December 30, 2010

The Lord's sham, the Twenty20 scam

ESPNcricinfo's editors on the best and worst in cricket in 2010

Peter English

Australasia editor

Best: Clarke's Wellington century
Michael Clarke has had to endure too much talk in 2010 about his suitability for the captaincy whenever Ricky Ponting walks away. He's not batting well at the moment - slumps are part of the game for elite batsmen - but here's why he should be the next leader. In March he flew home briefly from the tour of New Zealand to deal with his high-profile engagement to a model. It was easily the biggest story of the week in Australia and he made a life-changing decision. Clarke broke off the long-term relationship, returned to the team in time for the first Test, and despite a huge amount of public and private criticism, scored a century. (He also posted a hundred under severely trying circumstances in the West Indies in 2008.) If you want a captain who shows that sort of commitment and focus to the team, and delivers success under such scrutiny, Clarke's your man.

Worst: Australia's seven-match losing streak
Australia's losing streak of seven games in all competitions was their worst since the late 1800s. Sure, the sequence included defeats in Tests, ODIs and Twenty20s, but the manner in which the side kept failing - and kept saying all was fine - just weeks before the Ashes was the most disturbing factor. It wouldn't have mattered as much if the avalanche of defeats hadn't come in the lead-up to the squad's biggest Test series of the cycle, or just a few months before the defence of the World Cup. Both events are carefully planned years ahead by the Australians. Almost everything fell apart in October. In the Mohali Test, and the Melbourne ODI against Sri Lanka, Australia needed to remove some pesky tailenders to seal the wins and provide a peak to the trough. But it was not until they were delivered a hangar full of criticism before the Ashes that they realised the extent of the problem. It was a key reason why the side started the Ashes so poorly.

Jayaditya Gupta

executive editor

Best: The IPL mess
Yes it was depressing and yes it cast a dark shadow over cricket's otherwise healthy state, but it burst a bubble that had grown too large on too little. Lalit Modi's tweet back in April forced into the open a lot of doubts and misgivings about his billion-dollar tournament, and brought many of them under the ambit of India's government and judiciary - and therefore made them subject to rather more thorough and transparent scrutiny. There is even hope that in its Modi-fied avatar the IPL will focus more on the cricket and less on the celebrity. One thing's for sure: no more lingering soft-focus shots of the IPL "commissioner". Things can only get better.

Worst: Tendulkar's 50th
Not the feat itself, obviously, but in the emotions it evoked back in India - which, with their hype, jingoism and myopia, showed up everything that is wrong with Indian cricket. The media, largely overlooking the fact that India were on the verge of an embarrassing thrashing, focused on the individual's success rather than the team's failure. A debate that began, that Monday night, with "Is Tendulkar greater than Bradman?" (and daring you to say "no") had extended by the weekend to whether Tendulkar was the greatest sportsman of all time. We're all guilty.

Andrew McGlashan

assistant editor

Best: England retaining the Ashes
Tim Bresnan finds the edge of Ben Hilfenhaus' bat, Matt Prior takes the catch and 24 years of hurt are over as England retain the Ashes in Australia at the MCG. It was an epic display, bowling out Australia for 98 before piling up 513, then running through the hosts a second time. Australia don't get beaten by an innings and 157 runs. Well, they do now. It was a success four years in the planning, from the moment England were whitewashed in 2006-07. It wasn't a seamless climb, far from it, but in Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, England found a perfect combination. However, they are a team, a proper team. A few moments after the final wicket, Graeme Swann was leading a rendition of the "sprinkler dance" in front of the Barmy Army to launch a mass celebration. A day to savour.

Worst: the sham at Lord's
When Graeme Swann can barely bring himself to celebrate another Test match five-wicket haul you know something has gone badly wrong. England completed a record-breaking innings-and-225-run victory against Pakistan at Lord's, to take the series 3-1, but nobody's focus was on the action in the middle. The previous evening Pakistan had slid out of the ground without honouring their media commitments. It was presumed they were embarrassed by the performance, but a few hours later the News of the World revealed the sport's biggest corruption crisis in a decade, this time in the guise of spot-fixing. Given three of Pakistan's players - Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif - were splashed across front, back and many inside pages, there were serious thoughts the Test might not continue. Pakistan did appear, albeit briefly - England showed commendable professionalism to just get the job done - but it was one of most solemn atmospheres ever at Lord's. A match that saw a world-record stand between Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad was forever tarnished. Amir, fittingly, bagged a pair, and when he collected his Man-of-the-Series award, Giles Clarke could barely look at him. It was a feeling shared by many cricket fans.

Sidharth Monga

assistant editor

Best: Laxman's Mohali rescue
It was ridiculous actually. I was a guest on Test Match Sofa during lunch on day four of the Mohali Test. India had no business being in the match at that point, having collapsed to 124 for 8 chasing 216. VVS Laxman, fighting back spasms, running on injections and painkillers, had put up a semblance of a partnership with Ishant Sharma by the time TMS called. They sounded a bit grumpy, talking about the match state: being largely English, they hated that Australia were going to win. Instinctively I said: not until Laxman was there. On second thought, I should have known. The previous Test I had covered had featured a similar - though not as unbelievable - effort from Laxman, again fighting back spasms, in the fourth innings, as he guided India's chase of 257 from 62 for 4. As a journalist too, the two occasions were the best: I got to speak to Laxman immediately after, getting an insight into how the body and mind coped. What I drew was: there is something about crisis that brings out the best in Laxman, something he can't quite conjure when the going is smooth.

Worst: the IPL saga
This year the IPL, the most brazenly commercial of events - never mind the poor quality of cricket, it's a free market and if it sells, it sells - was shown up for the corrupt entity it was. This space is not enough to list what was and is wrong with it, but there is enough for an example. In the state of Maharashtra alone, the IPL, involving some of the richest men in the world, enjoyed waivers of US$2.2 to 2.6 million in taxes. Cricket's Stephen Glass, Lalit Modi, is gone, but unlike with the New Republic, the changes with the IPL are merely cosmetic. Must the show go on?

Andrew Miller

UK editor

Best: England clinching the decider against Pakistan
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. But for all the wrong reasons, the right vibe was created for an end-of-season party that throbbed with raw and real intensity at the Rose Bowl. In short, the spot-fixing saga was at the root of everything. The first half of England's one-day series against Pakistan had been a chore, and a grotesque one at that, with allegations and ugly confrontations undermining an already ill-conceived campaign. But then, in the manner that only they can manage, Pakistan got their act together. They won at The Oval and Lord's to square the series, with Ijaz Butt fuelling the bonfire of emotions by casting his extraordinary and soon-to-be retracted aspersions against England. But before they could clear their names, there was a series to be won and lost, and on a glorious late-summer's evening, under a blaze of floodlights, England showed immense poise and ferocious determination to snatch a win that prompted arguably their wildest celebrations since the Ashes victory 13 months earlier. It was only a one-day game, but it meant so much more than that, and it showcased a unity and determination to triumph over adversity that would stand England in perfect stead for the challenges to follow.

Worst: the Cardiff Twenty20s
The Lord's revelations were the most shocking moment of the summer, but the full squalid horror of the whole Pakistan match-fixing saga was not realised until the following weekend. Miserable weather greeted the first of the two Twenty20 internationals in Cardiff, which began with the Pakistani squad in full lockdown at the team hotel in the city centre, 24-hour news crews camping in the rain outside, and doubts circulating about whether the England team would be willing to play. The one-sided pair of matches did go ahead in the end, but in front of pitiful crowds, whose faith in the integrity of the sport had been rocked.