The giddy heights proved too much for England whose year-long reign as the number one test nation ended at Lord's with a 2-0 series thumping by Graeme Smith's South Africa in August.
The Proteas appear determined to build a dynasty as they backed up their coronation with a 1-0 series win in Australia to finish an exhausting year unbeaten in 10 tests, with nine of them coming on tour.
Smith, who became the most-capped captain of all time during 2012, could rely on world-class performers throughout his side.
The fearsome fast bowling trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander were supplemented by the evergreen all-round talents of Jacques Kallis while Hashim Amla can lay claim to being the most consistent batsman in world cricket.
West Indies have had little to celebrate since their all-conquering days ended in the early 1990s, but victory over hosts Sri Lanka in the World Twenty20 final gave the Caribbean side their biggest prize since the one-day championship in 1979.
Marlon Samuels blasted a 56-ball 78 after flamboyant Chris Gayle failed with the bat in the 36-run win. But Gayle made amends with his rendition of the horse-riding dance made famous by South Korean pop sensation Psy in his hit "Gangnam Style".
Sri Lanka's master batsman Kumar Sangakkara was named ICC cricketer of the year in September after scoring 1,444 runs in 14 tests and Australia captain Michael Clarke became the first to score four double-centuries in a calendar year.
Clarke started the year with an unbeaten 329 against India in Sydney, added 210 against the same team in Adelaide and torched South Africa with double tons in consecutive home Tests.
The captain's heroics were not enough to defeat the Proteas whose 309-run win in the third and final Test in Perth spoiled Ricky Ponting's last international match.
The hard-bitten 38-year-old signed off his career with only eight runs in his final innings to finish with 13,378 runs in Tests, the second-highest tally after Sachin Tendulkar.
While Ponting strode off into the sunset after naming his final Test, the 39-year-old Tendulkar hung on, his declining output of runs flattered briefly by his 100th international century in a one-day match against Bangladesh in March.
With the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, the untouchable Tendulkar remained the last of a golden generation of Indian batsmen and, for growing numbers of frustrated fans, an impediment to the team's regeneration.
England's 2-1 Test series win in India in December, their first there since 1985 and India's first home series defeat in eight years, underlined the point.
Alistair Cook thrived as England captain with the bat and in the field after replacing the retired Andrew Strauss before the series.
Match-fixing continued to haunt the game in 2012. Former Pakistan and Essex leg-spinnner Danish Kaneria was banned for life by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) after being found guilty of corruption.
His Essex team mate Mervyn Westfield was jailed for four months and banned from cricket for five years after pleading guilty to the ECB charge of accepting money to underperform.
India's cricket board banned one uncapped player for life for corruption and handed out lesser punishments to four others in June.
A TV sting by a broadcaster from the same country led to six umpires from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka being provisionally suspended by the International Cricket Council after appearing to agree to spot-fix matches. There was better news for fans in Pakistan when the country welcomed back international cricket for the first time in more than two years, with two T20 exhibition matches in October.
The Pakistan All Star XI played an International XI in Karachi under a security blanket of more than 5,000 police and paramilitary personnel, the first international match since militants attacked the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in March 2009, killing six policeman and a van driver.
England continued their love-hate relationship with adopted son Kevin Pietersen, the South Africa-born batsman dumped from the Test team after admitting to sending provocative text messages about his then-captain Strauss to members of the South Africa Test side.
Following a public apology and a renewed commitment to playing for England in all three forms of the game, the 32-year-old blasted 186 against India in Bombay in his second Test back after returning to the national fold.
One sadness for South Africa was the exit of Mark Boucher, the wicketkeeper forced to quit international cricket after a bail struck his left eye during a tour match against Somerset.
India welcomed back Yuvraj Singh after a long battle with a rare form of lung cancer while retired leg-spinner Shane Warne, once the world's most deadly bowler, teased Australia with talk of a comeback before the back-to-back Ashes series in 2013.
Australia's David Warner helped rewrite the record books by scoring the fastest century by a Test opener in his 69-ball ton against India in Perth. Bangladesh's Abul Hasan became the first number 10 to score a ton debut in more than 100 years with his 113 in the second home Test against West Indies in November.
Opening batsman Richard Levi thundered the fastest international T20 century with a 45-ball century for South Africa against New Zealand in Hamilton, smashing a record 13 sixes on his way to an unbeaten 117.
But South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir held a much less enviable record — he was belted for 260 runs by Australia's batsmen in Adelaide, the most runs conceded in test cricket without taking a wicket.