London: The International Cricket Council (ICC) finally stood up for itself in 2001.
The decision by India and South Africa to play the third Test without match referee Mike Denness, following his rulings against several Indian players including Sachin Tendulkar in the previous match left the ICC in a tight spot. But it responded with unusual clarity by stripping the match of official Test status. The ICC continued to stand by former England captain Denness, insisting batsman Virender Sehwag serve a one-match ban by missing the first Test against England earlier this month.
Despite fears that both the South Africa match and indeed England's entire tour of India might be called off, each went ahead for the same reason: Television money. Four England players - Alec Stewart, Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick and Robert Croft chose not to tour, the last two citing security fears in the wake of September 11 as their reason while Graham Thorpe's marriage difficulties saw him pull out ahead of the second Test. In the circumstances Nasser Hussain's inexperienced side performed creditably in losing a rain-affected series 0-1.
India had already shown that there was a way for otherwise invincible Australia to be defeated: It simply needed a once in a lifetime performance. Venkatsai Laxman's extraordinary double century in the second Test helped India win after following on 274 behind. Then in the final match off spinner Harbhajan Singh took 15 wickets and hit the winning runs in a thrilling series-clinching victory. Impregnable at home, India's poor away form continued.
Things might have been different had not the government, citing the ongoing row over the disputed territory of Kashmir, stopped India from touring Pakistan. England's brief home series against Pakistan, was the first in the new ICC World Test championship, a five-year cycle designed to harmonise the international calendar. Unfortunately for Pakistan it meant it became a mere 'warm-up' act for the following Ashes series.
This might have been defensible had it not been for the knowledge that English administrators would never allow such a short campaign against Australia. Pakistan off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq engineered a batting collapse at Old Trafford that levelled the series. England, buoyed by a come from behind series win in Sri Lanka, had looked in decent form but Saqlain's spell saw old doubts resurface. It was no surprise then that Australia retained the Ashes by four Tests to one.
Only Mark Butcher's Test best 173 not out at Headingley denied Australia a clean sweep. The Waugh twins said goodbye to English cricket with a century each in the final Test at The Oval where their teammate Shane Warne became the first spinner to take 400 Test wickets. No such joy for former England captain Michael Atherton, whose second innings nine was his final Test knock. The best defensive batsman of his generation had finally been worn down by his dodgy back and the mental strain of playing in a weak side.
Meanwhile Zimbabwe's Hamilton Masakadza, 11 days short of his 18th birthday, became the youngest player in Test history to make a debut century with 119 in the drawn second Test against the West Indies at Harare in July. But the tourists took the series 1-0 for their first overseas triumph. Later, Zimbabwe was involved in a world record of an altogether different kind. In December its 38 all out against Sri Lanka was the lowest total in One-day International history.
Paceman Chaminda Vaas did the damage with One-day record figures of eight for 19 in a game that lasted just 20 overs. Sri Lanka enjoyed Test success too, thrashing West Indies 3-0 despite Brian Lara's 688 runs at an average of 114.66. By then fast bowler Courtney Walsh had retired with a world record 519 Test wickets to his name.
In his 39th year Walsh finished in style, bowling the West Indies to victory over South Africa on his home ground of Sabina Park, Jamaica. But the Proteas won the series 2-1 in what was generally a good 12 months for Shaun Pollock's team. New Zealand too made progress, almost winning a series in Australia but having to settle for three draws instead.
In the third Test debutant batsman Lou Vincent made a century while in the same innings three other New Zealand batsmen reached three figures. It was the first time any side had made four hundreds in an innings against Australia since England in 1938. Back then Don Bradman was in his pomp.
But the Australian hero died in February aged 92, unusually just missing a hundred. It was not the first time he had fallen short of three figures. In 1948 the most famous duck in cricket history left Bradman with a Test average of 99.94. Sporting records usually fall to the passage of time but in a year of upheaval Bradman's mark remained as immovable as ever.