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Test cricket: 2015 in review

Kane Williamson is being hobbled by poor selections. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)
Roar Guru
6th January, 2016
3

Even though 2015 was the year of the World Cup, there were enough moments in 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, including 22 home wins.

South Africa
The long-standing Test champions saw the rest of the pack catch up with them during 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 were 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 AB 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 5/12 at one stage.

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India
India got a new captain at the start of the year in Virat Kohli, and his reign began with a hard-fought series defeat in Australia.

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A one-off Test in Bangladesh was rained out, 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 they triumphed in style – first series success against South Africa in 11 years – winning the inaugural Freedom Trophy in the process.

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 their overseas blues of recent years would continue in the subcontinent as well.

Australia
Australia also saw a change at the helm, as Michael Clarke retired and made way for Steven Smith.

The first half of the year saw them complete a home series win against India and easily dispatch the West Indies away. Then came the Ashes, where a couple of horrendous batting displays neutralised an otherwise 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, was an exciting low scorer. Chasing a tricky 187 for victory, the hosts saw off New Zealand’s challenge with a three-wicket win.

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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 were played on 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 – comfortably chased down 377 on a fifth-day pitch, winning by seven wickets.

Moment to forget: the Abu Dhabi Test against England was meandering towards a draw when Pakistan imploded from 3/113 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 then 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, the Kiwis came back well and in spite of suffering their first series defeat in two years, they held their own.

The year was capped by another home series sweep against Sri Lanka.

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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.

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 shell-shocked on the first day.

Moment to forget: 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.

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The home win against the West Indies was expected, and in spite of a few promising individual displays, another lost series – in New Zealand – concluded their year.

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 in 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 tumbling for 62 runs in just 13.5 overs.

West Indies
Off-field controversies continued to stall the Windies’ progress, 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 then swamped by the visiting Australians, followed by consecutive overseas defeats – first in Sri Lanka and then in Australia, the latter ensuring a two-decade long Frank Worrell Trophy drought.

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’ loss in the first Test at Hobart was painful, crashing to defeat by an innings and 212 runs in under three days.

Bangladesh
Bangladesh played only at home, and most of those games were hampered by rain, prompting many to question the scheduling logic.

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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 6/555 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. The third Test of the Trans-Tasman Trophy was a low-scoring, three-day affair in which 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 it did not get damaged – the experiment was 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 a fair reflection. Test cricket lovers were left wanting for more – a deciding Test would have been a mouthwatering prospect.

England came from behind to win by 124 runs at Lord’s, while New Zealand turned 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 four above him played at least five innings more.

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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 on as the year progressed, cracking hundreds at Lord’s, Brisbane, Perth and finally another against Sri Lanka, at Hamilton.

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).