From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.35 :: NO.01 :: Jan. 05, 2012
Cricket's birth-place finally reclaimed its territorial rights on the game's longer version in 2011. England has often been the repository of cricketing traditions but like a good parent sacrificing everything while the children flowered, Old Blighty watched while the West Indies, Australia and to a certain extent India dominated the game over the last 40 years.
England had its phases when men like Ian Botham made the Barmy Army believe in magic, but consistency proved elusive. All that changed over the last 12 months while Australia lost its halo and India failed to hold on to its number one status in Tests. The year started well for England with an innings and 83-run victory over Australia on January 7 at Sydney. Andrew Strauss and company then indulged in their ‘sprinkler dance' and the Ashes was theirs at 3-1. “It's going to be a dressing room full of pride this afternoon,” Strauss said.
Alastair Cook (766 runs) and James Anderson (24 wickets) were the sword-arms of Strauss and it is a measure of the potency of Tests that no one remembers the Aussies' 6-1 triumph in the subsequent One-Day International series against England. Strauss and company then revealed diffidence, an old fallibility that plagued England in the shorter formats, and failed to get past the World Cup quarterfinals.
However in Tests, England's tread was intimidating and India learnt that the hard way despite its crowning glory in the World Cup. England trounced India 4-0, a verdict further amplified by facile victories at Lord's (196 runs), Nottingham (319 runs), Birmingham (innings and 242 runs) and the Oval (innings and eight runs). The Test number one ranking was all England's to savour and India drew feeble consolation from Rahul Dravid's remarkable three tons. Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan combined well to dismantle India on a wretched tour for the visitors that was further compounded by injuries and the inclement weather. Prior to whipping India, England defeated Sri Lanka 1-0 in a three-match joust.
England's rise coincided with the decline of Australia and India's inability to fully replicate its ODI success in Tests though M. S. Dhoni's men eased past the West Indies with 1-0 and 2-0 verdicts in their ‘away' and ‘home' series respectively.
The free-fall in Australian cricket continued despite its 1-0 victory in the three-Test series in Sri Lanka. A 1-1 stalemate in South Africa was followed by similar numbers against New Zealand and that too in the Australian backyard and when India set foot at Canberra, the talk ‘Down Under' was about perhaps ‘dropping one of the old boys (Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey)' instead of the usual sniping about the rival skipper. Ponting and Hussey have retained their baggy greens and now there aren't enough men to push them out like how Adam Gilchrist nudged Ian Healy in the past. The 47 at Cape Town (on a strange day when 23 wickets fell) and the 136 at Hobart are all symptomatic of the lack of spine in the Australian line-up with skipper Michael Clarke saddled with the onerous task of doing an Allan Border and revive a team that is low on self-belief.
Australia's transition woes might find a shadow in Indian cricket too later in the coming year as its ageing middle-order — Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman — still high on runs but saddled with sore limbs, mull about their eventual full stops in cricket.
Among the rest, Sri Lanka is yet to come to grips with the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga; South Africa remains a tough opponent that fails to crack the final mental barrier and be the best it can be despite having Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn; the West Indies finds it tough to climb back while Chris Gayle sulks and tweets, Darren Bravo evokes the spirit of Brian Lara and a well-meaning skipper Darren Sammy continues to tackle questions about his modest ability; Bangladesh continues to plummet and New Zealand under a new captain in Ross Taylor remains the eternal dark horse.
The stories of hope in 2011 revolved around two teams hailing from nations grappling with internal roadblocks. Pakistan and Zimbabwe offered enough positive clues that hint at redemption. Zimbabwe last played a Test in 2005 and after five years in the wilderness, the return proved to be a goose-bump inducing outing at Harare as Brendan Taylor's men defeated Bangladesh by 130 runs. Zimbabwe lost its subsequent one Test dust-ups against Pakistan and New Zealand but there is no mistaking the talent that resides in the bylanes of Harare and Bulawayo.
Pakistan found its voice through soft-spoken steely skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, who helped the team forget the spot-fixing stain's residual spill-over. New Zealand, the West Indies and Sri Lanka failed to counter a team that was expected to implode, but then Pakistan has always bucked the odds and its cricket remains a colourful tapestry much like the trucks that ply across Multan and Lahore.
Amidst the varying complexities, England truly reigned and with Jonathan Trott and Cook winning the ICC ‘Cricketer of the Year' and ‘Test Player of the Year' awards respectively, it was a year where its individual parts and the resultant sum formed a wonderful synthesis.
It was also a year in which two men tugged at hearts with their words much like the manner in which they evoked awe with their mountain of runs. Kumar Sangakkara's ‘MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture' and Dravid's ‘Bradman Oration' dealt with cricket's role in nations and its future in the larger world of sport. The duo held a mirror to the game's administrators in an age when television ratings are dipping and empty stands greet matches even at venues like Kolkata's Eden Gardens!
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