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Test Cricket: 2016 in review

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Test_cricketTest cricket continued to provide unforgettable 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. Here is a recap of how the teams fared in whites during the year gone by as well as the year’s best Test match, Test cricketer and Test team.

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 side. They have not lost their last 18 Tests and given their recent exploits, this streak could well be extended. Their final Test of the year also saw them rack up their highest Test total of 759/7.

For the first time, India won more than one Test in a series in the Caribbean as they took the four-match series 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 team of the year.

Moment to remember: The Anthony De 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 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, whether 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.

Pakistan

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

In between, they had their only home series of the year in which they beat the West Indies, but not without 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, a dead rubber at Centurion. 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 AB 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 in the first game, 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.

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 tour of England beginning in May is never easy for a touring side, and it was no different for 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 on 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. They 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 a 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.

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. Fittingly, Stokes 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 returns of 13/140 against New Zealand at Indore were 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.

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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Rustom Deboo is a cricket blogger and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of Test...

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