As 2018 comes to a close with three Boxing Day Test matches, it is time to scan the best knocks of the year in the longest format of the game. In a year where batting average is at its lowest in the post-war era, bowling performances have trumped individual batting specials but there still were some outrageous Test knocks that would go down in the upper echelons of Test match batting. Here is a glance at five of the best.
Tom Latham 264* - vs Sri Lanka, Wellington – December 2018
Sri Lankan came prepared for the hard grind but what they possibly did not anticipate is a mammoth, 11-hour, 489-ball Test knock from the New Zealand opener Tom Latham. The southpaw owned the Sri Lankan bowling attack at Wellington to register the highest Test score of 2018 and also resume Black Caps’ domination in Test cricket this year.
His unbeaten 264 – carrying the bat in the innings – was studded with 21 fours and a six and contributed to 45.67% of New Zealand’s total. That no other Kiwi batsman made a hundred further makes Latham’s knock a special one to savour. It was the sixth highest score by a Kiwi in Test cricket and in the course of the series, Latham became New Zealand’s second most successful opener after John Wright, ending the series with a brilliant 176 at Christchurch.
Virat Kohli 153 - vs South Africa, Centurion – January 2018
Not many have played the kind of innings Virat Kohli did at Centurion for India early this year. After a disappointing loss in the opening Test of the first overseas tour of the year, India needed someone to carry them at Centurion and the skipper did so with aplomb, scoring 153 and shepherding the Indians against a quality attack.
No other Indian batsman made a half-century as Kohli, appearing as though he were batting on a different surface to his mates, thumped the South African pacers all around SuperSport Park in a dominant hundred that came at a strike rate greater than 70. He was last man dismissed in the Indian innings but it still wasn’t enough to take his side over the line. He began the year with his 21st Test century and ended it with four more, amassing over 1300 runs – more than any other player.
Aiden Markram 143 – vs Australia, Durban – March 2018
Markram’s show at Durban is perhaps among the most underrated Test centuries of late. When he came out to bat in the second innings at the top of the order, South Africa were staring at a massive defeat with a 189-run deficit. As South Africa crumbled to 49/4 chasing 417, Markram stood resolute and defiant at one end. What unfolded next was a counter-attack like no other. The opener milked the Aussie bowlers with authority, rallied together South Africa’s inconsistent lower middle-order and made the contest a riveting one.
He put on a dogged 87-run stand with Theunis de Bruyn that spanned close to 26 overs and then a 147-run association with Quinton de Kock that rekindled dreary spirits in the South African change room. Markram was technically sound and dominated the Aussie bowlers to take South Africa within close quarters of a win. Unfortunately, post his dismissal on 143, South Africa lost four wickets for 15 runs and conceded the match. Markram ended the series with another ton in Johannesburg – a fiery 152 - and established himself at the top of South Africa’s batting order.
Dimuth Karunaratne 158* - vs South Africa, Galle – July 2018
Dimuth Karunaratne’s second innings exploits are well known in cricketing circles by now but at Galle in July against the Proteas, he perhaps played the innings of his life in the first essay, batting though the innings after opening and remaining unbeaten on 158. In a Test that saw Sri Lanka rout South Africa in three days, Karunaratne was the only batsman to make over 50. He did so twice, with scores of 158* and 60 across both innings.
Karunaratne contributed to 55.05% of Sri Lanka’s total in the first innings, carrying his bat against a stupendously sharp South African attack. That the surface was too difficult to bat on was evident when every other batsman across both sides failed to find any kind of timing. Karunaratne, though, was unfazed and made 32.24% of all runs made in the Test match. The stupendous effort earned him the Man of the Match award and gave Sri Lanka a head start in the series.
Cheteshwar Pujara 123 – vs Australia, Adelaide – December 2018
India arrived in Australia having lost both their overseas series this year – in South Africa and England. In both those tours, they had lost the first Test and was playing catch-up game through the series. This had to be rectified in Australia, a place where they had never won the first Test of a series. On day 1 of the first Test at Adelaide, as India’s batsmen kept throwing away their wickets, one man stood undaunted and calm - Cheteshwar Pujara, who had earlier in the year cracked a brilliant ton at Southampton against England.
Pujara stood tall amidst India’s ruins, defending as though his life depended upon it and counter-punching the Aussies as and when a poor ball came his way. He carried India to a respectable total and was the second last man to be dismissed in the innings, making 123, nearly half of India’s total. The innings was a massive one in the context of the Test match as India usurped the Aussies to take a lead after the first Test for the first time in a tour Down Under.
Prithvi Shaw 134 – vs West Indies, Rajkot
Kevin O’Brien 118 – vs Pakistan, Dublin
Virat Kohli 123 – vs Australia, Perth
Mushfiqur Rahim 219* - vs Zimbabwe, Dhaka
Kusal Mendis 141* - vs New Zealand, Wellington
Angelo Mathews 120* - vs New Zealand, Wellington
Alastair Cook 147 – vs India, Oval