It's almost as terrifying as the prospect of a Bros comeback tour, but here, back after an eleven-and-a-half year absence and for one night only, I give you The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Cricket in 2009.
My observations of the year in cricket, some serious, most of them not. I'll leave it to you to decide which is good, which is bad, and which is ugly. This post should be read as a companion piece to my Top 10 Cricket Stories of 2009.
Cricketer of the Year: In 2009, I admire no one more than Sri Lanka's Thilan Samaraweera. He was running hot in the Test series in Pakistan which began in February - 231 and 24 not out in the First Test at Karachi, then 214 in the first innings of the Second Test at Lahore. The very next day, what would have been Day Three of the Second Test, the Sri Lankan team bus was ambushed by gunmen on its way to the ground. Samaraweera was shot in the thigh. After hospitalisation, and a period of rehab and recovery, Samaraweera returned to international cricket in July, and in August scored 159 and 143 in consecutive Tests against New Zealand. All up in the 2009 calendar year, Samaraweera scored 1234 runs in 11 Tests at an average of 72.58 including four big hundreds and one incredibly courageous comeback.
Rising Star of the Year: Shakib al Hasan. Only the fact that this 22 year-old all-rounder hails from Bangladesh has prevented him from being recognised as one of the hottest properties in the game. Currently the highest-ranked all-rounder on the ICC ODI Player Rankings. Captained Bangladesh in one Test against the (admittedly weakened) West Indies in which he took a fiver and was on 96 not out when they won the game. Plenty of high profile opposition in 2010 and a county contract with Worcestershire to boot.
Comeback of the Year: Graeme Swann. One ODI for England in 2000 looked, for many years, like being the peak of an amiable county career. Seven years later, he found his way into a semi-regular limited-overs gig for England, and then at the end of 2008 into the Test team. And then it all clicked. A starring role as England regained the Ashes earned Swann the (should be) highly coveted Midwinter-Midwinter for 2009. At year's end he took nine wickets in England's innings victory over South Africa at Durban. Twenty-two wickets in his last three Tests, his stats in twelve Tests in the 2009 calendar year show 452 runs at 45.20 and 54 wickets at 27.92. Going forward into 2010, Graeme Swann has evolved from ugly duckster into The Swannatron.
Human headline of the year: Some quality finalists, but the winner for 2009 is Andrew Symonds. Entering 2009 as a Sitting Duck on the basis of earlier indiscretions, Symonds was in hot water in January when jocular comments about an opposing player on, of all places, Roy and HG's radio show, were taken seriously. Stood down from the South African tour as a result of a board directive, a recall to the Australian team during their UAE tour in April came unstuck during the World Twenty20 when he was sent home for alcohol-related indiscretions. His Cricket Australia contract was torn up but he continues to make a living on his meagre stipend with the Deccan Chargers.
Symonds won HHOTY by a whisker from Kevin Pietersen, who put in some outstanding claims to the title, notably with his MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) of Peter Moores' career as England coach together with his own as England captain. His innovation in losing his wicket spectacularly at times when England needed it least, also deserves citation.
Third place in an extraordinary HHOTY race goes to Shoaib Akhtar, whose absence from Pakistan's squad for the ICC World Twenty20 was explained by the PCB in thorough, intimate and wholly unnecessary detail. No room on the HHOTY podium this year for Sreesanth!
The Thanks-For-Coming Award goes to Burt Cockley. Awarded an IPL contract despite never having played in a Twenty20 game for his native New South Wales, the 23 year-old quick failed to make a single appearance for Kings XI Punjab. Cockley was added to NSW's Champions League squad as late cover for injured players but did not get a game as the Blues went on to win the title. Stress fractures in his back look like keeping him out of the 2009-10 KFC Big Bash, meaning that Cockley enters 2010 with an IPL season and a Champions League title behind him, and yet to make his Twenty20 debut! As if that wasn't enough, Cockley was a late addition to the Australian ODI squad in India in November, and was set to play at Mumbai in the final game of the series before rain prevented any action.
Hypothesis of the year:
"This series is probably the best advertisement for having the review system. When decisions cost us over 500 runs and a lot of wickets, it always put lots of pressure on any side"
Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara displaying a clear understanding of why his team was beaten 0-2 by India in a three-Test series late in the year. Sangakkara's comment was reported in an article published by The Island which carried what I regard as the Headline of the Year:
"Sanga gracious in defeat, but hits out at ICC"
Worst headlines of the year: A too-numerous-to-mention-way tie, including any headline making a pun out of Graham Onions, and any headline making a pun out of Doug Bollinger. Special mention, however, must go to "From second fiddle to fecund Siddle", which actually won a serious award, a Walkley given by Australia's Media Alliance as one of the "Best Three Headings" of the year. (I liked the other two.)
Cricketing tweets of the year (Inaugural award in this category)
First place: "PH408: Disappointed not to be on the field with the lads today, will be supporting the guys, it's a BIG test match 4 us. Thanks 4 all the support!" - Phillip Hughes commenting on his non-selection in the Australian team for the Third Test against England in July, before it had been announced by the selectors. And what's more, it was ghost-tweeted by his manager who was in India at the time!
Second place: "ronniesarwan: Britney Concert was great!" - Ramnaresh Sarwan, hours before he withdrew from the West Indies Test team in Brisbane because of a back injury.
Third place: "BumbleCricket: mates wife has left him....taken his bob marley collection and the satellite dish...No woman, no sky." - David Lloyd is an absolute joy to follow on Twitter, but why has he told the same joke umpteen times this year?
Most retweeted cricketing tweet originated by me: "rickeyre: #ashes Cmon Ricky declare! I dare ya." - posted at the moment Australia took the lead in the second innings of the Third Test at Edgbaston, August 3.
And finally, The greatest victory of all time, as chosen by me: New South Wales' win over Trinidad and Tobago to become winners of the Twenty20 Champions League.