Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 2000s in Cricket

Sports Illustrated is doing a series on the best and worst of the decade in a bunch of major sports– but one of the sports they predictably omitted was cricket, and while this post is only tangentially India-related I thought it a good way to revive this blog. I've followed their approach fairly closely.

Thus, here it is: my unscientific and highly personal retrospective of the decade in cricket. I know that the decade doesn't technically end until 2010 but who would consider 2000 to be part of the 1990s? The vast majority of this, and the all-decade XI at the bottom, refer to Test cricket.


Best Player: Jacques Kallis, South Africa
Ricky Ponting might be seen as a more conventional choice, but Kallis was head and shoulders the decade's top cricketer in pure cricketing terms. As a batsman he rivals Ponting and Tendulkar; as a bowler he reinvented himself, adjusting for his loss of pace with subtle cut and swing, and as a slip fielder he remains of the highest class. Possibly the greatest all-rounder to play the game since Sobers, and certainly the most underrated. His closest competition, to my mind, is Adam Gilchrist.

Best Batsman: Ricky Ponting, Australia
The most complete and consistent batsman of the decade. Appears to be somewhat in the decline, but for most of the decade his batting, in stark contrast to his personality, was a joy to watch.

Best Bowler: Glenn McGrath, Australia
This is not the place to do a statistical analysis of why Warne is a better bowler than Murali (I've done so here). But much of the decade Warne was not even the best bowler on his own team. McGrath's method may have been boring to some but it was ruthless effective and Australia were at their most potent when he played. McGrath only played in 6 Test defeats in the decade, and four of those were dead rubbers. In other words: apart from the tour of India in March-April 2001, Australia won or drew every single meaningful game that Mcgrath played in this decade. Over a 7-year period, that is an astonishing tribute to McGrath's importance.

Best Wicket-Keeper: Adam Gilchrist, Australia
Gilchrist revolutionized the game of cricket by making it essential for keepers to be good batsmen. He was an underrated, usually excellent (if not brilliant) keeper, and for the early part of the decade the most dangerous Test batsman in the world.

Best Fielder: AB De Villiers, South Africa
Ponting is the best at hitting the stumps, and Kallis as good a catcher. But De Villiers is one of those mind-boggling athletes in the manner of Jonty Rhodes who make you wonder why they picked cricket.

Best Captain: Michael Vaughan, England
There is no obvious choice here. Waugh and Ponting won the most, but were essentially building on Mark Taylor's achievements and had incomparable players. Neither– Ponting in particular– is particularly brilliant either tactically or as a leader of men. Graeme Smith has done a terrific job of inspiring South Africa, but his cricket brain can let him down in crucial moments. Sourav Ganguly transformed Indian cricket, especially psychologically, but went on too long and was weak tactically. Thus I go with Vaughan, the cerebral leader who, while he never rediscovered his best batting form as captain, was consistently the most innovative skipper in the game and led England literally from the abyss to their unbeaten run in 2004-05, culminating in the first Ashes win since 1987. Other fine captains this decade include Mahela Jayewardane and the classy Stephen Fleming and Daniel Vettori of New Zealand, the latter of whom is my pick for leader of the next decade.

Best Coach: John Wright, India
Wright's stellar contribution to Indian cricket is sadly forgotten. He inspired confidence from the players like no previous coach, and understood well that the coach should be a behind-the-scenes facilitator. He built a strong support staff and emphasized fitness and fielding, both of which improved radically during his tenure. He and Ganguly were unafraid of choosing unorthodox talents such as Sehwag and Dhoni, and India would not be in the top 3 today, let alone no. 1, without Wright.

Best Umpire: Simon Taufel, Australia
In an era of generally poor umpiring (especially as compared to the 1990s), Taufel is the rare umpire who can always inspire confidence.

