Review – 2016 Test cricket recap

  Test cricket continued to provide indelible moments and arresting performances in a year that saw 47 matches played in the longest format. As many as 40 matches ended in a result, of which 25 were home wins.

Teams Overview

India

  As the year rolled on, India steadily cemented their unbeaten run dating back to August 2015 and are now placed at the top of the Test rankings, a good 15 points clear of the next best side. They have not lost in their last 18 Tests and given their recent exploits, this streak could well be extended further. Their final Test of the year also saw them rack up their highest Test total of 759/7.

  India won more than one Test in a series in the Caribbean for the first time as they took the four-match rubber 2-0. In familiar home environs, they preyed on New Zealand, who were swept 3-0, and England, who could only manage a sole draw before losing four on the trot. Led by the zealous Virat Kohli and served by the talismanic Ravi Ashwin, India were the the team of the year.

Moment to remember: The Anthony D’Mello Trophy was regained in emphatic fashion, as the unrelenting Indians won by an innings and 36 runs in the fourth Test at Mumbai to clinch their first series win over England in eight years.

Moment to forget: In what was a near-perfect year for India, the closest they came to defeat was on the the final day of the Rajkot Test against England, when they lost six wickets in two sessions during the fourth innings.

Australia

  The year began and ended with impressive series wins for Australia – in New Zealand and at home against Pakistan respectively. However, two demoralising defeats in between raised many questions, especially with regard to their batsmen’s capabilities against high-quality bowling, be it spin or swing.

  Australia had lost just once in 26 Tests against Sri Lanka in a span of over three decades stretching back to 1982-83. In 2016, they lost thrice to the Islanders in three weeks. If this 3-0 humbling was not bad enough, they surrendered to South Africa at home, losing the first two Tests. They remained unbeaten in day/night Tests though, beating both South Africa and Pakistan under lights.

Moment to remember: Despite conceding a total of 443/9 in the first innings, Australia produced a great team effort to beat Pakistan by an innings and 18 runs in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne, thereby securing the series win.

Moment to forget: Under pressure after losing the first Test, Australia’s batting sensationally caved in on the opening day of the second Test against South Africa at Hobart. The hosts crashed to 17/5 before eventually getting bundled out for 85.

India's captain Virat Kohli, second from left, carries a wicket as he celebrates with his team players after their win over England on the fifth day of the fourth cricket test match between India and England in Mumbai, India, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

      Indian players celebrate after winning the fourth Test against England at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai (source – AP photo/rafiq maqbool)

Pakistan

  Pakistan had a healthy diet of overseas fixtures after quite some time, and the results were mixed. A commendable drawn result in England was neutralised by back-to-back reversals in the Antipodes, where they lost four consecutive Tests – two each in New Zealand and Australia.

  In between, they had their only home series of the year in which they beat the West Indies, but not before surviving a scare in the first Test and losing the third. Staying true to their tag of unpredictables, their performances, particularly on the batting front, often swung from the sublime – they came within 39 runs of a world record chase at the Gabba – to the mediocre.

Moment to remember: The momentum was against them after two losses in succession, but Pakistan, guided by Younis Khan’s 218, showed great resolve at The Oval to trounce England by ten wickets and draw the series 2-2.

Moment to forget: A draw was there for the taking for Pakistan on the final day of the second Test at Hamilton, but their batting simply imploded from 158/1 at tea to 230 all out. This series defeat was their first to New Zealand in 32 years.

South Africa

  The Proteas had a lacklustre start to the year, but bounced back in the second half. They lost 2-1 to England at home, with the solitary win coming in the final Test at Centurion, by which time the rubber was lost. Centurion also saw them clinch the short home series against New Zealand, under stand-in captain Faf du Plessis.

  Their big moment came later in the year as they sealed their third successive series victory in Australia. Bereft of star players such as A.B de Villiers and Dale Steyn, South Africa scored memorable wins at Perth and Hobart to win 2-1 under the inspiring leadership of du Plessis, who was deservedly awarded the full-time captaincy after de Villiers resigned from the post.

Moment to remember: Buoyed by a 177-run win in the opening Test at Perth, South Africa went a step further and demolished Australia by an innings and 80 runs before lunch on the fourth day at Hobart to seal the series.

Moment to forget: A manic second-innings collapse at Johannesburg cost South Africa the series against England. Trailing by just ten on the first innings, the hosts were 16/0 at lunch on the third day. Just after tea, they were shot out for 83.

England

  England showed promise at the start of a busy year by bearding the South Africans in their own den, but found themselves ending the year with a run of six defeats in their last eight matches. Following the win in South Africa, they did well at home – outplaying Sri Lanka and settling for a drawn result with Pakistan – before the wheels came off in the subcontinent.

  They suffered their first Test defeat to Bangladesh, with whom they drew the two-match series 1-1. In India, after an encouraging draw, England’s fortunes took a turn for the worse as they were beaten 4-0 – the last two matches were lost by an innings despite them reaching 400 in the first innings, which put the bowling attack as well as Alastair Cook’s captaincy under immense scrutiny.

Moment to remember: A Stuart Broad special gave England a series-winning seven-wicket win in three days against South Africa at Johannesburg. The lanky paceman took 6/17 to help bowl South Africa out for 83 in the second dig.

Moment to forget: While they endured many a travail in India, England’s worst display came in the final session on the third day of the Dhaka Test against Bangladesh, where they lost ten for 64 in just 22.2 overs to crash to a 108-run defeat.

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     The Bangladesh team erupt in joy at Dhaka after beating England in a Test match for the first time (source – theguardian.com)

New Zealand

  The Black Caps could not consolidate on the gains of the past two years and ended the year at sixth place in the Test rankings. Their popular captain Brendon McCullum bid farewell with a record-breaking century in his final Test, but that was not enough to prevent his side from losing both the home Tests against old foes Australia.

  As Kane Williamson took over the reins, an African tour followed. While New Zealand easily beat Zimbabwe 2-0, South Africa proved to be a different kettle of fish . Their most trying time came in India, where they were whitewashed 3-0. An impressive home win against Pakistan gave them a much-needed boost as the year drew to a close.

Moment to remember: New Zealand won their first Test series against Pakistan since 1984-85. An eight-wicket win at Christchurch was followed by the series-clinching 138-run triumph at Hamilton, where they took nine wickets in the last session.

Moment to forget: With the series already lost, New Zealand came into the third Test at Indore hoping to salvage some pride. Instead, they were flattened by 321 runs – their second heaviest defeat in terms of runs.

Sri Lanka

  A series in England beginning in May is never easy for a touring side, and it was no different with the Sri Lankans, who suffered a tame 2-0 defeat in the three-Test series. However, two months later, this seemed like a distant memory as Sri Lanka went on to achieve one of their most glittering Test series wins.

  Having beaten Australia only once in their Test history thus far, Sri Lanka spun them out thrice in a row to complete a memorable whitewash. Wily veteran Rangana Herath led the hosts’ charge by grabbing 28 wickets. Both the Tests in Zimbabwe were won as well, with Herath as stand-in skipper. The year ended with a defeat to South Africa, as they lost the Boxing Day Test at Port Elizabeth.

Moment to remember: The catalyst for Sri Lanka’s eventual whitewash of Australia was a remarkable turnaround in the first Test at Pallekele, where they ended up winning by 106 runs despite being bowled out for 117 o the first day.

Moment to forget: A listless Sri Lanka were thumped by an innings and 88 runs in less than three days at Headingley, with their totals reading 91 and 119 in the first and second innings respectively.

West Indies

  A four-match home series against India presented the West Indies with a chance to redeem themselves, but they failed to win a Test and went down 2-0, stretching their winless run against India to 19 Tests and 15 years. Their best effort of the series came at Kingston, where they salvaged a hard-fought draw despite trailing by 304 on the first innings.

  Not surprisingly, the series against Pakistan in the UAE ended in defeat for the Windies, but they secured a rare win in the third and final Test at Sharjah and also came within 56 runs of victory in the opening match at Dubai. A series win against a higher-ranked team thus remained elusive.

