Despite a T20 “choke”, South African cricket fans had a lot to celebrate in 2012. Here are my awards for the year:
Team of the Year: Proteas Test squad
No team in world cricket could hold a candle to Graeme Smith’s men in whites in 2012. Smith and his troops travelled the world and left nothing but debris for their hosts to pick up after their conquests. Contrasting climates and conditions were faced head-on. Dunedin’s bitter cold, Leeds’ wind and even Adelaide’s intense heat could not get the better of the Proteas. South Africa played 10 Test matches this past year and remained unbeaten throughout – during which consecutive back-to-back series wins were achieved in England and Australia. With performances like these, the accolades are sure to follow, and the Proteas fittingly claimed the World No 1 ICC Test ranking mace from England at the home of cricket, Lord’s, in July before holding on to it in Perth after a titanic battle with the Aussies Down Under. Former South Africa captain Ali Bacher rightfully branded this group “the most successful South African cricket team of all time”.
Cricketer of the Year: Hashim Amla
Even as modest a man as Hashim Mahomed Amla must certainly have enjoyed a slight chuckle at the expense of those who initially questioned his technique and temperament. It’s funny now because those self-same critics are the ones who are lauding “The Bearded Wonder” as South Africa’s greatest batsman since Graeme Pollock. The only difference is that Amla achieved something this year that not even the great Pollock could do – he scored a triple century! It was an innings of majestic beauty, that was punctuated by all the trademark flick of the wrists and punches through the covers. The 311 not out at The Oval was also not a one-off affair, with Amla finishing the year as the second-leading run-scorer in world cricket behind Australian Michael Clarke.
Once in a lifetime achievement of the Year: Richard Levi’s 117* v New Zealand
He may never score another international century, and judging by his recent troubles at the highest level that statement is not too far-fetched, but Richard Levi will always have the night of 19 February 2012 in Hamilton to tell his grandkids about one day. It was a night that Levi sent the ball so far into the stratosphere, and with so much regularity, that he etched his name into the record books. Thirteen sixes flew off Levi’s bat that evening, which not only earned him a world record, but a multi-million dollar contract with the Mumbai Indians that has secured his long-term financial future.
Soap Opera of the Year: Kevin Pietersen “textgate”
The cricketer South Africans most love to hate certainly put his foot in it this year, even more than usual. Embroiled in constant negotiations with the England Cricket Board over wanting “time off” to play in the Indian Premier League that led to his retirement from limited-overs cricket mid-year, Pietersen angered his employers even further when he reportedly sent text messages to the Proteas commenting on then England captain Andrew Strauss. It caused a huge uproar, leading to accusations from ECB chief David Collier that the South Africans had prompted the texts, which they vehemently denied, causing strained relations between the boards. The ECB tried to flex their muscles by dropping KP for the final Test at Lord’s, but with Strauss resigning in the wake of the defeat, Pietersen was back in the England team for the India series after publicly apologising to all his teammates.
Choke of the Year: Proteas v Pakistan, World T20
A year cannot go by without South Africa finding a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at an ICC tournament. AB de Villiers’s side had Pakistan on the ropes, seven wickets down, only to take their foot off the pedal to allow tailender Umar Gul to take his team over the line. South Africa never won another game at the World T20 and exited early yet again.
Awakening of the Year: The West Indies’ World T20 victory
Cricket in the Caribbean has endured some barren years since their heady days of the 1970s and 80s when men like Sir Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Clive Lloyd and Michael “Whispering Death” Holding spread fear throughout the cricket world with their dominant performances. But those memories were rekindled at the World T20 in Sri Lanka with a new group of Windies heroes leading the way. Chris Gayle was undoubtedly the superstar, but he had the extraordinary Marlon Samuels in beautiful support. The Windies were top of the world of again, and they did it in their unique style, prompting the rum to flow at parties all over the islands.
Celebration of the Year: Gangnam Style
Imran Tahir’s sprint towards the Lord’s balcony, clutching his Proteas badge and leaving his teammates in dust was always going to be a serious challenger, but nothing comes close to Gayle and the Windies rendition of PSY’s Gangnam Style. It was the iconic image of the World T20, with the entire Windies team breaking into dance after receiving the trophy. It is still being mimicked on cricket fields all around the world.
Breakout Performance of the Year: Faf du Plessis’s Test debut
If the 78 against Australia in his first Test innings was not enough to show he had the mental aptitude to succeed at Test level, Du Plessis played arguably the innings of the year when he stood defiantly at the crease for almost eight hours. He faced 376 balls in the process to not only register a maiden century, but also save South Africa from an almost certain defeat.
Goosebump Moment of the Year: Proteas’ Guard of Honour for Ricky Ponting
South Africa were champions with bat and ball this year, but also showed they were humble enough to respect one of the all-time greats of the game, Ricky Ponting. After a string of low scores in the series thus far, the former Australian captain realised the time had come for him the join the pantheon of Australian greats in retirement by announcing on the eve of the Waca Test that it would be his final hurrah. The Proteas showed their respect by standing in two lines to form a guard of honour in the middle of the field as Ponting walked out to the crease for the final time, leaving a lump in the throat of the most hard-nosed of Aussies.
Early Christmas Gift of the Year: Graeme Smith
After a tumultuous 2011, life could not get any sweeter for Graeme Smith in 2012. There are not many people who can celebrate their 100th Test with a century, and a victory over the old foe England, and then fly home to be at the bedside of his wife, Morgan Deane, for the birth of their first child all in one week.
1. South Africa finally break the spell by winning the ICC Champions Trophy.
2. AB de Villiers’s back holds up.
3. Sachin Tendulkar plays his last Test in South Africa at the end of the year.
4. Australia reclaim the Ashes.
5. Dale Steyn remains injury free.