THE DEFENSIVE TACTIC (January 5): With India smelling their first series win in South Africa and Harbhajan Singh in cracking form, Jacques Kallis came out to bat with excruciating pain in his back in Cape Town. MS Dhoni had a brain-fade and decided to set defensive fields. The result? Kallis made his second hundred of the Test, saved the game and the series. Sachin Tendulkar's epic 146 in the first innings would be forgotten.
ENGLAND END THE HURT (January 7): Andrew Strauss's team whipped Australia 3-1 to retain the most famous urn of them all, ended 24 years of hurt, and celebrated with the sprinkler dance. All three of England's wins were by an innings -- the first time Australia had suffered such an ignominy in any series. It was a team effort by England but the stars for the tourists were Alastair Cook (766 runs) and James Anderson (24 wickets). This humiliation would eventually lead to a complete overhaul of Australian cricket.
THE EPIC TURNAROUND (January 11-15): Wooden spoon winners in 2010, Rajasthan shocked one and all by winning the Ranji Trophy in 2011. A quirk in the tournament rules helped. The Plate Division team had the chance to play the Elite Division knock-out games. Once there, they beat heavyweights like Mumbai, Tamil Nadu and Baroda (in the final) to wrap up an extraordinary season which had begun with them bowling Hyderabad out for 21. (Image: Aakash Chopra)
INDIA'S PERFECT START (February 19): India gave the World Cup the kick-off it deserved. Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli smashed centuries out of Bangladesh, who fell 87 short chasing a massive 371 in Mirpur. [See commentary for in-line video highlights]
THE NERVE-JANGLER (February 27): The two best sides in the world didn't disappoint in a dream clash at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. India, fuelled by Sachin Tendulkar's 120, seemed to have it under control. But Andrew Strauss' incredible 158 took England to the brink. Zaheer Khan's fine spell in the Powerplay shifted the momentum back before two sloppy overs from India helped end the game in a tie. [See commentary for in-line video highlights]
THE UPSET OF THE YEAR (March 2): Ireland all-rounder Kevin O'Brien smashed a 50-ball hundred, a World Cup record, to lead his team to a three-wicket win over England. They were chasing a stiff 328 and looked out of the game before O'Brien started teeing off. His 63-ball 113 and 162-run partnership for the sixth wicket with Alex Cusack (47) set up one of the great upsets of World Cup history.
THE COSTLY MISS (March 8): After their never-ending losing streak, something had to give for New Zealand. It did against Pakistan where Ross Taylor and Jacob Oram clocked 92 runs off the final four overs in Pallekele. One of the highlights was Kamran Akmal dropping Taylor, prompting this reaction from Shoaib Akhtar, who would later have a fisticuff with the 'keeper. The controversial pacer announced his retirement during the tournament, not knowing he had already played his last game here.
THE REVERSE GEAR (March 12):
India had their foot on South Africa's throat in Nagpur when they started batting cautiously against the run of play. Tendulkar completed his 99th hundred and set the innings up for the slog which never arrived. India lost 29-9 to be bowled out for 296 when 375 looked possible. South Africa nearly botched the chase before Robin Peterson took them home, taking 16 off Ashish Nehra's final over. [See scores and in-line videos]
THANK YOU FOR COMING, AUSTRALIA (March 24): After 15 years, Australia finally lost a World Cup knockout, against eventual champions India in Ahmedabad. It wasn't easy. On a difficult pitch, the off-colour Ricky Ponting struck a heroic 104. Determined fifties from Tendulkar and Gambhir took India close, before Suresh Raina's cameo made the final difference. Yuvraj Singh's William Dafoe act (above) after the winning stroke should sum up what the win meant to them. [Scores and in-line videos]
RHYMES WITH POKER (March 25): Yet again, South Africa started as one of the World Cup favourites but took the first chance to be knocked out. 222 in the quarterfinal didn't seem to be a big target. But a wicket here and a wicket there, and Graeme Smith's men were spooked. Jacob Oram's running catch of Jacques Kallis above was a match-turner. Smith was devastated. He resigned as the ODI captain, one of the four big changes to South African cricket, including the appointment of Gary Kirsten as their coach.