Moment to remember: The West Indies’ five-wicket win at Sharjah was their first in an away Test against a higher-ranked side since 2007-08. Kraigg Brathwaite became the first opener to remain unbeaten in both innings of a Test.

Moment to forget: Needing to win to stay alive in the series, the West Indies were bowled out for 108 after lunch on the final day at Gros Islet to lose by 237 runs. They lost their last seven wickets for just 44 runs.

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      Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin’s consistent all-round performance was a major factor in India maintaining an unbeaten run (source – AP/indiatoday)

Bangladesh

  The Tigers played a mere two Test matches in the entire year, and went without an overseas Test for the second year in succession. Their only series, against England, ended with exultant scenes as they notched their most significant Test win.

  After losing narrowly by 22 runs at Chittagong, Bangladesh grabbed their next opportunity with both hands as they took ten wickets in a session at Dhaka to beat England for the first time in whites and level the series 1-1.

Moment to remember: 19-year-old off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz, playing just his second Test, left England reeling with a match haul of 12/159 as Bangladesh sealed their most memorable Test win at Dhaka by 108 runs.

Moment to forget: It could well have been a series win against England, as Bangladesh fell short by just 22 runs at Chittagong. Requiring 23 with two wickets hand, Ben Stokes struck twice in three balls to break Bangladeshi hearts.

Zimbabwe

  Zimbabwe hosted New Zealand for more than a single Test for the first time since 2005 and Sri Lanka for the first time since 2003-04. However, they could not take advantage of the four home matches as they were defeated by wide margins in each of them. The first Test against Sri Lanka at Harare was their hundredth Test.

Moment to remember: Zimbabwe’s lower order showed admirable grit in recovering from 139/6 to 373 in the first innings against Sri Lanka at Harare, with captain Graeme Cremer scoring 102* from number eight.

Moment to forget: In what was their first day of Test cricket at home in two years, Zimbabwe crashed to 72/8 against New Zealand at Bulawayo, eventually losing by an innings and 117 runs.

Test match of the year

  Bangladesh and England played out an enthralling, see-sawing battle in the first Test at Chittagong. Teenaged debutant Mehedi Hasan Miraz took 6/80 to keep England to 293, to which Bangladesh replied with 248, losing their last six wickets for 27 thanks to a late burst from Ben Stokes.

  England were on the mat at 62/5 in the second innings, before Stokes came to the rescue again with a knock of 85. Chasing 286 for victory, Bangladesh looked good at 227/5. However, they lost their last five wickets for only 36 to give England a 22-run win. Stokes fittingly took two wickets in three balls early on the final day to seal the game.

Test cricketer of the year

  Much of India’s success in the year revolved around Ravichandran Ashwin’s all-round prowess. He was the leading wicket-taker in 2016, with a tally of 72 wickets in 12 Tests at 23.90. If that was not enough, he chipped in with 612 runs at 43.71, justifying his position as the world’s leading Test all-rounder. His return of 13/140 against New Zealand at Indore was a new career high. 

 Ashwin went from strength to strength, starting with a man-of-the-series performance of 235 runs ( including two centuries) and 17 wickets in the West Indies, and then snaring 27 wickets against New Zealand and another 28 wickets as well as scoring 306 runs against England. Reliable with the ball as well as the bat, he has grown to become the most valuable player in the Indian team.

The Cricket Cauldron Test Team of the Year

1) Kraigg Brathwaite (West Indies)
2) Azhar Ali (Pakistan)
3) Joe Root (England)
4) Virat Kohli (India, captain)
5) Steve Smith (Australia)
6) Jonny Bairstow (England)
7) Ravichandran Ashwin (India)
8) Mitchell Starc (Australia)
9) Rangana Herath (Sri Lanka)
10) Neil Wagner (New Zealand)
11) Kagiso Rabada (South Africa)
12) Ben Stokes (England)

  Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year.

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Review – 2015 Test cricket recap

  Even though 2015 was the year of the World Cup, there were quite a few moments from the longest format of the game to keep Test cricket aficionados engrossed. A total of 43 Tests were played in the year, of which 34 ended in a result. Of the 34 results, 22 were home wins.

Teams Overview

South Africa

  The long-standing Test champions saw the rest of the pack catch up with them after an uninspiring year. They began by completing an expected series win at home against the West Indies, but that was as good as it got. A rain-affected series in Bangladesh ended in a stalemate, but the Proteas were far from impressive.

  Their proud nine-year unbeaten overseas streak was finally broken in India, where they were thoroughly outplayed by the home side. Their worries compounded in the last week of the year as they hurtled to a home defeat in the Boxing Day Test against England.

Moment to remember – Hashim Amla and A.B de Villiers’ extraordinary blockathon against India at Delhi may not have averted a big defeat, but it re-emphasised the joys of defensive batting.

Moment to forget – Getting bowled out for a paltry 79 against India – their lowest total since readmission – in the first innings at Nagpur was a nightmarish effort, especially since they were 12/5 at one stage.

India

  India got a new captain in Virat Kohli at the start of the year, and his reign began with a hard-fought series defeat in Australia. A one-off Test in Bangladesh was rained off, but the team showed admirable resolve in overturning a 1-0 deficit to win the series in Sri Lanka – their first in the island nation in 22 years.

  India’s biggest challenge was their home series against South Africa, but in the end they triumphed in style, winning the inaugural Freedom Trophy in the process. This was India’s first series success against South Africa in eleven years.

Moment to remember – It had been four years since India won an overseas series. Inspired by Cheteshwar Pujara’s fine 145*, they scripted a much-needed success after winning the deciding Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo

Moment to forget – When India were embarrasingly bowled out for 112 while chasing 176 against Sri Lanka at Galle, it seemed that their overseas blues of recent years would continue in the subcontinent as well.

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      South Africa’s run of nine years without losing an overseas series was broken by India, who convincingly won the inaugural Freedom Trophy (source – sportskeeda.com)

Australia

  Australia also saw change in helm, as the retiring Michael Clarke made way for Steven Smith. The first half of the year saw them complete a home series win against India and then easily dispatch the West Indies away. Then came the Ashes, where a couple of horrendous batting displays neutralised a reasonable effort.

  They won more than one Test in a series in England for the first time since 2001, but it was not enough to retain the urn. At home, they flexed their muscles, first beating a spirited New Zealand outfit and then rounding off by overwhelming the Windies again.

Moment to remember – The first ever day/night Test, played at Adelaide, resulted in an exciting low scorer. Chasing a tricky 187 for victory, the hosts saw off New Zealand’s challenge with a three-wicket win.

Moment to forget – No prizes for guessing this one, surely. In one of their worst batting displays ever, the Baggy Greens collapsed to 60 all out – lasting just 18.3 overs – in the first innings of the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.

Pakistan

  All of Pakistan’s matches came in the subcontinent, and they made the most of it by notching three series wins. After defeating Bangladesh away, Pakistan secured a memorable win in Sri Lanka – an important result, since they had gone down tamely in the same country just a year ago.

  The visiting Englishmen were then put through a trial by spin in the UAE, and after a massive reprieve on the final day of the first Test, Misbah ul Haq’s men stretched their undefeated run at home to eight successive series.

Moment to remember – With the series against Sri Lanka tied at 1-1 and all to play for at Pallekele, Pakistan, guided by Younis Khan, remarkably chased down 377 on a fifth-day wicket rather comfortably, winning by seven wickets.

Moment to forget – The Abu Dhabi Test against England was meandering towards a draw when Pakistan imploded from 113/3 to 173 all out on the final day. It was only due to bad light that they averted defeat.

New Zealand

  Just as in 2014, the Black Caps continued to dish out vibrant performances. A stellar comeback at Wellington saw them beat Sri Lanka at the start of the year. They had a great opportunity to win the series in England, but had to settle for a draw after frittering away the advantage in the first Test.

