Kevin Pietersen’s StoryIf the torture of a 5-0 Ashes drubbing wasn’t agony enough, the blame and very public claim and counter-claim surrounding the ECB’s fallout with Kevin Pietersen provided extended pain for English fans. Pietersen’s batting record remains spotless (and, by the way, only Ian Bell of England’s batsmen averaged more in Australia) but his autobiographical revelations that former coach Andy Flower “ruled by fear” and that wicket keeper Matt Prior maintained a culture of bullying in the dressing room left a distinct mark on one of England’s most successful eras. All this after Prior was reported to be the main peacemaker in Pietersen's reintegration into the England team following the ‘textgate’ scandal in 2011 and the seemingly happy build-up to Pietersen’s 100th Test, during which he asserted his desire to score 10,000 career Test runs and be part of England’s 2015-16 tour of South Africa. If there was ever a chance of that happening, the book ended it. "I wouldn't have made the allegations if there was no basis to prove they were right,” Pietersen said adding: "Anybody who loves English cricket is probably in a dark place right now." Dark, indeed.
Andrew Flintoff's returnAndrew Flintoff’s inclusion in Lancashire’s squad for the ‘Festival of Cricket’ that was NatWest T20 Finals Day came as a shock to anyone who’d seen him motoring around the country in a Fish Van in the preceding weeks, not least as the former England all-rounder’s comeback – initially described as a ‘massive mistake’ by Sir Ian Botham - had been limited to just two first-team appearances up to that point. Not required for the semi-final victory over Hampshire, the-then 36-year-old replaced Kabir Ali for the final against hosts Birmingham and removed Ian Bell with his first ball as the England batsman sought to go over the top. Later a couple of timely sixes off Oliver Hannon-Dalby in the 19th over suggested that Flintoff would provide those behind the newly-revamped competition with a script-writer’s finale and although it wasn’t to be Lancashire’s day, Freddie had firmly forced his way back into the public consciousness and paved the way for a Big Bash contract with the Brisbane Heat. This was quite a story for a man who was down and out and has come back to take out many batsmen.
Alastair Cook sagaAlastair Cook’s removal as one-day captain less than two months before the World Cup ended one discussion in an ongoing debate that spanned the year. Cook refused to resign as Test skipper after England’s 5-0 Ashes defeat (his second such whitewash as an England player). But with runs and results in short supply (a Test series defeat to Sri Lanka and an embarrassing implosion to India at Lord’s weighing heavily) the voices calling for him to step aside grew ever louder, one Kevin Pietersen even asserting before the third Test against India saying that Cook does "not have the tactical brain to lead the side". But that went by during the third Test against India as the skipper – dropped by Ravindra Jadeja on 15 – showed great mental strength to score 95. The innings made him England’s third-highest Test run-scorer of all time, lifting him above David Gower’s tally of 8,231, and while he fell short of ending a 28-innings wait for a Test ton, it did not matter to Cook one bit as he was roundly cheered off the pitch by a vastly supportive crowd. England’s 10-Test run without a win became a distant memory as India folded to lose by 266 runs and the home side went on to win the fourth and fifth Tests by an innings and plenty to seal the series 3-1. But the team’s one-day form remained poor, a 5-2 reverse in Sri Lanka during which Cook’s record worsened to one fifty in his previous 22 one-day innings, convinced the selectors that its time to say goodbye to Mr. Cook. Over to you, Eoin Morgan.
Phillip Hughes tragedy
TENNISAs 2014 comes to a close, it was an amazing season in tennis as well. Novak Djokovic was, as expected, dominant throughout the season although he won only the one Grand Slam (Wimbledon). But it was the year where we saw the rebirth of a legend, Roger Federer and some of the young talents that are going to rule the tennis industry in the coming years. It has already been a mix year for the tennis stars with all the 8 champions being different in the Grand Slams.
8 Grand Slam winners
Australian Open - Stan Wawrinka & Li Na French Open - Rafa Nadal & Maria Sharapova Wimbledon - Novak Djokovic & Petra Kvitova US Open - Marin Cilic & Serena WilliamsWhile the ‘big three’ remain resolutely in place, British number one Andy Murray has been the biggest victim of a new generation and first-time Major winners Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka. For Murray, 2014 has been a mixed year. He has played some good tennis and physically he is back to his best but his record against the top players means adjustments to his game must happen if he wants to win the biggest tournaments again. Rafa Nadal endured a stop-start 12 months but took home a fifth consecutive French Open to reassert his clay creativity, and Federer’s new-style that returned him to the elite of the sport reflected a wider change in the future of the men's game.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC – THE CHAMPIONThe Serbian master racked up a brilliant 61-8 win-loss record for the season, culminating with an ATP World Tour Finals win in London after Federer’s injury which was a muted way to celebrate a year that peaked on these shores with an epic Wimbledon victory. Djokovic has evolved his game so much over the past few years. He’s gone from being an incredible baseline player to an incredible attacker. It’s a success story and there’s now so many examples where he wins the point within the first five shots. Nowhere was this more evident that an astonishing Wimbledon final ousting Federer who had returned to his mercurial best. Key to the excitement of the Wimbledon final was Federer pushing the world’s best player to his very limit. The Swiss veteran was unable to add an 18th Grand Slam to his trophy cabinet in 2014 but subtle changes to his game means that accolade may arrive next season. The modern great once again created history in the final fling of the season after securing Switzerland their first Davis Cup title with a masterclass victory over France's Richard Gasquet in Lille. The Davis Cup was one of the few titles which still eluded the 17-time Grand Slam winner, and now he only has singles gold at the Rio Olympics to become just the third man, after great rival Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi, to win all four Grand Slam titles, the Olympic title and the Davis Cup.
THE NEW GENERATIONWhile Djokovic, Federer show no signs of giving up their seniority yet, they will be pushed by a group of contenders who have embraced the evolving sport and acquired the rewards. Stan Wawrinka set the tone, beating both those men en route to an Australian Open victory before edging ahead of his compatriot Federer in the world rankings for the first time. He then beat Federer in the Monte Carlo Masters final. Marin Cilic continued the trend of the underdog by winning the US Open final against Kei Nishikori, the Japanese star who will surely rise. Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov also lead the charge into 2015 with their rapidly improving skillsets but 2014 also witnessed less known competitors make a surprising mark. Croatian Borna Coric, who’s just 17 years of age and took out Nadal in Basel and he’s someone to very much look out for "I the future.” Another 17-year-old, Belinda Bencic, reached her first WTA semi-final and Nadal suffered another upset to teenager Nick Kyrgios. The women’s game experienced a similar pattern of established champions sharing the limelight with newer challengers. Li Na became the first Asian singles major winner in Australia before retiring and Petra Kvitova’s name was up in lights at Wimbledon. Meanwhile, the old guard of Maria Sharapova (French Open) and Serena Williams (US Open) carried on. Williams’ 18th Grand Slam placed her level with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for second most titles in the Open era.