South Africa step up as Stanford stuns cricket

South Africa had every reason to look back fondly on 2008, a year in which Allen Stanford became a name known to all cricket fans and the once all-conquering Australia came back to the pack.

Even before the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne started, the Proteas had arguably completed their best year since the end of their apartheid-induced exile in 1991.

Their six-wicket win against Australia in the Perth series opener, where South Africa chased down 414 to record the second-highest fourth innings winning total in Test history, was the latest of several impressive results on the road this year.

They shared the spoils in India and then enjoyed a first series win in England since 1965 as the Proteas, led from the front by batsman Graeme Smith, began to rid themselves of their unwanted tag of chokers.

With India, inspired by Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, getting 387 to beat England at Chennai, the question, as the year ended with a dearth of truly great bowlers, was what now constituted an
unassailable target?

Here perhaps was a sign of the beneficial effect of Twenty20 on Test cricket—teams were chasing totals that would have overawed their predecessors.

How beneficial the Stanford Twenty20 was to anyone but the Caribbean Superstars who thrashed England by 10 wickets to claim the million dollars-a-man winner-takes-all prize, was a much-debated point.

In a year which saw the launch of the Indian Premier League, it was hard to think cricket could engage in a more nakedly commercial enterprise.

Yet from the moment Stanford arrived at Lord’s in June with a box full of millions of dollars and proclaiming his Twenty20 “Super Series” could crack the US television market, the Texan billionaire’s
intentions were clear.

Stanford—who freely admitted he found Tests ‘boring’—was slammed for bouncing the wife of one of the England players on his knee during the Antigua matches and by the end of the year he was reviewing his cricket commitments.

In the Test arena, Australia looked what they were: a team without two of the best bowlers cricket had known in the now retired duo of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

That made life tricky enough for Australia captain Ricky Ponting who endured a difficult 2008.

First Ponting, still a superb batsman, was a leading figure in the row over whether India’s Harbhajan Singh, ultimately cleared of the charge, had racially abused Andrew Symonds.

Then, as if losing 2-0 in India—themselves beaten at home by Sri Lanka—wasn’t bad enough, Ponting was accused of putting himself before the team by employing part-time bowlers in the fourth Test at
Nagpur so as to avoid a slow over-rate induced suspension from the ensuing first Test against New Zealand.

Elsewhere Smith, who as a 22-year-old skipper saw off one England captain in Nasser Hussain, saw off another in Michael Vaughan.

England’s Ashes-winning leader of 2005 had struggled for fitness and, latterly, form in the intervening three years.

Meanwhile, in 2008, England couldn’t beat anyone in a Test series other than New Zealand, one of the five-day game’s weakest teams, who saw John Bracewell quit as their coach.

Kevin Pietersen took over from Vaughan and led England to five straight wins over South Africa (one Test and four one-dayers), the land of his birth.

Even more importantly, he helped persuade England to return to India after the Mumbai attacks—a reminder that India, cricket’s commercial powerhouse, and the world game need one another.

New Zealand’s series with the West Indies would have been forgettable but for the Black Caps’ Daniel Flynn, on 95 and in sight of a maiden Test hundred, becoming the first cricketer to be given out leg
before by television replay in a Test.

Neither team were fans of a system open to abuse as players, not officials, initiated the referral process.

Pakistan became a no-go area for top sides on security grounds while Zimbabwe, despite their ongoing absence from Tests, sparked the early departure of International Cricket Council chief executive Malcolm Speed.

The Australian exited following the global governing body’s failure to take significant action after an audit questioned Zimbabwe Cricket’s finances.

Speed saved one of his most interesting comments for when he was out of office, saying India should not be regarded as cricket’s bogeyman.

“Cricket is the most popular sport by a factor of about 30 in the second-most populous country in the world.

“The game needs to find ways to use that unique selling point. There is too much fear of an Indian takeover and the power of the Indian administrators.” - AFP


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