  After a forgettable start to the series in Australia, New Zealand came back well and in spite of the defeat – their first series defeat in two years – they held their own. The year was capped by another home series sweep against Sri Lanka.

Moment to remember – New Zealand’s win at Headingley was their first in England in ten matches and 16 years. They prevailed by 199 runs in what was effectively a second-innings shootout.

Moment to forget – The Trans-Tasman Trophy started off on the wrong foot for the visitors, as their bowlers had no answer to the Australian top order on the first day at Brisbane which ultimately set the tone for the series.

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       History was created at the Adelaide Oval in November as Australia faced New Zealand in the first ever day/night Test match (source – skysports.com)

England

  England had mixed results, having played the most Tests among all teams (14). They looked good for success in the Caribbean until poor batting cost them the final Test and hence had to be content with a draw. Another drawn result followed, this time at home against New Zealand in a well-contested series.

  The showpiece event was the Ashes at home, and despite two heavy defeats, England came up trumps and wrested back the urn with a game to spare. However, their travails against spin resurfaced in the away loss to Pakistan. The year ended on a high, with a big win over South Africa in the first Test.

Moment to remember – Leading the series 2-1, England demolished Australia by an innings and 78 runs in the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge to regain the urn. Stuart Broad’s 8/15 left the visitors shellshocked on the first day itself.

Moment to forget – After having won the first Ashes Test at Cardiff, the tables turned at Lord’s as England were crushed by 405 runs. The bowlers managed only ten wickets in the match while the batsmen subsided to 103 in the second innings.

Sri Lanka

  Sri Lanka regressed after a promising 2014, with the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara further denting them. They squandered a chance of drawing in New Zealand after allowing the hosts to stage a comeback win early in the year.

  The home season was disappointing as the Lions suffered back-to-back defeats, first to Pakistan where they failed to defend 377 in the decider and then to India where they had taken the lead. The home win against the West Indies was expected, and in spite of a few promising individual displays, lost another series in New Zealand as the year finished.

Moment to remember – Riding on two stellar second-innings performances – Dinesh Chandimal’s 162* and Rangana Herath’s 7/48 – Sri Lanka overturned a 192-run deficit into a 63-run win against India at Galle.

Moment to forget – Leading by 55 on the first innings and with the situation demanding a sensible approach, Sri Lanka’s batting caved in terribly on the third day of the Hamilton Test. All ten wickets tumbled for 62 runs in just 13.5 overs.

West Indies

  Off-field controversies continued to stall the progress of the Windies, and it translated into their showings on the field. Young Jason Holder was thrust into the captaincy early in the year, replacing Denesh Ramdin. After going down in South Africa, the West Indies churned out a gritty effort to draw at home against England.

  But they were later swamped by the visiting Australians, followed by conscutive overseas defeats, first in Sri Lanka and then in Australia, the latter ensuring a two-decade long Frank Worrell Trophy drought for them.

Moment to remember – The Windies produced a rare performance to beat England by seven wickets at Bridgetown, thus drawing the series. Trailing by 68 in the first innings, the bowlers and batsmen combined well in the second dig to seal the win.

Moment to forget – Little was expected from them in the lead-up to the series in Australia, but the Windies’ defeat in the first Test at Hobart was painful. They crashed to defeat by an innings and 212 runs in under three days.

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      Kane Williamson celebrates his hundred at Lord’s. He had an outstanding year with the bat, scoring 1172 runs at 90.15 (source – radionz.co.nz)

Bangladesh

  Bangladesh played only at home and most of those games were hampered by rain, prompting many to question the scheduling logic. They began with a defeat to Pakistan, before struggling in a one-off drawn Test against India.

  Had it not been for the weather, they might have had given South Africa a lot more to think about, as they took a first-innings lead in the opening Test. A potentially interesting home series with Australia was nipped in the bud as the tourists pulled out due to security concerns. 

Moment to remember – Faced with a deficit of 296, Bangladesh piled up 555/6 to ensure a draw in the Chittagong Test against Pakistan, thanks to a 312-run opening stand between Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes.

Moment to forget – Less than a week later, Bangladesh went back to their old selves as Pakistan crushed them by 328 runs at Mirpur. The bowling was listless and the batting crumbled without much resistance.

Test match of the year

  History was created at the Adelaide Oval as Australia took on New Zealand in the first ever day/night Test match. It was the third Test of the Trans-Tasman Trophy and produced a low-scoring three-day affair. Australia eventually prevailed by three wickets under lights.

  Although the pink ball was not completely convincing – there was extra grass left on the pitch so that the ball did not get damaged – the experiment was certainly a success as seen by the crowd turnout. Australia are already planning for another day/night Test in 2016.

Test series of the year

  England and New Zealand played out a highly entertaining two-match series, and the end result of 1-1 was probably a fair reflection. Test cricket lovers were left wanting for more – surely a deciding Test would have been a mouthwatering prospect. 

  England came back from behind to win by 124 runs at Lord’s, while New Zealand turned around a seemingly tight second Test at Headingley their way, triumphing by 199 runs. Alastair Cook (309 runs) and Trent Boult (13 wickets) were the players of the series.

Test cricketer of the year

  New Zealand’s batting phenomenon Kane Williamson was in astounding form throughout the year. His Test numbers were 1172 runs in 16 innings from eight matches at a Bradmanesque average of 90.15. He was the fifth highest run-getter – but all the four above him played at least five matches more.

  His run tally and five centuries were both New Zealand records for any calendar year. Starting off with a career-best 242* against Sri Lanka at Wellington, he continued in the same vein as the year progressed, cracking hundreds at Lord’s, Brisbane, Perth and finally another against Sri Lanka, at Hamilton.

The Cricket Cauldron Test Team of the Year

  David Warner (Australia), Alastair Cook (England), Kane Williamson (New Zealand), Steve Smith (Australia), Joe Root (England), Dinesh Chandimal (Sri Lanka), Ravichandran Ashwin (India), Stuart Broad (England), Josh Hazlewood (Australia), James Anderson (England), Yasir Shah (Pakistan).

  Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous new year.

Review – Associate cricket’s best moments from 2015

  Even as the ICC continued with its blinkered outlook towards the non-Test playing nations, there were plenty of encouraging signs throughout 2015 that underlined the rising stock of Associate cricket.

  The World Cup saw a string of exciting performances from the four Associate teams involved, with Ireland producing their best display at the global event courtesy of three wins – two of them over Test nations – and missing a quarterfinal berth by a whisker. There was considerable outrage against the ICC’s decision to reduce the number of teams in the 2019 edition to ten, but to no avail. 

  The most significant edition of the Intercontinental Cup commenced, with eight teams vying for a ‘crack at Test cricket’ in 2018. Purported to be a ‘pathway’ to Test cricket, it would however not be wrong to say that the competition in reality is yet another instance of ICC doublespeak, as there is no concrete guarantee that the winner will earn Test status in the future.

  The other major event on the Associate calendar was the World Twenty20 Qualifier hosted by Ireland and Scotland. There were twists and turns and surprises galore, before six teams sealed their passage to the first round of what is falsely claimed to be a ’16-team tournament’ – the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 in India. 

  Nevertheless, in spite of these obstacles, the year was enriched by several memorable moments produced by the ‘have-nots’ of the international cricket fraternity, and this has certainly left keen followers of Associate cricket asking for more in 2016. Here are five such moments that gained the attention of the cricketing world:

zzshapooor       Shapoor Zadran’s celebration after hitting the winning runs for Afghanistan against Scotland was arguably the defining image of the 2015 World Cup (source – edition.cnn.com)

5) Oman spring a shock at the World Twenty20 Qualifier

  Unheralded Oman – placed in Division Five of the World Cricket League and well below the established Associate teams – lived a dream at the World Twenty20 Qualifier and ultimately succeeded in making the cut to the opening round of the 2016 World T20 by finishing sixth. They also gained T20 international status. 

  Having gained entry into the Qualifier on the back of their ACC Twenty20 Cup victory earlier in the year, Oman opened their campaign with a narrow loss to Kenya before signalling their intentions by beating Canada, thanks to Zeeshan Maqsood’s whirlwind 86*. 

