When Phillip Joel Hughes lost his battle to injuries sustained from a Sean Abbott bouncer, the entire cricketing world and beyond went into a state of mourning. Although that match wasn’t televised on any channel, it was indeed recorded and in minutes, people around the world got to see how cruel a cricket ball could be. This incident, easily became, the single most talked about incident of 2014 and changed people’s perceptions towards the game altogether.
Although only a handful of Aussie Internationals -who shared the dressing room with him and were hoping for better days ahead-were playing that very match, it struck them with huge amounts of grief and they couldn’t overcome it in time for the Baggy Greens’ first test against the Indians which was originally scheduled for December the Fourth. Above all, for the cricket community, there was a sense of horror. Young lives are often lost due to accidents and illnesses, but here, in the words of commentator Mark Nicholas, cricketers were confronted with their own death on the field of play. It was their beloved game that had claimed one of their own. Sad, isn’t it?
Tributes flowed from all quarters. Hughes’ score of 63 not out in his final innings will surely be in the heart of every cricket fan forever. His brother Jason, later went on to score 63, which was his highest score and then chose to end his innings in honour of his brother. A cricket ball has always meant to cause pain to the opposition. Yet, it was never meant to kill what was an innocent soul which was at its peak at the age of 25.
The year 2015 was filled with controversies, but let us first look at the positives. The latest edition of the t20 World Cup was held at Bangladesh amidst much internal conflict but it proved out to be successful in the end. The final was marred by an infamous innings by Indian southpaw Yuvraj Singh which stole much of the attention from the match.
A few countries outplayed the others and it is to be noted that the neighbours from Down Under have been the most consistent this season. The new ball bowling attack of Trent Boult and Tim Southee have become a force to reckon with even on sub-continental pitches that generally don’t aid the quick bowlers. In the batting department, Kane Williamson has come of age and has been rewarded by being named as the captain of the national side. And a man by name of Brendon McCullum has turned his career with a spell bounding year and that is why we shall look in detail about the Kiwis later in this article.
For Australia, Mitchell Johnson with his trademark handlebar moustache has made batsmen wobble and tobble this past year. His ferocious brand of fast bowling coupled with the accurate and consistent Ryan Harris and new additions such as Josh Hazzlewood, James Pattinson, Phil Simmons, Mitchell Starc and the experienced Peter Siddle have ensured that the Aussies are slowly yet steadily coming back to their form of old. Steven Smith has single-hanedly shouldered the responsibility of carrying his team which looked toothless without its greats and he is surely someone to watch out for the future and another player who set the scoreboards on fire was a rather unusual player, David Warner who has somehow made himself a notable test match player.
Other players who made a mark in 2014 include:
The Sri Lankan Captain was the highest scorer in One Day Cricket for the year with over 1100 runs and a little under 20 wickets. He led his team in different conditions and even led them to a historic test series win in England. Matthews also played a pivotal role by helping his country clinch the t20 World Cup in Bangladesh. Mathews hit back-to-back centuries against England at Lord’s and Headingley to seal Sri Lanka’s first-ever Test series win in England.
If Kohli called the shots in Australia, the Tamil Nadu batsman showed the way for India in the most trying conditions in England. Along with Ajinkya Rahane who unfortunately doesn’t make this list, Vijay led India to a landmark win at the Mecca of Cricket. He scored a gritty 99 in Adelaide and in the very next test, he notched up a remarkable 144 in Brisbane against one of the best attacks in the business. He has turned over a new leaf in his career and is a person who India will surely miss during the World Cup.
With a Bradmanesque average of 97 for the year 2014, Joe Root has arrived on to the scene by scoring runs that showcases the amount of talent he possesses. Many thought that finding a worthy successor for the retiring Kevin Pietersen could be tough. Well, if you still doubt the young gentleman who tore apart the Indian bowlers with an innings of 200 not out and in the process creating a world record for the tenth wicket with James Anderson by scoring 198 for the tenth wicket, you’re grossly wrong.
The takeover of the ICC by the biggies
For years, the imperial powers-England and Australia have tried to control the Gentleman’s Game. The past five years saw the rise of the BCCI and it truly challenged the ECB and CA’s mettle as the BCCI went neck and neck against the ‘conventional powers’. To the eyes of a cricket fan, the heist carried out by the cricket boards of India, England and Australia at the beginning of the year simply confirmed what had already been practice. The takeover by the three boards was described as “keeping the BCCI in the tent rather than having it outside throwing stones”, but it was more a case of join-them-if-you-can’t-beat-them style reaction from the old powers.
