoversRuleTheWorld on January 3, 2009, 16:51 GMT

    @nonsouravcaddy well in 2001 autralia vs india series Aus' bowling attack had McGrath,Gillespie,Kasprowich,Warne & Miller .. In Chennai Harbhajan played a square drive of McGrath to win the series for India..Samir Dighe was at the other end.. 155 was the target what I can remember.. well @ace1983 in 96-97 series the pitch in durban was an underprepared one.. lets face the fact.. U can get injured on a bouncy green top what actually not at all possible on the turner ..u can get out thats it..and in that series SA robbed the victory of India in the final test by not allowing Donald to face even a single .. do u remember..u should mate..but I do accept currently SA is the best side in the world..true

  • nonsouravcaddy on January 2, 2009, 16:15 GMT

    Sorry to nitpick, but the article mentions India beating Australia and the Australian side including McGrath and Warne - the side that toured India in 2001 did not include Glenn McGrath, if my memory serves me right... pls confirm or deny.

  • Thasneem on January 2, 2009, 14:07 GMT

    Last year has been a fantastic year for cricket. There was Drama in Australia, Comedy with IPL-ICL clash and Standford 2020, action in Australia and South Africa which saw a new hero and solidarity with England returning to India for the test series. But the one thing which cricket missed was a equal opportunity for all teams. ICC may start looking at giving same number of tests for all teams and we would have a lot of colour to the game. This year may show the world who the best team is - India or South Africa. Last year SA have one in different conditions and Ind have mostly gaurded their home soil. Lets see what this year holds for us? I put my money on SA.

  • plsn on January 2, 2009, 11:20 GMT

    PLEASE tell these guys who are naive and idiotic -- bouncing fast tracks and spinning & turning tracks are just like having pace & spin bowlers; they are all part of a game called cricket. If a batsman cannot face spin on a turning track, he is as bad as one who cannot face pace on the fast & bouncy ones. No one has the right to discount wins on any type of pitches BECAUSE BOTH TEAMS HAVE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES TO WIN ON ANY KIND OF A PITCH..

  • SachinIsTheGreatest on January 2, 2009, 9:24 GMT

    @StaalBurgher, India cleaned up South Africa for under 100, I think, at Johannesburg. The highest score was 97 by Prince in the whole test. So? Its fine because its in SA and they went on to win the series? Don't make playing spin a sin. India got hammered at Durban in 1997 and scored 66 and 100 in the two innings. That was because India was pathetic playing pace in those days. It doesn't make the wicket bad. And coming to Kanpur, remember that South Africa lost the test when they could not dislodge the last wicket pair of Sreesanth and Ishant and then got psyched out when it turned. If playing 2-3 spinners is bad then why is it quite fine if teams play 4 pace bowlers? We might as well play on turfed wickets, then.

  • ace1983 on January 2, 2009, 7:54 GMT

    India and South Africa cannot be compared. India won their tests only at Home in raging turners, the South Africans by comparison won seven tests abroad including in Pakistan where the pitches are vicious subcontinental kind- and in England and Australia. India are yet to win a series in Australia and have never ever won in South Africa- so obviously you cannot compare

  • ace1983 on January 2, 2009, 7:53 GMT

    The Australians might have declined considerably since 2006-7 owing to the retirement of Warne and McGrath- but please remember they had many other weaknesses as well which contributed to their woeful year of 2008. Hayden out of form, Hussey struggling, Lee and his foot, Symonds and his Knee, Watson and his back, And a very weak command. If these players were still at the top of their game, especially Symonds- the capitulation would not have been that quick or that bad.

    The playing field is much more level now.

  • cardshark08 on January 2, 2009, 3:46 GMT

    The concept of the top teams only playing against each other in tests is disgusting. Perhaps the editor would like to recall the woefulness of India's away performances in previous years? Should India have been denied test series abroad, knowing they wouldn't play entertaining, competitive test cricket? No way - India have now played a bunch of good teams over the last three years, and we're seeing the benefits of that now. Denying other countries that chance would be the move of a very foolish and very short-sighted person or board.

