Lindsay du Plessis recollects 11 poignant occasions during a telling year for the game of cricket...
1. Welcome Back, Yuvraj
There's something about a good comeback story that tugs at the heart strings, and cricket fans from India and beyond watched with bated breath as Yuvraj Singh walked onto the field in September following his battle with cancer. The all-rounder made his return from a rare form of lung cancer in the second T20I against New Zealand to a standing ovation, and while it wasn't the stuff of a lifetime movie (game-winning century, etc) it wasn't anti-climactic. He took two catches, bowled two overs and then made 34 runs, including two sixes, in the chase as New Zealand won by one agonising run. Since then, the sentiment has faded, as it does, and he was dropped for the fourth Test against England due to poor form, which is a good thing in the long run because our breath is no longer bated.
2. The Mighty #'s Triple Ton
No South African batsman had scored a triple century in a Test match, until Hashim Amla did so in magnificent style against England at The Oval in July. Amla batted for a mind-boggling 13 hours and faced 529 deliveries as the Proteas amassed 637 for two. He struck 35 boundaries, and played with such technique and composure that writers were composing sonnets in his honour for days afterwards (and even now, if this paragraph is anything to go by). There were few batsmen who captured the cricketing public's attention this year as much as Amla did, and he went on to score another ton at Lord's to help win the series. He followed it up with a successful tour against Australia too, and ended the year as the third-most prolific Test run-scorer. Alastair Cook was second behind Michael Clarke, but the England skipper played five more Tests than Amla.
3. Ponting's Guard Of Honour
Ricky Ponting's final Test was always going to be an emotional occasion for Australians, but it turned into a goose bump moment for everyone watching. The South African team stood in two lines to form an honour guard in the middle of the field as Ponting walked out to the crease for the final time. The Perth crowd joined the Proteas in applauding the former skipper, and there was a lump in the throat when the players rushed to shake Punter's hand just a few minutes later. Ponting was caught by Jacques Kallis for eight, and there was little celebration, the Proteas taking off their caps to see a legend off the international stage. 'Spirit of the game', indeed.
4. Hitting Steyn For Six
Not many batsmen can hit the world's best fast bowler back over his head for six, but England's Kevin Pietersen did just that (as well as 12 fours) in the second Test against South Africa at Headingley in July. As it turned out, that was his last Test before the poo hit the fan, but it was one hell of a way to go. He made 149, much of it in the evening session on day three, where he flayed the Proteas paceman to all corners in thrilling fashion. It was a classic example of how destructive he can be, and it had chills running down the spine as England chased the Proteas' first innings score. The game ended in a draw, and was blighted by KP's press conference soon after, but that knock was one of the best of the year. Watch it here.
5. Windies Winning The World T20
Few people dislike the West Indies team. They're such fun to watch when they play well, and because of their poor form in recent years, they became the underdog everyone liked to cheer for. They were billed as dark horses ahead of the World Twenty20 in September, and it wasn't surprising when they did well in the group stages. And then they continued to do well... And they trashed Australia in the semi-finals... And suddenly they had the world behind them as they faced hosts Sri Lanka in the deciding game. Smart money still sat with Mahela Jayawardene's side, but when Marlon Samuels hit a brilliant 78 off 56 balls, the tide turned. The Windies' joy when they won by 36 runs gave me a few sniffles, mostly because I failed to bet on them like I'd planned before the tournament began.
6. Double Double Tons
It's difficult to isolate one goose bump moment when it comes to Michael Clarke, because his form with the bat this year has been insane. Sick. Ridiculous. He started the year in the best possible way, making 329 not out against India in January, which would become the first of his four knocks to pass the 200 mark in 2012. No batsman had ever struck four double tons in one year, and he did it against quality attacks, following that 329 up with a 210 two Tests later in the same series. His other double-ton spate came against the Proteas in November, and they were back-to-back - 259 not out in Brisbane and then 230 in Adelaide. Frustratingly for him, both those games ended in draws and the visitors ended up winning the series.
7. Strauss' Final Press Conference
Australia captain Michael Clarke shed a few tears when discussing Ponting's retirement, but there were no such shenanigans at Andrew Strauss' retirement announcement in August. The England captain took his leave in a calm, resigned manner, and shed no tears as he handed the mantle over to Alastair Cook. But it was not without emotion, as he spoke of his family, achievements and desire to stay involved with the ECB. He'd just played his 100th Test, at Lord's, and there was no warning of retirement, so Graeme Smith, again the opposing skipper, had no chance to pay tribute.
8. Cracking Catch By Christian
Pakistan batsman Nasir Jamshed could do nothing but smile in disbelief, and then trudge off the field, after Australia's Dan Christian took one of the best catches in recent memory to dismiss him in the second T20I in September. The crowd, already roaring inside the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, erupted and rose to their feet after Christian, running towards the boundary, dived at full stretch to take the catch, one handed and unsighted, with the ball coming over his head. It sent shivers down the spine, and ended a crucial partnership as Jamshed was on 45. The game ended in a tie, and Pakistan won thanks to the One Over Eliminator. Watch the video of the catch here.
9. Hat-trick Hero
Sri Lanka and Pakistan seem to play countless limited-overs matches against each other, but the fourth ODI in Colombo in June broke the monotony some that thanks to a cracking hat-trick from Thisara Perera. The fast bowler, bowling in his side's defence of 243, dismissed Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi and Sarfraz Ahmed in the 41st over, and Pakistan thus collapsed to a 44-run defeat. It was one of two hat-tricks this year, the other by Christian against the self-same Sri Lankans earlier in March. Watch Perera's hat-trick here.
10. A Message To Sir Viv
When West Indies wicketkeeper-batsman Denesh Ramdin scored a rare century, making 107 not out, against England at Edgbaston in June, he held up a crumpled piece of paper that read, "Yea Viv, talk nah". It was aimed at legendary batsman Sir Viv Richards, who had, in his role as commentator, questioned Ramdin's batting. It was brash and risky, and it ignited a storm of responses as pundits rushed to berate the 'keeper for his disrespect. It completely detracted from his century, and the match (which England won), as Sir Viv responded with a dismissive: "This was in a losing cause. If, in a football match, you are losing 5-0 and then score a goal in the last minute, you would not jump for joy. I set my standards a little higher." Burn!
11. A Young Life Cut Short
It wasn't all fun and games this year, and one of the more memorable moments was as far off the field as one could get. Surrey batsman Tom Maynard, an England prospect and son of Titans coach Matthew Maynard, was killed on 18 June while reportedly running from police. He was struck by a train in Wimbledon in the wee hours, at the age of 23, and his death had a ripple effect on the game. Then Surrey skipper Rory Hamilton-Brown was Maynard's best friend, and his sadness in the following months was heartbreaking to watch, as he first took a leave of absence and then left the club to make a fresh start at Sussex.
Aside from those mentioned above, there were so many other moments that made us cheer, laugh or shiver this year, like Faf du Plessis's nerves-of-steel innings in Adelaide, to Tino Best's delightful 95 against England and Abul Hasan's century at number 10 in debut for Bangladesh. What were your most memorable or emotional moments?
Lindsay du Plessis