Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Talent Fulfilled, West Indies and South Africa Rose to Top

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Talent Fulfilled, West Indies and South Africa Rose to Top

Article excerpt

West Indies and South Africa were the best teams in the cricket year, the best individual story belonged to Marlon Samuels, and there was never a dull moment with Kevin Pietersen.

Historically, West Indies and South Africa are cricketing opposites -- opponents only since 1992, each one's best years coming in the absence, or the decline, of the other. But in 2012, they shared the game's honors.

South Africa was the best all-round team, seizing leadership of the world rankings in five-day tests in a manner suggesting it will last longer than its two immediate predecessors, India and England. West Indies took the global trophy, beating the host, Sri Lanka, in the final of the World Twenty20.

There was no better individual story than the West Indian batsman Marlon Samuels. Until recently his career looked like a parable of wasted talent. This year that talent was fulfilled. Belated maturity, displayed in forgoing the second half of a lucrative contract in the Indian Premier League to join the West Indies team in England, flowered in a series of fine innings against the English.

Then he was the one batsman to rise above tough conditions in the Twenty20 final. His innings of 78 was more than twice the next highest in the match. His four overs of mean spin bowling helped strangle Sri Lanka's reply. Samuels also struck New Zealand for his first test 100 in his native Jamaica, and his highest in tests, 260, against Bangladesh.

If redemption, dominating a final and sheer quality make Samuels this writer's Cricketer of 2012, the game's happiest session of play was the doing of his teammate Tino Best. Little is more joyful than a player suddenly excelling outside his usual job. Best is a specialist fast bowler. He bats last for West Indies for a reason.

Yet, one morning at Edgbaston Cricket Ground in Birmingham, England, it was as if he was possessed by the spirits of great West Indian batsmen. Some, like Vivian Richards, were watching. His strokes were not the slashes of a tail-ender, but the controlled classical drives of the specialist. It took him to within five runs of becoming the first No. 11 batsman to score 100 in a test match, a feat akin to a baseball pitcher hitting three homers in a World Series game. When he was out, the whole crowd, English as much as West Indian, mourned.

By contrast, South Africa's No. 11 batsman was rarely needed. On one truly remarkable occasion, at London's Oval ground, No. 5 was not needed. The Proteas piled up 637 for 2, built around the innings of the year: Hashim Amla's 311 not out. Amla's grace, technique and endurance showed him to be the true, transplanted-by-history heir to the traditions of Indian batsmanship.

Its crushing of English spirits also created momentum toward South Africa's eventual displacement of England from the top of the rankings. …

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