2002: year of injuries!


December 30. What sort of cricketer's year is 2002? It is the year when Michael Vaughan emerges from the shadows and outshines every batsman in the world as he scores more runs than anyone save Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar. It is also the year of the serious bouts of injury. Don't just think England, a touring field ambulance station, where even the physio has to be given a rest at half time and 31 players are used in the first two months of their tour. Think Shane Warne, falling so easily that no-one gave him a second look and now out of the World Cup save for medical miracle. Think Murali, that most resilient of cricketers, sensibly resting until he is fully fit after a hernia operation; think Andrew Flintoff still trying to get well from a similar operation two months before Murali's. Think Glenn McGrath who breaks down after 56 Tests without a need for a rest and who remembers being out of action for four months with a similar injury. What is the cause of this epidemic of bodily malfunction. Is it not time that ICC set up an inquiry into injuries and handed down some advice on the management, health and control of players young and old. Surely that is the proper function of a world governing body. And what of next year? I don't care what the Chinese astrologers say, as far as cricket is concerned it will be the Year of the Pig. Brad Hogg, who bowls Chinamen — to make the coincidence complete — is on his way back aged 32. Kyle Hogg, the grandson of Sonny Ramadhin, is being hailed as the most promising young fast medium bowler England have produced since Gus Fraser, and Matthew Hoggard has the chance to revive his career next summer, especially after his belated success in the fifth Test.

December 31. Like almost everyone else in Sydney we walk down to Circular Quay and take a look at the New Year fireworks display and wonder at the magnificence of it all, the sign of the dove and the message of Peace. It is what this country does best; enhancing the natural beauty of the land. And, as the national exchequer appears to have surplus money, why should they not burn a million dollars to greet the New Year. Perhaps in a couple of hundred years this country will be great, although it will need rocket planes to reduce the distance from the centre of events before it has a big influence on the rest of the world. In the meantime Australia has the finest cricket team on the planet, the best sprint swimmer in Ian Thorpe and half a dozen outstanding athletes. Their Olympic Games are hailed as the best ever staged. But how long will sporting achievement satisfy their desire for approval? They will certainly never need to go to war to acquire more land since their population is so small in such a vast area that they ought to be looking for more people rather than fewer. So what happens? When boat people arrive to flee tyranny in other South East Asian countries they are treated as if they are rough criminals. Ironic, is it not, for a country that began as a convict settlement.

January 1. Ryan Campbell, Australia's No.2 wicket-keeper, is a man whose mind works at right angles to the norm, so when he is confronted with a difficult pitch during the Australia `A' warm-up game against Sri Lanka, he ignores his batting helmet and uses a baseball mask. He fastens it to his cap, which he turns back to front — thus apparently contravening some old-fashioned local code of conduct rule — and finds the result very effective. He is also the batsman who contrives to lob full length balls and even a full toss or two back over his head to the boundary where long stop stands. Not that we see a long stop for a while. Is there a captain with the nerve to set a long stop now? What would his wicket-keeper say? A little diplomacy may be called for. Captain to wicket-keeper: ''I'm going to put in place a very very fine leg. Or a very straight third man. I hope you don't mind but you never know what this Ryan Campbell may do.''

January 2. My perch during the fifth Test at Sydney — a much more civilised place since the 92 steps to the Press Box are replaced by two elevators — is in a tiny room also inhabited by the BBC radio team and two other writers. Thank heavens it has its own air conditioning system. One of the regulars is Trevor Marshallsea from the Sydney Morning Herald who six weeks ago in Perth decides that it is easier to hop over a wall rather than walk all the way to the main gate. As a result he falls awkwardly, busts two bones in his leg, nearly loses his foot and finds he will never be able to run again, a tragedy since he is a fit man who wishes to stay that way. He is still on crutches which makes his progress round our crowded box, which is on two levels, difficult. His progress leaves me with fingers crossed, hoping that he does himself no further damage.

January 3. As the moment of truth arrives for Steve Waugh I look up into Bowrongal Stand to see a man in a bright orange shirt making his way through the tightly packed crowd — who are not willing to move a second early — and out of the ground. I will never know, which is a pity since it must be a compelling reason, what makes that cricket fan leave a few minutes before the most dramatic over in recent years. An arrangement to see a friend fly out of the country? The family meal that cannot be missed? I bet he is now cursing the day he leaves the SCG early. Later I find he is not the only absentee when Waugh hits the shot that makes every newspaper headline the next morning. David Townsend, a friend for the last 20 years, misreads the scoreboard at the start of the final over and decides he will beat the crowd on his way back home. Ian Chappell and Tony Greig see the last ball but rush out knowing the crowd will stay behind to cheer. At Stony Creek in Victoria, 1,000 miles away, the stewards postponed a horse race so the spectators can watch Waugh get his hundred. Channel Nine's television coverage hits the best audience for years and the Prime Minister John Howard, a dedicated cricket fan as all Australian Prime Minister must be, issues a special statement. What? A politician taking advantage of a sporting moment to get his name in the papers? Surely not!

January 4. Reports come to me that the best young batsman in England is Nick Compton, grandson of Denis whose daring classical shots and oiled hair — a profitable advertisement for him as well as giving him a touch of glamour — make him the best known cricketer in England just after World War II. Nick is 19 and joins Middlesex where he finds himself in the company of Ben Hutton. grandson of Len Hutton and son of Richard, in what is clearly growing into a Test playing dynasty. They are almost as numerous as the Edrich family, led by Test batsmen Bill and John, but able to turn out a full cricket team of good players in their home territory of Norfolk.

January 5. Merv Hughes, an endlessly amusing man, tells of a long trip to India, where although he loves the people, the constantly changing street life and the cricket he rather tires of curry. ''At least when I get home,'' he thinks, ''I will have a nice Australian steak, medium rare, with a side dish of French fries and a few onions. Some ice cream to follow maybe.'' You know how a man dreams when he has been away from home for a while. Well, eventually Merv gets back to Melbourne and his wife says he must sit down at the table and his dinner will be along in a minute. And sure it is — a steaming hot chicken vindaloo, a little naan on the side and a plate of paneer. Just in case Merv is still hungry you understand. Yes, you would need to have a sense of humour to be Merv Hughes' wife. Wouldn't you!