THE GAME OF THE YEAR (March 30): The India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal was undoubtedly the biggest contest of the year, garnering more attention than the final. Premiers of both countries attended it, making the Mohali game a nightmare for security forces. Sachin Tendulkar, dropped thrice and let off by a curious HawkEye reply, made 85. It wasn't his prettiest innings, but factoring the mind-numbing pressure, it was one of his most precious. [See in-line videos with text commentary]
THE CHERRY ON TOP (April 2): Few would remember Zaheer Khan's first spell with three straight maidens, Sri Lanka's struggle with the bat, Mahela Jayawardene's brilliant hundred or the Gautam Gambhir-led fightback. What would remain in everyone's memory is this six that ended India's 28-year wait for a World Cup. [See in-video clips with commentary]
One of the memorable moments during India's celebration of the win was when Sachin Tendulkar, who has maintained a carefully cultivated public image and never endorsed alcohol or cigarettes, for once stopped being careworn and took a swig from the celebratory champagne bottle in his hand. The crowd of 45,000 at the Wankhede saw this on the giant screen and roared in approval.
MINNOWS MASSACRED (April 11):
With bigger, smarter bats, shorter boundaries, Powerplays, and what not, it doesn't take a wise man to see how cricket has become increasingly batsman-friendly. That's how it was when Shane Watson hammered 15 sixes and 15 fours -- that's 150 runs in boundaries -- en route to an unbeaten 185 off just 96 balls against Bangladesh in Mirpur. Ridiculously good hitting. But does anyone care about bowlers?
THANK YOU, GARY; WELCOME FLETCH (April 27): India bid adieu to coach Gary Kirsten after the World Cup as he wished to be closer to his family. The man chosen to fill in his shoes was former England coach and Zimbabwe captain Duncan Fletcher. Fletcher got off to a shaky start with the Indian media. He was then criticized for not pushing for a win in the final Caribbean Test. This was followed by the England disaster. For a while it seemed like Kirsten had taken India's good fortune with him.
G-FORCE (May-June): Bowlers in IPL suffered the repercussions of the ridiculous stand-off between the West Indies board and Chris Gayle. Dropped from the WI squad after a radio interview in which he was critical of the board, Gayle went to India and smashed every bowler in sight. In 12 innings, he made 608 runs to top the charts. The highlight was a 37-run over off Kochi's Prasanth Parameswaran. Gayle failed in the finals though, making 8 and 0 against Chennai Super Kings. [Continued below.]
Gayle's problems with the board continue. At the height of their dispute, some West Indies cricketers (like Marlon Samuels, above) showed where their loyalties lay when they joined Gayle in the stands to celebrate a win over India in Jamaica. Gayle scored heavily in the Champions League T20, the Zimbabwe T20s and Big Bash in Australia. But the national call-up is still due.
THE RETIREMENT THAT WASN'T (May 30): Shahid Afridi led Pakistan to the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup, but soon after announced his retirement following a feud with then coach Waqar Younis and the PCB's decision to strip him of the ODI captaincy. Afridi then had his contract suspended by the PCB, which also fined him $52,300. The board and Afridi would eventually reach an out-of-court settlement. Afridi withdrew his retirement after Ijaz Butt was replaced as PCB chairman and has since made a successful return.
SPIRIT OF CRICKET VS CRICKET'S LAWS (July 31): MS Dhoni granted England's Ian Bell an extraordinary reprieve after he was run out in the Trent Bridge Test. Bell took a casual walk at the stroke of tea, believing he had struck a boundary off the last ball. Dhoni ran him out. At first, Dhoni decided not to withdraw his appeal. But he did so at the insistence of coach Duncan Fletcher. In trying to uphold the spirit of the game, the authorities unwittingly broke a rule that a batsman couldn't be recalled once he's left the field of play. The boos for India after tea turned to applauses once the public saw Bell returning to the crease. But the incident divided cricket experts.
