Click here to see a selection of the best pictures of the week
In a week that resembled something out of the midpoint of the French Revolution, this was the biggest clanger. Pakistan's fast bowling pair of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif were banned after they tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone. Asif received a one-year ban, but the two-year bar imposed on Shoaib, 31, may have effectively ended his rollercoaster international career; one marked by controversy over his bowling action controversy, indiscipline, injuries and ball tampering. The scandal is international cricket's first involving performance-enhancing drugs and Akhtar's ban is the sport's heaviest ever for doping.
The two are ruled out of next year's World Cup, and Pakistan have yet another headache that won't be solved by reaching for the antihistamines. The response in the cricketing world ranged from the diplomatic - "An expected decision. Cricket will miss a character" (Bob Willis) - to the taught - "Justice has been given. They were punished for their mistakes" (Rameez Raja) - and then to the Australians - "We've been expecting it for a while. It's not a shock" (Ricky Ponting). Asif said that he would appeal against the ban, and Shoaib is likely to follow suit.
The ICC's two-day meeting in Mumbai ended with a few announcements. First, that Darrell Hair, the Australian umpire who accused Pakistan of ball tampering during the Oval Test in August, would never officiate an international match again. Percy Sonn, the ICC president, announced Hair's fate alongside Malcolm Speed, in somewhat farcical manner. Sample this: Sonn: "He [Darrell] will not officiate in any more first-class games." At which point Speed drew Sonn closer and mumbled something. Sonn again: "Any more international matches." This continued for some time until Speed took control of the microphone from a bumbling Sonn. Just another day at the office.
Next item: that Ata-Ur-Rahman, the former Pakistan fast bowler banned in 2000 on match-fixing charges, would be reinstated into the official players list from from May 2007. Moving on, Zimbabwe could resume playing Test cricket in November 2007. Oh, and if you're wondering what happened regarding the Members Participation Agreement, good news. All outstanding issues resolved. Deep discussions. All fears and concerns of BCCI have been allayed. Everyone comfortable and on board, move forward, etc. Ho-hum.
The official ICC Champions Trophy website offered a prize of accompanying the drinks cart onto the pitch at the final. There's only one small problem, though. The draw will only be announced "on 30 November". That's 24 days from now, by which time the Ashes will have started, the third and final Test between West Indies and Pakistan may well be over, and India will be in the middle of an ODI series against South Africa. Superb. Oh, and while the prize is billed as "get up close and personal with your favourite stars" ... the small print says "The winner (one person only) will not be permitted to communicate with the players at any time while on the field". Much fun.
Slinky Minki, the fans' favourite WAG
For those of you who've played the more-than-addictive online StickCricket game, you're familiar with the random flashing adverts - matrimonial and American universities, etc - that irritate the eye on the right side of the screen, but don't be surprised if there's one of Minki van der Westhuizen winking at you. Who, you say? I'm referring to the stunning blonde South African supermodel, also known as Graeme Smith's on-off girlfriend, who's been voted the world's sexiest cricket WAG - Wives and Girlfriends, to the uneducated - by a poll conducted by StickCricket.com
Minki, 22, knocked off the bodacious opposition with more than 30.45% clickers naming her the International Cricket Cute Trophy, or the world's fittest pavilion pin-up. "Minki is a cricket fan's dream woman. She's sleek, sexy and with a successful career to boot," Chris Berry, Stick Cricket's director said. "Cricketers attract a finer class of WAG. While football is a game for chaps copping off with Chavs, cricket is a game for gentlemen going out with goddesses." Amen. And one fan on the forum board, after casting his vote, couldn't help but wonder aloud, "How the **** did Graeme Smith get her?"
Fire in the night
As if Zimbabwean cricket didn't have enough turmoil, its national academy in the Highlands suburb of Harare was destroyed by fire late on Tuesday night. An eyewitness who visited the site the next morning said that the building had been burnt to the ground and was no more than a smouldering ruin. The practice wickets and nets were unharmed, but the pavilion and administrative buildings had been destroyed. The changing-rooms were also affected, and it is thought that a number of players have lost all their kit in the blaze. To add to the twist, Mark Vermuelen, the former Zimbabwe Test batsman, was detained by the police on charges of arson, but then granted bail by the Magistrate Court judge in Harare. Vermeulen, 27, only recently returned to Zimbabwe after a stint playing league cricket in England where he was slapped with a lengthy ban for throwing a ball at spectators. Watch this space next week for more flames.
