Famous Test Matches – India v Australia, Bombay, 1964-65

  India’s first two home series against Australia, in 1956-57 and 1959-60 respectively, had ended in disappointment as they managed to win just once in eight Tests. Their tormentor-in-chief was the legendary leg-spinner Richie Benaud, who snapped up a total of 52 wickets at 18.38 across both the rubbers.

  Thus, Bob Simpson’s Australians embarked on the 1964-65 tour with a view to achieve a hat-trick of series wins in India. Benaud, who had retired after the South African tour in the previous season, was no longer part of the team, but the visitors were fresh from their Ashes-retaining triumph in England. Moreover, Australia had not lost a Test series in the last eight years.

  India were led by the stylish Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who at the age of 21 years and 77 days had become the youngest ever Test captain during the West Indian tour in 1961-62. The first Test at the Corporation Stadium in Madras saw him score a fine captain’s innings of 128*, but India went down by 139 runs despite holding a first-innings lead of 65.

  There was only a two-day gap for the hosts to formulate their bid to level the series. The second Test began on October 10, 1964 at the iconic Brabourne Stadium in Bombay, a venue where India were yet to lose in 11 Tests. While Australia had form on their side, history favoured India. The stage seemed set for an enthralling contest, and so it proved over the next five days.

  Just after Simpson elected to bat first, India got a slice of fortune as Australia’s assigned number three Norman O’Neill was ruled out of the match due to an upset stomach. The bowlers built on the good news by reducing Australia to 53/3; Salim Durani – the only Test player born in Afghanistan – removed Bill Lawry while Bhagwath Chandrasekhar castled Brian Booth and Simpson.

  Bob Cowper joined Peter Burge in the middle and the two resurrected the innings with a fourth-wicket stand worth 89, before the former was out LBW to the stingy left-arm spinner Rameshchandra ‘Bapu’ Nadkarni, who had taken 11/122 at Madras. Burge, one of Australia’s Ashes heroes, went on to make a boundary-filled 80, an innings that was cut short by Chandu Borde’s leg-spin.

  The loss of the two set batsmen for just four runs meant that Australia were 146/5 at this point and in need of another substantial partnership. Tom Veivers and wicketkeeper Barry Jarman provided just that. It was not until the fag end of the first day that they were separated, when Rusi Surti dismissed Jarman for a spunky, career-best 78, ending a sixth-wicket alliance of 151.

  Having ended the opening day at 301/6, ten-man Australia lost the last three wickets quickly to finish with a total of 320. Veivers became the fourth batsman to fall to Chandrasekhar’s legbreaks and was eighth out for a patient 67. ‘Chandra’ returned neat figures of 4/50. In reply, Alan Connolly gave Australia a perfect start by seeing the back of Dilip Sardesai with the score at seven.

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       Indian captain Mansoor Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi scored twin fifties in the thrilling Bombay Test of 1964-65 (source – sportskeeda.com)

  Simpson put his leg-spin to good use as he had Durani caught behind to make it 30/2. Local lad Vijay Manjrekar, who was born in Bombay but was now playing for Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy, then gave able support to opener Motganhalli Jaisimha as the duo stitched together a stand of 112 for the third wicket. It was Veivers who produced the breakthrough, bowling Jaisimha for 66.

  Manjrekar followed soon after for 59, also to Veivers. The persistent off-spinning all-rounder was rewarded with two important wickets at a crucial juncture in the match, and India were now 149/4. Pataudi strode out at number six and managed to see off the rest of the day along with Hanumant Singh as India reached 178/4 at stumps.

  Veivers continued from where he left as he got rid of Hanumant early on day three. At the other end, Johnny Martin, a rare chinaman bowler, kept things boiling by accounting for Borde’s wicket. India had stuttered to 188/6 and it was up to Pataudi to take charge from hereon. He responded to the challenge by  dominating a seventh-wicket partnership of 67 with Surti.

  Surti’s loss did not deter the skipper, who looked good for another century when he was caught by Graham McKenzie off Veivers for 86, eighth out with the score at 293. Nadkarni and wicketkeeper Kumar Indrajitsinhji – grand-nephew of the great Ranji – hung around to score valuable runs and stretched India’s total to 341. Veivers collected a career-best 4/68 and bowled as many as 20 maidens.