THE WHITEWASH (July-August): The Andrew Strauss-led England took India's No.1 rank with their 4-0 whitewash, their first over them since 1974. The end to India's 19-month reign at the top couldn't have been more shambolic: it was their worst defeat in recent history, and nearly all their front-line players had injuries.
THE MYSTERYMAN STRIKES AGAIN (August 8): Ajantha Mendis took 6-16 against Australia in Pallekele, a new record in T20 Internationals. Chasing 158, Australia were cruising at 71-0 in the sixth over when Mendis unfurled his magical spell to leave them eight runs short.
ZIMBABWE RETURN (August 4-8): After a self-imposed exile from Test cricket in 2005, Zimbabwe cricket is on the mend. On their return to Tests, they beat Bangladesh by 130 runs. The current team lacks the brilliance of the old guard, but the comeback is a start. Their new domestic club structure promises good things.
CHANGE OF GUARD (September 9): Shaun Marsh made 141 on Test debut against Sri Lanka in September and has since replaced Ricky Ponting as Australia's No. 3 batsman. Ponting also lost his captaincy to Michael Clarke, but he was at the helm during Australia's humiliating Ashes debacle as well as the quarter-final loss to India in the 2011 World Cup.
THE TERMINATION (September 19): The BCCI terminated IPL franchise Kochi Tuskers Kerala for non-payment of their bank guarantee, ending the Kerala team's shaky association with the cash-rich league after just one season. The franchise was neck-deep in controversy since the day it was bought by a consortium of seven separate entities/investors.
RESILIENT MUMBAI (October 9):
Mumbai Indians won the Champions League Twenty20 with a 31-run win over Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final. The Harbhajan Singh-led side suffered injuries to key players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma and Davy Jacobs, and tournament rules were relaxed for them to play an extra overseas player. Lasith Malinga was the differentiator, with both bat and ball.
NO FURY LIKE A CRICKETER SCORNED (October 28): Many were surprised when reliable opening batsman Simon Katich was denied a Cricket Australia contract. Katich then lambasted the selectors (with his now famous 'if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys') and new skipper Michael Clarke. He attributed his 2009 spat with Clarke as the cause for his axing, and was later officially reprimanded for making the claims.
JAILED ABROAD (November 3):
The murky spot-fixing case of 2010 came to a close this year with Pakistani cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir receiving jail terms in the UK for conspiracy to cheat and accept corrupt payments. This was not before Butt and Asif faced a criminal trial, the first of its kind for the sport wherein they continued to deny their role in the scandal.
21 FOR 9 (November 10): Australia seemed to have the Johannesburg Test in their pocked when Shane Watson's incredible spell of 5-15 shot South Africa out for 96. What followed was a once-in-a-lifetime event for those who witnessed it. Debutant Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn reduced Australia to 21-9, in danger of beating New Zealand's record of 26. They reached 47, thanks to the last-wicket stand, but lost the Test by eight wickets.
THE 'TIED' DRAW (November 26): India and West Indies competed in what turned out to be the second tied draw in history: the scores were level but India were one run short and nine wickets down when the final ball was bowled at the Wankhede. Ravichandran Ashwin displayed great presence of mind in blocking the penultimate ball to eliminate the possibility of defeat. But he had a brain-freeze on the final ball, not trying to get the second run needed for the win. 'Win or draw' was what Darren Sammy kept shouting to perk up his boys.
THE SLAUGHTER (December 8): Virender Sehwag smashed the world record for the highest ODI score, making 219 against West Indies in Indore. The Indian opener smashed 25 fours and seven sixes, breaking his hero Sachin Tendulkar's record set in February 2010 in Gwalior. Both pitches were prepared by the same curator.
KIWIS SOAR (December 12): New Zealand's astonishing seven-run win in Hobart was their first over Australia in 18 years of Test cricket, and their first in that country since 1985. The defining image of the game was Australia's disappointed No. 11 Nathan Lyon on his hunches, having added 34 runs for the final wicket.