    Also, Mitchell Johnson being considered "a fine bowler, but no more" is a joke: everyone drools over Ishant Sharma, but never seem to acknowledge that Johnson has played merely TWO more tests than Sharma!

    How about a mention of the crippling of New Zealand and Pakistan cricket due to the atrocious treatment of the ICL by the BCCI? Oh right, it's ok for those countries to be treated poorly, as the editor doesn't have them playing test cricket by 2011.

  • plsn on January 2, 2009, 3:10 GMT

    SalmanShoaib, How long are you guys going to keep whining for loss of cricket to Pakis.Stop being cry babies, improve the situation in your country and grow up. You have been independent as long as India has been. If you allowed your situation to deterorate, don't blame others.Stop hanging on to India's pallu. You have become a pain in the neck for India in all aspects of life.

  • sifter132 on January 2, 2009, 1:02 GMT

    I didn't enjoy the bagging of New Zealand here. I'm not a Kiwi, and sure NZ aren't strong, but to imply they are pushovers is wrong. Sambit you used Brett Lee as an example - but you managed to pick the one game he bowled well in (or more accurately had good luck in) in the last 10 Tests, it just happened to be against NZ. The reason we have the futures program is this: Remember what happened when India last went to NZ?? They lost 2-0, back in 2002/03. NZ even drew their last series with India 0-0 IN INDIA. The futures program ensures that every country should get a chance to play everyone, I like it.

  • nick_japan_2007 on January 1, 2009, 23:56 GMT

    Well done SA, best team in the world now.

  • chipmunk0709 on January 1, 2009, 23:23 GMT

    Conquering Australia in its current form and with its current players is far from conquering Australia at its absolute zenith. Only India managed it in 2001, and only because of some pig headedness from Waugh, and had only lost sproodic test when an opposition player has an absolute blinder in the game eg Laxman, and Lara, and Singh in 2001. Please do not compare Smiths team to the Australian side until he as conquered all before him for a sustained period ie over 5 years, and then his successor to do the same. Remember, Australia had Border(over his last few years, pass on the baton to Taylor, then Waugh(who had a run of 16 wins in a row) and then the early success of Ponting(hiccup in 2005 Ashes) who also had a run of 16 wins in a row. Also, current World cup holders three times in a row, and unbeaten in the last two world cups. Australia may be in a decline, but other teams need them to decline to beat them, they haven't raised their own game. Australia had sustained dominance.

  • Tahsinul on January 1, 2009, 20:58 GMT

    Thanks for mentioning sakibs name. He's been a great player over the year and hopefully in the future will fulfill his potential. I've noticed even though he has made some pretty decent performances he hasn't been recognized as much. I still have to argue with mate about him, they don't think a player like that even exists for Bangladesh or that if they did they were half decent.

    And as for Australia, like the great west Indies of the past there kingdom is crumbling and i think it will be a contest between the South Africans and Indians to take there spot. Personally im backing India

    Thanks mate

  • Pratik_L on January 1, 2009, 20:43 GMT

    Great posts friends. Now as we have established that Test cricket is the best format of cricket and pinnacle of cricketer's skills, here is a proposal. A triangular competition with 3 tests home and away series between, SA, IND, AUS, the top 3 sides in the world. I think it would be a great exhibition of cricket and also solve our dilemma about the best team in the world. There will be strict adherence to guidelines about pitch conditions avoiding extreme seam or spin friendly tracks like Kanpur(2008) or Durban(1996). I believe every host country has the right of availing home advantage but should not misuse it. This competition should be played every 4 years. I am so confident about the success of this triangular competition that it will become a regular feature and other top countries will look forward for qualifying for the next edition. Your comments would be appreciated friends.

  • salmanshoaib on January 1, 2009, 19:16 GMT

    Why not also mention that India has played the best teams in the world for the last 3 years (only because of their financial muscle) and improved their game. That luxury was not available to some other teams in the world and they were forced to play minnows and relatively weaker teams and coming against quality opposition only once in a while in a calendar year. Whereas, just to reap the financial rewards, the Australians overplayed their cricket against India and in the end allowed the Indians to understand their weaknesses and then use the same against them. How many times have the Indians played against the Australians, both one day and tests, in the last 3 years?? We should acknowledge that Indians played more than 15 tests in 2008 against none by Pakistan and just 5 to 6 by Srilanka. They are constantly bullying ICC and getting away with the best deals. Its about time ICC forget about financial rewards and start treating all countries on equal footing.