Best Administrator/Cricket Board: the ECB
This might seem absurd given the ridicule that administrators in general and the ECB in particular receive on a daily basis. In the last two years they have made some serious misjudgments, most notably their tie-up with Allen Stanford. But their consistent commitment to preserving Test cricket is a worthy antidote to the Lalit Modis of the world.

Worst Administrator: Lalit Modi
I don't doubt that cricket needs to be packaged well and that it needs to be attractive to the consumer. But the game badly needs administrators who care for its long-term health. Modi is the anti-fan, in the sense that he seems to have no emotional connect to the game of cricket whatsoever. His perceived declining influence is the most welcoming cricketing development of 2009.

Best Team: Australia
They have been on an almost uninterrupted slide since the 2007 World Cup– although they remain unfailingly competitive and bat well– but their dominance until that point has only one precedent– the West Indies– in the history of cricket. They have been far more successful in rebuilding after losing a great generation than they were in the 1980s, or than the Windies were in the 1990s and 2000s.

Worst Team: West Indies
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are the obvious choices, but the former should never have been playing test cricket at all and the latter is a case of cricket being one of many casualties of a national malaise. But the decade's most depressing storyline was the descent of the West Indies, who ten years ago drew 2-2 with Australia in a thrilling and equal series. A lack of funding, appalling administrators and the absence of leadership at every level were the main causes, as was the seeming apathy of their former greats. They reached their nadir with the contracts crisis of 2009 and the resultant loss to Bangladesh, but the recently completed test tour of Australia carried encouraging signs.

Best Match: India vs. Australia at Kolkata, 2001
In a decade of decidedly variable cricket, this was one of the best half-dozen games ever played. India pulled off a comeback every bit as improbable and heroic as England at Headingley in 1981; and their hero, VVS Laxman, was much more unlikely than Botham, as he entered the game with an average of 27. Quite apart from India's turnaround, this game was also filled with other bits of drama, such as Harbhajan's hat-trick on Day One (assisted by SK Bansal), Waugh and Gillespie's partnership on Day Two and Tendulkar's unexpected star turn with the ball on the final day. It also revived the career of Rahul Dravid, who would go on to be India's test batsman of the 2000s.

Best Series: the Ashes, 2005
Most India fans would go for the 2001 India-Australia series, and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy did provide the decade's most compelling contest, with tight series in 2004 and 2008. But the 2005 Ashes has two things in its favour: as an old-fashioned five test series, it had twice the drama and, secondly, it had the unique narrative of the revival of public interest in cricket through a Test series. England had played well for the previous year, but largely under the radar, and the Ashes– Tests two through five can all be considered classics– catapulted them into the national imagination. Shane Warne's 40 wickets, along with Brian Lara's runs in Sri Lanka in 2001, is perhaps the greatest series performance ever by someone on a losing side.

Worst Series: Pakistan vs. India, 2006
This series briefly came to light in the Third Test, where India dominated the first session and were dominated in turn for the rest of the game. But the first two matches were soporific, both sides scoring mountains of runs on pitches unfit for cricket. The Indo-Pakistan rivalry has never had less sting.

Biggest Overachiever: Paul Collingwood, England
Seemingly always on the verge of being dropped, the England batsman is so devoid of natural talent that it is a wonder that he was selected for the national team in the first place, as he has never been a county run machine. But he made light of his deficiencies through relentless hard work and courage, emerging as England's man in a crisis and one of the best fielders in the game. England are an unpopular team but it is impossible not to like Collingwood.

Biggest Underachiever: Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan
The "fastest bowler in history" made more history with his ever-expanding waistline and his inflated ego than with his exploits on the field. Occasionally, such as in 2002, he was devastating, but more often he was simply underwhelming, as well as more trouble than he was worth. Wisden had it right when they described him as "now more Thomas the Tank Engine than the Rawalpindi Express."

Most Outstanding Single-Game Performance: VVS Laxman vs Australia, Kolkata 2001
See above: Laxman scored a fluent half-century in India's otherwise miserable first innings and his 281, with Dravid's stellar support, turned the game around on Day 4.

