If Twenty20 cricket is a one-night stand, then 2014 yet again showed Test match cricket is the long and glorious marriage that never ends.
The ‘gentleman’s game’ tag may have been compromised in all of the on-field war of words, but the pure essence of Test match cricket has never been better exemplified than in this calendar year.
I will pick the best four Test match series of 2014, as they are pure exhibitions of how amazing Test cricket can be.
4. England versus India, July-August 2014
The 2014 contest of the Pataudi Trophy was chosen because of the pure swing in form between the two teams.
The English team had just come off a 5-0 creaming from a rejuvenated Australian outfit, and India looked to prove that they could win Test matches on the road.
The first Test in Nottingham was a draw, with Murali Vijay and Joe Root dominating with the bat. The second Test at Lord’s made the cricketing world sit up and listen, as India stormed to a 95-run victory at the home of cricket, on the back of Ishant Sharma’s majestic seven-wicket spell, full of fearsome pace and hostility that has barely been reproduced in his career.
England then awoke from their form slumber, knocking off the hapless Indians by 266 runs, an innings and 54 runs, and an innings and 244 runs, with Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Root kicking into gear.
The sheer change in momentum was fabulous, and the series proved once again that an English summer of cricket is always enthralling.
3. Pakistan versus Australia, October-November 2014
Another series included for the amazing transformation witnessed, as the former world beaters and number one ranked team Australia crumbled to an irresistible no-name team in benign conditions.
The Aussies, after dominating England and knocking off the Proteas, took their form to the United Arab Emirates, where they looked to reaffirm their world dominance in a two-Test series against Pakistan.
The first Test match in Dubai had to be seen to be believed, as Australia looked to be on form again, with Mitchell Johnson getting a wicket in the first over, while Peter Siddle got another not long afterwards. But from then on out, the Pakistan team dominated, with Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali grinding the Aussies into the hot, sandy dust, with only Johnson, Dave Warner and Steve Smith being able to hold their heads high in a 221-run defeat.
The second Test in Abu Dhabi was even worse for the Aussies, with the same batting line-up from the Pakistani team dominating. Mitch Marsh and Steve Smith were the only ones to resist the likes of Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah. Misbah-ul-Haq picked up the equal fastest century, while Younis Khan picked up another century, cruising to the man of the series award.
2. Pakistan versus New Zealand, November-December 2014
This series occurred after Pakistan’s brilliant success against Australia, and as the Kiwis were starting to announce themselves in the Test arena after some strong victories in early 2014.
The first Test in Abu Dhabi saw Pakistan pick up from where they left off against the Aussies, as four of their top five batsmen made centuries. Rahat Ali then cleaned up the Black Caps with six wickets for the match in a 248-run demolition.
New Zealand then showed their talent and durability by winning the third Test in Sharjah, following the drawn second Test. Mark Craig took seven wickets in the first innings as Brendon McCullum’s double century coupled with Kane Williamson’s 192 crushed the Pakistanis. This match was played in the aftermath of Phil Hughes’ tragic death, with the New Zealanders not bowling a bouncer.
At the start of the year this series would not have been picked as a crowd pleaser, but the resurgence of the two teams in 2014 led to this series being amazing.
1. South Africa versus Australia, February-March 2014
This series was unlike any other in 2014, with an amazing climax in the last hour of the third Test as Ryan Harris dragged his Aussie teammates through with only a handful of overs left to play.
It was highly anticipated, as the then number one team in the world, the Proteas, took on the red-hot Aussies coming off a fantastic home summer series, obliterating the Poms 5-0.
The first Test at Centurion continued along the same lines for the Aussies, as Shaun Marsh dug them out of a hole on day one with a magical 148, while Smith also scored a ton. Johnson then bowled like… well Johnson, and broke hearts, body parts, mental stability and wickets with seven fearsome wickets. Warner then completed a typical Warner century, with the jump included, as the Aussies cleaned up the South Africans by 281 runs, with Johnson picking up another five wickets in the second innings.
The Aussies then abruptly fell back to the Micky Arthur days, as Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla ran amok, the Proteas levelling the series with a 231-run smashing.
The third Test in Cape Town saw Warner snatch another ton, while Michael Clarke defied many short balls from Steyn and company to reach a magnificent century. Warner smacked them around for another century in the second innings, with Harris cleaning up the last two batsmen in three balls with just five overs left to play, sparking pandemonium for the tourists and support staff before a silent and unbelieving Cape Town crowd.
The image of Ryan Harris running around in front of his teammates to the backdrop of Table Mountain is unforgettable, as this series proved just how spellbinding Test match cricket is. Forget series of the year, this is one of the best series of the decade. The last great series like this that we have seen would have had to have been India vs England in 2012, the infamous 2005 Ashes, or maybe even 2001 in India.
Let’s bask in the glory of Test match cricket in 2014.