Ashraful cries, Johnson terrifies
Alan Gardner, assistant editor
Best: Afghanistan qualify for the World Cup
While the ICC's Full Member nations seem content to loll decadently on a well-plumped but little-regarded chaise longue in the corner of the global sporting stage, there continue to be heartening - and genuinely exciting - stories emerge from the more fragile Associates and Affiliates ecosystem. Nepal became cricket's latest Cinderella men with qualification for the World Twenty20, but the team that set the template is Afghanistan. In October, with a sizeable contingent thronging the Sharjah Cricket Stadium stands, Mohammad Nabi's side wrapped up the second of back-to-back victories over Kenya to secure a spot at their first World Cup. To see the Afghanistan players do a victory lap as flag-waving children ran amongst them, and then to hear them speak with such sincerity about what the achievement meant, was to be inspired once more about the possibilities for spreading the game.
Worst: Scheduling Ashes back to back
A supine governing body is one of world cricket's major problems and the ICC has been able to do little about the self-interest of its dominant constituents. England, Australia and India continue to carve up the calendar to their suiting - leaving South Africa to pick their teeth with the bones in a glacial attempt at dynasty-building - and nowhere was this more evident than in the shunting of England's 2014-15 Ashes tour forward by a year, ostensibly to avoid a clash with the World Cup. Two flawed teams staggered and swung at each other repeatedly, with 26 encounters (including a Champions Trophy meeting) scheduled over eight months allowing few opportunities for reflection, analysis or retrenchment. The usual context of a four-year Ashes cycle was lost - and by 2015 we will have had three such series in two years - amid administrator gluttony and player punishment. Test cricket, in particular, does not need to double up on flat, one-sided series.
Mohammad Isam, Bangladesh correspondent
Best: Bangladesh's stroll in the dark
It gets dark early in Fatullah, even in summer. This was the start of winter. As Bangladesh attempted to keep up with the run rate against New Zealand in the third ODI in this industrial town, the skyline was taken over by smog. Under lights, the Bangladesh batsmen strung together one mid-sized partnership after another. The thing to note was the ease in their batting, and more so in their body language.
Newbie Shamsur Rahman hardly looked in difficulty as he put together a quick opening stand with Ziaur Rahman, a pinch-hitter - yes, in this day and age. Shamsur made 96 before he was caught behind attempting to wheel one over extra cover. Nasir Hossain was then in charge of the slog overs. There was little to worry about, because he knew when to step on the accelerator. Sixes and fours flew in all directions, the only difficulty being spotting who was hitting them.
It was a series Bangladesh had already won, so a sense of complacency was expected. But the match was won without Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, while captain Mushfiqur Rahim hardly contributed to the chase. The gloom that hovered over the vast cricket ground was, for once, not the gloom of Bangladesh cricket.
Worst: The tears of Mohammad Ashraful
A couple of hours after the Bangladesh board had suspended Mohammad Ashraful pending investigations into alleged corruption in the BPL, I went to his house, looking for a reaction. I wasn't expecting any dramatic pronouncements or emotional scenes, because in such situations players tend to be safe in their answers. I certainly did not imagine Ashraful would start to cry in response to a question about regret.
The ACSU grilled him as soon as he returned from Zimbabwe in May and Ashraful admitted to being involved in corruption during the year's BPL. Before the full hearing began, the Bangladesh board cut him off. On that day in Banasree, as Ashraful attempted to answer my question, tears fell from his face and he couldn't complete the sentence. He was dragged away by his minders as a group of us stood in silence watching him sob.
Daniel Brettig, Assistant editor
Best: Mitchell Johnson and Co in Brisbane
Brad Haddin had lifted Australia to a decent total at the Gabba, but tension still hung heavily in the Brisbane air. Would Australia's bowlers exploit the cracks they had made in England's batting in the northern hemisphere on a pitch of pace and bounce, or would the tourists hold firm? Mainly the crowd looked towards the enigmatic Mitchell Johnson for evidence of danger - to opponents rather than team-mates. The early signs were not too promising, as a wayward first spell brought a few familiar groans. But Ryan Harris' removal of Alastair Cook allowed Johnson to worry out Jonathan Trott before lunch, and suddenly Australia's players and supporters sprang to life. The mayhem of the afternoon was summed up by England's loss of 6 for 9, which turned the Ashes narrative definitely towards Michael Clarke's team. Johnson's terrifying pace was to the fore, but there was also the rigour of Harris and the bounce of Nathan Lyon. Given the horrors of 2013, seldom has a Test-match day been more cathartic for Australia.
Worst: Australia at Lord's
Though a dreadful tour of India and equally poor Champions Trophy campaign had encouraged Cricket Australia to jettison Mickey Arthur before the Ashes, the national team still had one more humiliation ahead. It arrived at Lord's, after Ashton Agar's near-miracle at Trent Bridge. Batting uncertainly in the first innings and offering chances in the second, England did not play especially well. But they did not have to, as Clarke's men surrendered their wickets in the most maddening ways imaginable. Chris Rogers summed it up by missing a lollipop full toss from Graeme Swann and falling (incorrectly) lbw, while Clarke himself missed a middle-stump half-volley in the first innings then leg-glanced straight to leg slip in the second. In a matter of days the Ashes were nearly out of grasp, leaving many in attendance to conclude this was the worst day for Australian cricket in living memory. The only way was up.
Firdose Moonda, South Africa correspondent
Best: Competitive Test series
Two-thirds of my year involved covering Pakistan, which provided me with memories I will treasure. After Younis Khan's double-hundred in the first Test in Harare illustrated the gulf between them and Zimbabwe, Brendan Taylor's men scripted one of cricket's fairy tales. Their series-levelling win had contributions from everyone. The old guard, Hamilton Masakadza and Taylor, set up a decent first-innings total before Brian Vitori celebrated his comeback with a five-for. Tino Mawoyo built on the first-innings lead, so Zimbabwe had 264 to defend in the last innings. Tendai Chatara pegged Pakistan back, but they were still favourites to win on the final morning. As if team work needed a make a statement, the match ended with a run-out.
A month later, Pakistan looked a different team. They bowled with venom and packed on runs against South Africa to beat another world No. 1 side in the UAE (after England in 2012). South Africa surged back to win the second Test and stretch their unbeaten record away from home. In those few weeks, Test cricket showed itself not as a dynamic, engaging game in which the margins between teams are not as wide as they sometimes seem.
Worst: Administrators robbing us of cricket
I was at a Christmas party when I received news that Zimbabwe's cricketers had again threatened a boycott over unpaid salaries. By December, this story had been relayed to me no less than three times and had become my own version of the boy who cried wolf. Out of duty, not expectation, I called a trusted source in Zimbabwean cricket. I got a very frank, "Yes, there will be a boycott." The next day Mountaineers did not turn up to play their one-day match against Eagles. Two days later scheduled first-class games were also not played.
Zimbabwe's cricketers are finally making the statement that may draw attention to their plight. Whether their administrators have the capability, never mind the actual finances and logistics, to change things is to be seen.
All this happened during India's tour to South Africa, which had been chopped to half of its proposed schedule, with the Johannesburg Test providing an epic tussle that left us longing for more.