Review – 2017 Test cricket recap

  Test cricket more than held its own in 2017, despite the ever-growing domestic T20 scene around the world, not to mention the arrival of an even more watered-down version of ‘cricket’ in the form of T10. Though the year featured a successful Champions Trophy with an unlikely winner, it was Test cricket that provided the most riveting moments and the most enduring performances.

  It was quite a momentous year for the five-day game, as two new nations, Ireland and Afghanistan, were inducted as full members to expand the number of Test teams to twelve. Also, a structure for the inaugural World Test Championship, slated to commence in 2019, was finally approved. Day-night Test cricket spread its wings further, making its debut in England and South Africa.

  The year saw 47 Tests, the same as in 2016. Forty of these ended in a result, of which 26 were home wins. Only half of them (24) went into the final day, which probably explains the rising clamour for four-day Tests – the last Test of the year between South Africa and Zimbabwe was considered as a trial in this regard. Whether or not it will be a regular feature in the near future, remains to be seen.

Team overviews

India

  Led by the dynamic Virat Kohli, India cemented their position at the top of the Test rankings, winning all four series to stretch their consecutive streak to a record-equalling nine. Their sternest Test came early in the year, when they showed great character in coming from behind to defeat a resolute Australian outfit at home, in the process regaining the coveted Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

  Two weeks prior to the series against Australia was Bangladesh’s first ever Test in India, which the hosts won convincingly. India’s only overseas outing was in Sri Lanka, where they stamped their authority with a dominating 3-0 sweep – the first time that they won more than two Tests in an away series. Later in the year, they completed another win over Sri Lanka, this time at home.

Moment to remember: India came into the second Test against Australia at Bangalore on the back of a humiliating defeat in Pune. However, they levelled the series with a fantastic 75-run victory despite being bowled out for just 189 on the first day.

Moment to forget: India’s run of 19 matches without defeat was halted with a massive blow, as Australia trounced them by 333 runs on a rank turner in the first Test at Pune. The hosts totalled a meagre 212 across both innings.

    Top-ranked India reclaimed the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after a 2-1 victory over Australia at home (source – BCCI)

South Africa

  The Proteas began the year on a good note by completing a 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka at home. A hard-fought 1-0 win in New Zealand followed, before they struggled in England, failing to record a hat-trick of series wins there. After winning handsomely at Trent Bridge to level the four-Test series, they lost at the Oval and Old Trafford to go down 3-1.

  This was South Africa’s first series defeat in England since 1998. They however restated their dominance at home towards the end of the year; Bangladesh were emphatically subdued 2-0, while Zimbabwe were rolled over in just five sessions in the first day-night Test in South Africa, played at Port Elizabeth.

Moment to remember: Having lost the opening Test at Lord’s by 211 runs, South Africa bounced back in style at Trent Bridge, producing a quality team effort to win by a whopping 340 runs – their second-biggest victory margin against England.

Moment to forget: There was everything to play for as the series was locked at 1-1 coming into the third Test at the Oval, but an inept batting display ensured that the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy remained with England, who won by 239 runs.

England

  England had a successful home summer, winning both series even though they lost a Test in each of them. They retained the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy with a 3-1 victory – their first home series win against South Africa since 1998. The Wisden Trophy was retained as well, with the deciding third Test at Lord’s ending in England’s favour to complete a 2-1 triumph.

  But the Ashes in Australia proved to be a different kettle of fish altogether, as England failed to defend the urn they had regained in 2015. The series was sealed after the first three Tests itself, exposing England’s limited bowling stocks more than anything else. They at least prevented the prospect of another 5-0 whitewash with a draw in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne.

Moment to remember: England put behind the 340-run defeat at Trent Bridge and retained the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy with a 239-run win in the third Test at the Oval. They went on to win the series in the final Test at Old Trafford.

Moment to forget: The Ashes were surrendered after a defeat by an innings and 41 runs at Perth. Frustratingly for England, this was the third time in twelve months that they went down by an innings despite scoring over 400 in the first innings.

New Zealand

  The year began for the Black Caps with a 2-0 win at home against Bangladesh, but not before they conceded 595/8 in the first innings of the opening Test at Wellington. Their quest for a maiden series win against South Africa was unsuccessful, as they went down 1-0 at home, primarily due to their inability to finish off the lower order in the first innings at Wellington.

  New Zealand’s next series was only after eight months, again at home, meaning that they did not play overseas at all during the year. They were back to their winning ways as they outclassed the West Indies 2-0, ending the year positively and in fourth place on the Test ranking table.

