The heavy-handed presentation
At the end of the second-best attended Ashes of all time, Cricket Australia rolled out a podium design that justifiably raised a few eyebrows. On one side of the dais was a giant hand overlaid by the Australian flag, holding up four fingers - to signify the four Ashes Tests Australia won. On the other side, overlaid with the English flag, was a closed fist - to signify Ben Stokes.
Asked who his favourite opponent was, Dale Steyn said on Twitter that it was Kumar Sangakkara, because not only was Sangakkara great to watch but was also "genuinely the BEST guy out there", adding the hashtag #smallcrushonSanga. Well, Dale, sure you might be tall and fit and a big-shot match-winner of the modern era, but Mahela Jayawardene has stood by Sanga through the crap sweeps and the put-on posh accents and the endless over-appealing, so how bloody dare you, and STAY THE HELL AWAY!
The India Test side is often accused of only performing in friendly conditions, but over the recent past a strange new pattern has emerged. In November, Virat Kohli declared the India innings and put his own team in the field after Sri Lanka's bowlers got ill in the dangerously polluted Delhi air. Now, in South Africa, on a Wanderers pitch that several former players considered unsafe - and on which even South Africa's best batsmen would have preferred not to play - India battled bravely on to victory, and even chided the opposition for being less keen on the contest than they were. The message to their future opponents is clear: put India on a pitch with a little bit of grass and they may struggle, but put them in conditions potentially injurious to human health - at oxygen-deprived altitude, say, or in the crater of an active volcano - and they will not only dominate the match, their captain will swear copiously at you while they do.
The sightscreen beating
In quite incredible non-Stokes violence news, Bangladesh batsman Sabbir Rahman was found by the BCB to have assaulted a 12-year-old fan behind the sightscreen of a first-class game, after the 12-year-old had supposedly "made a noise" at Sabbir. In fact, not only had Sabbir repeatedly hit the spectator, an acquaintance of Sabbir had actually assisted in getting the boy inside the playing area. Later, when the match referee questioned Sabbir about the incident, the batsman was also supposedly aggressive towards the official.
Although Sabbir had other punishments imposed on him, he was allowed to continue playing for the national team on probation - an outcome that BCB president Nazmul Hassan said constituted a "strong message to all players". That message, of course, being: "If you want to continue being a Bangladesh cricketer, you are allowed to assault up to one child just outside the boundary of a cricket match, but absolutely, under no circumstances, more than one."
Congratulations to Sri Lanka, who this month won their first ODI trophy since late 2016, defeating Bangladesh in the tri-nation series final. The impact of new coach Chandika Hathurusingha, whom the board had lured from Bangladesh in November, was writ large upon the campaign, which obviously benefited from Hathurusingha's knowledge of the Bangladesh team and their conditions. Sri Lanka's next tour is to the West Indies in June. If SLC had any brains, it would take stock of the factors that led to this win and steal West Indies' coach from them in the weeks before that series as well.
The cliche clique
Last June Pakistan won the Champions Trophy, beating arch-rivals India in emphatic fashion. Now they have lost the ODI series 5-0 to New Zealand. Nineteen months ago, Pakistan were the No. 1-ranked Test team in the world. Now their most recent Test result is a 2-0 loss in the UAE to Sri Lanka, and instead of ruling the longest format, Pakistan now are the top-ranked T20 side. Following the relative stability of the Misbah-ul-Haq years, regular service has clearly resumed. For a while Pakistan were - even if only mildly - a quantifiable cricketing force, with strengths and weaknesses that might be logically recognised and assessed. Now, however, they have slipped back into insanity, and the rest of us have no choice but to renew the old cliches, such as: "they are a mercurial side", "you never know when they will ignite", and "depends on which Pakistan turn up".
As we were indisposed for several days after the company end-of-year bash, the Briefing was regrettably out of commission for December. There is, however, one incident from that month that we cannot overlook. Just hours after wrapping up victory in his debut Test match - a game in which he had scored a hundred - wicketkeeper-batsman Tom Blundell was seen walking home from Wellington's Basin Reserve, still in his New Zealand Test whites, a stump from the match in hand. So low-key is cricket in New Zealand that this is only the third-quaintest thing to happen in the national team this decade, right after the time Kane Williamson brought his ironing to do during the innings break of an ODI, and Chris Martin tutored history while waiting to bat in a Hamilton Test.