  India had eked out a lead of 21, narrow but valuable nonetheless, given that they would bat last on a surface conducive to spin. Lawry and Simpson soon wiped off the deficit with an opening stand of 59. Lawry was in good nick and steered Australia to a secure position of 112/1 by the close, with Cowper giving him company. The visitors’ lead was 91 and they had eight wickets in the bank.

  A key moment came on the fourth morning when Chandra took two wickets in successive balls. The talented 19-year-old first had Lawry trapped in front for 68 and then hit the top of off stump with a peach of a delivery to snare the in-form Burge for a duck. However, this double strike at 121 did not hamper Cowper’s focus. He joined forces with Booth to put Australia in the driver’s seat.

  The left-right handed batting pair began to take the game away from the Indians with an ominous partnership of 125 for the fourth-wicket. At 246/3 during the second session, Australia were holding the aces with a lead of 225 and six wickets still in hand. The Test took another turn when Cowper was caught behind off Nadkarni for 81, the top score of the innings.

  Cowper’s wicket opened the floodgates for India as Nadkarni and Chandra tore through the rest of the batting line-up. First-innings saviours Veivers and Jarman were both out without scoring to Chandra. Nadkarni (4/33) grabbed the last three wickets, including that of Booth, who was seventh out, stumped for 74. Chandra (4/73) ended with impressive match figures of 8/123.

  Australia were all out for 274 and their collapse of six for 28 ensured that India’s target was limited to 254. The innings started poorly again, this time thanks to Connolly, who had Jaisimha caught behind for a duck with the score at four. Late in the day, Durani and nightwatchman Nadkarni fell in quick succession, neutralising the second-wicket stand of 66 between Sardesai and Durani.

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       19-year-old leg-spinner Bhagwath Chandrasekhar returned match figures of 8/123 against Australia at the Brabourne Stadium (source – gettyimages)

  The eventful fourth day concluded with India’s score at a wobbly 74/3. The batting order was rejigged with Surti ostensibly sent as another nightwatchman, ahead of the more accomplished batsmen. The final day coincided with the festival of Dussehra, a public holiday, which meant that an estimated crowd of 42,000 thronged to witness the proceedings, hopeful of a famous Indian victory.

  Surti did not last long and perished to Veivers, making the score 99/4. Australian pace spearhead McKenzie, who was the star performer at Madras with a match haul of 10/91, had gone wicketless in the first dig. To India’s worry, he sprung into action at the right time for the visitors. Sardesai, who was looking solid at 56, was struck on the pads by McKenzie; India were now 113/5.

  The spectators were further filled with dismay nine runs later, when Hanumant was bowled by McKenzie. The Test was Australia’s to lose as India limped to 122/6. The hosts were battling against the odds as well – no team had successfully chased down a target of more than 76 in a Test on Indian soil. India’s last four wickets had added 153 in the first innings. Was an encore possible?

  The assured presence of Pataudi and Manjrekar slowly revived Indian hopes, and lunch was taken with the scoreboard reading 146/6. The resilient pair dug deep in the second session, knowing that time was not an issue. Runs were reduced to a trickle. The Australians were not offering any freebies; Veivers in particular kept bowling tirelessly, but a third wicket in the innings eluded him.

  Pataudi and Manjrekar emerged from the post-lunch session unscathed, and managed to guide India to 215/6 at tea. They were now only 39 away from victory, whereas Australia still needed four wickets. As the final act commenced, Simpson’s decision to take the new ball paid off immediately as Connolly had Manjrekar caught at slip by the captain himself.

  At the other end, Pataudi reached his second fifty of the match, but soon after, much to the shock of the crowd, he too fell victim to Connolly, caught at backward point by Burge for 53. India were 224/8, and 30 runs still separated them from victory. Indrajitsinhji came out to join Borde at this stage, with only the teenaged Chandra – a quintessential number eleven – to follow.

  India were privileged to have the experienced Borde – scorer of two Test hundreds – batting for them at number nine. He determinedly set about achieving the target, and the best efforts of McKenzie, Connolly, Veivers and Simpson were not enough to dislodge him. The remaining runs were unwaveringly churned out amid great tension and rising excitement.