     New Zealand’s captain Kane Williamson scored 104* on the final day of the Wellington Test against Bangladesh, leading his side to a seven-wicket win (source – AFP)

Moment to remember: New Zealand staged a dramatic turnaround to win the Wellington Test against Bangladesh. They were undaunted by the visitors’ imposing first-innings total of 595/8, and ended up as victors by seven wickets.

Moment to forget: A rare chance to beat South Africa was squandered at Wellington. Despite having the opposition at 94/6 in reply to their 298, New Zealand conceded a lead of 61. They imploded in the second dig and went on to lose by eight wickets.

Australia

  Australia completed a 3-0 whitewash of Pakistan by winning the New Year’s Test at Sydney. They came into the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on the back of eleven winless Tests in India, making their 333-run win in the first Test at Pune one of their sweetest successes of all time. They however could not capitalise on the lead and surrendered the trophy after defeats at Bangalore and Dharamshala.

  Australia’s next assignment, a two-Test series in Bangladesh, ended 1-1. They narrowly lost the first Test – their first defeat to the Tigers in whites – before winning the second by seven wickets. The Ashes were regained in style, with comprehensive wins in each of the first three Tests. They were well served by captain Steven Smith, who consolidated his status as the world’s best Test batsman.

Moment to remember: The Baggy Greens took an unexpected lead after crushing India by 333 runs in the first Test at Pune, thanks in main to a sensational return of 12/70 from Steve O’Keefe. This was Australia’s first win in India since 2004-05.

Moment to forget: The deciding fourth Test at Dharamsala was poised tantalisingly, with India holding a narrow first-innings lead of 32. However, Australia crumbled when it mattered most – they were shot out for 137 and went down by eight wickets.

Sri Lanka

  It was a year of contrasts for Sri Lanka, and their sixth place in the Test rankings is perhaps a fair indicator. They endured a rough start, suffering heavy defeats in the second and third Tests against South Africa to lose 3-0. A one-off Test against Zimbabwe saw them chase down 388 to win by four wickets – the highest successful chase in the subcontinent and the fifth-highest of all time.

  The islanders hit a new low a month later, as India bullied them at home. The margins of defeat – 304 runs, innings and 53 runs, innings and 171 runs – say it all. Hence, their 2-0 sweep of Pakistan in the UAE came almost as a bolt out of the blue – this was Pakistan’s first ‘home’ loss since 2007-08. They ran into India away as well, this time keeping the defeat margin to 1-0.

Moment to remember: Wily veteran Rangana Herath helped Sri Lanka, who were defending only 135, beat Pakistan by 21 runs in the first Test at Abu Dhabi, paving the way for his team’s eventual series triumph.

Moment to forget: Sri Lanka’s reputation of being tough nuts at home took a severe beating, as they were demolished by an innings and 171 runs inside three days in the third Test against India at Pallekele to confirm a distressing 3-0 scoreline.

    Yasir Shah (right) is pumped up after taking the final wicket in the third Test at Roseau, which sealed Pakistan’s maiden series win in the West Indies (source – AFP)

Pakistan

  Defeat by 220 runs in the third Test at Sydney led Pakistan to their fourth successive 3-0 whitewash in Australia, dating back to 1999-00. Redemption was in store four months later, as they secured a historic maiden series victory in the Caribbean in remarkable fashion. This was the final Test series for the seasoned batting duo of Younis Khan and captain Misbah-ul-Haq.

  Pakistan’s only other Test series of the year was against Sri Lanka at home, in which they lost both Tests to slip to seventh place in the Test rankings. A shoddy batting display in the first Test at Abu Dhabi turned what seemed to be a straightforward chase into a galling 21-run defeat. While Pakistan made giant strides on the ODI scene, inconsistency continued to bog them in Test cricket.

Moment to remember: Pakistan achieved their first ever series win in the West Indies in the nick of time – only seven balls were left when Yasir Shah bowled Shannon Gabriel to seal a tense 101-run victory at Roseau.

Moment to forget: Pakistan made a mess of their chase of 136 in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi, crashing to 36/5 and eventually, a 21-run defeat. They also lost the second Test, thereby losing in the UAE for the first time since it became their home.

West Indies

  Had it not been for Shannon Gabriel’s ungainly swipe, the West Indies might have finished their home series against Pakistan with honours even. Instead, they suffered their first home defeat to Pakistan, losing 2-1. They lost by the same margin in England as well, the victory coming in the second Test at Headingley, where they chased down 322 to win by five wickets.