Most Outstanding Series Performance: Andrew Flintoff, 2005 Ashes
Freddie Flintoff's body gave under soon after, but for five Test matches he was the perfect cricketer, aggressive with the bat, unrelenting with the ball and excellent in the field. 402 runs and 24 wickets: the statistics were impressive, the real-life impact more so.

Biggest Controversy: Match-Fixing
It seems like a distant memory now, but in 2000 the match-fixing furore threatened to make the game implode. Hansie Cronje's admission of guilt, followed soon by the bans of Azharuddin, Gibbs and Jadeja, shook the public confidence in cricketers in a similar way to steroids in baseball. Cricket emerged unexpectedly strong from the crisis. Monkeygate– the Harbhajan–Symonds incident– has been the biggest controversy since.

Best Team Rivalry: Australia vs. India
Until South Africa in 2008-09, India were the only team that appeared to go into Tests with Australia genuinely confident of their prospects of victory. Much of this was Sourav Ganguly's contribution and it made for uniquely exciting and combative, if frequently over-heated cricket as well as inspiring the best from both sides.

Ugliest On-Field Incident: Glenn McGrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan, Antigua 2003
The veteran Aussie fast bowler and the young West Indian batsman had the most well-publicized and hostile on-field spat in recent years. McGrath reportedly asked Sarwan "What does Brian Lara's **** taste like?" only for Sarwan to reply "Ask your wife" (McGrath's wife had recently been diagnosed with cancer).

Outsized Personality: Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen is an arrogant self-promoter of a kind more often seen in football than in cricket. While he has stopped short of declaring himself a "special one" a la Jose Mourinho, Pietersen has never lacked self-belief, with his on-field performances sometimes, but not always, living up to the bravado.

Best Innovation: TV Technology
What the much-maligned UDRS shows is that integrating technology within the game is a thorny process. But it is myopic to suggest, as some do, that there is no merit to making the game fairer. I see the improvements in technology as an unqualified benefit to the game and in particular to bowlers, who stand to gain the most from accurate decisions.

Worst Innovation: Twenty20
There have been some pretty ghastly attempts to tinker with the 50-over game, all of which have made the game worse (ironically, the game urgently needs rule changes, such as the lifting of restrictions on bowlers, but has been given the wrong ones). But the development of Twenty20 cricket is unrivalled in its bid to turn cricket into something unlike itself. Ironically created in England, where its popularity is now flagging and Tests are more than alive, the format now thrives in India, where cricket never needed a boost in the first place.

Biggest Villain: Dead wickets
Of all the malaises facing the game, the woeful quality of pitches worldwide is the biggest one. South Africa appears to be the only country in the world that is capable of producing pitches that give batsmen, fast bowlers and spinners alike something to work with. Whether it requires bringing back uncovered wickets or radically altering the process of pitch preparation, something has to change. There is not one pitch in the world that can be fairly described as fast: in fact, slow and low have become so ubiquitous that it no longer matters if one is playing in Brisbane, Bridgetown or Birmingham. The argument that lifeless batting paradises are what the public wants is gloriously rejected by the facts of low attendances at test matches and widespread condemnation of these pitches.


All-Decade World XI

1. Graeme Smith , South Africa
The divisive South African captain has, finally, earned universal grudging respect through the sheer weight of his achievements. As ugly a player to watch as Gooch or Kirsten, he nonetheless scores big runs at key moments, especially against England, is unflinchingly brave and comfortable in both defence and attack.

2. Virender Sehwag, India
The best player in the world at present, Sehwag is the first player since Bradman to make 300 runs in a day a realistic possibility, and that too in 90 rather than 140 overs. Sehwag and Gilchrist are foremost among modern players in redefining the possible.

3. Ricky Ponting, Australia
As noted above, the decade's best batsman. Unlike many of his teammates, he has an excellent record both home and away and he is impossible to bowl to in almost any situation.