  The winning moment arrived when Borde hit a straight drive to the boundary off a full toss from Veivers, sending the packed house into delirium. India reached 256/8 with half an hour left in the game and Borde, unbeaten on 30, returned to the pavillion as a hero. The series was eventually drawn after a stalemate in the deciding third Test at Calcutta.

  This two-wicket win was indeed special for Indian cricket, especially considering that Pataudi’s men had to fight back twice from perilous situations in the second innings. The Indian captain himself played a major role in the stirring victory, and unsurprisingly, mentioned it as ‘the most satisfying I have known as captain’ in his 1969 autobiography Tiger’s Tale.

Match Scorecard

In Focus – IIT Delhi plays host to the T20 Blind World Cup

  The second edition of the T20 Blind World Cup, which concluded today with hosts India beating Pakistan by nine wickets in the final at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, was contested with great zeal and dynamism. The ten-nation tournament featured 48 matches, played at various venues across the country.

  Among the venues was the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Delhi Cricket Ground, which hosted four matches of the tournament, including the opening clash between India and Bangladesh. These fixtures formed part of the pre-event schedule of Sportech, the institute’s annual inter-collegiate sporting extravaganza which is orchestrated by the Board of Student Activities (BSA). 

  Sportech organised the games in close collaboration with the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI), which is in turn supported by the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled and is affiliated to the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC). Witnessing the cricketers overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles and play with elan was undoubtedly an inspiration to the students.

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    The Indian and Bangladeshi teams line up at the IIT Delhi Ground before the start of the opening match of the 2017 T20 Blind World Cup (source – sportech 2017)

  “At Sportech, we believe in the idea of playing with pride, and we think representing one’s nation is the epitome of that sentiment, which is why we wanted to spread the word across. Watching these matches was an enriching experience in itself.”, said Ishan Tyagi, General Secretary, Board for Sports Activities, IIT Delhi.

  The whole spectacle spanning across four matches in as many days was enlightening, to say the least, for the people involved. The spirited players served as beacons of hope as they showcased their skills that oozed from their play. The spectators were left enthralled by the astonishing batting performances as well as brilliant displays of fielding.

  It is to be noted that according to blind cricket rules, players are segregated under three categories. Each team of eleven has four players who are totally blind, categorised under B1; three players who are partially blind, categorized under B2; and four players who are partially sighted, categorized under B3.

  India, seeking to defend the title they won in 2012, posted a comfortable 129-run win over Bangladesh in the first match on 30th January. Experienced batsman Ketan Patel (B1), who was later named man of the match, top-scored with 98 while opener Prakasha Jayaramaiah (B3) contributed 96 as the hosts piled up 279/5. Bangladesh were restricted to 150/7 in reply.

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      Action from the T20 Blind World Cup match between Sri Lanka and West Indies, played at the IIT Delhi Ground on 1st February (source – sportech 2017)

  The next day, New Zealand bore the brunt of a superlative batting display from the Sri Lankan openers. Ruwan Wasantha (B2) hammered 170* while Suranga Sampath (B3) scored 146* to help their side to an imposing 334/0. Unsurprisingly, New Zealand’s batsmen had no answer to this mammoth total and could manage only 120/7.

  Sri Lanka continued their good form in the following match, against the West Indies on 1st February. Sampath blasted his second century in succession, this time a knock of 116. Chandana Deshapriya (B3) gave him able support by scoring 108. The eventual total of 281/2 was too tall to chase for the Windies, who were kept to 151/8 in their allotted 20 overs.

  The West Indians were in action again on 2nd February, as they took on Bangladesh. Smarting from their big defeat to India, Bangladesh bounced back with a facile eight-wicket win while the West Indies suffered their second loss in a row. Kevin Andrew Douglas’ 123 went in vain as Bangladesh, thanks to a knock of 90 by Tanzjlur Rahman, chased down the total of 195/6.

  CABI was created as a platform for the social empowerment of the visually impaired through sport. Sportech’s association with them intersects with their vision of sport as a means of achieving greater inclusion and unity in society and their collaboration with the T20 Blind World Cup 2017 is an embodiment of that commitment.  