  • Revan on January 1, 2009, 18:54 GMT

    The fact that Australia have declined is as obvious as the fact that some of their current players are quite a bit out of form. Having said that, I think that Australia are better than their most recent performances and I think that is a fair assessment. I am a South African, and I have supported our cricket team all my life...Through the bad times and the good...There is no doubt SA have improved immensely!! I am very disappointed by the view held by some that South Africa's series win in Australia is due to some misfortune on Australia's side??? I mean seriously? South Africa have played awesome cricket for a full 2 years and have had better results than Australia over the entire period. But, I believe the proof is in the pudding and this South African side isn't going anywhere anytime soon, so bring it on! For better or worse I'll be supporting South Africa!

  • StaalBurgher on January 1, 2009, 18:53 GMT

    @SachinIsTheGreatest The 3rd test in Kanpur that South Africa lost was finished on the 3rd day. That is the issue. A test match wicket should strive to finish at least on the 5th morning. It doesn't matter that it was a bouncy or spinning track. So the reason why India get less credit for that win was that there was zero effort to make an equal contest between bat and ball. The highest Indian score was 87! This is completely different from the 2nd test where South Africa scored nearly 500 with a century (Kallis) and double century (de Villiers), which clearly indicates that the wicket was very playable. Yet India capitulated quite quickly on that same track. Kanpur was purposefully made unwinnable unless you pack your side with spinners. It was the only way India would have won as they cannot win consistently on a normal test wicket.

  • Shafaet on January 1, 2009, 18:42 GMT

    South Africa is a fantastic team because 1. they have an inspirational captains 2. they have the best allrounder of all time (kallis) 3. they have some potential future greats in duminy, villiers & amla while greats of other teams(read-aus & india) are retiring 4. they've d most fearsome fast bowling attack & the great dale steyn(have no doubt, he is great) 5. harris almost solved their lack of spinner prob 6. they've great combination of experience & youth. 7. their players can suit anywhere in the world. So S. africa will rule no doubt about that. Comparing england with s.africa is a hell of a joke. & pay tribute to SAKIB AL HASAN, he deserves it.

  • philvic on January 1, 2009, 18:28 GMT

    India vs SA in South Africa is an exciting prospect. It is a pity we have to wait so long for this to come round again. I also think it should be a five test series - this is what all the top cricketing nations should be playing. I cannot understand how the FTP can justify a 5 test series for England vs Australia but not for India and South Africa (or Sri Lanka for that matter).

  • jokerbala on January 1, 2009, 16:53 GMT

    What is it that causes people to gauge a batsmen by the way he plays fast bowling in seaming or bouncy tracks,but completely discount the fact that handling spin in a turning track is also a measure of greatness?I remember India being all out for 66 and 100 against SA in Durban some time ago.Can we say that those tracks were unsporting?Of late pitches in India have been favoring the quicks too.

  • mrgupta on January 1, 2009, 15:30 GMT

    sorry mate James88, but u sound way too optimistic.... last time NZ won because they took us by surprise by making some weird pitches... and also our team was still in the developing phase.... I hope they try the same thing this time too....as we have a top quality fast bowling attack...NZ don't have a Shane Bond....and also they lack international class batsmen... They will fall pray to their own plans....

  • Kingsmead on January 1, 2009, 14:54 GMT

    Apologies cranaweera Sri Lanka does deserve inclusion into the pantheon of nations. As to the track debate, success should be a function of a nation's performance over both bouncy and turning tracks.

  • samrkd on January 1, 2009, 13:57 GMT

    I think England is better than south africa. But I agree India,south africa,Australia and England are the top test team. Also agree that Smith enjoys this year more than anyone from south africa.

