Highs and Lows December 29, 2011

Old dogs, new homages, and the conspiracy theories of the year

Simon Katich didn't go quietly, and neither are Rahul Dravid or Shane Warne going to. There was a new flippin' murder in town, and a Binga-Fred photo op that wasn't taken

The disconcerting yet entertaining presence
It's official. Lalit Modi will survive a nuclear attack and will then tweet about the dodgy ownership structure of nuclear energy corporations. His most astonishing act on Twitter in 2011: throwing his wholehearted support behind a petition to save Test cricket.

The elephant not in the room
Chris Gayle, who was more active in private leagues, poker tournaments and on Twitter, as opposed to playing cricket for West Indies. Not sweet as.

The elephant in the stands
Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, who got nearly as much airtime as the Indian team during the World Cup final.

The Jack Hobbs award for scoring centuries at an advanced age
Rahul Dravid has scored five centuries after his 38th birthday, which is behind only Gooch, Boycott, Bradman and Hobbs, who all played in an era when fitness wasn't the obsession it is now.

The most misplaced eulogy
I am a fielder who has taken a low catch, and I am celebrating with my team-mates. I don't care if you are the greatest allrounder I have seen, if you interrupt our celebrations and ask me whether I caught it cleanly. You have some nerve, mister. What do you mean to suggest? That I am lying to my team-mates? That you are a lie detector? That you admire Tim Roth from Lie To Me? That you are a hypnotist who will make me speak the truth? Do us all - including the poor audience, who have to bear with commentators who will go on and on about spirit of cricket - a favour. Next time you see me celebrate, either walk off right away or check the replay. Don't expect me to come out of a huddle and tell you I didn't catch it.

The statement of the bleeding obvious
The Argus report. Like we didn't know Andrew Hilditch, Greg Chappell and Tim Nielsen had to go.

The selection
Kumar Sangakkara's in the ICC World Test XI. As wicketkeeper and captain. Never mind that he neither keeps nor captains in Tests. Or that he never kept when he was captain of the side; in fact, he made Tillakaratne Dilshan keep wicket when Prasanna Jayawardene got injured.

The selection, part II
Rahul Dravid's in India's limited-overs sides. This time, though, Dravid didn't give the selectors the satisfaction of dropping him for no reason again, announcing his retirement in advance.

The retirement announcement
Dravid's. From T20 internationals. Before he had played in one.

The contest
Ravi Shastri lashes out at Nasser Hussain and the English media. Says something to the tune of: England are jealous of India's success, both on and off the field, and of the IPL. The next day, with due prior announcement that Hussain is ready to respond to Shastri, Star Cricket cashes in. Hussain shows he has learned a lot from his cameo in a B-grade Bollywood film, saying something to the tune of: What, me jealous? I am the most proud man that India are doing well; after all I was born in India. Sadly the contest on the field was just as anti-climactic.

The Lalit Modi award for seeking attention
Michael Vaughan. First allegations of Vaseline use by India on Twitter. Then suggesting one of England's greatest Test wins aka Dancing in The Dark, in 2000 in Karachi, might have been fixed. His reasoning: now all collapses seem funny in hindsight. All that differentiates Vaughan from Navjot Sidhu is a book of proverbs and a turban colour-co-ordinated with his tie. All that separates Vaughan from Sarfraz Nawaz is that there is an outside chance the Big Sarf might actually know what he is talking about.

The MS Dhoni award for strange analogy
Salman Butt. For suggesting everybody knows American wrestling is scripted but enjoys a massive following. You don't need the context, do you?

The new Glenn McGrath
Vernon Philander. The two most recent new Glenn McGraths before him: Peter George and Trent Copeland.

The darkest joke
Harbhajan Singh's passport being stolen, when he might not need it again.

The Ravindra Jadeja award for the most ridiculed cricketer
Darren Sammy. The fans think the captain doesn't merit a place in the side as a player alone. But is there another captain in sight?

The Kevin Pietersen award for the most ridiculed cricketer who is actually very good
Stuart Broad might never have a better series than he did against India. Runs at 120 for 8, a hat-trick when India seemed to be running away with the game, 25 wickets at an average of 13.84, and 182 runs at an average of 60.66. Had he done all this against Australia, he would already be Sir Stuart.

The doppelganger
Darren Bravo, who took the Brian Lara resemblance to such extremes this year that after 12 Tests he had the same number of runs and the same average as Lara did at the same point in his career.

