Here again is my annual selection of the biggest stories in world cricket in the 2011 calendar year. Unlike all the media agencies whose end-of-year lists have to be finalised in early December to meet deadlines, this list, which I have compiled on an intermittent basis since 1996, doesn’t go to deadline until after the Boxing Day Tests were completed in Melbourne and Durban.
A few notes of explanation: The countdown from 10 to 2 is not in any strict order, although story number 1 was clearly the biggest of the year. A number of big stories that didn’t make my final ten are listed at the end of this article. I have regarded England’s victory over Australia for the Ashes as a 2010 story, as the series was decided on December 29 of that year.
If he had retired from the game I could happily leave him out of this list, but Shane Warne, who turned 42 in September, was a relentless self-publicity machine.
Putting the failure of his nighttime TV chat show in 2010 behind him, his Twitter-fuelled romance with Elizabeth Hurley saturated the gossip media. On the field, his fourth and supposedly final IPL season with the Rajasthan Royals ended in disappointment, but at year's end he took to the field again for the Melbourne Stars in the inaugural Big Bash League.
Even at the Stars he couldn't just be one of the team, whether it be twitpic'ing his pus-ridden hand, burnt in a cooking accident days before the BBL started; arranging for Hurley and their combined brady bunch to indulge in the coin toss before a game; or doing his own on-field TV commentary as he takes a wicket.
What could he possibly do in 2012 to top everything in 2011? (Hint: On December 31 Alastair Cook got married. Bride and groom left the church on a tractor.)
As a newspaper columnist and radio commentator, former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck was close to the Australian cricketing community. His death, on November 12 from a fall from a Cape Town hotel window while being questioned by police officers, came during Australia’s South African tour which he was covering, and was an enormous shock to the cricketing world at large. An articulate, opinionated writer who polarised readers, Roebuck’s passing created an immediate void in cricket journalism that was difficult to fill. The darker aspects of his life as a coach and mentor are still being unravelled.
As global acceptance grew of the Decision Review System for umpires, the BCCI steadfastly refused to allow its use in home or away Test series in which it took part. Random errors by umpires were better left unaccountable, it seemed, than be checked against technology with small but significant margins of error. India’s blockage of ICC attempts to make the DRS compulsory became a lightning rod for a growing resentment, whether justified or not, of the BCCI’s undue influence over the ICC. The merits of DRS and its individual technological components was in danger of becoming a secondary issue.
In a lengthy World Cup tournament where the presence of “minnow” teams was being derided by some, Ireland’s last-over three-wicket victory against England at Bangalore on March 2 came as a resounding wakeup call and delivered the upset of the year. Ireland chased down an England score of 327 for 8. Kevin O’Brien’s 113 for Ireland saw him bring up his hundred in just fifty balls - the fastest ton in any World Cup by any player from any team.
Virender Sehwag, the most dangerous batsman in the world in ODI and Test cricket, became the second man to score a limited-over international double century on December 8 against the West Indies at Indore. Sehwag passed Tendulkar’s world record of 200 to end his innings on 219 in an Indian total of 419 for 5. He faced 149 deliveries and smashed 25 fours and seven fours. If he hadn’t lost his wicket in the 47th over he would probably have surpassed Belinda Clark’s world record for both genders of 229. That milestone will have to wait for another highway on another postage-stamp ground, probably not too far into the future.
Australia was running riot midway through the second day of the Cape Town Test on November 10. After scoring 284 in their first innings, Australia had the home South Africans on the ropes, all out for 96 inside 25 overs. But the Australians were about to much much worse. A massive batting collapse, at one point 21 for 9, and then after just 18 overs and 95 minutes, Australia was all out for 47, their lowest total in 109 years. From a first innings deficit of 188, South Africa went on to win the Test by eight wickets. For Australia, still picking itself up after the horror of the 2010-11 Ashes and starting to implement the findings of the Argus Review, return to the top of the world ladder is still a distant goal.
In cricket statistics, you never combine Test and one-day stats. With one exception. Someone added Sachin Tendulkar’s Test and ODI centuries together and found that the total was approaching 100 - a milestone impossible till recently, and one no one else is anywhere near close to achieving.
His 111 in the World Cup group match against South Africa on March 12 was his 48th in one-day internationals. Added to his 51 in Tests (he has none in T20s), this became his 99th international hundred. From that moment on, India went onto tenterhooks as his next innings was expected to be the magical 100th hundred. Every next innings.
At year’s end, four ODIs and fifteen Test innings later, the cricketing world is still waiting, still expecting that his next visit to the crease will be The Big One.
He’s come close a few times. Real close. 85 in the World Cup semi-final against Pakistan. 91 against England in The Oval Test. 94 against the West Indies in his home town of Mumbai.
Has the tension been getting to Tendulkar? Has the tension affected India’s game? They have lost every away Test they have played since he has been on 99 tons. One way or another, when he - inevitably - scores that next hundred, it will be a moment of celebration, of relief, and then we can move on to more genuine sporting matters.
A cloud hung over the 2011 World Cup when the ICC confirmed just before the tournament began that it intended to reduce the 2015 event from 14 teams to 10, and with no qualifying competition and no teams outside of the Test teams. Associate member nations, particularly Ireland, Canada, Holland and Afghanistan, led an outcry that had the backing of fans worldwide and a number of players from Test countries. Eventually, the ICC partly backed down from its decision, returning the 2015 World Cup to its 14-team format but insisting on a cutback to ten from 2019, though with some form of qualification.
It began in February and ended in April, and no teams were eliminated until two weeks before the final, but a long bloated 2011 World Cup was proclaimed an outstanding success by ICC CEO Haroon Lorgat after home side India defeated co-host nation Sri Lanka in the final at Mumbai on April 2. There was a hint of inevitability in India's victory, their second World Cup, sealed with a six by captain MS Dhoni, as the most consistent team of the six weeks came through at the end.
Mention should also be made of Bangladesh, for whom the staging of the opening ceremony of a major international event was a national triumph in itself.
There could be no bigger cricket story in 2011 than the imprisonment, for the first time, of international cricketers for fixing elements of play in return for illicit financial gain. Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and agent Mazhar Majeed were sent to British prisons on November 1 after Butt and Asif had faced a lengthy trial (Amir having pleaded guilty) over charges relating to the deliberate bowling of no-balls in the 2010 Lord's Test against England.
It took a newspaper investigation of questionable ethical merit to expose a scam where the ICC's own Anti-Corruption Unit had been oblivious. But for the first time, match-fixing (or in this case spot-fixing) was being addressed in the courts for what it is - an act of criminal fraud.
Other stories that missed the cut for the Top 10:
The exit of Ijaz Butt from the PCB
Stephen Davies comes out
Zimbabwe returns to Test cricket
Lancashire's first county championship since 1934
Kumar Sangakkara's outspoken Cowdrey Lecture
The Argus Review of Australian cricket
The Kochi Tuskers expulsion from the Indian Premier League
The feuding between the WICB and Chris Gayle
Simon Katich's outbursts against Australian selectors and against Michael Clarke.