Record Book – The oldest cricketer to play an ODI match

  It is common knowledge that Barbados-born Dutch opener Nolan Clarke is the oldest man to appear in an ODI match, having taken the field at the age of 47 years and 257 days against New Zealand at Vadodara in the 1996 World Cup. He had made his debut against South Africa a little over a fortnight earlier, making him the oldest ODI debutant as well.

  However, it is not Clarke who holds the record of being the oldest person to play ODI cricket. Beating him by 98 days is former wicketkeeper-captain of West Indies Women, the intriguingly named Stephanie Power. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Power was 47 years and 355 days old in her last ODI, against South Africa at Pretoria in 2004-05.

  The match in which Power actually surpassed Clarke’s nine-year record was also played in Pretoria – a league match of the 2005 World Cup against New Zealand. She remained the West Indian captain till the end of her career, having first taken over the reins at the age of 46 in 2003 – making her the oldest ever international captain on captaincy debut in any format.

  Power made her ODI debut back in 1993, in a World Cup game against Australia at Tunbridge Wells. She was the second-highest scorer with 23 in a measly West Indian total of 131/9, but she never really took off in the batting department as her career progressed. In her 22 innings from 34 ODIs, she totalled 183 runs at 8.31, with a best of 28.

stephanie-power

      Stephanie Power showed that age is just a number when she captained the West Indies for the first time at the age of 46 (source – windiescricket.com/randy brooks)

  Her Test average was better, albeit she played only a solitary Test, against Pakistan at Karachi in 2003-04. This was the match in which Pakistani opener Kiran Baluch scored 242, creating a new record for the highest score in a Women’s Test. Power, who was not keeping wickets, scored 19 and 57, the latter playing a part in saving her side after they were made to follow on 279 in arrears.

  On the same tour of Pakistan, Power enjoyed her first series success as captain, leading the West Indies to a 5-2 win in the seven-match ODI series. Never before had the West Indian eves won a bilateral ODI series. A second win came in a three-match affair in South Africa in 2004-05 – her final international outing – with the victory margin being 2-1. 

  Under her leadership, the Windies finished runners up, behind Ireland, at the World Cup qualifiers in 2003 and then beat Sri Lanka and Ireland at the 2005 World Cup, which was a significant improvement as they had failed to make the cut for the previous edition in 2000. These achievements make her one of the most successful female captains from the Caribbean.

  Following her 12-year international playing career, Power, who is also a qualified physical education teacher, went on to become an acclaimed coach in the West Indies as well as the United States. She has been a key part of the West Indies Women team’s coaching staff and was the first female inductee in the USA Cricket Hall of Fame in 2015.

  It would take something extraordinary in order to break Power’s records of being the oldest ODI cricketer and the oldest international captain on captaincy debut. Since her retirement, no cricketer, female or male, has played an international match after the age of 45. 

Specials – Revisiting the best of Rachael Heyhoe-Flint

  Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, who passed away on 18th January at the age of 77, was a pioneer of women’s cricket and an undisputed great of the game. Due to her noteworthy achievements as a successful captain of England, an administrator and a vocal crusader of gender equality, she has left an indelible mark on the game and the way it is run today.

  Heyhoe-Flint was a major catalyst in the ideation of the first Women’s World Cup in 1973, which predated the inaugural men’s edition by two years. As if this was not enough, she went on to lead England to victory in the tournament. In 1998, she actively campaigned for the path-breaking vote that allowed women to become members of the hallowed Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).

  Born in Wolverhampton, Heyhoe-Flint was a first-rate top-order batswoman who played 22 Tests and 23 ODIs in an international career that spanned from 1959-60 to 1981-82. Her tally of 1594 Test runs, scored at an average of 45.54, is currently the third-highest in the women’s game, while her ODI average of 58.45 still remains the highest among those who played at least 20 innings.

