Cricket's top five moments for 2018
Here in the news business we talk about a “one story weekend”, which happens — historically in the Sunday papers, hence the term — when a story bursts its banks and swamps every publication out there.
That’s what we have on our hands when it comes to summarising 2018’s cricket highlights.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving to the game’s journalists everywhere, and here it is again on top of our pile of this year’s top five moments in cricket.
1) The Newlands ball-tampering scandal
It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving, less forgivable, nastier bunch than David Warner’s Australians.
Steve Smith was their captain but he was little more than a naïve weakling sniffing in the deep, dark shadow cast by the unbridled ego of a man who pumped poisoned blood through the heart of the team he was selected to serve with honour.
Instead Warner left stains of deep dishonour almost everywhere he went on Australia’s tour of South Africa last summer — in the middle and on the stairs at Kingsmead, where he unleashed a torrent of invective that would have got him properly m**red had he done so in a bar, in the stands at St George’s Park, where uncivilised louts who knew one when they saw one thought nothing of punishing Warner’s wife for her husband’s transgressions, and at Newlands, where he engineered a ball-tampering plot.
With Smith’s knowledge and acquiescence, Cameron Bancroft rubbed the ball with sandpaper.
And when the dirty dealings were exposed on television — well done SuperSport, but when are you going to catch the home side at it? — Warner was nowhere to be seen.
He left the explaining to Smith and Bancroft but happily he didn’t get away and has been fined and banned to within an inch of the remaining life of his career as a blot on professional cricket.
2) The fallout from the Newlands ball-tampering scandal
The way Australians went on after all that was exposed you’d have thought the players had been caught buying cocaine from trafficked child prostitutes whose pimps were using the proceeds to fund terrorism.
Led by their prime minister, who is no longer in the job (can’t say we’re surprised), they expressed shades of shock and horror not seen outside of times of war or natural disaster.
Did the Aussies honestly think their cricketers were too decent to sully themselves in this way?
How could they not take exception to how Warner behaved and yet deplore his involvement in ball-tampering?
Did they seriously think the world saw Australia through some kind of cricket prism, and so a self-inflicted injury to their team was an injury to all Australians?
Calm down, Aussie, calm down, calm down …
Calm down, Aussie, calm down.
3) Home at last
South Africa went into last summer not having won a Test series at home against Australia since re-admission, and despite having won two over there.
Happily for them, they remedied that state of affairs in fine style in 2017-18.
It helped that the Aussies self-destructed — see above — but South Africa needed to play fine cricket to put them under the sort of pressure that led them to act with such recklessness.
Two centuries by Aiden Markram and one each by Dean Elgar, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, Kagiso Rabada’s sometimes too fiery fast bowling, Du Plessis’ insightful captaincy and Ottis Gibson’s calm approach to coaching got the job done wonderfully well.
4) KG grows up … we hope
Kagiso Rabada had suffered another brain fart and he knew it: “It’s going to have to stop. I can’t keep doing this because I’m letting the team down and I’m letting myself down.”
Rabada had made no attempt to evade Steve Smith after dismissing him at St George’s Park.
Consequently and deservedly his shoulder charge landed him in trouble with the suits and he was slapped with enough demerit points to trigger a ban.
Only the intervention of another suit, Dali Mpofu, got him off the hook.
“He’s been made aware of his on-field celebration,” Ottis Gibson said.
“I don’t want to say behaviour because he’s not a badly behaved kid. He’s just very excited and exuberant sometimes.
“And when you’re playing against the best team in the world sometimes that comes out of you.
“In all the stuff that he did there was no aggressive intent other than celebrating a wicket.
“But we’ve made him aware of the batsman’s space and where his space needs to be.”
Rabada bowled magnificently in that match to take 11/150, and as things stand he is the leading wicket-taker among all Test fast bowlers this year.
It seems he has learnt his lesson, although there were flickers of the Smith stupidness in a confrontation with another bloody Australian, Chris Lynn, in a one-day international in Adelaide last month.
5) Viva Virat
And now for someone completely different.
Virat Kohli has grown from the unpleasant brat he was on South Africa’s tour to India in 2015 — when he stalked the ground looking as unhappy as a hamster with haemorrhoids and argued with the press like the poor man’s José Mourinho — into the most angrily erudite man in all of cricket.
Far from trying to avoid controversy Kohli seems to go out of his way to attract it, and he is more than happy to discuss why he does things the way he does them.
Best of all he can walk the walk as well as he talks the talk.
His 153 at Centurion will shimmer in many memories for many years, and amid all the whining about the state of the Wanderers pitch he shut up and scored 54 and 41.
No-one has scored more centuries in 2018 than Kohli, who has five, and no-one else has made more than a thousand runs.
Watching Kohli’s barely bridled aggression, whether in the field or at the crease, is worth the price of admission on its own. His fire fuels his team to play better cricket. Are you watching, Mr Warner?
Cricket could do with more Kohlis. Pity there can be only one.
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