  Then followed two massive upsets – as fancied Netherlands and Afghanistan both fell prey to the tenacity of the unknown expatriate outfit. The win over Afghanistan – by a wide margin of 40 runs – was especially stirring. They thus finished fourth in their group and were pitted against Namibia in a knockout playoff.

  A disciplined bowling effort saw Oman restrict Namibia to 148/9. The batsmen replied in an unburdened fashion, an even though the score wobbled to 67/3, a five-wicket victory was sealed with a full over to spare, thanks in main to Zeeshan Siddiqui’s unbeaten 51. The fairytale result expectedly sparked delirious scenes in the Omani camp.

4) Barramundis create history on first-class debut

  The spunky Papua New Guinea team – known as the Barramundis – had created history late in 2014 by becoming the first nation to win its first two ODI matches. Halfway through 2015, they added another feather to their cap by winning their first first-class match, that too after overcoming a tough chase.

  Drawn against the Netherlands at Amstelveen in their first round Intercontinental Cup match, Papua New Guinea had prior experience of only two-day cricket. Pacer Loa Nou (5/49) helped bowl the hosts out for 209 in the first innings, but the PNG batting quickly subsided to concede a lead of 81.

  The Dutch gathered a further 223 runs in the second innings, recovering from 110/7, thereby setting the visitors a target of 305. PNG reached 66/2 at the end of the second day, with the hard-hitting Lega Siaka providing vital impetus at the top with an attacking 49.

zzzzp      The PNG Barramundis are a jubiliant lot after beating the Netherlands in their first ever first-class match, at Amstelveen in the Intercontinental Cup (source – radionz.co.nz)

  The score slipped to 82/4 early on the third day, but Assad Vala and Mahuru Dai rose to the ocassion. The duo shared in an excellent stand of 200 in 51.4 overs for the fourth wicket to guide their team’s march towards victory. While Dai fell for 91, Vala remained unconquered on a magnificent 124. Captain Jack Vare struck the winning boundary to seal a five-wicket triumph with a day to spare.

3) Afghanistan’s double success in Zimbabwe

  On their 2014 visit to Zimbabwe, Afghanistan had admirably drawn the ODI series 2-2. In 2015, they went one step ahead and became the first Associate team to win a bilateral series against a Test team. This result further exposed the ICC’s fallacy of the shallow bifurcation between ‘full members’ and ‘non-full members’.

  The Afghans started the five-match ODI series in ordinary fashion, getting walloped by eight wickets in the first game. They came back strongly to win the second ODI by 58 runs, before Zimbabwe pulled into the lead again thanks to a six-wicket win in the third.

  Faced with a must-win situation in each of the final two games, Afghanistan upped their performance when it mattered. The fourth ODI was won by three wickets after the hosts were restricted to 184/8, while the crowning glory came through a convincing 73-run win in the final encounter.

  Not only did they win the ODI series, but also swept the two-match T20I series that followed. In the second game, they chased down Zimbabwe’s substantial total of 190/5 thanks to a rollicking start by their often-fragile top order. As the year draws to a close, Afghanistan have broken into the top ten of the ODI rankings for the first time.

2) Ireland at the World Cup – giant-killers no more

  Back in 2007, Ireland gained the reputation of being ‘giant-killers’ following shock wins over Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 2011, while one expected them to impress again, few would have envisaged their epic chase against England, not in the least at the halfway mark of their innings.

  However in 2015, there were real expectations. As the torchbearers of Associate cricket, the onus was on Ireland to conjure up another noteworthy performance on the global stage. They certainly did not let down on that count, as they notched three wins and missed out on the quarterfinals only due to an unfavourable net run-rate.

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       John Mooney and Niall O’Brien celebrate Ireland’s win against the West Indies in their opening World Cup match at Nelson (source – gettyimages/ hagen hopkins/ abc.net.au)

  The opening game against the West Indies at Nelson presented a great opportunity for the Irishmen to prove a point, and they grabbed it with both hands. Even though the bowlers allowed the Windies to get away from 87/5 to 304/7, the batsmen clinically hunted down the total to bring up a four-wicket win with 25 balls to spare. Paul Stirling (92), Ed Joyce (84) and Niall O’Brien (79*) all starred.

  In their fourth game, they collected their second ‘full member’ scalp as they beat Zimbabwe by five runs in a heart-stopper at Hobart. Joyce (112) and Andy Balbirnie (97) steered their side to 331/7, and Zimbabwe’s unlikely march to victory was eventually halted by Alex Cusack (4/32). They did lose to South Africa, India and Pakistan, but the Irishmen clearly showed that their wins were no longer ‘upsets’.

1) Afghanistan’s maiden World Cup victory

   Afghanistan’s astonishingly rapid rise from learning the game in refugee camps to World Cup qualification has been nothing short of a delightful fairyale. The fairytale reached its zenith at Dunedin’s University Oval, where Mohammed Nabi’s men met fellow Associate Scotland in their World Cup clash.

  After Afghanistan elected to field, fast bowlers Shapoor Zadran (4/38) and Dawlat Zadran (3/29) combined to bowl Scotland out for 210. In reply, the Afghans were in control at 85/2 in the 19th over with Javed Ahmadi and Samiullah Shenwari in the middle, but the former’s dismissal for 51 triggered a manic collapse of five for 12 in five overs as the score slid to 97/7.

  But Shenwari was still there and he added crucial runs with the tail. He was ninth out for a heroic 96 with 19 runs still needed off as many balls. The last pair of Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran managed to hang in and completed the win with three balls left, leading to an outburst of raw emotion – not just on the field, but all across Afghanistan, where people took to the streets with euphoria.

  It was the long-haired Shapoor who hit the wining boundary. As soon as he realised it, he took off his helmet and made a dash to a corner of the ground. He knelt down and looked skywards, with his hands spread out wide, as his teammates converged on him. It was arguably the defining image of the tournament.

Review – Looking back at the best matches and moments of the 2015 World Cup

  The eleventh edition of the cricket World Cup drew to a close with the two best teams of the tournament contesting the final in front of a record crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

  Michael Clarke’s Australians proved to be too strong for Brendon McCullum’s New Zealanders on the big day as they cruised to a comprehensive seven-wicket victory. Australia now have won five World Cup titles – each of them remarkably coming in a different continent.

  The last 44 days saw many memorable moments that shaped cricket’s premier limited-overs event. While it was undoubtedly a batting-oriented tournament, there was no dearth of quality bowling displays. Eventually, the teams with better bowling resources were the most successful.

  As yet another World Cup rolls into history, let us look back and relive the matches and moments that defined the tournament.

The six best matches

6) Bangladesh v England at Adelaide

  The Tigers roared into the quarterfinals with a determined performance which embarrassingly knocked out England with a match still to go.

  Bangladesh were rescued from a worrisome 99/4 by a fine maiden hundred from Mahmudullah, who scored 103 off 138 balls. He shared a fifth-wicket stand of 141 with Mushfiqur Rahim (89) to shift the momentum towards his team. The final total read a competitive 275/7.

  England were in the contest at 121/2 in 26 overs, but Rubel Hossain’s double-strike jolted them. Jos Buttler (65) tried his best but Bangladesh kept up the pressure with regular scalps. Rubel (4/53) ended it all by taking two wickets in three balls as England were bowled out for 260 in 48.3 overs.

5) Ireland v UAE at Brisbane

  Shaiman Anwar’s 106 from number six and his seventh-wicket partnership of 107 with Amjad Javed shepherded UAE from  131/6 to 278/9. The last 15 overs brought a massive 146 runs.

  Ireland made a cautious start and stuttered to 97/4 at the halfway stage. Gary Wilson put his hand up and shared partnerships of 74 with Andrew Balbirnie for the fifth wicket and 72 in just six overs with Kevin O’Brien (50 off 25 balls) for the sixth wicket.

