AB de Villiers retired from all forms of international cricket in May. Photo: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

DURBAN – 2018 was a year of exceptional headlines in South African cricket, thanks to a pair of iconic inbound series, several breakthrough stars, the sudden retirement of a legend and, perhaps most significantly, the eventual dawn of a T20 league on these shores.

As we look to a massive 2019, Independent Media cricket writer Lungani Zama looks back on a truly unforgettable 2018, and its newsmakers.

1 #SandpaperGate

24 March, 2018 was a dark day for cricket. The visiting Australian cricket team was caught in an elaborate ball-tampering scandal during the third Test of a riveting series.

Cameron Bancroft was seen using sandpaper on the match ball, and the trying to conceal it from the umpires.

Subsequent to on-field events, Bancroft, skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were handed significant bans, while coach Darren Lehmann resigned soon after.

The entire scandal – and the severity of the bans – sent shockwaves across the game, and placed a dark veil on what was one of the most entertaining series on South African soil. Even now, nine months later, Australian cricket are still dealing with the ramifications.

2 Visit of Australia

The sandpaper incident of Newlands ruined what had truly been an intoxicating duel between two proud nations.

Australia and South Africa are seldom short of drama when they meet on the field, but this late summer collision constantly pushed the unwritten line of sportsmanship.

There was the staircase incident at Kingsmead between Warner and Quinton de Kock, constant sniping between teams, Kagiso Rabada’s exceptional bowling and his errant shoulder, exquisite batsmanship by a highly-motivated AB de Villiers, and a summer that constantly delivered malice and magnificence.

Cheating aside, it was truly one for the ages.

David Warner and Steve Smith were both banned for their roles in #SandpaperGate. Photo: Rogan Ward/Reuters

3 The next generation

In a summer that glistened with high quality conflict, South African fans would have been enthused by the showing of the next generation of stars.

Aiden Markram grew into the summer, punctuating his debut season with a terrific series against Australia. His hundred in Durban was especially eye-catching, given the occasion, opposition and his relative experience.

On the same token, Lungi Ngidi burst into the national team with a remarkable debut against India. The powerhouse fast bowler has battled his fair share of injuries, but his 6/39 was worth the wait.

He has since become a vital cog in limited-overs cricket, too, and looks set to be a formidable double act with Rabada.

The future looks bright.

Lungi Ngidi burst into the Proteas team this year with a few spectacular performances. Photo: Richard Wainwright/EPA

4 AB de Villiers retirement

It sort of came out of nowhere, a bit like the freakish shots that Bela-Bela’s most famous product churned out throughout a quite astonishing international career. Having relinquished the captaincy, and completed a contentious ABbatical, everyone figured he would leave the stage after the World Cup, preferably with that ever-elusive trophy in hand on July 14.

But sport doesn’t do fairytales, and De Villiers’ last impressions in the Proteas jersey was a series-defining performance against Australia.

He batted on a different plateau, perhaps sensing it was his last, significant contribution. He was a once-in-a-generation player, and his influence on the game will remain for a long, long time.

5 The Mzansi Super League

Others around the world have stolen a march on South Africa, and the less said about the T20 Global League the better.

On that premise alone, the MSL was always going to be a gamble of sorts. No broadcast deal on the table turned out to be a blessing in disguise, with cricket put into the lounges of an untapped market.

New faces became familiar to the masses, and some players – like Anrich Nortje – have already secured T20 deals elsewhere on the back of this new tournament.

The Jozi Stars won the inaugural Mzansi Super League. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

There were glitches that need ironing out for the next edition, but the game in this country was all the better for having had it.

There is a glimmer of promise to work with, and the gamble has certainly proved to be worthwhile. It was a very encouraging way to end a remarkable year in South African cricket.

@whamzam17


The Mercury

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