January 1, 2013

Shakib to the rescue, and NZ's bad PR

In part two of our best and worst of 2012: a case for Mankading, and farewell to Punter

Brydon Coverdale

assistant editor

Best: Ricky Ponting's farewell
Australia lost, Ricky Ponting made few runs, and it wasn't the fairytale ending he hoped for, but the way he handled his exit from international cricket was something to behold. "I've made up my own mind that I feel I'm not good enough to get there," was his simple answer when asked if it would be difficult not to be part of the 2013 Ashes tour. There was no wallowing in self-pity. Sitting in the dingy WACA gym, Ponting announced his decision in dignified fashion and then focused on the Test against South Africa. Graeme Smith's South Africans gave Ponting a guard of honour as he walked to the crease for the last time and as he walked off having been caught, they ran over and shook his hand again. After the match, Ponting reflected fondly, and with some emotion, on the path he had taken to the top. He made special mention of his club in Launceston. Ponting was one of the greats but never forgot his roots, and his handling of his retirement highlighted that he always put the game, and Australia's interests, ahead of his own.

Worst: New Zealand's captaincy shambles
When you're the eighth-ranked Test team in the world, you cannot afford to marginalise your best batsman. Ross Taylor was New Zealand's captain in all formats when they headed to Sri Lanka in October. But after their disappointing performances in the one-dayers, the new coach, Mike Hesson, told Taylor he would be recommending a change in leadership when the team returned to New Zealand. Whether Hesson meant in all formats is a matter of conjecture. He claims he meant only for T20s and ODIs; Taylor firmly believes he meant in Tests as well. Either way, the timing was awful - Hesson told Taylor just before the Test series. Nevertheless Taylor managed to score 142 and 74 in the second Test in Colombo to secure New Zealand's first Test win in Sri Lanka since 1998. Then the team flew home and Taylor was offered the chance to stay on as Test skipper, while Brendon McCullum would take over in T20s and ODIs. Taylor refused, and also decided not to take part in the next tour to South Africa. Taylor was treated poorly, and it was a public-relations disaster. New Zealand have enough trouble competing on the field without having to deal with infighting off it.

Sidharth Monga

assistant editor

Best: Australia's celebration of their whitewash of India
It was a warm Adelaide afternoon. Australia had completed a 4-0 whitewash of India hours ago. The stumps had been taken out, the volunteers had finished cleaning the ground, the broadcasters had moved out with their equipment. Anyone with any sense had left Adelaide Oval, except for the lazier journalists. And the Australian team. Every now and then an Australian player would come out of the dressing room to take telephone calls and then go back in. A year ago they were hammered all over on their own grounds by England; they were now staying back to celebrate the end of a remarkable series.

Four hours after the last wicket was taken, Peter Siddle came out to an empty ground, still in his whites. He went to the top of his run-up at the Cathedral End and bounded in without a ball in hand. With the same intensity with which he bowls in Tests, Siddle went through a delivery, turned, appealed to an imaginary umpire, and then celebrated an imaginary wicket. What joy.

Worst: Moaning about Mankading
Let's get it straight. Mankading is not sharp practice. Beginning to run before a ball is delivered is. It is covered under Law 42, which deals with unfair play. That it has been a practice for years and years doesn't make it fair. The ICC has recognised the advantage batsmen gain by backing up before the ball leaves the bowler's hand, and has empowered the bowler to run the non-striker out at any time before he lets go off the ball. There is no need to warn; a wicketkeeper doesn't warn the batsman before stumping him.

There should be no stigma involved in Mankading a batsman who is gaining an unfair advantage. For the record, according to the bowlers involved in Mankading incidents this year - R Ashwin in an ODI in Australia and Murali Kartik in a county game - batsmen were warned first. For crowds to boo them and for umpires to question the seriousness of their appeals was not just. It was unfair.

George Dobell

senior correspondent

Best: The power of cricket
This has been my first year working full-time with ESPNcricinfo, and the opportunity to report on the batting of Kevin Pietersen, the bowling of Saeed Ajmal, the resurgence of Pakistan and, eventually, England, West Indies' success in the World Twenty20, and Warwickshire winning the county championship has been a thrill.

But the biggest pleasure - and the biggest surprise - has been the opportunity to witness and report on the positive impact cricket can have around the world. This job has given me the chance to see the unifying power of the sport in Afghanistan (even the Taliban claim to like it), the inspirational skill of the Pakistan disability squad in the UAE (I'll remember the batting of Matloob Quresh and the bowling of Farhan Saeed as long as I live), and to see the positive impact the sport can bring in places as diverse as the Maasai villages of Kenya, gangland LA, and the inner cities of Britain. Working for ESPNcricinfo has given me the opportunity to travel to France, where, in an area many had never heard of cricket until recently, the sport has been introduced into many state schools as teachers believe that the values inherent in it encourage respect and teamwork.

