The Sporting Year 2004: Monty's putt and a fumble from Flintoff senior

In the second of a two-part series, Independent correspondents reflect on the good, the bad and the downright weird of 2004... and look forward to more of the same in 2005
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Cricket by Angus Fraser

Best player of 2004: Stephen Harmison, but it was a close call. Andrew Flintoff was magnificent throughout 2004, scoring 804 runs at an average of 57 and taking 35 wickets at 25. But it was Harmison's hostile fast bowling which made the difference, and allowed Michael Vaughan's team to win 10 out of 11 Test matches against West Indies and New Zealand. No batsman could handle his pace and bounce. Harmison started the year by taking 7 for 12 in Jamaica and finished the summer with 6 for 46 against the West Indies at The Oval. In between he was a constant threat, bowling long spells without any reduction in pace. If he can repeat this form - 61 wickets at an average of 21.5 - in 2005 against Australia...

Best match: The third Test in Barbados. Roared on by more than 12,000 travelling fans, England secured their first series win in the Caribbean for 36 years when Mark Butcher scampered through for a single. The match lasted only three days but they were full of action. Flintoff took his first five-wicket haul in a Test in the West Indies' first innings, then Graham Thorpe kept England in the match with a brilliant century. Matthew Hoggard took a hat-trick amid amazing scenes at the Kensington Oval as the home side collapsed to 94 all out and England knocked off the 93 runs required in fading light.

Funniest moment: During Flintoff's awesome innings of 167 at Edgbaston, he smashed Jermaine Lawson, the West Indian fast bowler, for a huge six over long-on. The ball flew in to the top tier of the Ryder Stand and an area of seats occupied by the players' guests. Colin Flintoff, Andrew's father, lined up the catch but dropped it, much to the amusement of his son.

Strangest moment: Shane Warne telling Muttiah Muralitharan to grow up when he refused to tour Australia because of the abuse he anticipated receiving from the crowd. Warne is the man who blamed his mum for failing a drugs test before the 2003 World Cup.

Saddest moment: Brian Lara sat on his backside at the non-strikers' end, with his head between his knees, after Hoggard had taken his hat-trick in Barbados. This image of the West Indies captain reflected that of his side - battered, bruised and beaten.

Best moment: Lara's unbeaten 400 against England in the fourth Test in Antigua. A week after being on his knees, Lara reclaimed the world record for the highest score in Test cricket. Some labelled it a selfish innings. It wasn't. This was a brilliant display from one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. It also put a brief smile back on the face of West Indies cricket.

Most significant development: The International Cricket Council's research into bowling actions. It revealed that virtually every bowler straightens his arm, and therefore breaks the law. In an attempt to reflect what is taking place, it has been recommended to the ICC that a tolerance level of 15 degrees be introduced.

What is most needed in 2005?: For England, the Ashes. Somebody has to beat the Aussies.

Player to watch: Ian Bell. The Warwickshire batsman scored 70 on his Test debut, 75 on his one-day debut and looks the part.

Rugby Union by Chris Hewett

Best player of 2004: Gordon D'Arcy, the Irish international centre, was pretty damned good; so too was Simon Shaw, the England lock, who put the best part of a decade of disappointment behind him to deliver big performances on the biggest stages. When all is said and done, though, no one caught the imagination more than Joe Rokocoko, the New Zealand wing, who somehow combined the power of Jonah Lomu with the animal instincts of Gerald Davies. If he has any brothers, the 2005 Lions should stay at home where it's safe and warm.

Best game: A no-brainer. The Heineken Cup semi-final between Munster and Wasps at Lansdowne Road in April contained the whole of rugby in its 80-minute span - raw courage and strength of character on the one hand, show-stopping brilliance of the most theatrical variety on the other. Wasps won, by hook or by crook, and the half-dozen Londoners who managed to beat the Limerick hordes to a match ticket celebrated to within an inch of their lives. Sadly for the sport, not many more tuned into the satellite television coverage back home in England. A tragedy? Hardly. A travesty? Definitely.

Funniest moment: The expression on the face of Francis Baron, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, was an absolute picture when Sir Clive Woodward resigned as England coach in a hail of verbal bullets in September. The two men were sitting next to each other at the time, which made it all the more hilarious. And the third man on the top table? Graeme Cattermole, the RFU chairman, who got his knickers in such a twist as he defended his record that he concluded by spluttering: "Things will get better when I'm gone." As he went a couple of weeks ago, we shall see soon enough.

