An intermittently annual tradition for me since about 1996, has been my list of what I regard as the top ten news stories about cricket for the calendar year. I now present my 2009 edition.
There's a little bit of overlap among some stories, and some are not single events but rather a collection of events over time. Sadly and tragically, Number One on this year's list picks itself, but some of the others required a bit of thought. If you can think of anything major that has happened since 1 January 2009 that I have missed, please leave a comment.
1. Gunmen attack on Sri Lankan and officials team buses, Lahore.
It was the event in the cricket world that cast a dark shadow above all else in 2009, and influenced some of the other stories in the Top 10.
Despite scares and cancellations over the years, cricket has managed to avoid the domestic terrorism of Sri Lanka, parts of India, and even the Irish troubles in the UK. Sportspeople have never been targets. That changed on March 3. A convoy of buses, already under tight security, of players from the Pakistan and Sri Lankan teams plus officials en route to Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, came under attack from gunmen, believed to be operatives for a terrorist group. Six policemen and two civilians died, several Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach were injured, most seriously batsman Thilan Samaraweera. The Test series was immediately abandoned. Pakistan became a nation off-limits as a host of international cricket. The illusion that terrorists would never harm elite sportspeople has evaporated.
2. IPL 2 relocated to South Africa.
In a major logistical triumph, the second season of the Indian Premier League was relocated to South Africa with about a month's notice. Nervousness about security was prevalent after the terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008, and then the attack on the team buses at Lahore in March. But whose idea was it anyway to schedule the IPL against Lok Sabha elections in April? Once several state governments said they couldn't provide security at IPL venues during election time, the challenge was on: Hold an Indian domestic tournament outside of India. And off went the roadshow to a late-autumnal South Africa.
A multi-million dollar generator of television and advertising revenue was saved, and went off without a major security hitch - although the opening game was interrupted for eight minutes when a dog strayed onto the field and wouldn't leave!
3. England regains the Ashes, again.
In terms of quality, the 2009 Ashes series was a shadow of the 2005 thriller, but the outcome was the same. An Australian team in a state of decline was beaten by an underdog England side by two Tests to one. A crotchety Andrew Flintoff nearly subverted the series into one big photo-op following his pre-announced retirement, but the real hero was the unlikely figure of Graeme Swann. Ricky Ponting earned for himself the shame of becoming the first Australian captain since the 19th century to give up the Ashes in England twice.
4. West Indies dispute between players and board
As if the West Indies haven't suffered enough dysfunctionality over the past decade, things reached a new low in July when the entire Test team boycotted their series against Bangladesh, the result of a bitter contractual dispute between their trade union, the WIPA, and their employer, the WICB. The performance indicators played themselves out on the field as Bangladesh claimed both the Test and ODI series. Compromise was reached in November, which saved the West Indies' tour of Australia from being a shambles. The industrial peace, however, looks fragile as 2010 approaches.
5. The decline and fall of R.Allen Stanford.
The adage "If something looks too good to be true, then it probably is" could have been invented to describe "Sir" Allen Stanford's dalliance with West Indian cricket. Having held the government and economy of Antigua and Barbuda by the (non six-stitcher) balls for many years, Stanford's tightening grip on Caribbean cricket started to unravel after the underwhelming "Stanford 20/20 For 20" in November 2008. He had all but parted company with the sport as the sound of hovering US securities regulators became louder, culminating on February 17 with his indictment for alleged securities frauds totalling in excess of eight billion US dollars.
News of his arrest put cricket into world headlines for all the wrong reasons, especially as file footage was revived of his helicopter descent into Lord's in 2008 with twenty million dollars of photo op-ready cash in tow. Stanford was taken into custody in Texas in June 2009 with his trial scheduled to commence in early 2011. The financial damage has been done. The Bank of Antigua was taken over by regulators, while many Stanford investment programs - Ponzi and otherwise - have headed south. Some of the Stanford Superstars "20/20 for 20" heroes had been encouraged to reinvest their winnings with the Stanford empire. Yes indeed, if it sounds too good to be true...
