Looking back at 2012, it was not the greatest year for England after the glorious successes of the previous campaign, but it ended with a stunning success in India.
From the Kevin Pietersen debacle and under-performance in the World Twenty20, to the poor performances against Pakistan in the UAE and a home series defeat to South Africa, England did not have much to remember fondly until the winter tour.
But the colourful triumph of a resurgent West Indies side in the shortest form of the game and the unwavering rise to glory from South Africa provided much to be admired.
There have been incredible individual performances, inspired team efforts and the usual comical administrative blunders and absurd celebrations and quotes.
This is Cow Corner's alternative review of 2012 - the cricketing year.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
South Africa look to be on the cusp of establishing a dynasty as they backed up their coronation as world number one - a status secured after their 2-0 series thumping of England - with a 1-0 series win in Australia to finish an exhausting year unbeaten in 10 Tests, with nine of them coming on tour. The fearsome fast bowling trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander were supplemented by the evergreen all-round talent of Jacques Kallis, while Hashim Amla can lay claim to being the most consistent batsman in world cricket. Led by the domineering Graeme Smith and the ever-astute Gary Kirsten, expect the Proteas to continue flourishing in 2013 and to extend their stint at the top of world cricket. After the series win in Australia, an unusually gushy Smith said: "I am extremely humbled. For us it means the world. We have been a part of something really incredible and special. This is the proudest achievement of my career."
BATSMEN OF THE YEAR
Sri Lanka's masterful batsman Kumar Sangakkara was named ICC cricketer of the year in September after scoring 1,444 runs in 14 Tests, while Australia captain Michael 'Pup' Clarke became the first to score four double-centuries in a calendar year. Clarke began the year with an unbeaten 329 against India in Sydney, added 210 against the same team in Adelaide and torched South Africa with double tons in consecutive home Tests. Also worth mentioning were the consistent exploits of Amla for South Africa - who scored 311 not out at The Oval - and the relentless run-accumulator, England captain Alastair Cook, whose hugely impressive CV now includes an England record of 23 Test centuries.
BOWLERS OF THE YEARNot a man too many people would have noticed, but Rangana Herath's 60 wickets from nine Tests at 22.03 means that irrespective of what he goes on to achieve in the Boxing Day Test against Australia, the Sri Lankan will end the year as the leading wicket-taker in Tests. Herath, standing all of 5' 7" and with a body shape which suggests the rigorous fitness regimes of the 21st century cricketer may have passed him by, had Muttiah Muraliatharan's boots to fill, and has done so impressively in a struggling team. Graeme Swann (59), James Anderson (48), and Stuart Broad (40) all occupy top five spots on that list, while Vernon Philander (43 wickets at 21.11) proved that he is no flash in the pan.
FAREWELL OF THE YEAR
Ricky Ponting was desperate to go out with a bang, but even Clarke's incredible efforts were not enough to defeat the Proteas, whose 309-run win in the third and final Test in Perth spoiled the former skipper's final international match. The 38-year-old signed off his career with only eight runs in his final innings to finish with 13,378 runs in Tests - the second-highest tally after Sachin Tendulkar. Ponting was carried aloft by his team-mates around the ground, before being joined by his "new team" - his wife and kids. One legendary batsman is clinging on to his career, however. The 39-year-old Tendulkar continues to trudge on for India, even if he has just stepped down from the ODI team, and he will best remember the year by his 100th international century, in a one-day match against Bangladesh in March. A mention also for fellow Indian Rahul 'The Wall' Dravid, who left the game with some tear-jerking sentiments: "It has been 16 years since I first played a Test match for India, and I feel it's time for me to move on and let a new generation of players make their own history. I leave the game with wonderful memories and strong friendships. It is a great gift to have."
A SAD WAY TO GO
One sad point for South Africa, and for the wider cricketing world, was the exit of talismanic wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, who was forced to quit international cricket after a bail struck his left eye during a tour match against Somerset. It was a horrible, freak injury and a desperately sad way for such a central figure of the world's top side to depart the scene. However, the South African players admitted that it knit them closer together as a side for their successful series in England, and they touchingly dedicated their number one status to their 'friend and inspiration - Bouch'.
CELEBRATION OF THE YEAR
West Indies have had little to celebrate since their all-conquering days ended in the early 1990s, but victory over hosts Sri Lanka in the World Twenty20 final gave the Caribbean side their biggest prize since the one-day championship in 1979. Marlon Samuels blasted a 56-ball 78 after the ever-charismatic Chris Gayle failed with the bat in the 36-run win, but the opener made amends with his flamboyant celebrations. Forget the cringeworthy Gangnam-style dance routines - this was joyous and it was wonderful. Seeing Gayle dive across and ruin photos as administrators posed alongside the trophy was as entertaining, as were his minute-by-minute updates of the team's antics out on the town afterwards on Twitter.
REINTEGRATION OF THE YEAR
England continued their love-hate relationship with adopted son Kevin Pietersen, after he was dumped from the Test team for admitting to sending provocative text messages about then-captain Strauss to members of the South Africa Test side. "It's tough being me in this dressing room," he said after the draw with South Africa at Headingley in August. He was dropped for the deciding Test in the interests of team harmony; but following a public apology and a renewed commitment to playing for England in all three forms of the game, the 32-year-old blasted 186 against India in Mumbai in his second Test back after returning to the national fold. Even Giles Clarke is now able to admit that the man he referred to in criminal terms has finally been "reintegrated".
EPIC FARCE OF THE YEAR
MONEY-GRABBING SERIES OF THE YEAR
It was a series supposedly about getting England decent preparation ahead of the 2015 World Cup, but it smacked of greed having Australia tour yet again for a one day series for the second year running. Once the Old Enemy arrived though, England stormed to a 4-0 win with one rained off. Quite an achievement, it has to be said, amidst the sense of the series' irrelevance.
THE DARKER SIDE OF THE GAME
Match-fixing continued to haunt the game in 2012. Former Pakistan and Essex leg-spinner Danish Kaneria was banned for life by the ECB after being found guilty of corruption. Meanwhile, his Essex team-mate, Mervyn Westfield, was jailed for four months and banned from cricket for five years after pleading guilty to the charge of accepting money to underperform. India's cricket board banned one uncapped player for life for corruption and handed out lesser punishments to four others in June, and a TV sting by a broadcaster from the same country led to six umpires from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka being provisionally suspended by the ICC after appearing to agree to spot-fix matches.
RECORDS TO SHOUT ABOUT
Australia's David Warner helped rewrite the record books by scoring the fastest century by a Test opener in his 69-ball ton against India in Perth. Bangladesh's Abul Hasan, meanwhile, became the first number 10 to score a ton on debut in more than 100 years with his 113 in the second home Test against West Indies in November. Opening batsman Richard Levi, who has been otherwise rubbish all year, thundered the fastest international T20 century with a 45-ball century for South Africa against New Zealand in Hamilton, smashing a record 13 sixes on his way to an unbeaten 117.
RECORD TO FORGET ABOUT
South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir held a much less enviable record - he was belted for 260 runs by Australia's batsmen in Adelaide, the most runs conceded in Test cricket without taking a wicket. Surely it's no wonder, therefore, that the spinner's wicket-taking celebrations are so frenzied and hysterical. It's what the dry-as-sherry Duncan Fletcher would simply describe as "character building".
ENGLAND'S HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR
England's 2-1 Test series win in India in December, their first there since 1985 and India's first home series defeat in eight years, was a remarkable achievement. Described as the "final frontier" by Ponting when his Australia side were on top of the world, England rose to the challenge and even recovered from a Test down to prevail. Alastair Cook thrived as England captain with the bat and in the field after replacing the retired Andrew Strauss before the series. "I think it's on a par with the Ashes," an emotional Cook said. "As an Englishman, winning in Australia after so long meant a huge amount. But in that dressing room there for that last half an hour, knowing what we had achieved, it was a very special place and it will live long in my memory."
WHAT A SHOT TO END ENGLAND'S YEAR...
It was the very last act of the entire year, and what a way to end it. A six to win the game with three required off the last ball - step up, captain Eoin Morgan. The diminutive Irishman held his nerve - despite needless mindgames and gamesmanship from MS Dhoni's India - and his poise to bludgeon a quite breathtakingly glorious blow straight back over the bowler's head and into the stands. Morgan duly sprinted off in a delirious celebration, waving his bat above his head. The only shame was that it came after the World T20, rather than during it.
WHAT WILL BE THE HIGHLIGHT OF 2013?
Two Ashes series, that's what. England will be looking to retain the urn once more and record a third-successive series victory over the Old Enemy on home soil, before heading Down Under once more to seek to emulate their historic triumph in 2010/11. England are facing the same opposition in back-to-back series - at home next summer and away in the winter - to prevent a quick turnaround between the Ashes and the World Cup, which takes place in Australia in early 2015. It should be an incredible year of cricket.
What were your highlights of 2012 and how will you remember the cricketing year? Post your thoughts and comments below...
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