  When Wilson was out for 80 from 69 balls, Ireland still needed 12 to win from 15 balls. The tail however held their nerve and ensured a tense two-wicket win with four balls to spare.

CRICKET-WC-2015-NZL-RSA      Daniel Vettori (left) and Grant Elliott exult after the latter hit the winning six to deliver New Zealand’s semifinal win against South Africa (source – ibtimes.co.uk)

4) Ireland v Zimbabwe at Hobart

  Ireland kept their cool to eke out a last-gasp five-run win with three balls remaining in a see-sawing high-scorer. This win enabled them to stay alive in the competition whereas Zimbabwe got knocked out.

  Ireland piled up 331/8 after batting first, with Ed Joyce (112) and Andrew Balbirnie (97) doing the bulk of the scoring through a 138-run third-wicket stand. Zimbabwe needed to chase down the highest total in World Cup history in order to win.

  Zimbabwe slipped to 74/4 in the 17th over, but Brendan Taylor (121) and Sean Williams (96) staged  gallant fightback through a 149-run stand for the fifth wicket. It all came down to seven runs needed off the last over, where Alex Cusack (4/32) took the last two wickets to break Zimbabwean hearts.

3) Afghanistan v Scotland at Dunedin

  Afghanistan won their first ever World Cup match with a thrilling one-wicket victory. After Afghanistan elected to field, pacemen Shapoor Zadran (4/38) and Dawlat Zadran (3/29) combined to bowl out Scotland for 210.

  In reply, Afghanistan were in control at 85/2 in the 19th over with Javed Ahmadi and Samiullah Shenwari in the middle, but the former’s dismissal for 51 triggered a sensational collapse of five for 12 in five overs as the score slid to 97/7.

  But Shenwari was still there and he added crucial runs with the tail. He was ninth out for 96 with 19 runs needed off 19 balls. The last pair of Hamid Hassan and Shapoor managed to hang on and complete the win with three balls left, leading to emotional scenes.

2) New Zealand v Australia at Auckland

  This was another low-scorer which ended in a classic finish. Australia were cruising along at 80/1 in the 13th over after batting first when Daniel Vettori removed Shane Watson to turn the game around.

  The middle-order then stunningly caved in to the pace and swing of Trent Boult (5/27) as the score went from 80/1 to 106/9 in just nine overs. Australia were eventually bowled out for 151 in 32.2 overs.

  In reply, Brendon McCullum’s quick 50 guided New Zealand to 79/2 in only eight overs. But Mitchell Starc (6/28) ripped through the batting to reduce the score from 131/4 to 146/9. It was left to Kane Williamson to strike the winning six and seal a relieved victory for the hosts with 26.5 overs unused.

1) New Zealand v South Africa at Auckland

  This first semifinal was arguably the best match of the tournament and will also go down as one of the best ODI matches ever played. New Zealand prevailed in an epic finish which enabled them to make their first World Cup final.

  South Africa were soon 31/2 after batting first, but recovered through an anchoring innings from Faf du Plessis (82). After a sluggish first 30 overs, du Plessis and skipper A.B de Villiers (65) began to explode. A rain interruption after the 38th over meant that the match was reduced to 43 overs-a-side.

  South Africa finished with 281/5, thereby setting New Zealand a revised target of 299. Brendon McCullum (59 off 26 balls) launched a stunning assault to lay the platform. His dismissal led to a mini wobble from 71/0 to 149/4. But Grant Elliott (84* off 73) and Corey Anderson put on 103 for the fifth wicket.

  When Anderson was out for 58, New Zealand needed 47 from the last five overs. South Africa began to wilt under the pressure as they committed several fielding lapses. The last over began with 12 needed. With five needed off two balls, Elliott struck Dale Steyn for a six to seal a four-wicket victory.

The six best moments

6) Ireland defeating the West Indies

  Ireland signalled their intent with an authoritative victory over the West Indies in their opening game at Nelson. The world’s leading Associate nation clinically chased down a total of 304/7 to throw open Group B.

  Paul Stirling (92), Ed Joyce (84) and Niall O’Brien (79*) ensured that the total was chased down with as many as 25 balls remaining. Most importantly, the win was not treated as an upset; in fact, many were expecting the Irishmen to win.

  With this win, Ireland reaffirmed their status as the torchbearers of the Associate world and sent a strong reminder to the hypocrites at the ICC who have decided for a ten-team ‘World Cup’ in 2019.

zzshapooor    Afghanistan’s Shapoor Zadran provided the most iconic moment of the World Cup with his celebration following his country’s first ever win in the tournament (source – edition.cnn.com)

5) Daniel Vettori’s one-handed catch

  The recently-retired Daniel Vettori had a highly satisfying tournament, in which he picked up 15 wickets at 20.46. But his personal highlight came not as a bowler, but as a fielder.

  New Zealand had amassed a mammoth 393/6 in the quarterfinal against the West Indies at Wellington, but the Windies batsmen had got off to a decent start and were placed at 80/2 after nine overs. Marlon Samuels was on strike as Trent Boult began the tenth over.

  Samuels clouted the first ball towards the stands and it did seem like it was going to sail over. But he had reckoned without Vettori, who leapt high and out of nowhere pulled off a one-handed screamer at deep point. The crowd roared and his team-mates were animated, but Vettori himself remained as calm as he could be.

4) Hamid Hassan’s unique celebration

  With his country’s colours painted on his face and on the headband around his forehead, Afghan fast bowler Hamid Hassan was one of the reasons why the World Cup was enjoyable to watch.

  In the group match against Sri Lanka at Dunedin, Hassan provided one of the most heartwarming moments of the tournament after he got the prized wicket of Kumar Sangakkara.

  Hassan crashed through Sangakkara’s defence to reduce Sri Lanka, who were chasing 232, to 18/3 and expressed his joy with a delightful cartwheel. While the cartwheel might not have been perfect, it signified how much it meant for Hassan and the Afghans.

3) Wahab Riaz v Shane Watson

  The stirring duel between Wahab Riaz and Shane Watson in the quarterfinal at Adelaide will remain one of the most talked-about points of the tournament.

  It all began when Watson, fielding in the slips, sledged Riaz by asking ‘are you holding a bat?’ when the latter came out to bat during Pakistan’s innings. A few minutes later, Riaz also had an exchange with Mitchell Starc who was trying to rub it in along with a few others.

  With Australia set a modest 214 to win, a fired-up Riaz gave it back to Watson in a hair-raising manner. In one of the most mesmerising spells seen in recent times, Riaz made Watson duck, sway and scamper for survival. Riaz was already on song – having got rid of David Warner and Michael Clarke – when Watson came out to bat.

  His very first ball to Watson was a short one and then followed it up with a barrage of snorters. However, Watson was lucky to be dropped when on 4, following which Wahab lost his intensity. He remained unbeaten on 64 to guide Australia to victory, but that little passage of play was certainly the highlight of the game.

2) Grant Elliott and the spirit of cricket

  In the epic semifinal at Auckland, New Zealand and South Africa were both gunning for a place in the summit clash,something which neither team had done before.

  After a hard-fought tussle, it was New Zealand who emerged on the winning side, holding out for a heart-stopping four-wicket triumph with a ball to spare. The star of the show was Grant Elliott, who scored 84* and struck the winning six off Dale Steyn.

  As a crestfallen Steyn slumped on the pitch, Elliott put his joy aside for a while and reached out his hand to the bowler in a touching show of commiseration. It was a wonderful moment that captured the very essence of sport.

1) Shapoor Zadran’s victory dash

  Qualifying for the World Cup was a fairy-tale in itself for the Afghans, who fought all odds to rise from refugee camps to the world’s biggest stage.

  The dream reached its zenith amidst the serene environs of Dunedin’s University Oval, where Afghanistan beat Scotland in a gripping finish to win their first World Cup match. When last man Shapoor Zadran strode out to bat, Afghanistan – chasing 210 – still needed 19 to win from as many balls.

  The long-haired Shapoor and fellow tailender Hamid Hassan managed to steadily whittle down the target and eventually it was Shapoor – who had earlier taken 4/38 – who hit the winning boundary in the final over.

