A little later than intended, my apologies, but here is my selection of the top ten cricket news stories in the 2003 calendar year, presented in reverse order.
As some of you would know, I compiled an annual list along these lines for CricInfo a few years ago in consultation with CricInfo workers and correspondents around the world. This year's list I have done myself.
10. THE RISE OF GRAEME SMITH:
Twenty-two years of age and with no first-class captaincy experience, Graeme Smith was elevated to the leadership of the South African team when Shaun Pollock was dumped after the World Cup. He was younger than every other member of the team. After taking on the captaincy his own batting blossomed, as he scored 277 against England at Edgbaston to score the highest individual Test innings by a South African. He followed this in the next Test at Lord's with 259, and found himself compared by many to another South African left-handed batsman called Graeme Pollock. South Africa has yet to prosper under his captaincy - they drew a five-Test series with England 2-2 before losing 1-0 in Pakistan.
9. SUSSEX WINS THEIR FIRST COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP:
Surrey choked and Sussex prospered as the 2003 county season drew to a close. Sussex, a club with enormous heritage and founded in 1839, had been runners-up in the Championship on seven occasions. On September 18, Sussex amassed 614 for 4 against Leicestershire in their first innings, accumulating the points which sealed the title - Murray Goodwin compiling 335 not out. (It wasn't actually the first county championship to go to Sussex - the women's team scored their first county title just six weeks earlier.)
8. THE CLASH BETWEEN THE ICC AND THE BCCI OVER THE RELEASE OF WORLD CUP PROCEEDS:
A dispute over sponsorship of Indian players at the World Cup led to claims and counter-claims for compensation between the ICC, its television rights holders Global Cricket Corporation, and the BCCI. At one point the BCCI threatened to sue the World Cup organisers for not marketing the tournament well enough. As the year ended, all proceeds from the World Cup were being withheld by the ICC until the compensation claim by the GCC was settled.
7. DARREN LEHMANN'S RACIAL VILIFICATION SUSPENSION
It was almost swept under the carpet, but Darren Lehmann's racially-charged epithet directed at the Sri Lankan dressing room earned him the indignity of becoming the first player to be suspended under the ICC's Code of Conduct for racial vilification. He was forced to sit out five one-day internationals, including the start of the World Cup.
6. WEST INDIES' WORLD RECORD FOURTH-INNINGS RUN-CHASE AGAINST AUSTRALIA;
Late on the third day of the Fourth Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Australia was dismissed in its second innings for 417, leaving the West Indies an unprecedented 418 for victory. The world record stood at 406, scored by India in 1976. Early on the fifth day, they did it with three wickets in hand, helped along by centuries to Chanderpaul and Sarwan - and an infamous and ill-fated sledging exchange between Sarwan and Glenn McGrath.
5. MATTHEW HAYDEN'S WORLD RECORD 380:
It didn't matter that it was against the pedestrian bowling attack of Zimbabwe, Matthew Hayden's 622-minute onslaught on October 9 and 10 was an exercise in concentration, endurance and sheer brutality, and, for a short while at least, stole the back pages of the newspapers away from the Rugby World Cup.
4. THE ICC WORLD CUP:
Amid all the sub-plots arising from the 2003 ICC World Cup, there was the tournament itself. Big - surely too long - disappointing for teams such as South Africa and Pakistan, thrilling for Kenya, who managed to find themselves in the semis. At the end of the day, however, the best team won. Ricky Ponting's Australians demolished India in the final after a dramatic comeback against England in the first round provided the match of the tournament.
3. ENGLAND'S BOYCOTT OF ZIMBABWE AT THE WORLD CUP:
The treatment of white farmers, the rigging of elections, the civil unrest in Zimbabwe were all reasons why the British government, and most of its public, did not want the English team to play there. No one, however, wanted to take the responsibility to actually stop them from going. On top of this, the rest of the cricketing world (with the possible exception of Australia) didn't really care - some accusing the British of post-colonial paternalism. It took a huge toll on Nasser Hussain before the decision not to play was finally made.
2. SHANE WARNE'S DRUG BAN:
The bombshell was dropped on the morning of Australia's first game in the World Cup - Shane Warne had tested positive and was heading home to clear his name. Far from being cleared, further tests reinforced the original finding, and he was suspended from all cricket for one year. The excuses put forward were hilarious - it was a tablet given to his by his mum, he couldn't read the warning on the pack because the flap was torn, and so on... You could almost make up a list of "Top Ten Shane Warne Stories of 2003", but this one finishes head and shoulders above all the others.
1. ANDY FLOWER AND HENRY OLONGA'S BLACK ARMBAND PROTEST:
The protests by Flower and Olonga during Zimbabwe's opening World Cup game against Namibia brought an end to their international careers, put their lives in danger, and forced them to leave the country as soon as possible. It was one of the bravest, and most moving, acts of individual expression in the history of sport.