BOOKS IN THE NEWS: Shoaib Akhtar's tall tales in his autobiography (Controversially Yours) didn't find resonance in India. What worked against him were his flimsy arguments on Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid (' They are not match-winners'). England Graeme Swann also released his autobiography, The Breaks Are Off, and it was a laugh riot. Kevin Pietersen, who's the recipient of some of Swann's uncharitable remarks, says it was a bad idea to write about colleagues he's still playing with. Greg Chappell published his story, Fierce Focus, and says he regrets his falling out with Tendulkar when he was India's coach.
THEIR BATS ALONE DIDN'T DO THE TALKING: What is it with elegant No. 3 batsmen and powerful speeches? The year's top two Test batsmen - Rahul Dravid (at the Sir Donald Bradman Oration) and Kumar Sangakkara (at the MCC Colin Cowdrey Lecture) expounded on the game's history, current concerns and uncertain future. Both speeches won accolades for their foresight and fearless questioning of administrative follies.
AND THEY ALL FALL DOWN: Injuries were expected with so much cricket abound, but 2011 set a record for the number of players that had to pull out of tours. Teams across the world suffered with India particularly troubled. Every day of their England sojourn seemed to bring news of a new injury. Zaheer Khan's limping off on Day 1 at Lord's prompted Andrew Flintoff's prophetic tweet: "If Zaheer doesn't come back on, there goes the number 1 spot!." By the end of the 8-0 hammering over Tests, ODIs and a T20, India were operating with practically a second string side in England.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE:
When Sri Lanka finished runners-up in the World Cup, the year seemed nicely set up for them. But ever since Tillakaratne Dilshan took over the captaincy from Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka haven't won a series in any format. There were also off-field problems: administrative woes, intense politics (setting up ruling party member Sanath Jayasuriya's farcical swansong) and financial problems. The team was left without wages before the ICC paid 45 percent of the delayed salaries in December. But that's not all. With Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement (above) their superstars at the end of their careers with no like-for-like replacements in sight, Sri Lanka's future doesn't appear rosy. But after the many lows, especially Cardiff where they were bowled out for 82, the win in Durban comes as a breather.
YEAR OF THE DEBUTANTS: India's Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron; South African pacers Vernon Philander and Marchant de Lange; the Australian quartet of James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon and Ed Cowan; young New Zealand all-rounder Doug Bracewell; West Indies top-order batsman Kirk Edwards and Bangladesh left-arm spinner Elias Sunny announced their arrivals on the international scene with eye-catching performances for their respective teams.
RIP, PETER, TIGER AND DOLLY: Cricket lost three of its biggest icons this year. Mansur Ali Khan 'Tiger' Pataudi, 70, royalty and arguably India's finest captain succumbed to intense lung infection on September 22. Peter Roebuck, 55, former Somerset captain and the finest cricket writer of his time, met a gory end on November 12 when he jumped off his hotel room window when South African police came to arrest him for an alleged sexual assault. A week later, Basil D'Oliveira, 80, the South African-born all-rounder who played for England, and in doing so, triggered the slow demise of the cruel apartheid regime in South Africa, died November 19, due to Parkinson's disease.
1145 Test runs, five centuries (including his first at Lord's) and a limited-overs recall (two years after being callously axed) which he handled with dignity (choosing to retire immediately after), it was a good year for Rahul Dravid. At 38, faced by an extended lean period marked by self doubt and calls for retirement, he raised his game to add many more chapters to his legend.
TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW: The Decision Review System continues to be a pain point for cricketers, administrators and fans alike. At the heart of the matter, it's a fight between the BCCI (who don't trust the ball-tracking technology and heat-seeking cameras) and the ICC (who have failed to make DRS mandatory for all games). Who's to say if common sense will prevail in 2012.
THE MOMENT THAT NEVER ARRIVED:
After 18 innings, nearly nine months, some close calls (none closer than the 94 on his home ground, where he disappointed countless fans like the one above), we're still waiting for Sachin Tendulkar's 100th international hundred. Realms of newsprint (and its corollaries on the TV and web) have been devoted in anticipation of the ton of tons. Then again, you've got something to look forward to in the New Year.
See ya, folks, and have a terrific 2012!