Moments of the year January 5, 2009

Bowlers 4, Batsmen 1

ESPNcricinfo staff
Cricinfo's senior editors on the best passages of cricket they watched in 2008

Hold on to this one, he's a goodie: his team-mates swarm Mendis in the Asia Cup final © AFP

Osman Samiuddin

Mendis in the Asia Cup final
This was the beauty of it, of cricket and cricketers in the subcontinent. A young guy, very much his own guy, little heard of, coming out on a big stage and torpedoing a giant. Even if Ajantha Mendis never bowled another ball or got another wicket, his six-for would stand as tribute, a most beautiful tribute in fact, to the art and joy of this region's cricket. It doesn't matter if it is a fleeting thing - often that enhances it - for in that moment, or prolonged moment, you are sucked in and taken along on a ride where nothing makes sense but everything makes you smile and makes the hair on your body stand up. Cricket becomes an experience, a very visceral experience, and not a sport, to be sensed, even touched, but above all to be felt.

These bouts are difficult to explain. The National Stadium in Karachi had been a graveyard for the bowlers. Three hundred was the new 240. Two seventy-four was thus a gettable thing, and with Virender Sehwag in flow and India 76 for 1 in the 10th over, it threatened to be a miniscule total. Mendis - rested in the group game against India - came on, Sehwag charged a straight, wide one, missed, and was stumped. Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma also missed straight balls; they expected something to happen with that strange grip and yet nothing really did. Suddenly India were all out for 173. These things happen in such a sudden burst of flair.

There was about the whole spell, a very Pakistani air - something a Waqar or Wasim could do, but more pertinently something a guy like Mohammad Zahid from Gaggu Mandi, who only his parents had heard of, could do. Stuart Broad took a superb five-fer against South Africa last summer but it was all so pristine, so sanitised: straight-up swing; nice, coached upright action; edges to slip; boy who has worked his way through a structure.

This was nothing like it, because it induced in India a very visible panic and in everyone else the purest thrill, from a guy nobody knew much about. Fielders suddenly become more alert, batsmen more incompetent, balls turning who knows which way, and that is the joy of cricket surely, at its absolute base level: in a team game, one man changing the mood of a match, of entire countries, in a trice, just like that, as you or I might turn on a switch. Indeed, the best was that until the very end, nobody could say for sure that someone like Mahendra Singh Dhoni - an equal of Mendis in unorthodoxy - wouldn't do what Mendis had just done and switch it all back. Ajantha Mendis, long may he live and bowl; the glory of this region's cricket, long may it flourish.

Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Peter English

Session one at the WACA, Australia v South Africa
Opening sessions that justify the pre-series hype are rare and when Australia are involved they usually occur only in Ashes contests. South Africa provided the perfect gatecrash in the first Test at the WACA with a brilliant 30 minutes that involved three wickets and showed Australia were finally in a serious contest at home. Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini had been talked about as major weapons and they provided the early bullets. Getting through Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey can sometimes takes days, but the opening pair managed it in less than six overs.

An out-of-form Hayden was uncertain outside off stump and edged to Ntini, who followed next ball by having a driving Ponting caught superbly by AB de Villiers in the cordon. Hussey avoided the hat-trick but was quickly lined up by Steyn's angle and de Villiers was sharp again. It was the sort of spell that excited neutrals, shocked Australian fans and gave South Africans hope.

It also did something that few teams manage Down Under, by getting the home players to doubt themselves. To achieve all that in half an hour was an incredible feat. While it set up the series, it did not gain South Africa immediate control, with the advantage swinging from side to side throughout the three sessions - and the entire game. The opening day couldn't match the start of the Ashes in 2005, but it was so addictive.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Flintoff wonders just what he needs to do after a plumb lbw against Kallis has been turned down © Getty Images

Andrew Miller

Flintoff to Kallis at Edgbaston
A spell so good, it deserved to win a Test match. That it did not was ultimately down to the skill of Graeme Smith, whose incredible 154 not out in the second innings secured an improbable run-chase, but when Andrew Flintoff tore into Jacques Kallis to turn the Edgbaston Test match on its head, it was the moment a great competitor announced his rehabilitation at Test level. Until his intervention, England had been drifting out of contention. Their first-innings 231 had been all but matched and six South African wickets were still standing. Then Flintoff upped the ante. Two brutal bouncers and a pair of perfect yorkers, the second of which struck Kallis plumb in front of middle, revived memories of Flintoff's inspired over to Ricky Ponting on the same ground in 2005, except it took another four deliveries to get the desired result. Another wicked bouncer and a perfect outswinging yorker ripped Kallis from the crease, to scenes of wild adulation.

