The lapsed villain
Reports from New South Wales have suggested this month that former international umpire Darrell Hair, who had lorded it so stubbornly over several controversial incidents, pleaded guilty to stealing from the liquor store he was working at. Apparently, this was in order to fund a gambling habit that had spun out of control. The news was particularly startling for Sri Lankans (and perhaps Pakistanis) of a certain generation, because it humanised the man who had been among their foremost childhood villains. It was like discovering Darth Vader put out of action by a hip replacement, or that Hannibal Lecter no longer eats his victims because his teeth had started to fall out.
In the build-up to the Ashes, David Warner was roundly criticised for comparing the coming series with England to "war", in addition to suggesting he would "dig deep" to develop "hatred" of the opposition. Apparently, Ashes sledges now cannot be one iota more inflammatory than abuse based on opposition players' legitimacy of parentage, choice of preferred species for sexual relations, promiscuousness of spouse, stupidity of offspring, and gingerness of their hair. I suppose a line had to be drawn somewhere.
The straight face
Chris Gayle won his defamation suit against Australia's Fairfax Media, but the best line of the case surely goes to Gayle's friend Donovan Miller, who without flinching told the court that Gayle had become reserved "and scared, especially [around] females" since the 2015-16 Big Bash League. It is unclear if he is referring to this condom ad in which Gayle cannot stop cowering amidst a gang of cheerleaders or this Instagram post in which Gayle appears to have been frighteningly ambushed by a posse of swimsuit-clad models.
The victims of historical irony
For two decades, the Barmy Army's go-to chant down under was one that preyed on Australia's history as a British prison colony. Even when their cricketers were being resplendently shamed 5-0, England fans may have felt they could draw themselves to their feet, wipe the tears from ruddy cheeks, and croak out a sobbing rendition of "they're the convicts over there". The world, however, has been upended in 2017. Team England has left for the Ashes without Ben Stokes, who is suspected of exactly the sort of action that would have seen him transported to Australia in past centuries. As one of their own players now stands accused of antisocial behaviour, could it be possible that when groups of England supporters sit shirtless in sunny Australian stands, painted lettering upon flabby chests, lips foamed from the ninth beer of the day, they will reflect they are not intrinsically a more refined species of human being than the natives?
The pitch scandal
The spectre of corruption was raised again in October, most notably with the allegation that Maharashtra Cricket Association curator Pandurang Salgaoncar had given pitch information to people posing as bookies, ahead of India v New Zealand ODI in Pune. However, it was not the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) - whose job it is to stamp fixing out of the game - that presented evidence against Salgaoncar. The issue was brought to light by an Indian TV channel, just as the 2010 Lord's spot-fixing scandal had been the result of a media-driven expos . All of this highlights long-held concerns about what the ACU actually does, apart from, as in this case, allow international matches to go ahead unhindered on what was apparently a suspect pitch.
The tough act to follow
Commiserations are due to Cricket South Africa. One month after the IPL bagged what was effectively the biggest television rights deal in cricket, CSA was forced to postpone the 2017 T20 Global League, thanks partly to an inability to land a decent broadcast deal. This must have been like watching Michelangelo sculpt the famous statue of David before stabbing yourself with the chisel.
Particularly irked at this cancellation was would-be GLT20 star Kevin Pietersen, who tweeted: "I feel so sorry for all the youngsters who were going to learn & earn out of this comp!" Yes, what a pity for "the youngsters". We can have no reason to doubt that Pietersen's immediate worry was for the younger players' loss of earnings, based of course on his career, which was most distinguished by the concern he displayed for people other than himself.
If Pakistan are the classical masters of the batting collapse, Sri Lanka have in recent years perfected their own equally dramatic version: the neo-collapse. Their two-Test series early in the month, became, at times, a festival of batting incompetence. When Sri Lanka went into the third innings of the first Test with a three-run deficit, for example, they hurtled comically to 138 all out. They should have lost the match had they not been out-collapsed by Pakistan, who were all out for 114 less than a day after they had made 422 (in the first innings). The second Test was almost as extraordinary. Sri Lanka crashed to 96 all out after claiming a 220-run first-innings lead. Though at times in the chase Pakistan seemed like they had the measure of a big total, they lost 5 for 52 and 5 for 23, with a 173-chase in between.