Yearender - When cricket lost its favourite son, and some sheen
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A teary-eyed Sachin Tendulkar ended his cricketing journey in glorious Mumbai sunshine and as the sport bade farewell to its favourite son, the dark side of the "gentleman's game" was once again exposed.
Cricket's greatest bilateral rivalry saw England win the first round of the Ashes at home before landing in Australia to be ruthlessly dismantled by Michael Clarke's men who scripted a dramatic turnaround to reclaim the famed terracota urn in style.
Much to the dismay of the fans, cricket could not escape the curse of match-fixing in 2013 when some players from India and Bangladesh struggled to uphold their, and the sport's reputation.
Tendulkar's former team mate Shanthakumaran Sreesanth stood outside a Delhi court in May, his face covered with a black cloth, as photographers clicked away.
Sreesanth and two other cricketers had been arrested with Delhi Police accusing them of taking money to concede pre-determined number of runs in the country's cash-awash Twenty20 league.
The trio, now out on bail, denied any wrongdoing but the shaken fans did not have to wait for long before fresh evidence of corruption in the sub-continent surfaced, this time across the border.
Former Bangladesh captain Mohammad Ashraful mustered the courage to confess to match-fixing in the country's Twenty20 competition, prompting an investigation that has not concluded yet.
As the year drew to a close, former New Zealand batsman Lou Vincent confirmed being one of the three ex-Kiwi players under investigation for alleged match-fixing.
"I think now the most important issue for cricket administration is corruption," former Australia captain Ian Chappell said in Brisbane last month.
"I can't think of anything other than corruption that can bring this game down," Chappell said in his keynote address at the 'ESPNcricinfo at 20' event.
No one upheld the game's virtues like Tendulkar did right from his 1989 debut as a mop-haired, soft-spoken teenager to his emotional farewell on November 16 at his Mumbai home ground.
Playing his 200th test, Tendulkar retired with much more than just 34,000-plus international runs and a slew of batting records.
Watched by his wheelchair-bound mother and octogenarian coach, who never told him "well played" lest it made him complacent, Tendulkar left the game as the sport's most prolific run-scorer.
"Now only humans will play cricket," a banner at the Wankhede Stadium summed up the mood of a nation that had long deified him.
With his retirement, cricket lost a perfect role model, who shouldered a huge burden of expectation and inspired a whole generation of cricketers.
One of them was Ian Bell, whose firefighting qualities made all the difference in England's 3-0 victory at home in the first Ashes series of the year.
Bell hit centuries in England's three unanswered victories at Trent Bridge, Lord's and Chester-le-Street after the top order had crumbled on each occasion.
There was the usual buzz around the series but Australia looked completely ill-prepared.
Discipline issues that came to the fore during their 4-0 pounding in India resurfaced in England and opener David Warner missed the first two Ashes tests after punching England's Joe Root in a pub.
Their Ashes buildup was further jolted when coach Mickey Arthur was dramatically sacked less than three weeks before the start of the series.
His replacement Darren Lehmann not only presided over Australia's 3-0 Ashes defeat but also contributed to the heat around the series.
Lehmann accused Stuart Broad of "blatant cheating" for not walking during the Trent Bridge test and urged Australian fans to send the Englishman "home in tears" from the return Ashes series.
He would subsequently apologise for the outburst, which incurred him a fine from the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Lehmann nearly had his wishes fulfilled in the return Ashes series where Mitchell Johnson on field and the hostile Australian crowd off it made life miserable for Broad and his team mates.
Broad was roundly booed in Brisbane despite taking eight wickets at the Gabba, an effort that was overshadowed by comeback man Johnson's superlative display of fast bowling.
HOPPING AT GABBA
The 32-year-old left-arm paceman had the England batsmen hopping at the Gabba where he rattled them with the pace and bounce from a lively track.
As if it was not bad enough, Jonathan Trott abruptly flew home to deal with a stress-related illness, highlighting an international cricketer's battle with the demands of the game.
There was no respite for his team mates, however, as Johnson conjured up unsuspected pace and bounce from Adelaide's flat, drop-in pitch to scar their psyche with a second man-of-the-match award winning bowling display.
Clarke, adjudged cricketer of the year and also the test player of the year, led from the front as Australia clinched the Ashes with another thumping victory against a listless England side in Perth.
Outside the Ashes, South Africa blanked Pakistan 3-0 at home before drawing 1-1 with them in the United Arab Emirates to remain on top of the test rankings.
Reigning 50-over world champions India flexed their limited overs muscles again to win the final edition of the Champions Trophy beating hosts England in the final.
Touted as the best talent coming out of Mumbai since Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma emulated the batting great by blasting only the third double century in one-day internationals against Australia in November.
Afghanistan provided the heart-warming story of the year when cricketers from the war-ravaged country qualified for the 2015 World Cup.
The rag-tag bunch, many of whom picked up cricket in refugee camps in Pakistan, finished second in the World Cricket League Championship to qualify for the marquee event in Australia and New Zealand.
"Afghanistan's journey has been a remarkable one," ICC chief executive David Richardson said.
"It started in World Cricket League division five in 2008, and will now make its maiden appearance at the ICC's flagship 50-over event."
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)
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