January 5, 2011

And the winners are...

Tis the season to give, so we're handing out awards for last year. Starring Shahrukh, Sachin, everyone in between, and lots and lots of tweeting

Poster boy for pensioners
At the age of 37, when men begin to contemplate mortality, when a mid-life crisis is upon them, when physical prowess should begin to wane, Sachin Tendulkar went and pulled off a feat of endurance and quality unmatched in ODI cricket. Having threatened to do so, on nearly an annual basis, Tendulkar finally hit the first double-hundred in the format, in Gwalior against South Africa. And that was one of just two ODIs he played all year. Never mind: he belted over 1500 Test runs with seven hundreds in 14 Tests as well. Mind-boggling.

Virender Sehwag award for Test entertainer of the year
Three hundreds, six fifties, an average of nearly 60, and a strike rate of 80 in seven Tests across three continents - thank you Tamim Iqbal for this year, and in particular for the two blazing, back-to-back hundreds at Lord's and Old Trafford.

Revival of the year
Swing bowling. At various stages through the year Zaheer Khan, Dale Steyn, James Anderson, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif reminded us that bowlers used to swing and swerve the ball once upon a merry time. After a decade of free runs and growing imbalance between bat and ball, nothing was needed more.

Revival of the year II
After many dark years, good things seem to be happening in Zimbabwe once again. A host of former cricketers from the country and outside came into the fold at domestic and national level, including Allan Donald, Jason Gillespie, Alistair Campbell, Heath Streak, Grant Flower and Dave Houghton. On the field the centrepiece of the year's achievements was a pair of ODI wins over India, impressive even if it was a second-string side. A return to Test cricket in 2011 doesn't look far-fetched.

Greatest humiliation heaped upon Shahrukh Khan of the year
By Pakistan's players for deigning to not be bought at the IPL 2010 auction. "I think it's actually humiliating to me as a KKR owner that this has happened," Khan railed, a man with the money to bid for a Pakistan player, the desire to do so, with the necessary paperwork all in place, yet one who didn't. Yes, that must have been awful for him.

Ball(s) of the year
The three no-balls delivered by Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir in the Lord's Test against England in August. Nothing remarkable about any of them other than that they possibly ended three promising careers.

No-ball of the year
With India one run away from a win and Virender Sehwag on strike on 99, the perfect end had been scripted. Except nobody told Suraj Randiv, who bowled a big, deliberate no-ball to deny Sehwag and secure Sri Lanka an itsy win in a six-wicket-nearly-16-overs-left loss. Cue committees, suspensions, much outrage over the defilement of the spirit of cricket. This column's take is that at least people might remember this particular India-Sri Lanka encounter from the 128,978,201 that have taken place. In the last week.

Rarest collection of words put together to form a sentence through the year
England. Are. World. Champions.

The Mohammad Yousuf (circa 2006) award for scoring tons of runs and having a very long beard
Hashim Amla made over 1200 Test runs, with five centuries and an average over 82; over 1000 ODI runs with five hundreds and a 75-plus average in 2010. And he did it with a grace and beauty befitting the man this award is named after. And they said he couldn't bat.

Celebration of the year
Chris Gayle's routines on getting to a landmark alone are often worth the entrance fee, but the one to mark a hundred in the first Test in Galle was a whole different world of strange. Gayle went on to his second triple, but having reached a blistering hundred first, he acknowledged the applause of his team-mates and then lay down on his back in the centre of the pitch, all limbs outstretched. We don't know what you're smoking, Chris, but pass it along, please.

Most convoluted way of saving ODI cricket
Right, right, here's an idea: take the 50-over game, make it 45 overs and turn it into a Test, see? Two innings, one of 25 overs, one of 20, bowlers to have 12 overs, 10 wickets but 12 players, of whom 11 will play, two new balls, no Powerplays, two fielders outside, then four, then two… keeping up? Cricket Australia suits, when you're done with whatever Chris Gayle passed you, please pass it to us. And then push the ICC to cut down the number of tri-series in Cambodia.

Not invited to the party award
To the ICC for deciding in the interests of more money for the few to make the "World Cup" a tournament open to only 10 countries from 2015. As opposed to the Champions Trophy, which is different in that it features... er... the same 10 sides.

Worst auditions for dancers in next big hip-hop video
Team England and the sprinkler dance.

Tweet of the year
"Who are the shareholders of Rendezvous. Any why have they been given this 100's of millions of dollars bonanza?" So asked Lalit Modi. And soon after fell the IPL, the stock market, the entire Indian government and the very premise of post-economic liberalisation India Shining. Not really, but a junior minister of state did resign.

Tweet of the year by non-Lalit Modi species (but with as big an ego)
"Yep..Done for rest of summer!! Man of the World Cup T20 and dropped from the T20 side too…it's a f*#@k up!!" Kevin Pietersen's assessment of his axing from England's limited-overs side for the series against Pakistan was typically measured.

Tweet of the year about Kevin Pietersen not by Kevin Pietersen
"K Pietersen c Police b Warne 121," after Pietersen was caught speeding in a Lamborghini in Melbourne during a test drive arranged by mate Warne. KP was clocked doing 121kph in 110kph zone.

Best tweet not yet sent to Shane Warne
"Nah nah nah nah. How many 100s?", from Harbhajan Singh. Bhajji hit his maiden hundred in his 88th Test, against New Zealand, and then hit another for good measure in the following Test. Only one other No. 8 in Test history has matched his feat of a fifty and hundred in the same Test, and he is now second on the list of No. 8s with most hundreds.

Twit of the year
Ijaz Butt, chairman PCB.

The Tiger Woods Lifetime award for SMS skills
Shane Warne, who during his tabloid-topping fling with Liz Hurley (surely she is about to buy an IPL franchise soon?) was found flirt-smsing a married woman who wasn't Liz Hurley. A sweet turn of events this award, as it happens, for only last year Warne was presenting Woods with the equally prestigious but totally unrelated Shane Warne lifetime award for SMS skills.

The Tiger Woods award for driving big, expensive cars slowly into stationary objects
Jacques Kallis, who crashed his Audi R8 into the gate of a house in Cape Town. Perhaps he was still in shock from finally having scored his first double.

Headline of the Year
"Caught!", in the News of the World on 29 August: ironic really, given just how many chances were not caught by Pakistan through the year.

Thank-you note of the year
"There is loud and clear talk in bookie circles that some English players have taken enormous amounts of money to lose the match [the third ODI]": Ijaz Butt, chairman, PCB, expresses gratitude to a side whose board offered his homeless team a home for six Tests, five ODIs and four Twenty20s.

Unfortunate prophecy of the year
ESPNcricinfo's match-fixing package, which ran in June-July and ended a month before the Lord's spot-fixing scandal. Note to ACSU: We weren't tipped off by anyone. Honest.

Scrap of the year
Chris Gayle and Suleiman Benn. Gayle told Benn to go over the wicket in an ODI against South Africa, Benn refused, Gayle ordered him off the field. No two taller men have nearly come to blows on a cricket ground.

Scrap of the year II
Shoaib Malik and Ayesha Siddiqui. She said she was Ayesha, he said she wasn't. She claimed they were married, he claimed they weren't. She claimed she had proof, he didn't. She wanted a divorce, he eventually gave it. Then he married Sania Mirza. The media went mad. So did we.

Scrap of the year III
Ricky Ponting and Aleem Dar. More a one-sided conversation this one, as Ponting, alumnus of Roy Keane's academy for non-intimidatory on-field behaviour towards officials, picked possibly his last fight. With the Ashes and his captaincy slipping away in the Boxing Day Test, Ponting picked up on a phantom inside edge and chose to dispute HotSpot. Dar, the one umpire who has handled abrasive Australians on the field with firm dignity, did so again, listening unmoved, unbowed, before eventually walking away, in the right.

Cricket autobiography cover of the year most inspired by Andre Agassi's Open
To the Point by Herschelle Gibbs.

The Julian Assange Whistleblower award
Zulqarnain Haider fled to the UK to claim political asylum halfway through a tour, flinging away a promising career in the service of unveiling the dark, corrupt forces running and ruining this virtuous game of cricket. Apparently it was an Asian fella in Dubai. Haider did at least turn up for his press conference, in the grand setting of a curry house, scarved like Assange.

The best fast bowler in the world least likely to be invited for a tinnie by Dennis Lillee
James Anderson had a mammoth year, ending with 57 wickets in 12 Tests and leading England to success around the world. Very little separated him from Dale Steyn; just the nude pics and cover for leading gay magazine, Attitude.

Fast bowler most likely to reprise role of Jaws in the remake of James Bond's Moonraker
Chris Tremlett

Joke of the year
How many ICC officials and ex-cricketers does it take to overlook Graeme Swann as a cricketer of the year nominee?

