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The 2008 year of cricket in review

By Chris Matthews

Published: 11:44AM Wednesday December 24, 2008 Source: ONE Sport

Like a Shane Warne musical, 2008 had it all. It was a year of high drama that had heroes, villains, security concerns, money galore and a shift of power that shook the sport to its core.

The fireworks exploded immediately as the New Year dawned in the highly anticipated second Test between Australia and India at the SCG in Sydney.

When Australian Andrew Symonds was given not out by West Indian umpire Steve Bucknor, to an Ishant Sharma delivery that he clearly edged on the first day for 30, the stage was set for the most controversial and fiercely fought series since the infamous bodyline saga of 1932.

Symonds went on to make a match-winning undefeated 162, his highest Test score, but by the time the third day had rolled around the part West Indian all-rounder was at the centre of an alleged racial taunt from India's Harbhajan Singh.

One of the most exciting Test cricket conclusions in living memory, which extended Australia's world record streak to consecutive 16 Tests, was overshadowed by the tumultuous aftermath. The "monkey" mock from the cheeky off-spinner created a stir that evolved into a crescendo of controversy that would have long-lasting ramifications for the international game.

The Indian board threatened to call off the tour unless Singh's ban was downgraded to a fine and so emerged the first signs of the power shift swinging to the East. The bowler was later given a domestic ban after slapping India team-mate Shantakumaran Sreesanth in an Indian Premier League (IPL) game that brought the young man to tears.

After the Sydney fiasco Indian skipper, Anil Kumble accused the home side of unsportsmanlike behaviour while even Australia's media criticised their win-at-all cost attitude.

The match was also the catalyst for the controversial umpire referral system to be trailed in two series this year - India against Sri Lanka and New Zealand against the West Indies - with a firm decision expected in 2009 after an International Cricket Council (ICC) review.

Australia went on the win the spiteful series 2-1 but the corresponding October tour in India saw the growing mega-power emerge with a 2-0 series over the number one nation in the world.

After the retirements of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist, the world's premier cricket nation was showing its first signs of decline.

The Twenty20 revolution

Test cricket's hold as the ultimate form of the game was given a serious shake-up by the micro-sized entertainment extravaganza of Twenty20.

After an unprecedented player auction, which captured many of the best players in the world, the IPL began in April to much fanfare.

The tournament involving eight franchises was officially sanctioned by the ICC but the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) continued to deplete smaller cricketing nations such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and New Zealand.

Nevertheless, the IPL started off with a bang when New Zealand wicketkeeper, Brendon McCullum, lit up the Bangalore sky in a devastating display of power-hitting.

The controversial two month tournament, eventually won by Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals, may have lost some impetus when the leading cricketers from Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies were required back for international duties but the concept was an undeniable success in the economic melting-pot of India.

Stadiums across the sub-continent were consistently at capacity and despite reports that the money for the 2009 version won't be as extravagant, it appears in terms of popularity the shorter version of the game will continue to challenge Test cricket.

England's leading cricketers were prevented from the English Cricket Board (ECB) in competing in the IPL but in October they and a West Indies All-Star XI had a one-off Twenty20 match, organised by cricket loving tycoon Sir Allen Stanford, which gave the winners an unprecedented sum of money.

The game, won by the Caribbean team by 10 wickets, was a complete dud but in the process they became instant millionaires and gave new meaning to extravagance.

The spectacle was denounced by the British media as a circus and the match itself was overshadowed by the seedy antics of Stanford reportedly making sexual advances to the English players' wives.

Terror in the Area

A series of suicide bombs in Pakistan meant that the unstable nation failed to play a single Test match in 2008.

The Champions Trophy, that was also due to be staged in Pakistan, was postponed by the ICC until October 2009 after Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand all refused to take part.

The one-day series between India and England was cancelled in November after the devastating Mumbai terror attacks but England, after much consideration, returned to complete the Test series.

But the bi-lateral ties between Pakistan and India were further strained when India pulled out of their tour their in January, however, Sri Lanka has agreed to tour instead.

Yet the volatile nature of the region is of grave concern to the ICC with the 2011 World Cup scheduled to be held in the sub-continent. Australia and New Zealand have been placed on standby to host the 10th edition if security risks continue.

Star Turns

Amid all the turmoil, the cricketing year enjoyed some stellar individual performances, one significant milestone and the departure of one of the greats.

Sachin Tendulkar confirmed his status as one of the all-time greats when he overtook Brian Lara to become the greatest Test scorer in the history of the game. His match-winning century against England in Chennai, his 41st in Test cricket, was emotionally charged and he dedicated it to the victims of the Mumbai tragedy.

His hard-hitting team-mate, Virender Sehwag, struck 319 against South Africa in Chennai in March, emulating Lara and Sir Donald Bradman as the only players to score two Test triple hundreds.

West Indian batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul was awarded the ICC player of the year and Wisden player of the year after yielding over 909 runs in nine Tests (including three centuries) at a remarkable average of 101.0.

The rise of tearaway South African fast bowler, Dale Steyn, was acknowledged when he was name the ICC Test player of the year. Steyn has the second best strike rate in the history of the game and collected 78 Test wickets at 16.24 in season 07/08 to win the prestigious award.

2008 saw the retirement of one of the all-time greats in Indian leg-spinner Anil Kumble. He is the third highest Test wicket taker of all-time with a tally of 619 and retired during India's home-series win over Australia.

That's just not cricket

2008 tossed up several incidents that can only be described as odd.

Kevin Pietersen revolutionised the switch-hit, in a one day international against New Zealand, by swapping grips and effectively becoming a left-hander to devastating effect.

Pakistani fast bowler Mohammad Asif was suspended pending a doping hearing after he tested positive during the IPL. He also spent 19 days in detention in Dubai for alleged possession of an illegal substance before being released without charge.

Bangladesh bowler Abdur Razzak was banned indefinitely after being found to have a suspect action during the series against New Zealand in October.

Andrew Symonds was dropped for the tour of India when instead of attending an Australian team meeting he decided to go fishing.

New Zealand bowler Iain O'Brien made headlines around the world when in his personal blog he denounced the Brisbane crowd for repeatedly calling him a "faggot" during the first Test against Australia in November.

While finally, Australian great Shane Warne had his life encapsulated in the form of a musical . It made its stage debut in Melbourne and is set to hit the road and be performed in London.

Last but not Least. How the Mighty have Fallen

Following Australia's series defeat in India, the world's number one nation began its highly anticipated series against the world's number two team, South Africa.

The just completed first Test in Perth saw the tourists chase down the second highest fourth innings in the history of the game to take a 1-0 lead.

The home side now face the unenviable task of becoming the first Australian team to come back from a 1-0 deficit to record a series win in a three match series.

If they fail, Australia's 13-year reign as the supreme force in world cricket will fade to the history books.