Biggest scandal: The refereeing of Paul Honiss, the New Zealand official, in last month's Ireland-South Africa match. It was one thing for the Springboks to concede a match-losing try with their backs turned; it was quite another for Honiss to suspend play so the tourists' captain, John Smit, could warn his team about repeated transgressions and then restart it without bothering to tell him. Honiss later admitted his error, which was a fat lot of good to the Tri-Nations champions as they surveyed the wreckage of their grand slam bid.

Player to watch: Mathew Tait, the 18-year-old Newcastle centre and England sevens player. An absolute diamond, very nearly ready to shine at international level.

Golf by Andy Farrell

Best player of 2004: Vijay Singh. Nobody works harder and the 41-year-old Fijian got his reward with nine wins, including the USPGA, and the world No 1 spot.

Best moment: Colin Montgomerie's winning putt at the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills to give Europe their biggest-ever victory.

Best putt: Monty's 12-footer for birdie on the first hole of the first day. He and Padraig Harrington went on to beat Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson; Europe never looked back.

Most memorable expression: Tiger's stony face creaking into disgust as Mickelson's drive at the last on the first afternoon sailed towards the out-of-bounds fence.

Biggest turnaround: Again at the Ryder Cup, David Howell and Paul Casey winning from one-down with two to play to crush the American rally on Saturday morning.

Best finish: Mickelson birdies five of the last seven holes in Augusta to pip Ernie Els for a first green jacket.

Most likely candidate for a straitjacket: Els lost out at the Masters, shot 80 on the last day of the US Open, was defeated by Todd Hamilton in a playoff at the Open and finished one shot away from extra holes at the USPGA.

Best start: After eagling the first at Sunningdale, Karen Stupples holed a five-iron from 205 yards for an albatross at the second on her way to becoming the first home winner of the Women's British Open for 13 years.

Most heart-warming moment: After selling everything - including the kitchen sink - and working as a toilet attendant to support herself, Stupples celebrating with family and friends.

Most lavish request: Havana cigars, the finest Rioja and an espresso machine; finally, Miguel Angel Jimenez was happy at the Ryder Cup.

Unfortunate trousers: Ian Poulter's union-flag nightmare at the Open.

Ill-advised shoes: Bernhard Langer's blue-and-yellow boots at the Ryder Cup; about his only iffy decision.

Inappropriate hat: "Hapless" Hal Sutton's 10-gallon effort at Oakland Hills; it didn't even last as long as Tiger and Phil and wasn't his only iffy decision.

Trend of the year: Rise of the teenage wonders. Michelle Wie plays with the men in Hawaii; also 14, Ashleigh Simon wins the South African Women's Open; a veteran at 19, Finn Minea Blomqvist becomes the first player, male or female, to shoot 62 in a major at Sunningdale.

Most needed for 2005: A European man to win a major - Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Harrington, even old Monty, anyone. Europe's women to retain the Solheim Cup.

Player to watch: Was it all pre-wedding nerves? Tiger should have married Elin in March rather than October; ever since he has been keeping it on the straight and narrow.

Rugby League by Dave Hadfield

Best player of 2004: Up to, but not including, the Tri-Nations final, when Darren Lockyer put Great Britain firmly in their place, it had to be Andy Farrell. Never the most popular of players outside Wigan, this was the season when he won over even the biggest sceptics. To switch to the front-row and regularly put in 80 minutes of the highest quality was a mighty achievement.

Best performance: For the first 40 minutes in the Tri-Nations final at Elland Road, Darren Lockyer played like a creature from another planet. Outstandingly well though the rest of the Australian team played, their captain was the man who defined the difference between the two sides. Small wonder that he was hailed afterwards as the best rugby player of either code in the world.

Most poignant moment: Chorley, their funding pulled from under them, knew they were playing their last game when York came to Victory Park in October. Brian Capewell struck just the right note of defiance with an injury-time drop goal from inside his own half for a 21-20 win. It was a moment that a lot more than the 616 who were there are already claiming to have witnessed.

Most significant development: The continuing expansion of opportunities to play the game in all parts of the British Isles. Ireland, inspired by the success of Brian Carney, is an area of major growth, whilst National League Three is beginning to see the emergence of clubs, like the Coventry Bears, who could graduate to the professional game.

Most needed for 2005: A genuine emphasis on the international game, rather than merely paying lip-service to the concept and still allowing the Super League clubs to have all their own way. To be successful, the Great Britain team needs more access to potential Test players during the domestic season. It also requires a larger pool of talent, which can be achieved only by having less overseas imports.

Player to watch: Martin Gleeson will finally make his Warrington debut, after completing the four-month suspension for betting he picked up at St Helens. Warrington, so vibrant off the field, see him as the man to ignite their under-achieving back-line and the signs in the Tri-Nations were that he could do just that.

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