  This memorable success was however sandwiched between lacklustre efforts at Edgbaston and Lord’s. A 1-0 win in Zimbabwe could not take the West Indies to further heights, as they came a cropper in New Zealand at the end of the year. They lost both Tests by substantial margins, leaving themselves with more questions than answers once again.

Moment to remember: An agonising 17-year wait for a Test win in England ended at Headingley, as the Windies surprised the hosts by five wickets, successfully chasing 322. Central to the win was the highly promising Shai Hope, who scored 147 and 118*.

Moment to forget: The West Indies received a pounding in the first Test at Edgbaston, which was the day-night Test on English soil. The Test did not even last three full days, as the visitors were beaten by an innings and 209 runs.

Bangladesh

  The Tigers had one of their most productive years in Test history. The year began in the disappointment of a 2-0 reversal in New Zealand, where they lost the Wellington Test despite scoring 595/8 – the highest losing total in Test cricket. The one-off Test at Hyderabad was their first ever on Indian soil, which they lost by 208 runs. The first Test in Sri Lanka ended in another big defeat.

  However, Bangladesh turned the tide in the second Test at Colombo, scripting a four-wicket win – their first against Sri Lanka and only their fourth overseas. They built on this success in their next series, beating Australia in a Test for the first time, before settling for a 1-1 draw. South Africa later took off a bit of the sheen, condemning the touring Tigers to a 2-0 defeat in a one-sided affair.

     The Bangladeshi players are exultant after achieving their first ever Test match win against Australia, at Mirpur (source – getty images)

Moment to remember: The much-awaited first Test at Mirpur was Bangladesh’s first against Australia in more than 11 years, and they made it an occasion to remember with a thrilling 20-run victory on the fourth day.

Moment to forget: Bangladesh’s last Test of the year, at Bloemfontein, resulted in annihilation, as South Africa took less than three days to win by an innings and 254 runs. Bangladesh’s two innings together lasted only 85.3 overs.

Zimbabwe

  The paucity of fixtures continued for Zimbabwe – they played only four Tests in the year, and had a great chance of winning the first of them, against Sri Lanka at Colombo, until the hosts successfully chased down 388. Despite the returns of Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis, they lost 1-0 at home to the West Indies, and succumbed inside two days to South Africa in the day-night Test at Port Elizabeth.

Moment to remember: Though Zimbabwe lost to Sri Lanka by four wickets at Colombo, they dished out one of their most impressive performances in recent times. They reduced the hosts to 203/5 after setting a target of 388, but could not finish it off.

Moment to forget: The day-night, four-day Boxing Day Test at Port Elizabeth turned out to be a highly forgettable match for Zimbabwe, as they capitulated for 68 and 121 to lose by an innings and 120 runs in less than five sessions.

Test match of the year

  Bangladesh pipped Australia by just 20 runs in the see-sawing first Test at the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur in Dhaka. The Tigers recovered from 10/3 to post 260, thanks to a fourth-wicket stand worth 135 between Tamim Iqbal (71) and Shakib Al Hasan (84). Australia themselves stuttered to 33/4 in reply, before reaching 217. Shakib was the pick of the bowlers, capturing 5/68.

  Tamim (78) starred again, guiding Bangladesh to 221 on the fast-deteriorating pitch, which Nathan Lyon exploited to take 6/82. David Warner scored a superb 112 to steer his side to 158/2 in the chase of 265. But his dismissal to Shakib (5/85) induced a collapse, and despite the last two wickets adding 45, Australia were all out for 244. Shakib was named man of the match for his all-round effort.

Test cricketer of the year

  Australian captain Steven Smith enjoyed another prolific year, scoring 1305 runs at 76.76 with six hundreds. His match-winning 109 at Pune was a knock for the ages, while his 141* at Brisbane and a career-best 239 at Perth went a long way in Australia’s Ashes-regaining victory. He now averages 63.55 after 60 Tests, leaving no doubt about his standing as the world’s number one Test batsman.

The Cricket Cauldron Test Team of the Year

David Warner (Australia)
Dean Elgar (South Africa)
Cheteshwar Pujara (India)
Steven Smith (Australia)
Virat Kohli (India, captain)
Mushfiqur Rahim (Bangladesh)
Ravindra Jadeja (India)
Kagiso Rabada (South Africa)
Nathan Lyon (Australia)
Morne Morkel (South Africa)
James Anderson (England)

Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year.

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