The over had a twin impact. Firstly, it was indisputable proof of Flintoff's enduring class at international level - at the age of 30, and after four ankle operations, seeing was believing, and for the packed Birmingham crowd that day, belief had rarely felt so good. Secondly, it reminded England that all the line-and-length merchants in the world cannot make up for the raw threat of a genuine 90mph speedster. For the next Test at The Oval, Kevin Pietersen's first in charge, Steve Harmison was recalled to the fold, and the improvement in the team was plain for all to see.

Andrew Miller is the UK editor of Cricinfo

Dileep Premachandran

Yuvraj v England's spinners in Chennai
As VVS Laxman trudges back, some fans clutch their heads in despair. Yuvraj Singh strides to the middle a minute later, but on a final-day pitch taking dramatic turn, he's not the figure you want to see. Sachin Tendulkar has made sedate progress to 32, and it's becoming increasingly obvious that he will have to seize the initiative if the effervescent Graeme Swann and the less bubbly Monty Panesar are to be kept at bay.

Tendulkar starts Panesar's next over with a typically precise paddle sweep. As it streaks past Matt Prior and the helmet for four, the crowd finds its voice again. After a nervous Yuvraj sees off another over from Swann, Tendulkar targets Monty once more. This time, a short ball is dismissed to the rope at square leg. He seems to be warming into his role as Yuvraj's guardian.

But does the younger man need such cotton wool? Having been flummoxed by a Swann delivery that turns right across his bat and into Prior's gloves, Yuvraj decides to trust the attacking instincts that have served him so well in coloured clothes. A lovely back-foot push through the covers gives Swann reason to think, and when the next ball lands on leg stump, it's swept with awesome power for four more.

Ishant Sharma draws first blood in what turned out to be the rivalry of the year © Getty Images

When Monty resumes, Yuvraj is out of his crease and lofting with confidence down to long-on. Pietersen swiftly calls off his spin twins and brings back Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff. The tide has turned, the Red Sea parted by a man who allegedly can't play spin.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Sambit Bal

Ishant v Ponting in Perth
It isn't coincidence that four out of five in this collection of memories of the best cricket we watched last year - are about triumphs by bowlers. It¹s a reflection of our times. What's rare is precious. When the standard wicket-taking method is boring the batsman out with run-denying lines and smart fields, which often include a deep point, out-and-out wicket-taking performances are the ones to hold on to.

After a bit of juggling I settled on Ishant Sharma's dismantling of Ricky Ponting over Ajantha Mendis' dumbfounding of Rahul Dravid in Colombo - if only because the first was a spectacle that lasted an hour. Already in the same Test we had seen a thrilling duel between the game's two premier players, Sachin Tendulkar and Brett Lee, but this was between a rookie and a master, and the master ended up looking like a rookie.

In the first over he bowled to him on the fourth day, Ishant could have had Ponting twice - one went away missing the outside edge by a fraction, and another jagged back and hit in front - but that he didn't only prolonged the drama. Ishant charged in over and over, hurrying Ponting with pace, getting him to fend with bounce, beating him with movement. Every over probably seemed like an eternity for Ponting, who couldn't even get off strike. The reward finally came in the eighth, which came about as a last-second change of mind prompted by Virender Sehwag, who had seen Ishant bowl long spells as his captain for the Delhi team. The ball pitched on off stump and rose while leaving Ponting, who could only edge it to Rahul Dravid at slip. That was Ishant's only wicket in the innings, but it was the one that mattered.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo