Well wasn’t 2012 awful? I hope it was better for you, but I must say, a lot of drudgery and upheaval happened on this side of the keyboard.
Alas, why should I bore you, you come here for the cricket (if any come at all) and here you shall get your cricket.
I have made a fairly typical list of what I have been impressed by the most this year, several different categories that I’m sure have been covered elsewhere; but these selections are mine and this is clearly reason enough to take them as gospel.
Here we go…
Bowling Performance of 2012: Saeed Ajmal 7 for 55 against England, 1st Test at Dubai, January 17th
It was a bowling performance all English cricket fans had feared would occur, the fact it did on the very first day of their Test Series in thoroughly decent conditions for batting was a nightmare, and a harbinger of further misfortune to come in the year. All the talk had been of the recently crowned number one Test side’s historic weakness against spin. The English tried to brush aside such queries; the Pakistanis fuelled the flames, particularly Ajmal who, in full Shane Warne bullshit mode, talked up his creation of a new ball, the teesra. We never saw any such delivery, what we did see was Saeed Ajmal’s mastery of the doosra (the ball that spins away from the right handed batsman, as opposed to the off spinner’s stock delivery that turns into the right hander) and, vitally, of line and length. Constantly attacking the stumps, his line was immaculate and his variation of length allied to his naturally skiddy trajectory had the English at sixes and sevens. His 24 wickets at 14.70 drove the Pakistan team onto a 3-0 whitewashing of the world number one team, and hopefully toward the rebirth of Pakistan cricket after the spot fixing scandals of 2010.
See every wicket he took in that series right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncJtkgypQ3Q
Batting Performance of 2012: Faf Du Plessis 110 Not Out against Australia, 2nd Test at Adelaide, November 25/26th
Yes, I could have chosen any one of Kevin Pietersen’s three centuries; any effort by Hashim Amla or Michael Clarke; Kane Williamson’s fantastic ton to save a test against South Africa and a special mention must go to Marlon Samuels’s T2O World Cup winning knock, but Faf Du Plessis’s innings was a rare feat. All batsmen are defined by their efforts on a fifth day pitch, when batting is at its hardest after the track has borne over 2000 deliveries. Du Plessis played one of the finest rear guards I have seen, he refused to allow a low strike rate (29.25 runs scored per 100 balls) or the passing of each minute (466 all told, over 7 and a half hours) distract and faze him. He simply took each ball on its merit, hitting the bad ones and blocking the good. The levels of concentration displayed were superhuman and what makes this feat even more stunning, is that he was playing in his very first Test Match. He gave the South Africans a final chance to defeat the Aussies and cement their place at the summit of the Test ladder; that they did at Perth just a few days after Du Plessis walked off the Adelaide pitch unbeaten and unbowed makes his feats all the more remarkable.
Best Performance of 2012: The West Indian T20 Team
How could I look past the West Indians? They win this category primarily due to their scintillating victory in the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka and though they went into the tournament as many people’s (including my own) favourites, it was a heart-warming and charismatic side that took home the trophy. Chris Gayle cemented his reintegration (it has been a year of these as well hasn’t it? I should have done an award…) with a commanding performance. The sight of him opening struck fear into all of the sides they faced and his only failure came in the final; however the spotlight only re-focused onto another man who has had his own scrapes with the cricketing administrations. Marlon Samuels had a stunning year in each format, but it was his 78 of 56 balls that lifted himself and his team to different heights. Each bowler performed and they fielded with the athleticism that they were once famed for. The T20 World triumph was special and so was the performance of the West Indian side.
Worst Performance of 2012: The Indian Test Team
If 2011 was a defining year for the Indian cricket team, 2012 was their annus horribilis. Throughout the year their record has been horrible: defeat in 5 of their 9 tests with only a shaky home victory against New Zealand sandwiched between the massacre in Australia that immortalised the score line 0-8 in Indian cricket history and the ‘un-losable’ defeat to England at home; failure to reach the final of either the CB series in Australia or the Asia Cup and the inability to make the knockout stages of the T20 World Cup. This year has had no highlights, the shining stars of Indian cricket to have emerged late 2011 (Virat Kohli, Ravi Ashwin) will usher in the New Year rather more sober than I shall be. Their performance against England was insipid. The second Test should go down as one of India’s worst, the Mumbai track was precisely what Indian sides of the recent past and old would have dreamt of. They were out-batted and most depressingly out-spun. The retirements of two of their greatest batsmen (Rahul Dravid and V.V.S Laxman), the steep decline of Zaheer Khan, Harbajahn Singh and Sachin Tendulkar and the absence of any world class spinners – seemingly anywhere in the country – leaves the Indian line up with a relatively light weight look to it. That this is the state of affairs after a golden decade surely indicates a managerial and administrative black hole; there is no excuses for the wealthiest of all cricketing nations, possessive of the widest potential player base, to look short on talent. The BCCI needs to take a long and hard look at itself, because they increasingly appear more and more detached from reality. M.S Dhoni has had a chastening 18 months since the glorious World Cup win, he has at times been representative of the nationalist fervour that has led Indians to defend their cricketing side in spite of performances or results. I do believe that he is the best man to captain the side, as this role is like no other in cricket. The Indian captain must be a leader of men, a leader of millions. We’ll just have to wait and see if he can help drag this side out of terminal decline.
