New Delhi, Dec 24: For Sachin Tendulkar and India, 2011 was a year to remember. For their neighbors in Pakistan, it might be one they wish to forget.
“The Little Master” finally added one of the rare honors to have eluded him in a glittering career by being part of the India team that won the World Cup on home soil.
The images of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni heaving a six to win the final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai, and jubilant players carrying a tearful Tendulkar on their shoulders, were watched by millions of euphoric fans clogging streets across India.
“Our one dream was to win it for India and for Sachin, and we've done it,” said allrounder Yuvraj Singh, who was named player of the tournament.
It was not just the local fans and Indian players who wore broad smiles that night, but also the game's administrators.
“Some people have been predicting the demise of 50-over cricket but they have been proven wrong throughout the World Cup,” International Cricket Council president Sharad Pawar said. “The television and crowd figures demonstrate the enduring appeal of the 50-over game.”
But the satisfaction the ICC took out of a successful World Cup was quickly replaced by a growing concern about the level of corruption within the game.
The Pakistan spot-fixing scandal that erupted in 2010 reached its conclusion in November when three international players were given prison sentences.
Ex-captain Salman Butt was jailed for 2½ years, Mohammad Asif for 1½ years and Mohammad Amir for six months.
All three had already received lengthy bans from the sport after ensuring that no-balls were bowled at specific times during a test match against England at Lord's, the so-called home of cricket. Only the 19-year-old Amir has a realistic chance of reviving his career.
The level of corruption within the sport was laid bare by the former head of the ICC's anti-corruption unit, Paul Condon, who said little was done about the problem from the 1990s even though many people within the game knew about its extent.
“There were a number of teams involved in fixing, and certainly more than the Indian subcontinent teams were involved,” Condon said. “Every international team, at some stage, had someone doing some funny stuff.”
Less shocking, but just as troubling for the game's administrators, was the number of empty seats at international games—a symptom of a jammed calendar that suits television broadcasters but leaves fans jaded.
India great Rahul Dravid said quality was being sacrificed for the sake of quantity.
“(The ICC) must scale down this mad merry-go-round that teams and players find themselves in: heading off for two-test tours and seven-match ODI series with a few Twenty20s thrown in,” Dravid said.
His thoughts were echoed by Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara, who along with his teammates went months without being paid because the national board had spent vast sums on new stadiums for co-hosting the World Cup.
“Unless the administration is capable of becoming more professional, forward-thinking and transparent then we risk alienating the common man,” Sangakkara said. “Indeed, this is already happening. Loyal fans are becoming increasingly disillusioned.”
Despite the spot-fixing scandal and an ongoing ban on playing home games because of security fears, Pakistan found some solace on the pitch.
Shahid Afridi led the team on a surprise run to the World Cup semifinals, where it lost to bitter rival India in a game that transcended sport with a historic meeting between the prime ministers of the two nuclear-armed countries.
A 1-0 win in a three-test series against Sri Lanka in a ‘home' series played in the United Arab Emirates was the highlight of a year in which Pakistan won 24 international games across the three formats of the sport.
Pakistan was restricted to mostly playing low-profile teams like the West Indies, Bangladesh and Ireland but there was a ray of hope as Bangladesh said it would consider touring Pakistan in 2012, ending an isolation that had lasted since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in March 2009.
India's triumph in the one-day arena was not matched in tests, where it suffered the humiliation of failing to win a single game on a full tour of England in which it was whitewashed in four tests and lost the top ranking in test cricket to its opponent.
England, which also completed a 3-1 Ashes win in Australia early in the year and beat Sri Lanka at home, reclaimed the No. 1 ranking for the first time since 1979.
“We've been pretty clinical,” England captain Andrew Strauss said.
Australia failed in its bid for a fourth consecutive World Cup, and saw its fortunes descend further as the national administrators made a top-to-bottom overhaul of the national team, with a new coach, new captain and new selectors.
Bowled out for a humiliating 47 by South Africa in Cape Town—having at one stage been 21-9 and staring at the record lowest test total of 26 -- Australia's woes extended into the home series against New Zealand, when it lost a test on home soil to the Black Caps for the first time in 26 years.
Australia entered the home series against India, starting on Boxing Day, as underdogs. Much of the focus will be on Tendulkar, who has been stuck on 99 international centuries since March.
It was his teammate Virender Sehwag who earned the most impressive milestone of the year, by hitting a world-record score in one-day internationals by smashing 219 against the West Indies at Indore. Tendulkar had held the record at 200.