  • SachinIsTheGreatest on January 1, 2009, 13:35 GMT

    Hahaha!! This is hilarious!! South Africa get tonked on a turner and its a wicket not worth playing on. India beat Australia at Perth and people said the wicket wasn't as fast as it should be. Sri Lanka win a series 2-1 against(oh, and got thumped 2-0 when they were in India) and more is made of the two defeats India suffered. Well, the Indian team will struggle to gain a true acceptance as long as visions are blinkered and Indian team-bashing is synonymous with BCCI-bashing.

  • riverlime on January 1, 2009, 13:34 GMT

    Sambit, you are singing the praises of the IPL and never mentioned the original league ICL, even though the BCCI was vehemently against 20/20 cricket when it was first introduced. You also rubbished the Stanford 20/20(where players earn LESS THAN some of their IPL counterparts). When exactly were you BOUGHT by Lalit Modi?

  • KingOwl on January 1, 2009, 11:53 GMT

    Four top teams - Australia, South Africa, India and England, says the author; England is certainly not one of the top four. I would like to know the rationale behind this claim. On the ICC rankings, Sri Lanka is #4. During recent tours, SL drew with England 1-1 away and won easily at home. That makes SL clearly better than England. The away draw was despite very early seasons conditions (April/May) totally 'tailor made' in favour of England. Let me add that countries such as India never play England in such conditions - they get to play England in the late season when the tracks are flat. Also, it is high time to get rid of this inferiority about turning tracks. Turning tracks are as good as bouncy tracks. One is not more sporting than the other. It is pathetic that South Asian authors keep repeating the Anglo-Saxon 'spin'.

  • Bobby_Talyarkhan on January 1, 2009, 11:16 GMT

    Bal as usual sells his integrity to the highest bidder, in this case the IPL and the BCCI. It is nothing less than a disgrace that India has not given Bangladesh a test in India - at least in Kolkata there would be capacity crowds to witness such a match. What India should be doing for the good of the game is helping the sport in those of its subcontinental neighbours who are struggling at the moment - Bangladesh and Pakistan - by providing funding, coaching, facilities and so on. As the more insightful Ian Chappell has pointed out, the IPL does represent an opportunity to use the revenues generated for the good of the sport worldwide - Bal's shortsighted, social darwinist market driven criteria would hasten the mutation of the game into something recognisably NOT cricket.

  • Kingsmead on January 1, 2009, 11:11 GMT

    Suggestions of a decline in Australian Cricket appear to be a bit premature. Whilst being proud of a South African test series win we should recognise that Australia were in a commanding position in both tests with 4 frontline bowlers being injured. India and South Africa have taken great strides in levelling the supremacy but we should rather consider the changing of the guard over the next 24 months when the top 4 nations have shown their true form.

  • James88 on January 1, 2009, 10:54 GMT

    I can't wait for NZ to smash India

  • Aditya_mookerjee on January 1, 2009, 10:34 GMT

    I believe, that cricket should be played for it's own sake. If too much reward is accrued to the victor, then the player is not mindful to the game. A draw may be the verdict of a match, which has been interesting as a proceeding. If a person is disappointed, then does it make the match any less interesting, when it was proceeding? Extraneous considerations make the consideration of cricket complicated. To consider the cricketing fortunes of south Africa, it must be mentioned, that south Africa has produced many high quality all rounders. I have never seen Morkel play, but all agree, that he is not deficient in any regard. South Africa has batsmen, like DeVilliers, and many like him in skill. It was a surprise that they did defeat Australia, in Australia, but the South African batsmen are the best suited to Test Cricket, if a number of the Indian batting order are not considered.

  • peeeeet on January 1, 2009, 10:20 GMT

    A quick comment on the decline of Australia, I think Haddin is doing an outstanding job as wicketkeeper and Gilchrist's presence is no where near as missed as Warne and McGrath. I would go as far to say we are missing Langer and Martyn more now, with Langer's dogged displays at the top of the order and Martyn's spplication in the middle order. I think Australia need to want to draw more tests by batting longer and applying themselves at the crease, cos if they can manage to put on large totals it always adds pressure no matter how long it takes to get there. SA have by far been the best team, as they now have a spinner who can take wickets to go with their talented pace bowlers. India beat Australia in Australia sure, but they got dominated by Sri Lanka away, so they still need a little bit more work. I am really looking forward to 2009!!!