6. Introduction of the UDRS (Umpires Direct Review System)
How ironic that the year of David Shepherd's passing ushered in the latest attempt to reconcile the human frailty of the umpire with the Shastrian (Gavaskaresque?) infallibility of the television production team. LBW appeals became drawn-out exercises in forensic video science. At least one elite umpire appears to have fallen by the wayside. The nett result of the ICC's latest strategy to "empower umpires with the latest technology" was to give birth to a new phrase in cricket journalism: "Controversial Umpiring Review".
7. Kevin Pietersen 0, Peter Moores 0. (Both eliminated.)
It was anything but a happy new year at the start of 2009 in the England camp as it became clear that captain Kevin Pietersen and coach Peter Moores were not exactly the new Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher. With Pietersen refusing to lead the England team to the West Indies with Moores as coach, one or the other had to be pushed, and within a fortnight, both were. England's fortunes were subsequently to be placed firmly into the hands of the two Andys (Strauss and Flower), and the rest, as they say, can be found in Item Number Three on this list.
8. India number one on the Test rankings.
This could be part of an annual series "India wins in spite of itself". In November, upon completing a 2-0 series victory over Sri Lanka, India became the first nation whose name was neither Australia nor South Africa to carry the title "Number One Test Team In The World" since the ranking system began in 2001. They finished 2009 unbeaten in their last twelve Tests, with four consecutive series wins against Australia, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. A triumph achieved against the backdrop of administrative apathy, with the BCCI more interested in cramming the schedule with one-day internationals and promoting their Wealth Creation arm, better known as the Indian Premier League. With only two Test matches scheduled for 2010 (both away to Bangladesh in January), the BCCI hastily scrambled to double that tally with the co-operation of World Number Two, South Africa.
The final irony of India's triumph came on the evening of December 27, as MS Dhoni accepted the ICC Test Champions Mace on the same day that an ODI at the Feroz Shah Kotla had been abandoned because of a dangerous pitch - a breaking story at year's end whose fallout may appear in the Top 10 List of 2010.
9. The rise of Afghanistan.
It would have seemed utterly crazy a few years ago, but this was the year when the Afghanistan national cricket team very nearly qualified for the 2011 World Cup. A team made up primarily of expats resident in Pakistan, the Afghan team had rapidly climbed the international ladder since beating Jersey to win the World Cricket League Division Five in May 2008. Rank outsiders at the World Cup Qualifiers in South Africa in April, victories against Bermuda and Denmark put them into the Super Eight round. Next came shock wins over Ireland and Scotland, but despite a win against Namibia on the final day of the league, other results did not go their way - however, their sixth place was enough to give them official ODI status for the next four years and a spot in the first-class Intercontinental Cup.
Since the World Cup Qualifiers in April, Afghanistan has lost only one international fixture. Among their scalps, they defeated the Netherlands in a four-day Intercontinental Cup game in August, and did not drop a single match to take the Asian Cricket Council Twenty20 crown in the UAE in November.
How long before we see them take on the Aussies at the SCG? Sadly, it will be a while before they can stage home internationals in Kabul or Kandahar.
10. England wins Womens World Cup and ICCWWT20
A bit of good old-fashioned English parochialism in 2009 was probably the best thing ever to happen to the profile of the women's game. In 2009 the England women's cricket team firmly established themselves as number one in the world, claiming the Womens World Cup in March and the ICC Womens World Twenty20 in June (where the final was staged on the same day as the men's equivalent at Lord's), as well as thumping a rebuilding Australian side 4-0 in an ODI series. Although they were beaten out by their male counterparts for Team of the Year at the year's end sports awards, their coach Mark Lane won Sportscoach UK's Coach of the Year award, and back in March Clare Taylor had become the first women named to Wisden's annual Five Cricketers of the Year.