Asia felt the heat in the year gone by


Three Pakistani stars being jailed for spot-fixing in England underlined a mixed year for cricket in Asia despite India’s memorable World Cup triumph at home in April.
Pakistan’s resurgence on the field under Misbah-ul-Haq held out hope that all was not lost for the troubled nation, but the region endured more lows than highs over the past 12 months.
India’s status as cricket’s nerve-centre took a beating as attendences dwindled for even home one-day internationals, TV ratings dropped and sponsors contemplated other options.
Even the Indian Premier League, facing a high-powered government investigation for alleged financial irregularities and money laundering, lacked the buzz that was seen in the previous three seasons.
Viewer-fatigue had clearly taken its toll and the time to act had come, said veteran Indian batsman Rahul Dravid while delivering the Sir Donald Bradman Oration in Canberra on December 14.
“Since about, I think 1985, people have been saying there is too much meaningless one-day cricket,” said Dravid. “Maybe it’s finally time to do something about it.
India’s euphoria over winning the limited-overs World Cup at home in April was short-lived as Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men were dethroned as the number one Test side after a 4-0 walloping in England. Sri Lanka, who lost to India in the World Cup final in Mumbai, have tumbled downhill and not won a Test match since the retirement of world bowling record holder Muttiah Muralitharan in July 2010.
Bangladesh showed no signs of improvement, even suffering an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe in August on the African nation’s return to Test cricket after six years.
The cricketing world was shamed when a British judge jailed three Pakistani stars, including former captain Salman Butt, and their agent in November for their part in a spot-fixing scandal.
Butt, 27, was handed a 30-month sentence, Mohammad Asif, 28, was jailed for a year and 19-year-old Mohammad Amir was sentenced to six months in a young offenders’ institution after being found guilty of fixing parts of a Test match against England in 2010.
The players’ British agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, who was caught in a sting by the now defunct News of the World newspaper sting, pleaded guilty and was sent to prison for two years and eight months. Pakistan did well to put aside the scandal and revive their fortunes on the field, highlighed by their success over Sri Lanka in all three formats of the game in the neutral venue of the United Arab Emirates.
Off-spinner Saeed Ajmal is the leading wicket-taker in Tests this year, while three Pakistani bowlers — Shahid Afridi, Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez — are among the top six in one-day internationals. Pakistan’s biggest challenge will come at the start of the new year when they host the world’s number one side England in three Test matches in the UAE. India made amends for the humiliation in England by an expected resurgence at home where they blanked England 5-0 in a one-day series and followed that with a 2-0 Test and 4-1 one-day success over struggling West Indies. Dravid, whose three centuries in England was the lone bright spot in India’s dismal series in England, became the first batsman to score more than 1,000 runs this year with five hundreds. Millions in India and abroad continued to wait for Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international century continued as the master fell for 91 in the Oval Test against England and then for 94 against the West Indies at home in Mumbai. But Tendulkar, now into his 23rd year in international cricket, appeared unfazed by the hype, saying 100 hundreds was “just a number” and wondered what the fuss was about. “When I got my 90th international century, nobody said anything,” he said. “Even before my 99th century, nobody said anything. So why now? I don’t understand.”