  • samukele on January 1, 2009, 10:18 GMT

    I can't agree with this comment "the level playing field hasn't come about as a result of others raising their game".

    What nonsense. South Africa won every test series bar a drawn one against India in their own back yard. What more can they do to 'raise their game' pray tell?

  • Nipun on January 1, 2009, 10:09 GMT

    It's true that although India was by far the best team in ODIs,South Africa was by far the best test team.India had to prepare a shocker of a pitch @ Kanpur to prevent South Africa from taking the series.2009 will be a hell of year with Australia,South Africa,India & Sri Lanka all battling for the no.1 spot(both in tests & ODIs)with equal strength. 2008 was a year of sexy test cricket.England vs SA @ Edgebuston,Bangladesh vs New Zealand @ Chittagong,India vs England @ Chennai,SA vs Australia @ Perth,& lastly,Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka @ Dhaka.It's been a privilege watching all those nail-biters with awe. Stars of 2008:-South Africa's top 7,Dale Steyn,Ajantha Mendis,Muralidaran(as usual),Tendulkar(as usual),Virender Sehwag,MS Dhoni(a huge figure in India's rise),Zaheer Khan,Ishant Sharma,Kevin Pietersen,Gautam Gambhir,Simon Katich,Shakib Al Hasan(the surprise package),Daniel Vettori,Yuvraj Singh,Chanderpaul,Mitchell Johnson,VVS Laxman,Michael Clarke. Expecting a cracking 2009.....

  • slogger_rob on January 1, 2009, 7:44 GMT

    Some very interesting points. However... India pretty much won a single test in Australia. And this was after the series was lost, so I'd hardly say that it was their year. Their fans have always expected them to win.

    The decline of Australia has been documented time and time again. However I think that while it is impossible to replace the likes of Gillcrest, Warne, Mcgrath, Langer... lets not forget that many others have been in ill form, that the other teams have improved. Now if SA lose Kallis or Smith cheaply someone else comes to the party (Duminy and even Steyn come to mind). England under Pietersen actually look like a side capable of winning instead of just showing up. India since Kumble took over look like a far more professional side. So while Australia have faltered a little I think the other sides have heaped it on with much better performances.

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  • slogger_rob on January 1, 2009, 7:44 GMT

    Some very interesting points. However... India pretty much won a single test in Australia. And this was after the series was lost, so I'd hardly say that it was their year. Their fans have always expected them to win.

    The decline of Australia has been documented time and time again. However I think that while it is impossible to replace the likes of Gillcrest, Warne, Mcgrath, Langer... lets not forget that many others have been in ill form, that the other teams have improved. Now if SA lose Kallis or Smith cheaply someone else comes to the party (Duminy and even Steyn come to mind). England under Pietersen actually look like a side capable of winning instead of just showing up. India since Kumble took over look like a far more professional side. So while Australia have faltered a little I think the other sides have heaped it on with much better performances.

  • Nipun on January 1, 2009, 10:09 GMT

    It's true that although India was by far the best team in ODIs,South Africa was by far the best test team.India had to prepare a shocker of a pitch @ Kanpur to prevent South Africa from taking the series.2009 will be a hell of year with Australia,South Africa,India & Sri Lanka all battling for the no.1 spot(both in tests & ODIs)with equal strength. 2008 was a year of sexy test cricket.England vs SA @ Edgebuston,Bangladesh vs New Zealand @ Chittagong,India vs England @ Chennai,SA vs Australia @ Perth,& lastly,Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka @ Dhaka.It's been a privilege watching all those nail-biters with awe. Stars of 2008:-South Africa's top 7,Dale Steyn,Ajantha Mendis,Muralidaran(as usual),Tendulkar(as usual),Virender Sehwag,MS Dhoni(a huge figure in India's rise),Zaheer Khan,Ishant Sharma,Kevin Pietersen,Gautam Gambhir,Simon Katich,Shakib Al Hasan(the surprise package),Daniel Vettori,Yuvraj Singh,Chanderpaul,Mitchell Johnson,VVS Laxman,Michael Clarke. Expecting a cracking 2009.....

