Staff picks 2 January 1, 2009

Two comebacks, a farewell, and the pitch from hell

ESPNcricinfo staff
The second instalment of our staff's selections of the best and worst from 2008

Peter English

Australasia editor

Sehwag goes for broke in the Galle Test © AFP

Best: The return of Katich
Simon Katich was so frail by international batting standards at the end of 2005 that he could have left the game entirely and few people would have noticed. He didn't, and helped by a call from the coach Bob Simpson, started rebuilding his technique and his love of the game. A record domestic season with New South Wales in 2007-08 led to a Test recall when both Michael Clarke and Matthew Hayden pulled out of the first match in the West Indies. A nervous start transformed into four hundreds in seven matches, turning him from outcast to essential. He promises that he is calmer, isn't so obsessed about his results and plays each game like it's his last. When he is driving through the off side, like he did so smoothly back in his Western Australia days, it's a relief that he got a second chance. It can be dull when he is defending stoutly, but at least someone in the current team can do it.

Worst: Australia's spin situation
For a nation with such a proud spin tradition, Australia's thinking when it came to slow bowlers for the India tour was as flawed as the resulting performances. Bryce McGain's shoulder injury didn't help - actually, it might have saved him - but using four spinners in seven games after Stuart MacGill retired was the sort of pot luck employed by the selectors when Andrew Hilditch, the current chairman, was playing in the 1980s. (It didn't work then, either.) So Beau Casson was ditched after a moderately successful entry in the Caribbean and Cameron White did as well he could have hoped when his part-time offerings won him four Tests in India. Then it was like the team saw Jason Krejza as the spin saviour for six weeks... then dumped him as quickly as he rose. Now the Nathan Hauritz yo-yo is trendy again following the horrible defeat to South Africa in Perth. All four were lucky to receive the call, but are being treated terribly by selectors who may need them in the future, and are helping to ruin them.

Dileep Premachandran

associate editor

Best: Sehwag in Galle
How many manage to score a double-century in a team total of 329? Having raced to 100 from 87 balls, Virender Sehwag throttled back to take a relaxed 140 balls for his second hundred. Apart from Gautam Gambhir, his opening partner, and VVS Laxman, no other team-mate reached double figures. In a low-scoring game, Sehwag followed up with an attacking 50 as India won at a canter.

Worst: Dravid in Chennai
For close on a decade, he had been the linchpin of some famous Indian victories. But with 256 left to chase on the final day at Chepauk, the decline in Dravid's fortunes became all too apparent. A few minutes of struggle, and then a probing delivery from Andrew Flintoff just outside off stump. A hesitant prod with an angled bat, and the façade had been breached again. It was left to Sachin Tendulkar to roll back the years and take India home.

George Binoy

senior sub-editor

Best: Tendulkar's fourth-innings contributions
Whether Sachin Tendulkar is as great in the fourth innings as he is in the first three has been debated for years among fans and experts. The argument bandied about was that he had never won India a run-chase, and rarely had he seen the game through to a draw. Tendulkar was faced with both those challenges in 2008, and he overcame them. In Bangalore, he scored an unattractive yet resolute 49 against Australia to deny them victory. A few months later, Tendulkar was facing a testing last day against England in Chennai, where he had scored a back-breaking 136 against Pakistan in 1999. India should never have lost that match but they fell 12 runs short soon after Tendulkar was dismissed. This time he left no room for errors, chasing 387, and he reached his 41st Test century with the winning stroke. It was Tendulkar's 19th year on the Test circuit and the first time that he had scored a match-winning century in the fourth innings.

Worst: The Kanpur pitch
Squaring a series by winning the final Test after being hammered by an innings and 90 runs would normally be reason to celebrate. But few victories have felt as hollow as the one India scored against South Africa in Kanpur to level the series 1-1. After they were thrashed in Ahmedabad, India instructed the curator in Kanpur to prepare a pitch that would turn sharply from day one. It was a diabolical surface, one that took the concept of home advantage to an extreme. Even a draw would have been a tremendous achievement for the South Africans. India were expected to win, and they did, by eight wickets. The goal was realised but the elation that victory usually brings was missing.

Will Luke

staff writer

Hard done by: Jason Krejza and Cameron White were two of a number of spinners Cricket Australia dithered between in 2008 © AFP

Best: Flintoff's return
We'd hoped it would happen, but still there was some reticence. Would Flintoff have quite the same bite and fire on his return? Did he heck. In one over at Edgbaston he not only proved his fitness and fire but also his class as the world's most skilful fast bowler. Three terrifyingly quick balls to Jacques Kallis, on 64 at the time, set him up before an unplayable legcutter knocked over the off stump. Standing static mid-pitch, Flintoff arched his back and roared with angry, gladiatorial relief to celebrate the wicket, but moreover the end of his rehabilitation. England lost the series but one of Britain's most iconic sportsmen was back to his best.

Worst: The BCCI's influence
They have the most money. They wield more power than any other board. But when that dominance stretches far beyond India's shores to affect how other nations' boards run their game, it becomes a problem. The Indian Premier League may be providing players with new conservatories (and even houses) but so dominant is the BCCI nowadays that anyone who plays for the "rebel" ICL is immediately jettisoned from world cricket. This is not a good thing for many reasons, not least the subsequent effect it is having on Test cricket. The year finished with two memorable Tests - in Chennai and Perth - to remind everyone that the greatest format still rules. That the BCCI only gave two Tests to England not only suggests financial greed but a disregard for the tradition of the game and its future health.

Sriram Veera

staff writer

Best: Ganguly's year
Who writes his scripts? Two years back he was unwanted by a celebrated coach, demonised by the press, and had the nation divided. He returned, and how. And left on a high, scoring a century in his last series, against Australia, with nearly everyone wishing he wouldn't go. He was still not finished, though. He came out of retirement to play one last first-class game and lift his Bengal from the anonymity of the Plate league. The most fascinating modern Indian cricketer got the best cricketing farewell in recent memory.

Worst: Cricket telecasts in India
The television rights are purchased at such a high price that the broadcasters now need to insert the cricket match between the ads to justify their investment. The last balls of overs are rarely seen in their entirety, and by the time each ad break ends, the first ball is nearly over. A majority of the commentators offer no insight. Perhaps the advertisements featuring pretty women are a blessing in disguise. And sadly, radio culture is dead in India.