The doppelganger, part II
The World Cup trophy given to India. Or was it? The Indian media alleged it was a cheap impression of the actual trophy; the ICC said it wasn't. Wonder if the half-hour post-World Cup press conference, which he spent almost exclusively trying to break it down for the Indian media, is actually behind Haroon Lorgat's decision to not continue as the ICC's CEO.

The pre-Christmas discount sale
Even as Ross Taylor struggled to suppress giggles when he said he would love to see Phil Hughes feature in all Tests his side plays against Australia, Worcestershire proudly announced they had signed Hughes for their next season, on the day that Hughes contributed to Australia's shock loss to New Zealand (media reactions suggest this is worse than losing the Ashes 3-1 at home and getting bowled out for 47). Surely they didn't pay full price? Hughes said: "My previous stint in England helped my batting enormously…"

The fashion statement
The leaf on some of the Pakistan players' gear. Not all that different from a leaf worshipped in certain parts of the world. Then again, if you get too subtle, you defeat the purpose of subtlety.

The Tillakaratne Dilshan award for designer beard
To Jesse Ryder.

ESPNcricinfo's biggest endorser
Ross Taylor, who kept bantering with us on Twitter, and also revealed he relied on the site when Australia's tour of South Africa wasn't on any TV channel back home.

The angry old man
The world needs more Simon Katiches. Bridges look better when burnt.

The political incorrectness
The ICC's choice of Canadian pop star Bryan Adams as the main draw at the World Cup opening ceremony. You don't go to Bangladesh and sing nostalgically of the summer of '69. In 1969, East Pakistan was being tortured, first by Ayub Khan and then Yahya Khan.

The Herschelle Gibbs award for trying to copy Andre Agassi but serving up a book full of half-cooked stories on controversies aimed at registering massive sales instead
To Shoaib Akhtar's Controversially Yours.

Most innovative use of Sachin Tendulkar's name to earn mileage
The political goons who didn't allow Shoaib to promote his book in Mumbai because he dared to express his opinion that Tendulkar didn't fancy one particular spell of short and quick bowling.

The laboratory
New Zealand cricket. The scientist: John Buchanan.

The poetic justice
You could see that the BCCI actually had a point until it insisted that the DRS could not be used even to determine if the ball had pitched outside leg or had taken an inside edge in an lbw appeal. Harbhajan hit the leather off one of them at Trent Bridge, but was given out lbw, the middle victim of a Stuart Broad hat-trick that turned the Test on its head.

The Freddie Flintoff award for consoling the vanquished
Irfan Pathan, in his comeback match, tried to do to Kieron Pollard - who had made a century in a defeat in the 11th ODI between the two sides this year - as Freddie did to Brett Lee at Edgbaston in 2005. No photographer took a shot of it, alas.

The Ricky Ponting award for dancing on grave, circa SCG 2007-08
New Zealand, for not consoling Nathan Lyon, on his haunches after his last-wicket stand with David Warner fell just short of bringing his side a miraculous win. They then proceeded to drink a few beers on the Bellerive Oval pitch.

The flippin' murder. Not
Duncan Fletcher could have said that's what his side perpetrated against West Indies in the Mumbai Test, which ended in a draw with scores level. But as David Lloyd pointed out, it has been said before.

The mid-life crisis
Shane Warne's struggle to come to terms with lack of spotlight. His tweets, his beauty products, his public displays of affection for Liz Hurley, his appearances in the BBL. Nobody puts Warnie in a corner.

The mid-life magic
Shane Warne's relish of the spotlight. During the BBL, he commentated and bowled at the same time, told the TV viewers what Brendon McCullum, a younger and a current international, was likely to do next ball, and how he was going to counter him. Not only did he read the batsman's intention correctly, he bowled him round the legs too. Has there been a greater showman?

The crisis
If this were politics, the DRS would have brought down and reinstated a few governments by now. One gets the feeling that somewhere some corporate is missing out on an opportunity to make money by sponsoring the debates that rage around cricket's No. 1 burning topic.

The Aakash Chopra award for choosing to start writing a diary in the year you eventually go on to become champions
And it's a tie. Between Ed Cowan and Chopra himself. Cowan wrote In The Firing Line, about the season his adopted side, Tasmania, won the Sheffield Shield, and Chopra wrote Out Of The Blue about the season his adopted side, Rajasthan, won the Ranji Trophy. Chopra's first book, Beyond the Blues was about his side then, Delhi, winning the title.