Spinner of the year
A hundred and eleven international wickets in 2010, and starring roles in triumphs home and away and at a global level, but Swann's finest act of spin was telling a Nottingham court that he was driving under the influence so he could buy a screwdriver to save his cat, trapped under his floor. No, really.

The hero to zero in one Test award
Early on the morning of the second day of the final Lord's Test of the summer, Mohammad Amir bowled a spell that was the icing on a summer's cake of prodigious growth. In 10 balls of crazy outswing, he took 4 for 0, becoming the youngest name on the Lord's honours board as well as the youngest bowler to 50 Test wickets. A day later appeared NOTW, Mazhar Majeed and a spirit-crushing video.

The zero to hero in three Tests award
Mitchell Johnson couldn't buy a wicket with Mark Zuckerberg's credit card in the first Ashes Test this year, so out of sync was his bowling. He was duly dropped - sorry, rotated (through the "out" door) - for the second Test. But he was back for the next one, at the WACA, and how: suddenly he rediscovered how to bat and how to swing, slicing through England's middle, and a six-for - nine for the match - meant the Ashes was alive again.

The Muntazer al Zaidi award for services to cricket
The unidentified man who chucked a slipper at Ijaz Butt on his arrival at Lahore airport after the spot-fixing scandal. Though never confirmed, it was alleged that the offending piece of footwear was manufactured by Servis, a leading Pakistani footwear firm, on whose board sits Butt.

Eric Cantona award for strangest analogy of the year
"I am not going to buy a lifejacket that doesn't come with a warranty." And neither should you, MS Dhoni. Just two questions: once you've drowned, what good is a warranty? And two, what does any of this have to do with the UDRS?

Highest brands per cricketer average
Dhoni, who at last count had signed up for 23. If it moves he'll sell it, and even if it doesn't he will. He also signed a marketing deal worth over US$40 million for two years.

Harry Houdini award of the year
Michael Hussey engineered two great escapes against Pakistan this year. One was in Sydney, where Kamran Akmal was an able assistant. Then he pulled off an outstanding Twenty20 steal in the World Cup semi-final against the same opponents, in the Caribbean. Far more important than either was managing to escape the axe on his own career, when, on the verge of being dropped from the Test side, he responded by scoring over 500 runs in the Ashes.

Nobel Prize for Medicine for curing insomnia
Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook, while batting together for nearly 10 hours in Brisbane and Ade… zzzzz.

Committees of the year
Pakistan formed a six-man committee to look at why they lost every single international match in Australia (no one, it is believed, put forth the outlandish theory that they just might not have been very good), and duly banned and fined over half the side. They then overturned their own decisions. Then they set up something called an integrity committee. Meanwhile in Sri Lanka it also took six men to work out why Suraj Randiv bowled a deliberate no-ball to Virender Sehwag. Over in New Zealand a seven-man committee was formed after debilitating losses to Bangladesh and India. Should someone tell them it's because they're just not that good? Not to be left behind, the BCCI this year formed a Museum Committee… of 11 people. We're setting up a 25-man committee to choose the best committee.

Global Schadenfreude moment of the year
The fall of Lalit Modi.

Least glamorous IPL commissioner of the year
Chirayu Amin. Who? Yes.

Least appropriate cricket substitute for floss
The ball, as Shahid Afridi discovered in Perth one night.

If Hunter S Thompson ran cricket…
The English county championship curtain-raiser between Durham and the MCC would be played in Abu Dhabi. With pink balls. At night. Oh, wait.

If J Edgar Hoover was on the MCC committee…
He would recommend lie-detector tests to combat corruption in the game. Oh, wait.

Firefighter of the year
You can have your Tendulkars, Dravids, Sehwags and Yuvrajs, but when you're wickets down, trying to win or save a Test on a tough pitch, in the last innings, give us only VVS Laxman. Crisis has always brought his best but over three knocks this year, no batsman in the world looked his equal. First came a last-innings, last-day hundred in Sri Lanka; then a last-day, last-innings 73 to steal a one-wicket win in Mohali; finally there was an otherworldly 96 in Durban (second-highest score in match: 38, by VVS). And to do it with such humility - well, ladies, don't you just want to take him home to mother? After he's saved the Test, of course.

Retro moment of the year
John Howard's nomination for ICC vice-president was rejected by cricket's Asian and African countries at the last minute for unspecified reasons. For a brief period cricket found itself back in the early and mid-90s, split almost entirely along racial lines. Luckily, money is religion now so it's unlikely the divide will last. And heaven forbid it leads to a revival of the Afro-Asia Cup.

Farewells of the year

Least convincing Soon after being handed a vague ban, Mohammad Yousuf announced his retirement. Nobody believed it then and nobody was surprised when he returned a few months later. By the end of the year, he'd been dropped and a more lasting farewell threatened.

Most poorly timed Once he was a folk hero, but Andrew Flintoff's post-cricket forays have grated for many. All but finished as a player for a year, Flintoff finally decided to publicly call it a day, only to do it on the day the County Championship produced a magnificent, tight climax: one last attention-grabbing stunt.

Most satisfying Muttiah Muralitharan needed eight wickets in his final Test to reach 800. In the first innings he picked up, remarkably, a 67th five-wicket haul. In the second, having taken two, he bowled over after unsuccessful over before finally catching the edge of Pragyan Ojha's bat. Fittingly it went to Mahela Jayawardene at slip, his 77th catch off Murali. Equally fittingly, it led Sri Lanka to another Test win.

Most predictable Memo to the PCB: don't make a man who hasn't played a Test for four years, and was never really a Test player to begin with, your Test captain. If you do, Shahid Afridi will retire four days, two slogs and one heavy defeat into his return.

Most Pakistani retirement by a non-Pakistani After being omitted from Bangladesh's World Twenty20 and an ODI series against England, 22-year-old Raqibul Hasan threw a massive strop and announced his retirement from the game on the eve of a Test series against England, of which he was a part. On the team bus. In a manner any number of ex-Pakistan players would've immediately recognised, he was suspended for three months and announced after it that he was retracting his retirement.

Retirements most likely to please batsmen around the world Shane Bond, Brett Lee and Makhaya Ntini all bid farewell to the game this year. Arguably, Bond apart, their powers had waned significantly, but in a world short of charismatic fast bowlers, that's a gap not easy to fill.

Most cannibalistic Umpire Mark Benson, the first victim of the UDRS, who was reportedly unhappy with the referrals system and its part in undermining some of his decisions during an Australia-West Indies Test.

Retirement that will most deplete the ICC Elite umpires panel of character: Rudi Koertzen stepped down after 18 years, 106 Tests and 209 ODIs. The slow-death finger to give batsmen out was pure cricket theatre. Now we just have Billy's "zany" antics to look forward to.

Psychiatric coaching assessment of the year
"They seem to be mentally retarded": Dr Intikhab Alam on the Pakistan team.

Non-psychiatric coaching assessment of the year
"When you play badly like that you've got to front up," coach Mark Greatbatch said after New Zealand were trounced by Bangladesh 4-0 in the year's simultaneously most uplifting ("Bangladesh have arrived!") and dispiriting ("Oh dear, New Zealand") result for neutrals. "It's very devastating," he continued. "We played like d***ks really." Indeed.

Moment most likely to be in next Ridley Scott film
The first day of the Ashes always provides a lasting image, a moment burnt in the mind, and so too the 2010-11 version. Andrew Strauss's first-over dismissal at the Gabba was something, but it had nothing on Peter Siddle's gladiatorial hat-trick. The UDRS delay on the final wicket did nothing to dampen the electricity of a moment so visceral it jumped out of TV screens thousands of miles away and sucked you right into the heart of the Gabbatoir.

Andrew Symonds award for freelancer chancers
Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard refused to sign central contracts with the West Indies board, shunning financial security and stability for big-money opportunity. The three will instead ply their trade in Twenty20 competitions the world over as freelance cricketers. Apparently, like metrosexuality, skinny jeans, the UDRS and Gayle's celebrations, this is the way forward. Pollard isn't even a cricketer according to Michael Holding, so maybe the non-cricketer cricketer is the way forward.

Guest appearance of the year in Andrew Symonds' last-chance saloon
Jesse Ryder, who was fined for "intoxicated and rowdy behavior" at a hotel during an indoor cricket tournament. "I've had enough of getting into this sort of trouble and bringing attention to myself," the best outrageously-gifted-and-a-little-podgy batsman in the world said. New Zealand Cricket clearly haven't.

Best distraction for rainy days in Sri Lanka
Cricket, not much of it. On the West Indies tour there, all three Tests were destroyed by rain and the five ODIs postponed to January, though not before some typical mass confusion. SLC officials first made a statement about a postponement, then denied it. West Indies board officials said nothing. It was left to Twitter finally, and Chris Gayle more specifically, to declare the series postponed.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo