England on top as fixing still haunts cricket


Cricket and controversy, never far apart, were closely linked in a year where England finally achieved their long-held objective of climbing to the top of the world Test rankings. Nothing that happened on the field in 2011 rocked world cricket quite like the jail sentences handed down by an English court to former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif for their roles in a ‘spot-fixing’ scam during last year’s Lord’s Test against England. But the fact the case came to light as a result of a newspaper investigation left many asking what was the point of the International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption unit.
England had gone 21 years without winning a series in Australia but a 3-1 Ashes triumph sealed in January, with all three victories coming by innings margins, ended that barren spell in emphatic fashion. Alastair Cook made a colossal 766 runs in the Ashes series and the Essex left-hander carried on during England’s 4-0 home Test rout of World Cup winners India, including a monumental 294 at Edgbaston. Australia’s woes continued even after the Ashes, with their batsmen looking especially vulnerable against swing and seam bowling.
In November, Australia slumped to 47 all out against South Africa in Cape Town, with debutant fast-medium bowler Vernon Philander taking a stunning five for 15 in seven overs. Then New Zealand, without injured all-rounder Daniel Vettori, enjoyed their first Test win on Australian soil in 26 years. Seamer Doug Bracewell, took six for 40 as New Zealand won by seven runs in Hobart in a match where Australia had needed just 82 runs for victory with eight wickets standing, Zimbabwe, after six years of self-imposed exile sparked by a race row over selection, returned to Test cricket in August with a 130-run win over Bangladesh — a result that said as much about the losers as anything else. In an age of few genuine fast bowlers, South Africa quick Dale Steyn’s average of 22.82 stands comparison with the all-time greats. In December he became the second fastest bowler in history to take 250 Test wickets, reaching the landmark in his 49th Test — one more than legendary Australia fast bowler Dennis Lillee.
“There’s no doubt for me that he’s the best South African bowler we’ve seen thus far — at least since readmission in 1991,” said former Proteas seamer and captain Shaun Pollock. “His ability to swing the ball away with incredible pace is phenomenal.”
West Indies cricket was overshadowed by the stand-off between Chris Gayle and Caribbean administrators which deprived a largely young team of a fine batsman.
But having gone 2-0 down in their series in India, they battled back in the Mumbai finale which ended in a draw with the scores level — only the second time this had happened in Test history. This year saw the deaths of several prominent cricketers including former India captain the Nawab of Pataudi, Australia’s Sam Loxton and ex-England all-rounder Trevor Bailey, with Graham Dilley, one of the heroes of England’s ‘500-1’ win against Australia at Headingley in 1981, passing away aged just 52.
Meanwhile former Somerset captain turned cricket journalist Peter Roebuck leapt to his death in bizarre circumstances in South Africa. But in terms of their impact on both world cricket and wider society, few could match Basil D’Oliveira, who died in November aged 80.
D’Oliveira became an England all-rounder after his path was blocked in his native apartheid-era South Africa, an impressive enough achievement in itself. But he made front-page headlines in 1968 when he was included in the England squad for the tour of South Africa which was called off when the South African government refused to accept his presence. It marked the start of South Africa’s cricketing isolation, which would last until the early 1990s.