The event that escaped the eyes of Vaughan and Sarfraz
Mohammad Hafeez, a spinner, bowling the first over of a Test.

The event that escaped the eyes of Vaughan and Sarfraz, part II
The Newlands Test between Australia and South Africa. The craziest Test of them all.

The allrounder
Sourav Ganguly wore many hats: IPL nomad, Ranji captain, commentator, game-show host, head of the editorial board of Wisden India.

The Ricky Ponting award for empathising with a struggling legend
Dravid, who found himself rooting for Ponting to succeed in Australia's Tests in South Africa. Last year Ponting did the same for Dravid, asking him to not "let them get you" when Dravid was going through a lean phase - though admittedly much shorter than 22 months without a Test century.

The cold shoulder
The ECB did not invite Tony Greig to the parade of former India and England captains to mark the occasion of 100 Tests between the two sides.

The WWE award for advertising the main event of next year's Wrestlemania at this year's Wrestlemania
To the MCC for letting us know that Greig will deliver next year's Spirit of Cricket lecture. To be fair to the MCC, though, considering his current form, Greig's lecture is a much bigger draw than the Rock's return to wrestling. We dare you to miss it.

The most misleading title
To Coca Cola's press release about their efforts to eradicate drug use in cricket. The MS Word file is titled, and we kid you not, "Coke drugs".

The misquote
At the World Cup, Jimmy Kamande said they call their veteran allrounder Steve Tikolo "Gunnzie", an extension of his official nickname, Guns. The papers and wires and websites and TV channels apparently heard "Gandhi" and went crazy: Tikolo Kenya's cricketing Gandhi.

The advertising disaster
MS Dhoni mocking friend, business partner and team-mate Harbhajan in an advertisement. Harbhajan's record after the advert: 13 wickets in five Tests at 43.53, four wickets in three ODIs at 26.75, two wickets in three Ranji Trophy matches, and a whole lot of injuries.

The inconspicuous captain
Misbah-ul-Haq. Precisely what Pakistan cricket needed in a tough year. Despite holding the record for manufacturing ways of getting out, Misbah brings a degree of predictability to Pakistan cricket, which they desperately needed. Even if that predictability might mean regularly opening the bowling with Hafeez or completely ruling out defeat before going for the win. Pakistan ended the year with a win-loss record of 6-1 in Tests, behind only England's 6-0. It is a commendable effort, even if two of the wins came against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

The comeback
Zimbabwe. To Tests. A win against Bangladesh. A threat to Pakistan, and nearly a great upset against New Zealand.

The comeback, part II
The only man who can pull off those Boris Becker-style celebrations. We missed you, Shahid Afridi. Oh wait, you were gone for less than six months. Still.

The turnaround
Virender Sehwag scored some infamous ducks this year. One in the World Cup final, a king pair at Edgbaston, and then another golden one in the Ahmedabad ODI to allow West Indies their first win on the tour. Just when it was becoming safe to conclude it had been a bad year for him, he smashed the world record for the highest score in an ODI by 19 runs, with 3.3 overs yet to go.

Why Duncan Fletcher hasn't had a great time in his new coaching assignment
Because the ICC has made it tougher to exploit the substitute rule. As opposed to annoying the big batsmen in the opposition with a gazelle of a substitute running them out, his new side actually calls back batsmen who run themselves out. Oh, the odds poor Duncan has to fight.

The greatest embarrassment heaped on the ICC
By Ireland, who performed commendably in the World Cup after the governing body had done its best to rule Ireland out of the next edition.

The Eli Roth award for gore
Brendon McCullum bled from a Brett Lee bouncer, Jacques Kallis fell like a sack of potatoes after Dilhara Fernando hit him, but first among equals was the sight of Keegan Meth's teeth on the pitch after he was hit by a straight-driven ball when bowling. Honourable mentions: Reece Young and Adnan Akmal spitting blood while keeping wicket.

The most redundant use of "this is not cricket"
Justice Cooke displayed a penchant for drama when he started his verdict in the spot-fixing case with those words.

The Cricket Australia award for corporate vision
The Hayden Way. It has brought us such revolutionary terms as "crictainment", it encourages "everyone to enjoy the benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle" through "branded media, bespoke events, community projects, education and activities", and is part owner of Brisbane Heat, a BBL team. We are speechless.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo