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Kaif's NatWest final knock was the best
January 07, 2003
The 2002 calendar year is in the books, and while the international cricket caravan hardly misses a beat as the 2002/'03 southern hemisphere season continues apace, it is time to reflect for a moment on the cricketing events of the previous 12 months, consider the highs and lows, and hand out some awards.
It is fair to say that international cricket experienced a mixed year. On the field, the gap between the best and the rest was underlined at the start of the year, with Australia rounding off a whitewash of the Proteas at home followed by a 2-1 win in South Africa. At the other end of the spectrum, Zimbabwe and in particular Bangladesh were uncompetitive, losing all their matches.
Apart from Australia, New Zealand were the only other country to win abroad against an established Test team, winning a two-Test series in West Indies 1-0. Otherwise, familiar patterns continued, as most teams found it difficult to win away. Sri Lanka thrashed Bangladesh and Zimbabwe at home but were soundly beaten in England and South Africa, India improved but not enough for a breakthrough away series victory in either West Indies, England or New Zealand, while West Indies' road back to respectability remained an arduous one.
Off the field, it was turmoil, as world events impacted upon the itinerary. West Indies refused to tour Pakistan. Australia refused to tour Zimbabwe. New Zealand had their tour of Pakistan terminated when a bomb exploded outside their hotel. Also, wrangling continued at the administrative level, as the integrity of the ICC's revenue-raising Champions Trophy was threatened by the revelation players had had their image rights signed away to the ICC's business partner. Oops!
Meanwhile, the game itself continued to evolve, with the record for fastest Test double century being broken and re-broken by Adam Gilchrist and Nathan Astle respectively, and on-field umpires for the first time being allowed to consult the third umpire on any aspect of a decision at the Champions Trophy.
Cricket also recorded two notable losses in 2002, with the shock deaths of Ben Hollioake and Hansie Cronje.
Now, to the awards.
Best Test series:
In 2001, this would have been a no-brainer. Unfortunately, in 2002, while we still saw some remarkable individual and team performances at Test level, no series really captured the imagination and produced a truly gripping contest. Australia-South Africa saw some outstanding cricket, but the series was hardly in doubt. India-England had its moments, the batting of Dravid and Vaughan a feature, but in the final Test neither team was able to deliver.
The best Test series of 2002 was England's three-match affair with New Zealand in March. In an extraordinary first Test, Graeme Thorpe powered to an unbeaten 200 and Andrew Flintoff smashed 137, sharing a 281-run partnership for the sixth wicket after coming together with England only 187 ahead in the second innings.
Set 550 to win, Nathan Astle went wild, slamming 11 sixes and 28 fours in scorching to 222 from 168 balls, last man out as New Zealand fell 99 runs short. The second Test was rain affected, while Daryl Tuffey had match figures of 9/116 as New Zealand bowled England out on the last day to win by 78 and share the series.
Best Test match:
Two matches come to mind most prominently, not because they were epic contests, but because they saw the most complete team performances.
First, in February, Australia went to South Africa looking to continue their domination of the Proteas. In the first Test in Johannesburg, Australia played virtually the perfect match, winning by an innings and 360 runs to record the second largest win in Test history. Adam Gilchrist made a record 204 not out, with centuries also to Hayden and Martyn, as the Aussies declared at 652/7, before proceeding to bowl South Africa out for 159 and 133 in less than 90 total overs to win in three days. Considering they were up against the team considered to be their closest rivals, away from home, it was as well as any team could be expected to play.
The other match to feature, for similar reasons, was India's dominating third Test victory against England at Headingley. Traditionally poor tourists, India were 1-0 down on a seaming pitch, and faced with attempting to the level the series in adverse circumstances. They did, reversing their series fortunes with a complete performance. Bangar, Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly all made important contributions as India declared at 628/8, bringing Kumble and Harbhajan into the game as England were bowled out for 273 and 309 to win by an innings and 46 runs.
Also memorable for sheer domination was Pakistan's crushing three-day defeat of New Zealand in the only Test of that series in May. Inzamam-ul-Haq made 329 as Pakistan amassed 643, before Shoaib Akhtar blasted the Kiwis out for 73 – a mere first innings lead of 570. A Shoaib-less Pakistan wrapped up the second innings for 246, winning by an innings and 324.
Best Test innings (batsman):
Despite Inzamam's triple hundred against New Zealand, the 10th highest score of all time, it is difficult to go past Adam Gilchrist's 204 not out against South Africa at the Wanderers. Coming in at 293/5, Gilchrist shared a partnership of 317 with Damien Martyn, striking 19 fours and 8 sixes in an innings of controlled, calm domination, the likes of which only he can play. Gilchrist's 200 was raised from only 212 balls, breaking Ian Botham's record of 220 balls, set in 1982.
An honourable mention must also go to Nathan Astle, who shattered Gilchrist's record just a few weeks later with an amazing double hundred from only 153 balls in a losing cause against England.
