2020 was, without doubt, a whirlwind of a year in all walks of life, but it certainly was lacking the amount of cricket many were craving.
Test cricket and the World Test Championship (WTC) were limited, however, in an almost fitting way the year concluded with one of the greatest Test series in recent memory. Here I will be counting down my top five Test series to keep an eye on this year.
Keep in mind I may be a little biased to Australia and India, but they are the best teams in the world to watch. The repetition of the familiar names (spoiler alert: only four countries are involved) is just the current nature (and problem) of Test cricket.
5. England’s tour of India (February-March)
England’s tour of India is the first series to happen on this list. The series is very important for both teams’ WTC final qualification. India need to win at least 2-0 and England essentially need to win every match of the four-game series to qualify. The last time England toured India they were beaten 4-0, however, there were some positives of the tour including first innings scores 537, 400 and 477 – yet the last two scores still ended up being innings defeats.
England’s lack of batting experience in the subcontinent will be under the microscope, hence Joe Root’s surge in form comes at the perfect time. England have a relentless pace attack with Jofra Archer and James Anderson, however, the more important spin department still lacks an edge and could be the let down for them.
India will be high on confidence coming just after arguably their greatest-ever Test series win. The amazing performance from players that were largely not even expected to play is great for them and could lead to a selection headache, however, it’s a problem they won’t mind having. India’s batting looks strong and the bowling attack at home will be led by Ravi Ashwin.
Amazingly this series will be Jasprit Bumrah’s first at home. Also be on the lookout for an almost desperate Virat Kohli, who is looking for his first Test (and international) hundred since 2019. England still remain the last team to win a Test series in India (2012).
(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)
4. Australia’s tour of South Africa (March-April)
Psychologically, this could the biggest Test series of 2021. Australia are returning to the demons of sandpaper-gate for the first time, and are coming back from, frankly for them, what was an embarrassing loss. However, this is a different South Africa, one that has struggled a lot in the recent past.
Australia need to win the three-Test series at least 2-0 to qualify for the WTC final without relying on other results. A few months ago Australia being in the final was almost a given, and now they are under real pressure. South Africa is usually a happy hunting ground for Australia, with the recent series being their only loss there since South Africa’s readmission.
Australia have a lot of questions to ask of themselves, even more so if they lose, potentially even Tim Paine’s leadership. Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith have been covering the cracks of their batting line-up for a while, so Australia will be keen for Cameron Green and others to step up. This could potentially include Alex Carey.
Mitch Starc’s form has been poor lately and I expect a rotation of the quicks throughout the series. One man who most probably won’t be rotated and hence needs to really step up is Nathan Lyon. I mentioned that South Africa has been poor as of late, yet their line-up still looks very handy on paper. However, it’s consistency that is their main problem, highlighted by their recent collapse in the second innings in Karachi.
Kagiso Rabada will be the dangerman and he relishes the challenge against Australia. Quinton de Kock is another player to watch, as he juggles being a key batsman, keeper and captain – remember he has publicly stated he doesn’t want to be the long-term Test captain of South Africa.
(Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
3. India’s tour of South Africa (December)
This series may seem a long way away, but the arm wrestle between these two teams is always great to watch, especially in South Africa. South Africa were humiliated in India in 2019, whitewashed after Faf du Plessis (and Temba Bavuma!) lost every toss, yet I believe that series serves little relevance to this one.
The 2018 series was a very good one, with spicy pitches dished up. There was even discussion that the third Test in Johannesburg was to be abandoned after some variable bounce, but both teams pushed on as India won with their pace quartet – Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Bumrah – funnily enough, all of whom of course were unavailable at the Gabba. South Africa are also a very different side from that series, with Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel all having retired since.
As mentioned, India are high on confidence right now and South Africa are in a disarray, but who knows what the situation will be by the end of the year. I do believe this will be India’s greatest opportunity to win their first series in South Africa, in what could potentially be the last tour there for the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane.
2. India’s tour of England (August-September)
These two sides have another Test series in the English summer, kicking off the start of the 2021-23 WTC. It feels quite rare that two sides are playing that many Tests against each other in the same year, reminiscent a little of the 2013 back-to-back Ashes, but I’m certainly not complaining. Playing in England is usually a huge criticism of the modern Indian batsmen, and this series should be no different.
The 2018 series does read 4-1 to England, but beneath the surface that series was very close. In fact, India may even feel they should’ve won the series, with narrow defeats in Birmingham and Southampton and a fighting effort at The Oval.
(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Kohli carried the batting line-up that series, and you feel for India to win he will need much better support. India’s bowlers will certainly have plenty of experience for the occasion. For England this series could serve as selection criteria for the away Ashes. If the away tour of India doesn’t already, this series could provide the damning inspection of the likes of Zak Crawley, Rory Burns and Dom Sibley.
You’d think this could be the last home summer for James Anderson, so maybe expect even more grit and determination from the workhouse. This is the type of series where literally any scoreline, even in a five-match series, could happen without causing much surprise.
Honourable mention: WTC final
While it’s only one game, the WTC final still is a series of sorts. The hype and quality of this match will almost single-handedly determine the success of the first edition of the WTC. Fingers crossed for an Australia-India final at Lord’s.
1. Ashes in Australia (December-January)
In the most fitting way to end the year, and this list, next summer’s Ashes takes the top spot.
(Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)
Australia and England both have some tough assignments in 2021, and this will culminate with the Ashes at the end of the year. The 2019 Ashes was great to watch and staying up until 3 am each night here in Australia felt worth it, most of the time anyway. This series could finally be closely contested in Australia, with the last two series having an aggregate of 9-0 to Australia.
This is largely because England will take confidence from India’s success here (though of course with a grain of salt because they play them nine times!). Both teams have plenty of questions to be answered, but the prospect of Labuschagne and Smith batting or some Archer or Ben Stokes heroics sounds mouth-watering.
For now, all we can do is speculate but this series will be very special for sure.