In every one of these places I've seen the ability of cricket - maybe its unique ability - to heal, unify and teach. It has been a pleasure to witness.

Worst: The death of Tom Maynard
In the first few weeks of the 2012 county season, I was lucky enough to see two innings, against Sussex at The Oval and Worcestershire at New Road, that convinced me that Tom Maynard was a batsman of real class. Talking to him afterwards, it was also clear that he was a modest, good-humoured fellow with gentle wit and charm. He had a golden future. Sadly it wasn't to be. Whatever the details of that tragic night - and personally I don't need or want to know any more - a young man on the brink of wonderful things, on and off the pitch, was killed in a terrible accident. My own view is he made the sort of mistake that, if we're honest, many of us make when we're young and look back on as a learning experience. He wasn't so lucky.

His death cast a shadow over the game in England and Wales that will not easily be dispersed and has left a number of lives shattered. This was the first Christmas for his family without a son and brother; the first for team-mates without their friend. It's just very, very sad.

Daniel Brettig

assistant editor

Best: Australia's win in the Barbados Test
Given that most of it took place while the nation was asleep, it would be easy to overlook Australia's first Test victory over West Indies in Barbados. Yet for those present at the Kensington Oval this was a significant and stirring match, culminating in a final day that brought Michael Clarke's team a victory that had never looked assured until the winning single was scrambled by a pair of tailenders in light that would barely have permitted another over.

Initially Australia wrestled with themselves as much as with their stubborn opponents, playing patchily for three days. It took the example of the bowlers while batting - Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Lyon added a pesky and ultimately pivotal 121 for the last two wickets before Clarke declared - to swing the match. Clarke's belief in victory, even when his team had lurched to 285 for 8 in response to 449, was reminiscent of Shane Warne's in the Adelaide Ashes Test of 2006-07. And the playing out of a genuine contest in the Caribbean was something to behold, given the poverty of West Indian cricket in recent times.

Worst: Australia's ODI series defeat in England
For a glimpse of what Australian cricket is losing with Michael Hussey's departure, one need only look back to the out-of-season ODI visit to England. Hussey missed the tour for family reasons, and without his example in the dressing room and out in the middle, Australia were crushed 4-0 by Alastair Cook's team. Rain every other day, an out-of-sorts bowling line-up and what is likely to be a career-ending run of low scores for Peter Forrest were some of the features of the tour, which also marked Brett Lee's last appearance in Australian colours when he hobbled off with injury in Durham. As Ashes previews go, this was a horror, and in 2013 it will take a mighty effort to reverse the result, with no Hussey around to hold the ship together.

Mohammad Isam

Bangladesh correspondent

Best: Shakib's 49 v India, Asia Cup
In the last five years Shakib Al Hasan has become the embodiment of Bangladesh cricket. So, on their biggest occasion of 2012, a match against India, the team needed him to turn things around. He took just over half an hour to revive a flagging chase and soften India for the final assault.

Shakib started with an inside edge, but as the asking rate climbed towards nine an over, he blasted Ashok Dinda twice through midwicket in an over that gave Bangladesh 18 runs. He continued to attack, taking on R Ashwin and Irfan Pathan, but was stumped on 49 in controversial circumstances (one replay angle suggested his boot was inside the line).

That didn't deter the next man in, though the required run rate remained close to nine. It should have been a forgettable 49 but it provided the thrust Bangladesh needed to beat India. If he had batted to type, it would have been a respectable loss, but Shakib chose to think like a winner.

Worst: The BPL semi-final mess
For Bangladesh, it was a year in which two cricketers clashed on the field, the team was hustled out of the World Twenty20, umpires were named in a corruption sting, and two head coaches quit within six months of each other. But all these incidents are cast into the shade by the drama that went down in the Bangladesh Premier League's first season. The T20 tournament had contract issues, negligence in player payments, a spot-fixing claim, and even an arrest inside the stadium during a game.

But the worst was the injustice faced by Chittagong Kings. Less than 12 hours before the first semi-final, Duronto Rajshahi didn't know who they were to play in the match, as the BPL governing council tried to figure out whether Chittagong or Barisal Burners had qualified. Eventually it was decided, at 2.45am, that Barisal were through despite Chittagong having won more games in the three-way head-to-head, because Barisal had a better net run-rate. Under the rules, head-to-head results were to be given precedence over net run-rate. A fuming Chittagong went to court but failed to stop the tournament. That didn't stop the media from shouting "shame shame" when BPL secretary Sirajuddin Alamgir and match referee Mike Procter hurried off the stage without finishing the press conference that evening.