Best Test innings (bowler):
Shoaib Akhtar, 5/21 vs Australia in Colombo.
In the first Test of a series played on neutral territory, Australia were comfortably placed after the first innings against the dangerous Pakistanis. Despite losing their last five first innings wickets for 10 runs, Australia were 262 ahead with 9 second innings wickets in hand before Shoaib Akhtar struck in the most lethal spell of the year. Bowling at fearsome pace, Shoaib removed Ponting, Waugh and Waugh in the space of four deliveries. Ponting played on for seven, Mark Waugh had his stumps rattled for a duck and Steve Waugh was trapped in front also for no score.
Shoaib followed this up by ripping one through the defence of Gilchrist and having Warne caught at short leg, as the Aussies crashed for 127. While there were better hauls -- most notably Muralitharan's 9/51 from 40 overs against Zimbabwe -- including by Shoaib himself with a similarly hostile 6/11 in the above-mentioned Test with New Zealand, considering the calibre of the opposition this was the bowling performance of the year.
India vs England at Lord's, NatWest Final.
This was a one-day international for the ages. Apart from the miraculous comeback itself, what made it special was the emotion, India overcoming their recent history of failure in finals, and the fact that it was achieved on the back of innings by two young batsmen who did not understand when they were beaten.
England made 325 and India's chase appeared doomed at 146/5 after 24 overs. However, a partnership of 121 between Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif, and particularly the remarkable composure of the inexperienced Kaif, got India across the line.
Best ODI innings (bat):
Given that it was a final and considering the pressure of recent history, his relative experience and the circumstances of the game, Mohammad Kaif's 87 not out from 75 balls in the NatWest final, batting at No. 7, was the best of the year. Virender Sehwag's blistering 126 against England in the Champions Trophy is also worthy of mention.
Best ODI innings (ball):
Shoaib Akhtar, 6/16 vs New Zealand at Karachi.
In a series in which he bowled a delivery timed at a world record 161km, Shoaib destroyed New Zealand in the first ODI in April, claiming six of the last seven wickets to fall and returning figures of 9-1-16-6 as Pakistan won comprehensively.
ODI team of the Year:
Australia / India.
Had these two teams met in 2002, it would have been easier to separate them. India had victory in the NatWest series and a shared Champions Trophy, while Australia defeated South Africa in South Africa and shared a tri-series trophy with Pakistan.
Despite failing to qualify for the VB series finals and sacking Steve and Mark Waugh, Australia finished 2002 with the best win percentage, as India slipped towards the end of the year with losses against West Indies and New Zealand. On the other hand, India played more matches, and Australia lost to Pakistan at home.
India's unparalleled batting depth and injection of youth made it one of the best two teams, while a change of captaincy and the permanent introduction of Hayden saw Australia remain just as strong.
Test team of the Year:
Were it not for the loss in the third Test to South Africa in March, when the Proteas successfully chased 340 to win, Australia would have been on a 13-Test winning streak by the end of 2002. That loss was the only blot on an otherwise perfect 10-1 record.
Matthew Hayden remained a behemoth at the top of the order, Ricky Ponting displayed his best Test form and Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne took 116 wickets between them. Pakistan were demolished for a stunning 59 and 53 in a two-day win in Sharjah, and another Ashes series was swiftly clinched in 11 days. Despite the retirement of Mark Waugh and the struggles of Steve, Australia remained No. 1.
Batsman of the Year:
A close call with Michael Vaughan and Rahul Dravid. Both had higher aggregates than Hayden, but while Dravid was a model of consistency and a shining light for his team in England, and Vaughan realised his potential spectacularly to prove himself world-class, Matthew Hayden stood tallest with 1160 runs in 11 Tests at 72.50. Hayden scored six hundreds and three fifties against respectable opposition in matches against South Africa, Pakistan and England.
Bowler of the Year:
A revitalised, fit Warne continued his renaissance as a Test bowler, claiming 67 wickets in 10 matches at less than 20 apiece. With a new commitment to fitness, Warne appeared a potent bowler again, along with McGrath a cornerstone of Australia's attack. He enjoyed a particularly productive series against Pakistan, with 27 wickets in 3 Tests.
Newcomer of the Year:
India's baby-faced keeper made a positive impression from the time he made his debut as a 17-year-old in the second Test against England. In addition to his composure behind the stumps, he also displayed courage with the bat, making an important 19 not out on debut. A player of promise.
Cricketer of the Year:
Started the year with a hundred in the third Test against South Africa in Sydney and finished it with another in the fourth against England in Melbourne, consistently providing his side with excellent starts and scoring at a rapid pace. After replacing Mark Waugh, Hayden was also consistently a force as a one-day opener, with 878 runs at 54.87.
Powerful and possessing excellent judgement, Hayden was an intimidating presence in more ways than one in 2002, and played as well as anybody.