  Captaincy came calling for the first time in 1966, when she took over the reins for the home series against New Zealand. Never in her 12 Tests in charge did she taste defeat. In 2010, she was christened a peer in the House of Lord’s, thus taking the title of Baroness Heyhoe-Flint. In the same year, she became the first female inductee in the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.

rachael-heyhoe-flint

       Rachael Heyhoe-Flint – a pioneer of the game who took on the establishment for the sake of a better future for women’s cricket (source – gettyimages/centralpress)

  While her impact was felt beyond the cricketing field, the genesis of Heyhoe-Flint’s commendable journey lay in her credentials as one of the finest batswomen the world has seen. As a tribute to her inspirational career as the first truly iconic female cricketing personality, we look back, in chronological order, at five of her most significant performances for England.

113 and 59* v New Zealand, Scarborough, 1966

  Heyhoe-Flint celebrated her first Test in charge with her maiden century for England. She followed her 113 – which remained her highest score for a decade – in the first innings with an unbeaten half-century in the second. Though the match ended in a dour draw, the new captain led from the front – something which would be repeated several times in the years to come. 

76 and 68 v Australia, Adelaide, 1968-69

  England had secured a series win over Australia after 26 years in 1963, but the challenge now was to defend the ‘Ashes’ (not until 1998 were series between the two nations officially called the Women’s Ashes) five-and-a-half years later in Australia. Heyhoe-Flint had since taken over as captain and was a vital cog as far as the hopes of England, playing in Australia after 12 years, were concerned.

  The skipper duly made a mark in the first Test at the Barton Oval in Adelaide. Coming in at number three, she produced a knock of 76, sharing in a second-wicket stand of 127 with debutante Enid Blakewell (113). With her team trailing by 69, she averted any potential second-innings awkwardness with a patient 68, thus beginning her first overseas series as captain with twin fifties.

114 v Young England, Ilford, 1973

  Heyhoe-Flint’s only ODI century came at the 1973 World Cup against Young England, which was essentially a team made up of U-25 players. She rescued England from a tricky 55/3 with a resolute 114, making up nearly half of her team’s total of 231/6 in the allotted 60 overs. Set a rain-revised target of 152 from 39 overs, Young England went down by 50 runs.

rachel-heyhoe-flint-009

       In 2010, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint became the first female cricketer to be inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame (source – gettyimages)

64 v Australia, Edgbaston, 1973

  The inaugural Women’s World Cup was a seven-team round-robin affair, with the title going to the league topper. England and Australia, respectively having 16 and 17 points, played the concluding match at Edgbaston, which was in effect the final. England’s only loss in the tournament had come at the hands of New Zealand.

  Luck favoured Heyhoe-Flint at the toss and she had no hesitation in deciding to bat. With opener Blakewell (118) for company, she was involved in a partnership worth 117 for the second wicket that took the wind out of Australia’s sails. She was eventually dismissed for a busy 64, playing her part in England’s strong total of 279/3, which was enough by 92 runs for a memorable World Cup title.

179 v Australia, The Oval, 1976

  Heyhoe-Flint fittingly produced her career-best score when her team was in adversity against the old enemy. England had been the ‘Ashes’ holders since 1963, but their defence was under serious threat after they were bundled out for a paltry 134 on the first day of the third Test at the Oval. The visitors further seized the advantage by racking up 379 on the board.

  The third and final day belonged to the captain as she staged a remarkable second-dig rescue act, batting for nearly nine hours in compiling a stonewalling 179. England were in a dire position at 76/3, still 169 in arrears, but Heyhoe-Flint went on undeterred, shepherding her side to 326 and a series-saving draw. Her effort was then the second-best score in a Women’s Test.

  From being the first woman to hit a six in a Test in 1963 to becoming the first woman to be elected to the full committee of the MCC in 2004, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint’s association with cricket encompassed an array of accomplishments and broke many a barrier. She will always be remembered as the visionary who foresaw a brighter future for every aspiring female cricketer.

In Focus – Eight players to watch out for at the Desert T20 Challenge

  The inaugural eight-nation Desert T20 Challenge, a welcome development for the Associate nations, is underway in the United Arab Emirates. The week-long tournament features eight teams clubbed into two groups: Group A includes Afghanistan, Ireland, Namibia and hosts UAE while Group B will see Hong Kong, Oman, Scotland and the Netherlands battle it out.

