By BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew
The first year of the millennium will forever be remembered as the saddest
in the history of cricket.
The sport, formerly renowned for fair play and
sportsmanship, now finds itself with its reputation and credibility in
Five international players from three countries have been banned
for life for fixing matches; their just desserts for robbing the game of its
Unfortunately, followers of cricket are beginning to accept that this is
merely the tip of the iceberg.
Sir Paul Condon, and his ICC-backed anti
corruption unit, continue to investigate the claims made by the bookie at
the centre of the crisis, MK Gupta, while the Indian CBI has now widened its
enquiry by looking into the negotiations between administrators and
These deals, worth millions of pounds, have long been
open to corruption and abuse through a lack of proper regulation and
supervision by the ICC, which must accept some of the responsibility.
Cricket will, eventually, emerge the better for all of this: Of that I am
The standard of play now attained by many international teams
continues to make it an attractive sport to watch, and the emergence of
Bangladesh as a Test-playing nation this year will help to increase the
interest still further in an apparently insatiable part of the world.
Australia's astonishing record of straight Test wins compares starkly with
the sorry demise of the West Indies. Once the undisputed champions, the
West Indies face a battle of their own to convince a fickle public that
their standards will improve.
While the progress made by players such as
Ramnaresh Sarwan is to be applauded, one concern in the Caribbean is that
the game could become confined to the southern countries with the highest
This could, in turn, increase the popularity of American sports in islands like Barbados, Antigua and Jamaica at cricket's expense. Following a heavy defeat in New Zealand, it was England that inflicted the body blow during a brilliant summer of cricket.
Thirty-one years of history
were turned around in a series that included a two-day Test, and England's
success was sealed at the Oval, where a record last-day crowd filled the
ground, including the corporate boxes.
The feeling of self-belief amongst
the players was transported to Pakistan, where Nasser Hussain became only the
second England captain to lead a winning team. Their victory at Karachi in
the final Test was astonishing, not merely because it was completed in
almost total darkness, but also because it was the first Test victory there
by any touring team.
Of the three series victories in the year, the triumph
in Pakistan was the least expected and, therefore, the most gratifying.
The Oval was a happy place to be for much of the summer. Surrey retained the
championship, largely thanks to the presence of Saqlain Mushtaq: One of the
most remarkable spinners ever seen.
And Gloucestershire confirmed their
dominance in one-day cricket by winning every competition, including a
record fourth consecutive Lord's final. It was possible to sympathise with
the grumbles emanating from Bristol about the lack of international
recognition their players have received, but some common sense is needed
John Bracewell has quite deliberately moulded a brilliant one-day
unit: to suggest that half of the Gloucestershire team should be playing for
England is pure nonsense!
On the surface, the game in England would appear to be in a healthy state,
yet major sponsors seem to be running a mile. Although Vodafone recently
extended its support of the England team, there is no-one to follow Cornhill
Insurance as the main sponsor of Test cricket, and both the County
Championship and the most prestigious one-day competition - formerly the
NatWest Trophy - are lacking sponsorship.
We are told that the reason is
because the ECB is setting too high a price tag. What an irony it would be
if the team emerges from years in the doldrums, only for the greed of the
governing body to thwart the game's progress.
The year ended on a sad note with the death of Lord Cowdrey.
He was one of cricket's great administrators as well as one of England's best-known and finest batsman. He will be sadly missed.
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