December 31, 2010

The travesty, the 'trick, the tape

Part two of ESPNcricinfo's editors' picks of the best and worst in cricket in 2010

Sambit Bal


Best: Two snorters in Durban
Durban showed that not too many batsmen, even those brought up on bowler-friendly surfaces, enjoy bounce and movement. Two balls will stay in the memory. Dale Styen got Rahul Dravid with one that swung late, pitched on middle, kicked off a length, kissed the thumb and lobbed gently up to the wicketkeeper. And Sreesanth, bowling his best spell of the series thus far, nailed Jacques Kallis with a snorter that left no time or space for Kallis to drop his wrists. If the two great technicians (and IPL team-mates) got together to watch the replays of these dismissals, they would draw comfort from the knowledge that they could have done no better: those were balls with wickets written on them.

Worst: Encroaching ads
All the "innovations" by cricket broadcasters in India. Not only do we now get the occasional ads thrown in in between balls, but also simulcasts of sorts, where ads share the screen with live match pictures - in the form of L-shaped wrappers at times, and at others popping up either side of the batsman just as the ball is being delivered. Pity the viewers don't have the right to pull out.

Brydon Coverdale

assistant editor

Best: Siddle's hat-trick
The first day of an Ashes series needs something to get the tongues wagging, be it a big hundred, a five-for, or, if all else fails, an opening delivery that troubles nobody but second slip. This time around it was a hat-trick, and Peter Siddle had the Gabba abuzz. First he had Alastair Cook caught at slip, then he was too fast and straight for Matt Prior, who lost his middle stump, and then the moment came with another yorker, which rapped Stuart Broad on the foot in front. As the umpire's finger went up, the crowd went wild and not even a delay while the decision was reviewed could detract from the moment. The match petered out to a draw and Siddle couldn't maintain his high, but it was a fine way to start a series.

Worst: Australia's sub-100 totals
Until July only once in the previous 53 years had Australia been bowled out for less than 100 batting first in a Test. It's now happened twice in six months. The first day against Pakistan at Headingley was one of Australia's worst in recent memory, after Ricky Ponting won the toss and batted in conditions seriously favouring Pakistan's swing bowlers. The result - all out for 88, and Pakistan had passed the total by stumps. Fast forward to Boxing Day and with the Ashes on the line, Australia were sent in and skittled for 98. The two occasions were part of a wider trend of Australia's top order becoming less reliable than it has been for a couple of decades. They can't fix the problems until they learn how to play quality swing bowling.

Sharda Ugra

senior editor

Best: Tendulkar's 200
With the blessings of Twenty20, the first ODI 200 was coming soon and bets were on that some Gen Next dude was going to get to it in, like, 150 balls. Tendulkar's ODI prime had been fixed at 1998 and his next big ODI thing was surely to be 50 centuries. With due deference, no one had contemplated what he suddenly produced, without warning or notice, during a three-match ODI series against South Africa. Watched over by Gwalior's old fort, Tendulkar lit up the night, his audience, all of India and cricket itself. It was an innings that tore through the record books and left our imaginations standing. The bowling attack read: Steyn, Parnell, Langeveldt, Kallis, van der Merwe and Duminy. The range of strokes against them belonged to the Peter Pan who still lives inside cricket's most seasoned batsman. When the innings ended, Tendulkar had scored 200 in 147 balls, half his team's total. It set up India's win, in the game and series. His work was done. He put his bat under his arm, walked off and didn't play another ODI all year. It was late February and this innings was to be Tendulkar's message: That's the standard now, boys. Beat it.

Worst: The Mazhar Majeed videotape
It wasn't even about cricket. Not at first sight anyway, not with the sound turned down. There was no sign of cricket on the screen for the first minute. It was just two guys in a room, having a conversation around a coffee table. One on camera, the other taking notes. When the cricket followed - not too much of it, two clips of 30-35 seconds each - it looked as if it had been scripted in that room, from that room. The tape ended with 90 seconds of one man making 14 stacks of currency notes, each worth 10,000, on the table. To watch Mazhar Majeed at work was like being hit with altitude sickness without leaving home. Nausea, giddiness, dread. Was it worse than hearing about the Hansie Cronje tapes? Yes. Because cricketers had been warned about men like Majeed, given hotlines, safety nets, reasonable wages when compared to their fellow citizens. Innocence and guilt are sorted out in law courts but suspicion and betrayal are the heart's own instinctive business.

Martin Williamson

executive editor

Best: England turning the tables on Australia
I can remember following 11 Ashes series in Australia from the UK, and the general routine, when not working on matches, has been to wake up early in the morning to the seemingly endless news of Australian triumphs and English wretchedness, and then to skulk back to bed and hope it was all a nightmare. All that was forgotten on Boxing Day, when the UK woke to the news of one of the most one-sided days of Test cricket ever. Australia bowled out for 98 and England 157 for 0. I watched the highlights three times and still could not believe it. It's been a long time coming and all the sweeter because of it.

Worst: The Associates being booted out of the World Cup
The utterly self-motivated decision of the three or four boards who run world cricket to make the World Cup an event for just 10 countries from 2015 had nothing to do with the demands of TV or logistics. It was all about money, and ensuring the top countries kept it all. The World Cup won't be shorter, and nor will it in any sense be a World Cup. No other sport with global aspirations would even think about shutting out 95% of its members, and that cricket did so was a sign of how morally bankrupt those running the game have become.

Dileep Premachandran

associate editor

Best: Hashim Amla in Kolkata
Back at the venue where he had struggled five years earlier on debut, Amla struck a gorgeous stroke-filled hundred on the opening day. By the time he came to the crease on day four, though, survival was the name of the game. He ended the day on 49. On the final day, even as his team-mates struggled against Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra, he carried on with the resolve of a man trekking across the desert. Try as they might, and they tried everything, India couldn't get him out. By the time Morne Morkel fell leg-before to give India a Cinderella-hour victory, Amla had faced 394 balls and batted 499 minutes for his 123. Defiance doesn't come any better.

Worst: Lalit Modi's theatrics after the IPL final
In response to being handed his papers after the IPL final, Modi produced a I-have-a-dream-like speech. It was hard to say which was more pitiable, the BCCI's determination to spit on their own doorstep, or a chancer's attempt to imbue himself with statesmanlike qualities.