Hero of 2012: Darren Julius Garvey Sammy
How could it be anyone else? I love Darren Sammy, a true fighter who plays the game how it should be played. With Ottis Gibson, he has quietly re-built this West Indies side, inserting a well needed amount of graft into the team. His captaincy may well be slightly defensive but wasn’t Nasser Hussain’s? I believe he is the only option as captain, he does not have the ego of a Gayle; in fact not being Gayle is vital in relation to the national leadership. Chris Gayle is a special player and an inspirational man, but he is indicative of the modern cricketer: a showman; an entertainer first and foremost. However, he lacks the passion and desire that a captain needs, that hunger to fight for his side and nation. While Sammy pales in comparison in purely playing terms, he has united the Islands in a way not seen for some years. That he successfully oversaw Gayle’s return to the side harmoniously is a feat in itself and clearly displays the respect his teammates must have for him, even if this respect is hardly matched by the press. His batting has improved, averaging over 30 in ODIs and Tests this year, finally matching the ability that he clearly possesses and though his bowling returns have declined, he remains a handy option with the ball, particularly when it comes to keeping things tight. His inclusion in the West Indian team will always be disputed, but he has grown into the role of captain and has proven himself in the most stifling of pressure cookers, the T20 final stands out as it should. His late hitting sapped the life out of the Sri Lankans and his two wickets effectively finished the job. For this, I hail Sammy who stands alongside Clive Lloyd as the only World Cup winning captains of the West Indian cricket team.
Villain of 2012: Virat Kohli
I understand this is a controversial choice, after all hasn’t this year seen a whole host of utter tools? Giles Clarke and his horrific management concerning the ‘Pietersen issue’; Mike Hesson and the New Zealand Cricket Board who conspired to rid themselves of one of the greatest coaches of the modern era and ‘accidentally’ lose their Test captain; the authoritarian bigwigs in charge at the BCCI, one could suggest there is an abundance of suitable candidates for this ‘accolade’. No, I chose Virat Kohli for relatively petty reasons. I concede his batting can be a pleasure, he has most of the shots in the book and his cover driving and backward punches are heavenly. He is my villain because of his complete arrogance. He is crass and ugly on the cricket field. Of course sitting at home watching on the T.V, I cannot be trusted to give an accurate portrayal of the man: I do not know him; my opinion is just that, one of many. I find him to define the modern Indian cricketer: as possessive of a self-entitled arrogance that belies his inexperience and relative lack of achievement in comparison to some of his contemporaries. I think he is a fine batsman with a fantastic future ahead of him, but would Sachin have celebrated as coarsely as he did in Adelaide upon the arrival of his first Test ton? His failures are also those of his side and of the general outlook that Indian cricket has been guilty of this year. I hope he matures quickly as he may be forced to, something in Indian cricket must change for them to return to the force they once were on the playing field only a couple of years ago.
Player of 2012: Kevin Pietersen
Most Batsmen would feel themselves fortunate to play a single career defining innings: think Mike Atherton’s 185 not out or Paul Collingwood’s 206. Only the very special play more than one. Kevin Pietersen played three this year alone. Hashim Amla and Michael Clarke scored bigger; Alastair Cook scored more, but none dominated or affected a match as much as KP did. He scored 1053 runs at 43.87 which suggest a strong but hardly standout year for a man of his calibre, but take away the Pakistan debacle where each English batsman struggled and his average balloons to 54.77.
The whole texting scandal was a national embarrassment. It is undoubted that Kevin Pietersen must be a difficult man to manage, but the issue should have been dealt with in a more professional manner. The England team management and the ECB allowed the situation to spiral, clearly leaking what Pietersen saw as private discussions. This spin was contemptible and despicable; the ECB has now gotten what they wanted, which was Pietersen’s availability for all forms of the game, in an extremely underhand manner. Kevin Pietersen raised valid concerns which are relevant in modern cricket: the bloated international schedule and the competing factions of future financial security verses immediate national loyalty; he was treated with disdain as the establishment thirsted for his blood, they trapped him. It is very easy to see how, relatively speaking, it isn’t easy to be KP. A part of him will always be an outsider in the country he has adopted; of course it will be, he spent his formative years in South Africa. The country that gave him his accent will always be a crucial part of his identity, but his loyalty to England cannot be doubted. Kevin Pietersen has given this country a fantastic service on the field and has embraced the country off of it also, having married an English girl and seeing his first born child born here too. The absolute injustice of the matter was sickening as the old school establishment led by Giles Clarke ‘put him in his place’; a sorry state of affairs which only speaks of the attitudes inherent among some still involved in this country’s cricketing hierarchy.
What should be remembered from 2012 is 151, 149 and 186. These three innings, two of them match winning, showed Kevin Pietersen at his best. No other batsman in the world scores his runs in such a domineering and brutal fashion. He attacks and scores at such a rate, that when he scores big, England are almost odds-on favourites to take the match. He plays shots that no one else can, muscling balls to the on-side that have no right to be there, let alone skipping along the grass toward the demanding crowds. England have never had a batsman as exciting in the modern era, Pietersen is a unique and extraordinary talent, who is currently at his peak. These three innings were three of the best I’d seen, and might ever see. Let us savour the majestic batting of Kevin Pietersen while we still can.
There we go, if y’all disagree, please, let us debate.
Before I go I must express my complete sympathy for the family and friends of Tony Greig who tragically passed away on the 29th. He was a man who lived and breathed our sport and spent his life serving it. Though I never saw much of him as a player, I spent hours listening to his voice and his forthright opinions; a truly sad loss, my love for him and all affected. The worst time to lose a loved one, I know.
R.I.P and may God look after you.
Let’s hope I do this again next year.
Have a happy New Year and thank you all.