  As soon as he realised it, he took off his helmet and made a dash to a corner of the ground. He knelt down and looked skywards, with his hands spread out wide, as his team-mates converged on him. There was emotion, there was delirium, there was gratitude. It was a moment for the ages.

REVIEW – Difference in bowling prowess the decisive factor amid run-glut

  An unprecedented 5870 runs were scored in the recently-concluded four-match Test series between Australia and India for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Never before had so many runs been scored in a four-Test series.

  Incidentally, the previous highest tally of 5651 also came in a series between the same teams – in Australia in 2003-04. The pitches rolled out for the series were quite uncharacteristic to what one usually comes across in Australia. There was precious little for the bowlers from either side to rejoice about.

  The Tests at Melbourne and Sydney both produced draws – the previous drawn Tests at the MCG and the SCG were back in 1997-98 and 2003-04 respectively. Since the visit of India is a lucrative event for Cricket Australia, it is possible that measures were taken to ensure that all the Tests last their entire duration.

  Having said that, the cricket itself in the series was far from dour. The end result might have been 2-0 in Australia’s favour, but it would be fair to say that India more than held their own throughout the rubber, something which had been amiss in their recent overseas tours. At least three of their batsmen enhanced their reputations by the time the series concluded, and most of the times they matched their Australian counterparts stroke for stroke.

zbgh     The victorious Australian team pose with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy which they regained after defeating India 2-0 (source – sportskeeda.com)

  The difference lay in the bowling performances of the two teams. Australia’s two victories were ultimately shepherded by a combination of clever bowling – from Nathan Lyon at Adelaide and from Mitchell Johnson at Brisbane – and at the same time, poor bowling from the Indians. In fact, India failed to take 20 wickets even once. Looking back, one wonders what might have been the result in the second Test at Brisbane had India not allowed Australia to get to 505 from 247/6 in the first innings.

  As has often been the case, Mahendra Singh Dhoni – the Indian captain for the second and third Tests – was criticised for his defensive field settings and unwarranted shuffling of bowlers. Dhoni, to the surprise of all and sundry, decided to call it quits from Test cricket immediately after the Boxing Day Test ended. Statistically, he will go down as India’s most successful Test captain, but his forgettable record overseas will always refute that claim.

  His obvious successor was Virat Kohli, who in fact had lead India in the first Test at Adelaide as Dhoni was out due to injury. As the series unfolded, Kohli began to relish feasting on the much-vaunted Australian bowling attack. He ended up with as many as 692 runs at 86.50 in the series – the highest by an Indian in a series in Australia, surpassing Rahul Dravid’s tally of 619 runs made in 2003-04. In the exciting Adelaide Test, Kohli the captain also showed intent by going for the kill on the final day.

  While experts were divided on whether India should have played for the draw or not, Kohli himself was highly satisfied of the way his team approached the fifth-day chase of 364. Indeed, India fell only 48 runs short and at 242/2 with Kohli and Murali Vijay at the crease, they actually had an opportunity to score a historic win. But once the captain fell for a brilliant 141, the ship sank fast as the visitors lost eight wickets in the final session.

  Besides Kohli, who struck four hundreds and also became the first man to hit three hundreds in his first three innings as captain, the other Indian batsman who reaped rich benefits was Vijay. True to his nickname of ‘Monk’, Vijay left more deliveries in the series than any other batsman from either side. He logged 482 runs – the most by an Indian opener in a series in Australia – and the highlight was a high-quality 144 on the opening day at Brisbane – the venue which assisted the fast bowlers the most.

  Then there was the ever-improving Ajinkya Rahane, who was among the runs as well. He scored 399 runs which included a glorious career-best of 147 at the MCG, where he was involved in a 262-run stand with Kohli, who also achieved a career-best of 169. He was also at the crease to ensure that India saved the final Test. Young Lokesh Rahul, in his debut series, put behind a shoddy first game at Melbourne to score a patient hundred at Sydney.

zkohl     India’s new Test captain Virat Kohli bounced back from a poor tour of England in superb fashion, scoring 682 runs with four hundreds (source – financialexpress.com)

  Transcending the trio of Indian batsmen was Australia’s stand-in captain Steven Smith. Entrusted with the top job after Michael Clarke pulled out after the first Test due to his recurring back injury, Smith came through with flying colours. Not only did he have the satisfaction of winning his first Test as captain – at Brisbane – but he also scored a whopping 769 runs in the series at an average of 128.16.

  Just like Kohli, captaincy seems to bring out the best in Smith, and this series might just be the turning point of the 25-year-old’s Test career. He hit a hundred in the first innings of each Test, with a best of 192 at Melbourne. Smith’s tally of 769 is now the best ever by an Australian in a series against India, going past the 715 runs scored by none other than Donald Bradman in 1947-48. He now has eight hundreds in 26 Tests, while Kohli has ten in 33 Tests.

  Irrespective of the nature of the pitches, the superlative efforts of these two young potentially great batsmen deserve to be applauded. Home openers David Warner (427) and Chris Rogers (417) also made hay, with the former kick-starting the series with a rip-roaring 145 at Adelaide and the latter scoring six consecutive fifty-plus scores, though he could not reach to a hundred.

  There were very few good individual bowling performances in the series. Two of them stand out – Lyon’s match-winning 12/286 at Adelaide, where he exploited a final-day pitch to its maximum advantage with his off-spin, and Johnson’s equally vital four-wicket burst in the second innings at the Gabba. Before that spell, Johnson had crashed a counter-attacking 88 from number eight. Riled by Indian fielders when he came out to bat with his side in trouble, Johnson gave it back to them with one of the best all-round displays of his career.

zzsmith     Replacing the injured Michael Clarke as Australia’s captain, Steven Smith scored 769 runs at 128.16 and was named Man of the Series (source – sports.ndtv.com)

  The series had its fair share of on-field verbal duels, most notably between Johnson and Kohli. Before the series began, one would have expected the cricket to be played in a healthy spirit in the wake of Phillip Hughes’ tragic death, but that was not to be. The home side could not deliver their promise in this regard. Aggression from certain players does work in their favour, but tasteless comments on the field can well be avoided. One needs to draw the line at some point and realise that millions of people across the world are watching the unruly antics.

  Had it not been for India’s disappointing bowling, they might have had a chance to win a Test or two. Australia hammered totals in excess of 500 in each of their first innings, and to their credit, the Indians scored more than 400 in each of their corresponding first innings. But the bowlers left a lot to be desired.

  Mohammed Shami finished decently with 15 wickets but could not deliver when it mattered. Ravi Ashwin, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma all leaked runs heavily. Varun Aaron came into the series with confidence, but was wayward enough to render his pace impotent. The only bowler from both sides to take more than 15 wickets was Lyon, who finished with 23 scalps at 34.82.

  The only bowler to average less than 30 was the debutant Josh Hazlewood, who impressed with 12 wickets at 29.33 while also maintaining a tight economy rate. Even the much-feared Johnson had an ordinary return, save for his match-winning spell at Brisbane. It was a struggle for bowlers, and in the end Australia triumphed because they had a better bowling attack and also because they were much more suited to bowl in their home conditions.

  With the conclusion of this series, the 2014-15 Test season has come to an end. Australia, who were possibly expected to win the series by a higher margin, will be satisfied with the regaining of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after enduring a torrid time against Pakistan in the UAE. India, though they could not win a match, will look at the positive side of not repeating the whitewash suffered in 2011-12. At the same time, they must be ruing the missed opportunities in the two Tests they lost.

  The unsavoury incidents on the field did mar the series a bit, especially since it was slated to be a tribute to Hughes. However, Australia did win the series for their departed mate, and the respect paid to Hughes throughout the series by their batsmen on reaching a score of 63 struck a poignant note. A commemorative plaque was also unveiled in his honour at the SCG, the venue where he played his last innings.