  • samukele on January 1, 2009, 10:18 GMT

    I can't agree with this comment "the level playing field hasn't come about as a result of others raising their game".

    What nonsense. South Africa won every test series bar a drawn one against India in their own back yard. What more can they do to 'raise their game' pray tell?

  • peeeeet on January 1, 2009, 10:20 GMT

    A quick comment on the decline of Australia, I think Haddin is doing an outstanding job as wicketkeeper and Gilchrist's presence is no where near as missed as Warne and McGrath. I would go as far to say we are missing Langer and Martyn more now, with Langer's dogged displays at the top of the order and Martyn's spplication in the middle order. I think Australia need to want to draw more tests by batting longer and applying themselves at the crease, cos if they can manage to put on large totals it always adds pressure no matter how long it takes to get there. SA have by far been the best team, as they now have a spinner who can take wickets to go with their talented pace bowlers. India beat Australia in Australia sure, but they got dominated by Sri Lanka away, so they still need a little bit more work. I am really looking forward to 2009!!!

  • Aditya_mookerjee on January 1, 2009, 10:34 GMT

    I believe, that cricket should be played for it's own sake. If too much reward is accrued to the victor, then the player is not mindful to the game. A draw may be the verdict of a match, which has been interesting as a proceeding. If a person is disappointed, then does it make the match any less interesting, when it was proceeding? Extraneous considerations make the consideration of cricket complicated. To consider the cricketing fortunes of south Africa, it must be mentioned, that south Africa has produced many high quality all rounders. I have never seen Morkel play, but all agree, that he is not deficient in any regard. South Africa has batsmen, like DeVilliers, and many like him in skill. It was a surprise that they did defeat Australia, in Australia, but the South African batsmen are the best suited to Test Cricket, if a number of the Indian batting order are not considered.

  • James88 on January 1, 2009, 10:54 GMT

    I can't wait for NZ to smash India

  • Kingsmead on January 1, 2009, 11:11 GMT

    Suggestions of a decline in Australian Cricket appear to be a bit premature. Whilst being proud of a South African test series win we should recognise that Australia were in a commanding position in both tests with 4 frontline bowlers being injured. India and South Africa have taken great strides in levelling the supremacy but we should rather consider the changing of the guard over the next 24 months when the top 4 nations have shown their true form.

  • Bobby_Talyarkhan on January 1, 2009, 11:16 GMT

    Bal as usual sells his integrity to the highest bidder, in this case the IPL and the BCCI. It is nothing less than a disgrace that India has not given Bangladesh a test in India - at least in Kolkata there would be capacity crowds to witness such a match. What India should be doing for the good of the game is helping the sport in those of its subcontinental neighbours who are struggling at the moment - Bangladesh and Pakistan - by providing funding, coaching, facilities and so on. As the more insightful Ian Chappell has pointed out, the IPL does represent an opportunity to use the revenues generated for the good of the sport worldwide - Bal's shortsighted, social darwinist market driven criteria would hasten the mutation of the game into something recognisably NOT cricket.

  • KingOwl on January 1, 2009, 11:53 GMT

    Four top teams - Australia, South Africa, India and England, says the author; England is certainly not one of the top four. I would like to know the rationale behind this claim. On the ICC rankings, Sri Lanka is #4. During recent tours, SL drew with England 1-1 away and won easily at home. That makes SL clearly better than England. The away draw was despite very early seasons conditions (April/May) totally 'tailor made' in favour of England. Let me add that countries such as India never play England in such conditions - they get to play England in the late season when the tracks are flat. Also, it is high time to get rid of this inferiority about turning tracks. Turning tracks are as good as bouncy tracks. One is not more sporting than the other. It is pathetic that South Asian authors keep repeating the Anglo-Saxon 'spin'.

  • riverlime on January 1, 2009, 13:34 GMT

    Sambit, you are singing the praises of the IPL and never mentioned the original league ICL, even though the BCCI was vehemently against 20/20 cricket when it was first introduced. You also rubbished the Stanford 20/20(where players earn LESS THAN some of their IPL counterparts). When exactly were you BOUGHT by Lalit Modi?