Cricket Review 2009
In a hotel in Lahore, walking distance from the Gaddafi Stadium, yours truly was having breakfast when some firecrackers went off. It was going to be the third day’s play of the second Test match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. After about ten minutes there was a distressing call. A Sri Lankan cameraman, who was already at the ground, said in the phone that the Sri Lankan team bus had been shot at. This was barely believable. The sound earlier in fact wasn’t firecrackers, it was gunfire.

Having made a beeline to the ground, this writer found that nobody was allowed to enter the ground. Usually, the Sri Lankan passport is not well accepted all around the world. But on this instance, it became handy as the security forces allowed entry to the ground.

Having gone close to the Sri Lankan dressing room you found several players being attended to by the medical staff. Thilan Samaraweera and Ajantha Mendis, two of the worst affected had been taken to an army hospital. The tour was abandoned. The Sri Lankan team was airlifted from the ground to an Air Force base amidst tight security. From there a special flight carried them to Colombo. Cricket lost its innocence that day. Pakistan became a no-go zone to cricket teams for ten years from thereon. They were forced to play their home games at neutral venues like UAE. Several Pakistani commandos lost their lives trying to protect the team and the van that was carrying match officials.

Simon Taufel, one of the respected officials in the game was devastated by the incident and retired prematurely. Ahsan Raza, the local umpire, who was doing fourth umpire’s duty had been critically wounded. He recovered after several months and now has gone on to become an ICC Elite Panel Umpire.

Several players are still carrying mental and physical scars from the shootout.

Pakistan public were so hurt by the incident. Every time the Sri Lankan team now visits Pakistan you find them being given rousing welcomes. Cricket teams when touring Pakistan these days are carried in bullet proof vehicles. There are four layers of special commando forces protecting teams these days. Cricketers are treated like Prime Ministers in Pakistan. Every major team including England and Australia have returned to Pakistan since the incident except India.

The year also saw the T-20 World Cup being held in England and Wales. Pakistan went on to win the title. Younis Khan’s side did something similar to what Imran Khan’s ‘cornered tigers’ had done in 1992, They started off the campaign not so glamorous but gained momentum towards the tail end of the competition and beat Sri Lanka in the final at Lord’s with Shahid Afridi starring with a fine all-round performance.

South Africa created history when they toured Australia this year with a series win. The tour was marred by controversy with the world’s three leading wire services – Reuters, AFP and Associated Press boycotting the series following a dispute with Cricket Australia.

Australia had remained unbeaten in a Test series at home since 1992-93 and this tour brought an end to that with South Africa winning in Perth and MCG. The style with which South Africa did it impressed all.

It was evident that wheels were coming off Aussie juggernaut in the first Test when they failed to defend 414.

It was the post Glenn McGrath – Shane Warne era and the inability to defend such a gigantic total exposed Australia’s bowling deficiencies. Only one other team – West Indies in 2003 had chased more than 414  to win a Test match.

On debut, J.P Duminy showed maturity with an unbeaten half-century.

If Duminy’s debut was promising, his second Test was proof that South Africa had found a gem as he starred with 166 in the Boxing Day Test. It was Dale Steyn, who impressed most with a match bag of ten wickets.

Ricky Ponting missed out on hundreds in each innings having made 101 and 99.

South Africa were left with a target of 183 and they cruised with nine wickets to spare.

Australia fought back to win the final Test but they lost the series and with that the number one rank to South Africa.

Australia would avenge the series defeat when they toured South Africa later in the year with a 2-1 win.

The hero for Australia was the late Philip Hughes. The left-handed opening batter scored over 400 runs averaging 70. Hughes was just 21 at that point and South Africa isn’t the easiest place to score runs, particularly for an opener. It’s further proof what he could have gone on to achieve had he not died aged 25 from a cricket injury.

The first Test belonged to Mitchell Johnson, who starred with bat and the ball.  