  It has been a highly emotional summer of cricket in Australia, which will culminate in the final of the eleventh ICC World Cup on 29th March. The spotlight has shifted to ODI cricket, as all teams are now gearing up for what promises to be an exciting and possibly the most open World Cup tournament ever.

  As for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the next edition will take place in India in 2016-17. Will Australia be able to exorcise the demons of their 2012-13 defeat? Australia last won a Test in India back in 2004-05, while India last won a Test in Australia in 2007-08. An interesting question has arisen – which of the two teams will first win an overseas Test against the other in the near future? Only time will tell.

REVIEW – 2014 women’s cricket recap

  2014 was one of the better years for the women’s game. Three Test matches were played (the last time as many were played in a year was in 2006), besides 38 One-day internationals and 71 Twenty20 internationals. The introduction of the ICC Women’s ODI Championship was a welcome development.

  Here is a look at the highlights and records from women’s cricket in 2014:-

– England won the 2013-14 Women’s Ashes in Australia by 10 points to 8. England won the one-off Test at Perth by 61 runs to pocket six points. Australia won both, the ODI and the T20I series, by a margin of 2-1, but it was not enough for them to win the overall trophy.

– India made a return to Test cricket after eight years, and went on to win their comeback match against England at Wormsley by six wickets. This ensured that India’s unbeaten record in Tests in England was maintained – in eight Tests, India have now won two and drawn six. Incidentally, India’s previous Test in 2006 was also a win in England.

– South Africa too made a return to Test cricket, after a gap of more than seven years. In their comeback Test, they lost to India by an innings and 34 runs at Mysore. This was only the second Women’s Test between the two countries, the first instance being in South Africa in 2001-02.

– India’s Thirush Kamini was the highest run-getter in Tests with 237 from two matches. The highest wicket-taker in Tests was England’s Kate Cross with 12 from two matches. In ODIs, the highest run-getter was Australian captain Meg Lanning with 499 from 11 matches, while the highest wicket-taker was Pakistan’s Sana Mir with 21 from 11 matches. In T20Is, Lanning (625 runs in 17 matches) and Australian Rene Farrell (20 wickets in 16 matches) were the highest run-getter and wicket-taker respectively.

England v India - Women's Test Match      A spirited India defeated England by six wickets at Wormsley in their first Test in eight years (source – theguardian.com)

– The newly-conceptualised ICC Women’s ODI Championship began, with the top eight teams playing three-match series on a home and away basis. This first tournament will run till 2016-17, with the top four teams gaining automatic qualification for the 2017 World Cup. Currently, Australia are on top in the table with 12 points, courtesy of six wins from six matches.

– The fourth edition of the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 was held in Bangladesh. Australia won their third successive title, defeating England by six wickets in the final at Dhaka. The West Indies and South Africa were the respective semi-finalists. Bangladesh and Ireland took part in the tournament for the first time.

– Australia scored their highest T20I total when they amassed 191/4 against Ireland at Sylhet. Their previous highest total was 166/9 against New Zealand in 2010-11. Australia also recorded their biggest ever win, defeating Pakistan by 94 runs at the same venue.

– Australian limited-overs captain Meg Lanning created a new record for the highest individual T20I score. She scored 126 off 65 balls in the aforementioned game against Ireland at Sylhet, breaking the previous record of 116* made by Shandre Fritz for South Africa against Netherlands in 2010-11. This was only the third century in women’s T20Is.

– New Zealand captain Suzie Bates scored a country record of the highest individual T20I score – 94* off 61 balls against Pakistan at Sylhet. The earlier record was held by Aimee Watkins, who scored 89* against India in 2009.

– Likewise, a new country record for the highest individual T20I score was also created by English captain Charlotte Edwards, who scored 92* off 59 balls against Australia at Hobart. She broke the record of 80* scored by Lydia Greenway against Australia in 2013.

– Harmanpreet Kaur of India also scored a country record highest individual T20I score of 77 off 59 balls, against Bangladesh at Sylhet. She obliterated the previous record of 75 made by Poonam Raut against Bangladesh in 2012-13.

– Pakistan won the Asian Games Twenty20 cricket gold medal in Incheon, South Korea. They thus retained the title they won in 2010. In the final, they defeated Bangladesh by four runs on the D/L method. Sri Lanka took the bronze medal.

xlankingh      The highly impressive Meg Lanning (holding trophy) led Australia to their third successive World Twenty20 title in Bangladesh (source – abc.net.au)

– Bangladesh won the first ever ODI that they played, beating Pakistan by 43 runs at Cox’s Bazar. They repeated the feat in their second ODI as well, winning by three wickets against the same opponents at the same venue.

– South Africa defeated New Zealand for the first time in an international, when they secured a five-wicket win at Sylhet in a World Twenty20 match.

– Australian wicketkeeper-captain Jodie Fields retired from the game after an eight-year career. She led her side in her last match, the Test against England at Perth. She played four Tests (331 runs at 66.20 and 11 dismissals), 67 ODIs (1162 runs at 28.34 and 76 dismissals) and 37 T20Is (249 runs at 22.63 and 40 dismissals).

– England all rounder Arran Brindle retired from the game after a noteworthy 15-year career. She played 11 Tests (551 runs at 30.61), 88 ODIs (1928 runs at 27.94 and 35 wickets at 22.17) and 35 T20Is (373 runs at 23.31 and 22 wickets at 17.45).

– Nicole Bolton became the first Australian woman and the fifth overall to score a century on ODI debut. She scored 124 off 152 balls against England at Melbourne. The previous highest by an Australian woman on debut was 98 by Jill Kennare against India in 1981-82.

– Qatar hosted international cricket for the first time when Ireland, Pakistan and South Africa contested two triangular tournaments – one of ODIs and the other of T20Is – in Doha.

Women’s International Match of the Year – The one-off Test between England v India at Wormsley. Heavyweights England (92 and 202) lost to India (114 and 183/4), who were playing in whites after eight years, by six wickets.

Women’s International Player of the Year – Meg Lanning. The Australian captain topped the run charts in ODIs as well as T20Is, besides leading her country to its third successive World Twenty20 title. She hit her career best of 135* against the West Indies in an ODI Championship match at Bowral. She also scored the highest ever T20I score by a woman, making 126 against Ireland at Sylhet. Her strike rates were brilliant – 95.04 in ODIs and 145.34 in T20Is.

The Cricket Cauldron International Women’s Team of 2014 – Meg Lanning (Australia, captain), Nicole Bolton (Australia), Thirush Kamini (India), Charlotte Edwards (England), Mithali Raj (India), Ellyse Perry (Australia), Trisha Chetty (South Africa, WK), Shabnim Ismail (South Africa), Kate Cross (England), Sana Mir (Pakistan), Rene Farrell (Australia).

REVIEW – 2014 Test cricket recap

  Another year featuring some quality Test cricket has drawn to a close, and there were enough memorable moments to keep lovers of this great game enthralled and engaged. 2014 saw a total of 42 Tests, of which 33 ended in a result. Of the 33 results, 22 were home wins.

Teams Overview

  Undisputed Test champions South Africa suffered their first series defeat in five years as they went down to a hungrier Australian side at home. This result meant that the Proteas lost their number one ranking for a while, but it was only a matter of time until they deservedly regained the top spot. Following the retirement of their long-serving captain Graeme Smith, South Africa regrouped well under Hashim Amla and scored series wins in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and look certain to win the ongoing home series against the West Indies.

  Australia started the year by completing a thumping whitewash of England at home, snatching the Ashes urn back in just over four months. This was followed by a hard-fought series victory in South Africa, a result that reignited hopes of another period of world domination. But subcontinental pitches proved to be their undoing again, as they went down tamely to Pakistan in the UAE. As was expected, they regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy against India at home, closing out the series with a match to spare.