  The T20 format provides plenty of scope for lesser-fancied teams to upset an applecart or two, even among the Associates – an apt example of which was Oman’s memorable win over Ireland at the World T20 last year – and one can expect the Desert T20 to be full of twists, turns and game-changing feats. Here is a look at eight players, one from each team, worth keeping an eye on in the tournament.

Najibullah Zadran (Afghanistan)

  23 year-old Zadran has of late become a major impact player for Afghanistan, who arguably possess the strongest unit among the eight teams. Just a month ago, the left-hander clubbed 55* from 24 balls off the UAE bowlers with an asking rate of eleven staring at him. A T20I strike rate of 151.54 – the second-best ever – suggests that no target is out of bounds when this man is in the zone.

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      Najibullah Zadran’s remarkable strike-rate of 151.54 makes him a dangerous prospect in the Desert T20 (source – espncricinfo/ICC/sportsfile)

Paul Stirling (Ireland)

  The swashbuckling Stirling may have gone quiet in recent months, but Ireland’s opponents should discount him at their own peril. He can take the game away in a flash and his team, going through a poor patch in the shortest format, will pin its hopes on him to provide a healthy start as well as a few overs of stifling spin. He has a good record in T20Is the UAE, with a tally of 359 runs at 39.55.

Louis van der Westhuizen (Namibia)

  Namibia will look to grab this chance – they gained entry only because Papua New Guinea pulled out – to upstage higher-ranked sides. Louis van der Westhuizen will be key to their fortunes in his dual role of opener and slow left-armer. He recently returned to the side after more than two years, and impressed with a quickfire 56 against KwaZulu-Natal Inland in the CSA One-Day Challenge.   

Mohammad Naveed (United Arab Emirates)

  The UAE sprung a surprise by entering the main round of the Asia Cup T20 last year, and pivotal to their success in the qualifiers was medium pacer Mohammad Naveed, who took seven wickets at an average of 8.14, and more notably, an economy rate of 4.75. One of the rare bowlers with an economy rate under six in T20Is, he will look to continue in the same vein in front of his home crowd.

Babar Hayat (Hong Kong)

  The in-form Hayat, who was named captain last August, epitomizes the new-found spirit of his team that has made impressive strides in the last couple of years. He has the highest T20I score by an Associate batsman – a stunning 122 off 60 balls against Oman in a losing cause last year, and more recently, starred with 159 runs in Hong Kong’s ODI series win over Papua New Guinea.

babar-hayat

    Hong Kong skipper Babar Hayat will be keen to lead from the front in the Desert T20 with his belligerent batting at the top (source – hong kong cricket) 

Khawar Ali (Oman)

  Pakistan-born Khawar Ali provides Oman with a vital multi-utility option suited to the T20 game. Besides being a top-order batsman, he is an accurate leg-spinner who can be an asset in the middle overs. He was the man of the tournament in the World Cricket League in the United States last November, with his best all-round performance of 74 and 5/37 coming in a crucial game against Denmark.

Ahsan Malik (Netherlands)

  The canny Malik has grown to become one of the most effective pace bowlers in this format – a T20I record of 43 wickets at 14.81 bears testimony – and is a major factor in the Netherlands’ rise as a T20 force. His action was reported in 2015, but he has since made a return to bowling, albeit with ordinary results. The Desert T20 might just be the vehicle for him to get back to his best.

Con de Lange (Scotland)

  35-year-old slow left-armer de Lange will be Scotland’s lead spin bowler in the tournament. He is also the vice-captain of the team and a seasoned campaigner who has played for multiple first-class sides in his native South Africa as well as for Northamptonshire. His parsimonious bowling played a part in Scotland beating Hong Kong to win the Braidwood Cup last September.      

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.

bangladesh-v-england

     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.

r-ashwin

      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.

Specials – Cricket’s Christmas XI

  The silly season is upon us, and in keeping with the festive spirit, let us look at a team of eleven first-class cricketers with names having a Christmas connection. Here’s presenting our all-time Christmas XI.

