Friday 31 December 2010

The Third Annual OB Innings Of The Year Award

It's odd looking back on the first and second editions of this arbitrary, random and little-known Award [it's not an award that's actually awarded, of course, nor do its recipients know anything about receiving it, and no-one has to turn up at a dodgy casino to collect it but if you are the winner, feel free to email to address on the right...]. The first, offered in 2008, took in a 'career-saving' hundred from Andrew Strauss [fancy that...], and had Virender Sehwag pegged as 'misunderstood' [we hear your truth now, Viru...]; while last year's opened with twin hundreds from Phil Hughes and Cricinfo's opinion that Australia's 'transitional period is over'. And it was, too... just not in the way you thought, boys...

As much as anything they serve notice of the brutal short-termism of writing about sport. Time shifts, contexts change. What's true today is true in a different way tomorrow, let alone next year. But with that, the envelope please... As usual, the criteria for this glittering prize is simple: it has to be an innings played in the last year, that I've seen, either in the flesh or on the box, that upholds the noble principal that a transcendent knock is more than just the numbers in the book, that it's how as well as how many.

There is little doubt about the batsman of the year, or the bat. Sachin Tendulkar has risen again, perhaps higher than ever before, and he has done it with some sort of deeply mysterious, Arturian broadsword in his hand, a bat that has very probably scored more Test match hundreds than any bat ever made. Its middle is blackening now, the cracks horizontal as well as vertical, its deep bow deeply exaggerated by the thousands of balls that it has struck. But what a bat it has been, and no wonder the little master won't lay it to rest. He'll probably have to throw it back into the lake, or at the very least re-insert it into the stone from which it came, because it must have something supernatural about it. Imagine how it feels to hold it, especially now it has struck the man's fiftieth ton. Let's hope it goes to a museum where we can all gaze upon it and wonder. Was Tendulkar ever better than he was in Bangalore in October, a towering 214 in the first innings, and that icy 50-odd not out in the second? It was the match that took him back to the top of the rankings for the ninth time. What a man he is, and has been.

At times, Tendulkar visibly conquered his nerves. Like a genetic freak who feels no pain, VVS Laxman doesn't appear to have any. If the theme of this year has been the final decline of the monolithic Australian empire, then he was the man who knifed them in that deathless next game in Mohali. They say that some blades are so sharp, you don't feel them go in: Laxman's 73 not out left them gutted before they realised it. He did it again in Durban, too, with 96 that set up an equalising win against South Africa, India's potential usurpers.

It's no batsman's year in South Africa - not with those pitches they're doctoring anyhow - and nor was it in a green and grey English summer in which Pakistan's brilliant but tainted seamers bowled some mesmerising stuff. Eoin Morgan delivered a pitch-perfect ODI ton under lights at the Rose Bowl to do in Australia, but then that doesn't quite have the cache it once did. Jonathan Trott served notice of the winter to come with a double at Lord's but surely the best innings of the summer were a brace of hundreds from Tamim Iqbal at Lord's and then Old Trafford. His eye is as pure as his heart, and Bangladesh have a true star in their midst.

Jacques Kallis got a hair transplant and a double hundred back to back, and it's hard to decide which one was more impressive, but then it's easy to be blase about Jacques. You get the feeling he's Jonathan Trott's hero, though, and KP named him the greatest cricketer ever, albeit via the underwhelming medium of Twitter.

For an Englishman though, 2010 has been about England versus Australia, first in the Carribbean at the T20 World Cup and then in Oz itself [and it really has been like Oz rather than Aus, hasn't it, we certainly ain't in Kansas any more...]. Mike Hussey's knee-trembling last-over semi-final hitathon was gobsmacking, and his renaissance in the Ashes Tests proves that it doesn't always hurt to be a nice guy in love with the game. He is a man beyond cynicism. Well played, Huss.

But it's England who have prevailed and the T20 final perhaps carries more weight than it seems. Australia had found a key to their T20 cricket at last, pairing Shaun Tait and Dirk Nannes as the short-form, less hairy Lillee and Thommo. They were terrifyingly quick [T20 will surely be the arena for the world's fastest bowling in the future], yet come the final, the team visibly cracked when Kevin Pietersen simply walked down the wicket to Tait and deposited him into the crowd over long off. Suddenly the mirage of England actually winning a limited overs trophy became solid. Kieswetter's violent unpredictability played its part, but Pietersen's eye and skill were unmatchable.

Strange that his year bowed so much in the middle, but the double ton in Adelaide pointed to a new, less fraught KP. Again, Australia could not bowl to him. England's sheer weight of runs have, along with a new bowling potency, retained the Ashes, and outside of Pietersen, they have been scored by the side's great pragmatists: Strauss, Cook and Trott.

Of all of them, few moments matched the one when those of us in the Northern hemisphere awoke to news of the fourth day's play in Brisbane. Here was a Test match drowning in hype that began with England losing a wicket to the third ball of the series, so often the kind of portent that has heralded disaster. Instead, the scoreboard read 309-1. England's flag was in the beach, Australia's bowlers undermined. It was Cook who blunted them, and come the end of his epic, bloodless, 235 not out, he was honest enough to admit that he wasn't certain that he actually had it in him until his moment came.

Therein is the greatness of the game and what it offers to its combatants. It wasn't the most beautiful innings ever played, but it was symbolic of the trajectories of both teams: they crossed as one rose and one fell. Cookie, with your girlie eyes and iffy backlift, we salute you: the innings of the year is yours.


Brit said...

Great stuff, and hard to argue with your conclusion. Cook's was the innings that shattered the greatest cricketing nation's self-belief.

Dean @ Cricket Betting Blog said...

Not sure I'd agree with Cook's innings, I'll have to think about that one as I'm not sure.

It's also not unusal for KP to over egg a tweet. All Kallis needs to do now is get the gaps in his teeth sorted and it will justify getting his hair done.

On reflection, I've come up with, not my innings of the year, but my player of the year.

It has got to be Paul Collingwood for all those solid performances we are continually told he puts in behind the scenes on his way to becoming the best test batsman in world cricket at preforming in the dressing room.

Dean @ Cricket Betting Blog said...

'performing' in the dressing room, even.

If I'm going to take the piss out of Colin Wood, the least I can do is spell it right.

Anonymous said...

Despite all these good things, and the shadow of corruption, I'd go for Broad's knock of 169 at Lord's. This combined the maximum of unlikelihood with watchfulness and aggression, and reduced the opponents to mush. Of course, nobody knew at the time that they were throwing the match.....

The Old Batsman said...

And Jacques needs to get a bit of weight off now, too. Arf. Imagine how big he'll become in retirement...

Should have given broad's knock a mention actually - good shout, anon...

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