One of the most controversial stories of the year would be the banning of numerous players due to chucking. The list includes high profile players such as Saeed Ajmal, Mohammed Hafeez, Pragyan Ojha and Kane Williamson among others. The banning of Saeed Ajmal was a shock for the cricket world as he was by far the toughest bowler to score against in the shorter form of the game and he received flak from all quarters and especially from former Indian captain Bishen Bedi who has always been an advocate against chucking and commented that all of Ajmal’s wickets should be removed. Mohammed Hafeez, the second high profile player banned due to chucking, is now in the second phase of his tests at Chennai which will then determine whether he can bowl again.
The man from Chennai could still stake claim to be the most powerful person in the history of cricket and along with his brother, N Ramachandran, they are one of the most powerful siblings in Indian Sports. Srinivasan has been toiling with the court for over a year now regarding matters relating to his company owning a team-Chennai Super Kings in the IPL and thereby giving rise to Conflict of Interest. Many doubters have raised questions about Srinivasan’s actions but one must remember that this very man has shaped the Indian cricket of today. His case shows us that Cricket is no more the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ and that it has become a commercial entity.
Even with the low standards the West Indies Cricket Board have set themselves over the past couple of years, it was an ugly sight to see the Board fight against its very players. The WICB and the players have had issues right from the captaincy of Carl Hooper with regard to very low pay and this year was no different. The matter was certainly made worse as Wavell Hinds, the president of the West Indian Players Association was also being the Chairman of Selectors for Jamaica and a board member of the Jamaica Cricket Association. Conflict of interest is certainly not exclusively an Indian phenomenon and what happened in the rooms during the discussions is best left untold and to choose to abandon a tour against India of all countries made the matters worse and the WICB now have to pay over 250 Crores to the BCCI as they suffered huge losses due to the West Indies team leaving the Indian tour before finishing it.
We have seen the good and the bad and the people who made 2014 count. Now, we shall see our last segment- The teams that made use of 2014 the most. This past year, a number of teams had a good year- Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand and it is the latter two who proved to be the surprise packages of the year. In fact, the Kiwis had their best outing for a calendar year and with the World Cup in home territory, they’ve become a force to reckon with.
Brendon McCullum was considered to be an exponent of the shorter form of the game and was often underrated in the longer form of the game. He even forego keeping in order to focus on his batting and that has probably been the best decision of his life. McCullum has had a stellar year. With an average of over 70 and a highest score of 302 this past year, McCullum has taken the world by storm. His lowest score below 100 was 45 and his smallest century was 195. He won 3 tests on his own for his country by bludgeoning the bowlers around the park and his tally of 1164 runs is the most by a Kiwi batsman in a calendar year. He also scored the first triple century by a New Zealander as he milked the Indian bowlers around the park for a match saving 302.
The new ball attack of Tim Southee and Trent Boult proved to be lethal in all conditions this season and along with players such as BJ Watling, Kane Williamson and Hamish Rutherford, the Kiwis have quietly formed a team which is potent in every department of the game. Also, New Zealand won 3 away tests, the most along with Sri Lanka (who won once in Bangladesh) in 2014.
We come across teams who spring surprises always. And the Pakistan National Cricket team is surely part of that group. They do the seemingly impossible with ease and muff the easy stuff. This year was no different. They defeated the Baggy Greens after 20 long years. And who thought that they’d do that due to their prowess with the bat? Well, certainly not me. During that series, old pro Younis Khan scored twin centuries in the first test and a double in the second. In the process, Younis went past Inzamam-Ul-Haq as Pakistan’s highest century maker. Azhar Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed also chipped in with a century each. But the one that made all headlines was Misbah-Ul-Haq who scored the joint fastest century in test cricket as he reached his hundred in just 56 balls.
A Pakistan bowling attack minus talisman Saeed Ajmal looked anything but bleak. But, they proved a point to all their critics as their two spinners- Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shar, 36 and 28 years old respectively, shared 26 wickets between them to end a fairytale run.
We have seen the a little good stuff and the bad stuff of 2014. And 2015 promises much more considering the World Cup is on the cards and the talent that is waiting to explode.