The game is not the same

THERE were some, I suppose, who, when they heard in April of Hansie Cronje's possible involvement in fixing games, felt nothing but righteous indignation that the man had even been accused of such a thing. Then feelings turned against the Indian authorities who had pointed the finger, there were brickbats thrown, there were scornful commentators to point out that the Indian police were not exactly the best people to believe, especially when it came to a matter of corruption.

All that changed after the truth emerged. Innocence died, the man became a villain and, at year's end, he is grimly fighting on to be allowed to be associated with the game in some capacity. He will never play the game again but he knows that he can still milk the game for his livelihood as he always did. Over in India, Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja are getting ready to do the same. And in Pakistan, Salim Malik has sworn to clear his name.

Thus, there isn't a great deal that was worthy of remembering about the game in the year 2000, the year which was awaited with bated breath because it was going to bring the bug of bugs, the Y2K bug, the bug that ultimately never was. My wrap of the year attempts to stay on the field as much as possible; the fixing story has now been played over and over again and I guess we all know that it has marred the game for all time.

England provided something to be admired when they overcame the West Indies in a Test series after a gap of 31 years - and that too resoundingly, twice getting the tourists out for less than 100. The Poms continued with what seems like a resurrection when they beat Pakistan in Pakistan, not something every team can claim to have done. There is hope, therefore, that the Ashes series in 2001 will be something more than a chance for Australia to extend its claim to the sacred urn.

Australia continued to smash everything in its way. As the year ends, they are well on the way to a 4-0 lead over the West Indies and increasing this to 5-0 in Sydney should be nothing but a formality. The tour of India will thus be extremely interesting as the Indians are dying to give back something of what they had to endure when they were last in Australia. Else, the Australians could well go to England looking to make it 19 in a row.

The West Indies sank lower and lower during the year. A new captain and two series wins in the Caribbean proved to be deceptive. Brian Lara pulled out of the captaincy and the team for a while, saying he wanted a break from the game. While he was away, the West Indies won close series against both Zimbabwe and Pakistan. But once he came back, the misery has returned in Australia. Curtley Ambrose retired after taking 405 wickets and Courtney Walsh is set to go early next year. The West Indies selectors continue to behave in a manner befitting those who have an IQ below that of the common cockroach.

New Zealand did pretty well to beat the West Indies and then Zimbabwe. They took an expected hiding from South Africa though the massive injury toll they faced did have something to do with it. And the Kiwis won their first major one-day title, taking the ICC Knockout in Kenya with a scintillating victory over India.

India and Pakistan continue to concentrate on the one-day game though they could not meet as often as possible due to political problems. India were beaten by South Africa at home and now have a foreign coach and a new captain. They both played little Test cricket and what was played is eminently forgettable. Pakistan have a new captain as well. Match-fixing was more of an issue with both teams and this may have had something to do with the depressing year they both had.

Sri Lanka were hit by the fixing row as well. Two senior players moved on, a new skipper came through and the team now looks to be stabilising. The old coach is back and some new faces have made their presence felt.

Zimbabwe continue to be the honest triers. They had some ups, some downs and now have reason to be confident that they can move up in the Test rankings next year. There are no stars in the team and that is a great plus point.

And South Africa, the nation which was rocked in April, has showed its resilience by coming back under a new captain and winning and winning well. Shaun Pollock has the energy of youth and a cricketing heritage and should lead the team to greater heights next year.

Bangladesh entered the portals and did themselves proud initially but then fell flat on their face. I wonder how many Tests the likes of England and Australia will give them in what is now a terribly crowded calendar.

But overall, not much of a year for the game. The Australian feat of improving on the 11-Test win streak took a backseat to the machinations of bookmakers and greedy players. And that says it all.

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