A knight's tale
Allen Stanford, the Texas billionaire who revolutionized West Indies' domestic set-up and invested US$ 28 million into the region, was appointed Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of the Nation of Antigua and Barbuda. The Stanford 20/20 Cricket Tournament, his brainchild, reignited the West Indies' passion for cricket, united the region and generated considerable profit for local businesses. A deeply honoured Stanford said, "My love for the Caribbean, its people an future, particularly that of Antigua and Barbuda, has been clearly displayed by my commitment to the region over the past two decades through long-term investment of capital and human resources." Wonder what certain members of the WICB have to say on the matter.
Find me guilty
Mohammad Azharuddin, the former Indian captain banned for life in the match-fixing scandal of 2000, was feted as a hero at a ceremony attended by top officials of the ICC. Azharuddin was lauded for his services to Indian cricket at a function in Mumbai. So let me get this right: you find him guilty, ban him for life, and then call him a hero. Okay.
The accidental tourists
According to an article at Supercricket.com, the South African team preferred to keep mum rather than complain about conditions during their city-hopping during the Champions Trophy. Already labeled 'moaners' by many, South Africa decided not to say anything else that could, in any way, be perceived to be a complaint. Apparently, an influx of tourists in Jaipur forced the team to shack up in the Gold Palace hotel, about 25 kilometres from the city. According to the article, the commute to the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, venue of the semi-final against West Indies, contained "camels, dogs, pigs and elephants as well as the usual hoard of tuk-tuks, bicycles and oblivious pedestrians deserves genuine sympathy", the food at the hotel was "sub-standard", and the preparations for the match "hardly ideal." To boot, the South Africans were seen eating cold take-aways after training on the eve of the match. But its NOT an excuse, screamed the final sentence of the piece. Hmmm.
Stuart MacGill's post-victory fondness for wine may put him at odds with his beer-inclined Australian team-mates, but now he's really tipped the glass. Wolf Blass, the official wine sponsor of the Australian team, has enlisted MacGill's services to encourage spectators to consider enjoying a glass of wine during the upcoming Ashes. During the launch of Wolf Blass' Summer of Cricket at the Sydney Cricket Ground, MacGill guided team-mates Brad Haddin, Stuart Clark and Phil Jaques through a wine tasting, showcasing a variety of Wolf Blass wines, including the 2003 Platinum Label, recently voted World's Best Shiraz for 2006. Exciting the shutterbugs was the arrival of an avian friend, the Wolf Blass Eagle, who swooped down on a set of stumps. MacGill likes his wine - he's got an underground cellar that boasts more than 1,500 red and white wines from regions all over Australia - but with Australia looking to open the series with a strong pace attack, he might be left sipping on a nice merlot for a bit longer.
And the winners are...
The annual ICC Awards, cricket's equivalent of the Oscars, was a star-studded event held in Mumbai this year. The do was well-attented, and I'll just name a few of the winners: Player of the Year/Test Player of the Year - Ricky Ponting; ODI Player of the Year - Michael Hussey; Emerging Player of the Year - Ian Bell; Women's Player of the Year - Karen Rolton; Captain of the Year - Mahela Jayawardene. For a full list of the winners, click here.
"He [Shoaib] drinks alcohol, has an active sex life and he's been part of anti-doping awareness programmes. Shoaib has been around for the last ten years and the written statement that his spokesman gave about him taking dietary supplements and not consulting a doctor, shows he was negligent."
- Intikhab Alam, one of the three-member panel that recommended the ban on Shoaib and Asif, confirms that being fond of the odd pint and having an active sex life makes Shoaib a prime candidate for a longer ban.
Australia overcame their eight-year Champions Trophy jinx with a comprehensive eight-wicket win over West Indies at Mumbai. Ricky Ponting can breathe a sigh of relief, and the one prize not in Australia's glittering kitty safely is. Next stop: Brisbane.