  England were a beleaguered lot at the start of the year as they suffered a second Ashes whitewash defeat in their last three tours Down Under. Off-field controversies such as the Kevin Pietersen issue did not help their cause. More dismay was in store as Alastair Cook’s men were outwitted by Sri Lanka at home, prompting many to question his role as captain. However, they managed to rediscover their spark a bit by achieving a come-from-behind home victory in a five-match series over India.

zplokl    Pakistan won their first series against Australia in 20 years as they secured a crushing win in the two-Test series in the UAE (source – abc.net.au)

  Pakistan played all their cricket in Asia, with mixed results. A thrilling chase early in the year saw them level their home series against Sri Lanka in the UAE, but later in Sri Lanka, they were found wanting as they lost both Tests. Once back in the UAE, they bullied Australia into submission with one of their best all-round Test displays. But a spirited New Zealand proved to be a stiffer opponent, and Pakistan had to be content with a drawn result against them.

  Sri Lanka grew as a Test team, with their historic win in England being the highlight. They started off by commendably drawing the series against Pakistan in the UAE before their successful English sojourn. In their home season, they began by defeating Pakistan, but could not put it across South Africa and went down fighting against them. The defeat in the first Test in New Zealand showed that Sri Lanka had quite some work to do, but this was more to do with the strength of the hosts.

  India did not play a single home Test, and hence it was always going to be a tough year for them. By the end of it, they slipped to sixth in the rankings following three overseas series defeats. In New Zealand, an epic rearguard by the hosts denied them a drawn result. In England, they took a lead by notching a win at Lord’s, but capitulated to big defeats in the next three matches. Finally, in spite of a much improved performance, they lost the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia, with captain M.S Dhoni announcing his retirement from Tests the same day.

  New Zealand were the team of the year, and were the only side not to lose a series. After securing a memorable home victory against India, a series which will be remembered for captain Brendon McCullum’s triple hundred, the Black Caps performed admirably overseas as well. A solid team performance saw them first triumph in the Caribbean, followed by a drawn result against Pakistan in the demanding conditions of the UAE. They capped off with a record fifth Test win in the year by commandingly beating Sri Lanka at home in the first Test.

  The West Indies’ lowest point came off the field, when the pay issue between the players and the board reached a head during their tour of India, which had to be called off midway with all three Tests still left to be played. On the field, a new captain was named in Denesh Ramdin. At home, the Windies lost to New Zealand despite a few promising individual performances, before dispatching Bangladesh with ease. They look set to lose their ongoing series in South Africa, thus prolonging their woeful overseas record.

  Bangladesh suffered a heavy innings defeat against Sri Lanka at home to lose the series and later disappointed in the West Indies. But then at home against Zimbabwe, they completed their first ever whitewash victory in a three-Test series. Zimbabwe got little opportunity to prove themselves, and lost all the matches they played – a one-off home Test against South Africa and then in Bangladesh.

Highlights and records

zrangya   Rangana Herath finished with 60 wickets in ten Tests, and was one of the reasons for Sri Lanka’s improvement in the longest format (source – theguardian.com)

– Australia and New Zealand were the most successful teams, both achieving five wins in nine matches for a winning percentage of 55.55. However, New Zealand were the best in terms of win-loss ratio, with the figure being 2.50. Sri Lanka played the most matches (12).

– Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara was the year’s highest run-getter, with 1493 runs in 12 matches. His compatriot Rangana Herath was the highest wicket-taker with 60 from ten matches.

– Australia recorded their third Ashes series victory by a margin of 5-0, all instances coming at home. Earlier, they had achieved the feat in 1920-21 and 2006-07. Australia regained the Ashes just four months after losing their last series (in England in 2013), the quickest such instance in history.

– Brendon McCullum became the first New Zealand batsman to score a triple hundred, when he scored a heroic 302 against India at Wellington. He broke the country record held by Martin Crowe, who made 299 at the same ground against Sri Lanka in 1990-91. This was only the second triple hundred scored in the second innings of a Test.

– New Zealand twice created a new record for their highest Test total. They scored 690 against Pakistan at Sharjah, which bettered the 680/8d recorded against India at Wellington earlier in the year. Their previous highest was 671/4d against Sri Lanka at Wellington in 1990-91.

– Rangana Herath’s 9/127 against Pakistan at Colombo was the first nine-wicket haul in a Test innings in 13 years. The last bowler to achieve the feat was fellow Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan, who had taken 9/51 against Zimbabwe in 2001-02.

– England’s Stuart Broad became the fourth bowler to take two Test hat-tricks after he achieved the feat against Sri Lanka at Headingley. He had earlier taken a hat-trick against India in 2011.

– Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq equalled the record of the fastest Test century in terms of balls faced, taking only 56 balls to reach the milestone against Australia at Abu Dhabi. West Indian Vivian Richards had also taken 56 balls for his hundred against England in 1985-86.

– In the same innings, Misbah created a new record of the fastest Test fifty, taking 21 balls and 27 minutes. The earlier records were held by South African Jacques Kallis (24 balls) and Bangladeshi Mohammed Ashraful (27 minutes) respectively.

– Taijul Islam recorded the best ever bowling figures in an innings by a Bangladeshi when he took 8/39 against Zimbabwe at Dhaka. He bettered Shakib Al Hasan’s 7/36 taken against New Zealand in 2008-09.

– New Zealanders Brendon McCullum and Bradley-John Watling added 352 for the sixth wicket against India at Wellington, which was a new record for that wicket. The previous record was 351 by Mahela Jayawardene and Prasanna Jayawardene for Sri Lanka against India in 2009-10.

zmacwat   The record sixth-wicket stand between Brendon McCullum (left) and B.J Watling against India was one of the great performances of the year (source – ibnlive.in.com)

– A new record for the tenth-wicket partnership was also created. Englishmen Joe Root and James Anderson put on 198 for that wicket against India at Trent Bridge, bettering the 163 added by Phil Hughes and Ashton Agar for Australia against England in 2013.

– Mark Craig achieved the best figures by a New Zealand bowler on debut when he finished with 8/188 against the West Indies at Kingston. The previous best was 7/143 by Paul Wiseman on his debut against Sri Lanka in 1998.

– Dane Piedt became the second South African (after Albert Vogler) and the 19th bowler overall to take a wicket off his first ball in Test cricket. He dismissed Mark Vermeulen of Zimbabwe at Harare.

– Sri Lanka won their first Test series (consisting of more than one match) in England, defeating the hosts 1-0 in a two-Test series. They had earlier won a one-off Test in England in 1998.

– Younis Khan now has the most number of centuries by a Pakistani. He scored his 26th hundred against Australia at Dubai, going past Inzamam-ul-Haq’s record of 25 centuries. Younis currently has 28 centuries.

– Virat Kohli of India became the first batsman in 53 years to score two centuries in the same Test in Australia when he scored 115 and 141 at Adelaide. The last man to do so was West Indian Rohan Kanhai in 1960-61.

– South Africa’s long-serving captain Greame Smith, Sri Lankan great Mahela Jayawardene and Indian captain M.S Dhoni were the big Test retirements of the year.Darren Sammy, who was the West Indian captain, also quit Tests.

Test match and moment of the year – England v Sri Lanka at Headingley. Sri Lanka won by 100 runs in a thrilling finish. Shaminda Eranga dismissing James Anderson with only one ball left in the match was the moment of the year.

Test series of the year – South Africa v Australia. Hosts South Africa were beaten 2-1 after a gripping last day of the deciding third Test at Cape Town, thanks to Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson.

Test cricketer of the year – Brendon McCullum. The New Zealand captain led from the front, inspiring his side to success with some big impact innings. He helped save the Wellington Test against India with a marathon 302, not to mention a 224 earlier in the series, then stunned Pakistan with 202 at Sharjah and rounded off the year by hitting 195 against Sri Lanka. He scored 1164 runs in nine Tests at 72.75. Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews, who also enjoyed a remarkable year, comes a close second.

The Cricket Cauldron Test Team of 2014 – David Warner, Kraigg Brathwaite, Kumar Sangakkara, Younis Khan, Brendon McCullum (captain), Angelo Mathews, Sarfraz Ahmed (WK), Mitchell Johnson, Dale Steyn, James Anderson, Rangana Herath.

  Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year.