4. Rahul Dravid, India
Sachin Tendulkar, the player of the 1990s, might be the people's choice at this position but Dravid is more deserving. If Ponting is the definitive modern player, Dravid was a throwback to an age where technical correctness and indefatigable concentration were the hallmarks of test batsmanship. In the first half of the decade, he produced colossal knocks in Leeds, Rawalpindi, Adelaide and countless other grounds around the world to establish India as a serious cricketing power.

5. Jacques Kallis, South Africa
Kallis can bat anywhere from 3-6, and is more capable of attacking innings than he is often given credit for. Like Dravid and Ponting is solid on any kind of wicket and of course contributes hugely with the ball and in the field as well.

6. Inzamam ul-Haq, Pakistan
This is the position with the most equally qualified candidates. Brian Lara interspersed periods of mediocrity with brilliance in the 2000s just as he had in the 1990s, taking Sri Lanka on on his own in 2001 and reclaiming his world record in 2004; but he did not have anything near the same capacity for the hundred at a key time that he did, say, in 1999. Kevin Pietersen was the best attacking middle-order player of the second half of the decade, his match-saving 158 at the Oval in 2005 a magnificent innings. Quite apart from his fielding, AB De Villiers is a world-class bat. Inzamam's own teammates Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf have scored big runs on the rare recent occasions that Pakistan has played Test cricket. But especially against fast bowling, Inzi is technically superior his competitors, and also the best matchwinner of them all, averaging 78 in Test wins. Like Kallis, he has won matches at all places in the batting order.

7. Adam Gilchrist (wk), Australia

The greatest wicket-keeper batsman in the history of the game.

8. Shane Warne (capt.), Australia
At the start of the decade, the future looked uncertain for Warne. He had been a star of the 1999 World Cup, but his enthusiasm was clearly waning, he had lost the vice-captaincy due to a sex scandal and he'd expressed a desire to retire. His one year drug ban from 2003-04 seemed to many to be the end of Warney. But he emerged with an ever-expanding repertoire of straight balls, his old control and an incandescent love for the game. Quite apart from his leg-spinning prowess, Warne was the best captain Australia never had and fittingly will captain this team.

9. Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka
Those of us who continue to question Murali's action cannot question his achievements. He is the greatest destroyer of weak opposition in the history of cricket.

10. Shane Bond, New Zealand
An unorthodox choice, certainly, but a team needs a genuinely fast bowler and Bond's injuries cannot obscure the fact that when fit, he was the most threatening fast bowler since Allan Donald, capable of swinging the old and new ball both ways at 150kph. Like Tendulkar he is at his best against Australia, although most of his best moments have come in the 50-over game. When he played, Bond was a much better bowler than either Shoaib Akthar or Brett Lee.

11. Glenn McGrath, Australia
Shaun Pollock would be a more than worthy replacement, but McGrath is without equal this decade as a matchwinning bowler. Particularly impressive for a fast bowler in this era is his economy rate of 2.49.

12th Man: AB De Villiers
Coach: John Wright

11 comments:

  1. Doesn't Sachin's timelessness and the fact that he seems to be in immeasurably incredible form at the moment, merit him a place in the team?

    His ability to win matches is more relevant now then ever, and while this is a reflection of a decade, he was India's best player in the World Cup.

    While I agree with you with regard to the fact that Twenty20 is an abysmal abstraction of a game that is far more layered and complex, Sachin has managed to adapt to a form that would have been laughable and inconceivable when he debuted for India.

    The sheer weight of his achievements is staggering. His domination of the game is something that no sportsperson in any game can boast of.

    Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Sampras-Federer, Lionel Messi may come close.

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  2. 世間事沒有一樣沒有困難,只要有信心去做,至少可以做出一些成績。......................................................

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  3. Unable to give you a heart. so have a reply to push up your post. ........................................

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  4. 噴泉的高度,不會超過它的源頭。一個人的事業也是如此,它的成就絕不會超過自己的信念。.............................................

    ReplyDelete