|Player:||SK Warne, GD McGrath, ME Trescothick, MS Panesar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, DB Hair, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Yousuf, IVA Richards, KC Sangakkara, DPMD Jayawardene, RS Dravid, GS Chappell, CL Walcott, FMM Worrell, ED Weekes, FS Trueman|
Shane Warne's announcement of his Test match retirement this week was just the latest in a series of events beyond the boundary that dominated the cricket headlines in 2006.
Warne, widely regarded as the greatest leg-spinner the game has known and with a world record 699 Test wickets to his name, said he would call time on his Australia career at the end of the ongoing Ashes series against England. And with all the perfectly judged flight and spin of one of his trademark leg-breaks, Warne now has the chance to become the first man to take 700 Test wickets at the Melbourne Cricket Ground - his home venue - when the Boxing Day Test starts there on December 26.
"People have turned up, I like to think that I've given them entertainment and I've tried my guts out every single time," said Warne, who will continue to play for English county side Hampshire.
With Australia teammate Glenn McGrath, himself Test cricket's most successful fast bowler with 555 wickets, also reported to be contemplating retirement there was just a glimmer of hope for the rest of the world. Australia responded to last year's Ashes defeat by winning 13 of their 14 subsequent Tests with one draw and racing into an unbeatable 3-0 series lead in their current series with England, the Ashes regained in 15 days.
England suffered a blow when opener Marcus Trescothick withdrew before the Test series with a recurrence of a stress-related illness, his exit further ammunition for critics of the seemingly non-stop international schedule. England, beset by injuries, poor planning and muddled selection ended 2006 in faltering fashion but could take heart from the form of rising stars such as left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, a crowd favourite wherever he played.
Meanwhile arguably the most dramatic cricket event of the year revolved around no play at all. Pakistan's refusal to take the field against England at The Oval in August after being penalized for ball tampering saw Inzamam-ul-Haq's men become the first side in 129 years of Test history to forfeit a match.
Australian umpire Darrell Hair, widely regarded as the prime mover in penalizing Pakistan, was in the spotlight again when it was revealed he'd offered to resign in return for 500,000 dollars. His actions gave Hair's critics among the powerful Asian bloc of nations the pretext to drop him from the ICC's panel of elite umpires.
Pakistan faced fresh controversy when Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif were both banned for drug-taking by their national board, a widely praised move, only for the two fast bowlers to have their suspensions overturned on appeal.
On the field, the balance between bat and ball appeared to be shifting in favour of the batsmen. South Africa's successful chase of Australia's seemingly impregnable 434 for four at Johannesburg during a one-day international in March suggested bowlers were in for a tough time at next year's World Cup in the West Indies.
Meanwhile Pakistan's Mohammad Yousuf broke Viv Richards's 30-year-old record of 1,710 Test runs in a calendar year, his nine centuries also rewriting the history books. Yousuf, formerly Yousuf Youhana, attributed his magnificent form to his conversion from Christianity to Islam. Statistics appeared to support this view, his average climbing to as high as 92 since his change of religion.
"Offering prayers five times a day makes you disciplined and you take this discipline on the field as well," Yousuf said after his double hundred at Lord's in July this year.
Elsewhere Sri Lanka duo Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara's third-wicket stand of 624 against South Africa in Colombo in July was the biggest partnership in Test history. But the biggest number connected with cricket in 2006 was the 1.1 billion dollars reportedly paid by Singapore-based ESPN-Star television network to the ICC for global cricket media rights for the next eight years.
India finished the year with a flourish, a 123-run win in the opening Test at Johannesburg this month their first on South African soil and a particular triumph for impressive skipper Rahul Dravid and coach Greg Chappell. "The boys have gone berserk," Dravid was quoted as saying.
West Indies batsman Sir Clyde Walcott, one of the legendary 'three Ws' alongside Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes, who later headed up the ICC, and England fast bowling great Fred Trueman, the first man to take 300 Test wickets, were among the distinguished cricketers who died in 2006. Asked at the time, if anyone else would get beyond his record, Trueman replied: "I don't know, but whoever does it will be bloody-tired." Warne, for one, would agree.