Johnson scored an unbeaten 96 and was in with a chance to post his maiden Test hundred but Australia lost their last two wickets in successive balls leaving Johnson stranded. He then claimed eight wickets in the game to help Australia take early lead in the series at the Wanderers.

Hughes hit hundreds in each innings in the Durban Test as Australia claimed a 175-run win to seal the series 2-0 with a game to spare.

In the dead rubber in Cape Town, South Africa secured an innings win. They posted a mammoth 652 with hundreds from Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince and A.B. de Villiers.

Facing a tall order to make South Africa bat again, Australia’s top order failed to bail the side out and it was left for Mitchell Johnson to do the honours. He went onto post a maiden Test hundred smashing 123 off 103 balls with 11 fours and five sixes.

Johnson finished the series with 16 wickets and 255 runs and was Player of the Series.

India recorded their first Test win in New Zealand in 33 years when they won the Hamilton Test, A big hundred from Sachin Tendulkar (160) and six wickets in the second innings by Harbhajan Singh sealed the deal for India.

The Kiwis made merry in the coastal town of Napier when they posted 619 for nine declared with Jesse Ryder making a double hundred and Ross Taylor along with Brendon McCullum posting centuries.

New Zealand even had got India follow on after bowling them out for 305 in the first innings, But India got their act together in the second innings with V.V.S. Laxman and Gautam Gambhir posting hundreds. It was a remarkable effort as India batted for two days and 180 overs to ensure  a draw.

India could have wrapped this series up 2-0 as a target of 617 was out of the equation in Wellington in the third Test. New Zealand had to bat out five sessions to ensure a draw and it wasn’t an easy task. But rain played spoil sport and India were two wickets short when the game came to a close.

Bangladesh created history this year with their first overseas Test series win, which came in the West Indies.

After a 95-run win in Jamaica, Bangladesh secured the series with a hard fought four wicket win in Grenada.

Set a target of 215 to create history, Bangladesh slumped to 67 for four but Shakib-al-Hasan posted an unbeaten 96 to rescue his side. The captain also claimed eight wickets in the game and finished the series with 13 wickets and 159 runs  to be named Player of the Series.

Sadly, Bangladesh played only another Test match in that year.

The Ashes held in England was a classic with the hosts winning 2-1 to regain the urn.

The series saw Cardiff hosting an Ashes Test match for the first time as Old Trafford, one of the regular venues for big games missed out.

England held on for a draw in the opening Test match with their last pair of Monty Panesar and James Anderson hanging on for 35 minutes as Australia were desperately trying to claim the last wicket that would have seen them taking a lead in the series.

Ricky Ponting  completed 10,000 Test runs in this game and during the series went past Allan Border’s tally to become Australia’s leading run scorer in Test match cricket.

The teams moved to London for the Lord’s Test match and Andrew Flintoff announced his retirement from Test cricket at the end of the series. He claimed a five-wicket haul as England won by 115 runs. It was their first win at The Home of Cricket against Australia in 75 years.

Rain washed out most part of the third Test at Edgbaston while Australia hit back at Headingly with a big innings and 80 run win to square the series.

The Oval was going to be the series decider and a cracking contest was expected. As the holders of The Ashes, Australia only needed a draw to retain the urn.

A five-wicket haul by Stuart Broad bowled Australia out for 160 in their first innings and from that point onwards they were playing catch up as England secured a 197-run win,

The year also saw a triple century being made when Younis Khan completed the milestone against Sri Lanka to join the great Hanif Mohammad and Inzamam-up-Haq as only the third Pakistani to the milestone.

It was also a year where two other players fell in 290s. Virender Sehwag was dismissed for 293 against Sri Lanka while Ramnaresh Sarwan was out for 291 against West Indies.

Sehwag was playing an uncharacteristic knock as stumps was approaching on day two. Apparently Rahul Dravid, his partner, told him to slow down and to complete the milestone the next morning. He finished on 284 and the following day gave a return catch to Muttiah Muralitharan seven runs short of what would have been his third triple hundred. At the post-match media briefing, Sehwag joked that he should not have listened to Dravid.