1) Jacques Rudolph

  He may not be red-nosed, but South African southpaw Jacques Rudolph is an apt choice to form one half of our opening pair. Having promised much after scoring an unbeaten 222 on Test debut at Chittagong in 2003, he eventually went on to have a middling international career that saw its last in 2012. He is currently captain of Glamorgan on the English county circuit.

2) Noel McGregor

  Otago veteran Spencer Noel McGregor was part of the first New Zealand team to win a Test match, against the West Indies at Auckland in 1955-56. Six years later, he scored a crucial 68 in New Zealand’s first away win, in Cape Town. With a name that translates to quite a few Christmas-related connotations, he has earned his place in the side. 

3) Ian Bell (captain)

  It has been a year since Ian Bell went out of favour with the England think-tank, but nothing can take away his contributions in the past decade. Be it the match-winning ton at Durban in 2009-10 or his exemplary batting in the 2013 Ashes, this Bell has often taken a toll on the opposition. His experience as Warwickshire’s captain makes him the right candidate to lead the Christmas XI.

christmas-cricket                   ‘Tis the season to be jolly (source – southgatecc.com) 

4) Mark Nicholas

  The Santa of our team is Mark Nicholas, who is renowned today for being a popular television commentator. He was the captain of Hampshire from 1985 to 1995 and one of their middle-order mainstays during that period. Though he never played for England, he had the satisfaction of scoring more than 18,000 runs in first-class cricket.

5) Marcus North

  Until his retirement in 2014, Marcus North provided a valuable all-round option to many a first-class side – he played for Western Australia as well as five English counties. He had a dream start to his short Test career, scoring a match-winning 117  at Johannesburg in 2008-09, and also ensured that his name was put up on the neutral honours board at Lord’s a year later.

6) Tony Frost (wicketkeeper)

  The wicketkeeping duties for the Christmas XI lie with bespectacled Tony Frost, who played for Warwickshire from 1997 to 2009. He was a dependable batsman as well; his career-best of 242* coming against Essex at Chelmsford in 2008, a season in which he successfully returned from a retirement announced two year back.

7) Billy Midwinter 

  The winter solstice (midwinter) falls a few days before Christmas. Born in England, all-rounder Billy Midwinter migrated to Australia, for whom he played in the inaugural Test and had the distinction of bagging Test cricket’s first fifer. He went on to play for England as well. He was famously kidnapped by WG Grace, who wanted him to play for Gloucestershire rather than the Australians, in 1878.

8) John Snow

  Leading the bowling attack is England’s John Snow, who was one of the finest fast bowlers in the world at his peak. He was at his best during the 1970-71 Ashes in Australia, where he finished with 31 wickets – 15 more than anyone else – at 22.83, including a searing, career-best 7/40 at Sydney. Caught-behind dismissals reading ‘c Frost, b Snow’ would surely make for fascinating viewing.

ian-bell

        England’s Ian Bell – the captain of the all-time Christmas XI (source – foxsports.com.au)

9) Ian Bishop

  The clergy gets its due in the form of Ian Bishop, the tall Trinidadian who would have ended with a lot more than 161 Test wickets if not for constant back troubles. He impressed early, taking 6/87 against India in only his second Test. His best display came at Perth in the decider of the 1992-93 Frank Worrell Trophy, where he took 6/40 in the second innings to bowl the West Indies to an innings win.

10) Paul Wiseman

  The Christmas XI can certainly afford a wise man, if not three. The lead spin bowler of our team is offie Paul Wiseman, who starred on Test debut by taking seven wickets to help New Zealand win at Colombo in 1998. He however played second fiddle to Daniel Vettori throughout his career, and was not picked after 2004-05.

11) Jo Angel

  Rounding off the eleven is Jo Angel, a 6’6″ tall fast bowler who collected 419 wickets – currently the fourth-highest tally in the history of the Sheffield Shield – for Western Australia from 1991-92 to 2003-04. He could not translate his first-class consistency at the highest level though, and played only seven times in all for Australia.

Honorary mention: It would be a disservice to conclude this post without a reference to David Christmas, a medium pacer who played 14 List A matches for Lincolnshire from 1991 to 2004. He is, rather unsurprisingly, nicknamed ‘Father’. 

  Season’s greetings to one and all.