As the curtain comes down on 365 days of further intrigue in this storied sport, let’s take a look back at just how the caravan of men’s cricket unfolded through 2019
If someone told you at the start of 2019 that the year to come would provide the spectacle of a tied World Cup final, you would have set your clock straight to 14 July 2019 (although, if you’re reading this, odds are you probably had the period from 30 May to 14 July earmarked from well in advance). If someone told you that the same World Cup final would end that way, that’s when you would’ve immediately wanted to snap back to reality — because that just couldn’t be real.
Well, what do we know! 14 July 2019 now rests in its own palatial suite in the galaxy of the cricketing impossible — surely we will never see anything quite like it, ever again (as a matter of fact we won’t, at least not until the correction to the laws made after the events of that Lord’s evening are rewritten).
The World Cup, of course, was the main course of the sumptuous feast that was another riveting year of international cricket; the entrees and dessert didn’t particularly disappoint either.
So, as the curtain comes down on 365 days of further intrigue in this storied sport, let’s take a look back at just how the caravan of men’s cricket unfolded through 2019. In a World Cup year, where else to begin but the ODIs — whoever thought the 50-over game was under threat!
ODIs: One Mad Evening at the Home of Cricket
Well, even the most sceptic of naysayers wouldn’t have found cricket, and especially its 50-over version, ‘boring’ if they tuned to the final of the 12th edition of the sport’s showpiece event. The events of that evening, of course, have been devoured and debated alike, in abundance.
The small matter of a World Cup final aside, a total of 150 ODIs played in 2019 continued recent trends of the format; bat continues to dominate ball more often than not, and 350, in several cases and at least several places, is the new 300.
Runs were scored at 5.42 per over through this calendar, the third-highest figure for any year in ODIs; wickets, too, were at a premium, with 2019’s average of 33.36 being the highest for any year in the 50-over game barring 1974 — a year where only six ODIs were played.
England, having ended the longest wait in this game in the most dramatic circumstances seen by it yet, were crowned world champions; they would also be the most successful ODI side overall in the year, with 14 wins from 22 games. India and Australia — both semi-finalists at the World Cup — were the only other teams to register more than double the number of wins to losses.
At the other end of the spectrum, among the ‘established’ teams, were Sri Lanka, who won only seven games while losing 14. New Zealand and South Africa also finishing the year with win-loss ratios in excess of 1.5, while no other side outside of this top-five could manage a rate above 0.66, continuing the top-heaviness that this format remains affected by.
As fortunate as the culmination of their dream may have been, you make your own luck, and England did boss the game like no one else. Eoin Morgan’s World Cup winners ended 2019 with a scoring rate of 6.49 - that’s 51 more runs per game than the average ODI score for the year; no other side was able to touch a run rate of 6.
Best Batsmen: Make merry from the top
It’s been a great decade to be a top-order batsman in the ODI game, and 2019 ensured that the theme of the decade stayed put. 13 out of the 15 leading run-scorers this year were batsmen who regularly plied their trade at the top of the order.
Rohit Sharma (1490 runs from 28 matches) topped the pile of the run-pilers, slightly clear of his captain Virat Kohli (1377 from 26). Kohli, by the celestial standards he’s set for himself, had a below-par year compared to recent ones, averaging below 75 for the first time in a year since 2015. He still averaged only a shade under 60.
Rohit’s year featured seven hundreds — only Sachin Tendulkar in 1998 has ever hit more in a single year in ODIs — and that five of those came at the World Cup (a first in the competition’s history) reflects the scale of his performances.
With a minimum qualification of 500 runs in the year, only four batsmen averaged above 70, and only five struck at a rate in excess of 110. Jason Roy was the only man to make both these top-grade groups.
The consistency of Shai Hope (1345 runs @ 61.13) also stood out, as did the sparkling flame of Babar Azam’s blade (1092 runs in 20 games, average 60.66), and the devastating impact of Jos Buttler’s (667 runs in 16 innings, strike rate 135.56).
Best Bowlers: Pacers can still exist
Of the 29 bowlers that closed out 2019 with 20 or more wickets in ODIs, only five were spinners; this was a year where fast bowlers roared back into contention with the white-ball, aiding the renewed claims of their relevance in this age of 350+ totals.
The top five wicket-takers of the year, in fact, were all out-and-out pacers: Mohammed Shami, Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson, Mustafizur Rahman and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Shami’s sensational returns around the globe brought him 42 wickets, four ahead of the second-placed Boult. But for sheer striking ability, Mitchell Starc furthered his credentials as today’s fiercest strike bowler; each of his 27 wickets came out of 10 games he played at the World Cup, with the Aussie left-arm quick needing barely 20 deliveries per dismissal.
Imran Tahir was the most economical bowler out of the non-Associate pack, conceding 4.44 an over, followed closely by Jasprit Bumrah (4.62) and Jofra Archer (4.63).
Best Knock: Ben Stokes, 84* off 98 vs NZ, CWC19 Final, Lord’s
It will best be remembered, unfortunately, or not, for the four runs no batsman in the world can imagine accruing to his tally. But nothing, and no one, can take away from the rest of the 80 runs scored by Ben Stokes during the World Cup final — or the eight runs he put on the board in the Super Over that ensued thereafter.
There can be no greater stage, and there, arguably, will never be quite as much of a pressure-cooker for a batsman to emerge out of. One way or the other, Stokes carried England over the line in the biggest game of the country’s centuries of cricketing existence.
Special mention to Ashton Turner’s own 84 not out at Mohali much earlier in the year, for had this not been a World Cup year, it would have been mighty difficult to top. Those 84 runs came off just 43 balls; playing only his second ODI, Turner had turned up with Australia four-down and needing 130 runs from 83 balls — they wrapped up the chase, of 359 no less, with 13 to spare.
Best Spell: Matt Henry 10-1-37-3 vs IND, CWC19 S/F, Manchester
India had topped the group stage. India were scoring runs for fun. India didn’t need a middle-order. India were chasing a mere 240. India, surely, were going to the World Cup final.
Except, New Zealand’s new-ball bowlers hadn’t been sent that script. Sure, they benefitted from the rain-break that took the first semi-final into a second day, as also from the cloud cover that persisted through the morning of the reserve day.
But Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul had scored a combined total of 1007 runs at the World Cup already, and India’s opening partnership had averaged 86 till the point. Yet, one ball into his second over, Matt Henry had sent both back to the pavillion, and India were 5/3 in 3.1 overs.
Henry added the wicket of Dinesh Karthik about half an hour later, and India had to go home.
Special mention, here, to another three-for, this time from the final that followed. Liam Plunkett’s 3/42 will perhaps read innocuously when people go back to the scorecard from the summit clash, but the journeyman’s three wickets were those of Kane Williamson, who was nearing 600 runs and was named Player of the Tournament, Henry Nicholls, who, with 55, was New Zealand’s only half-centurion of the final, and James Neesham, who was the Kiwis’ best hope for a death overs upward spiral.
Best Match: ENG vs NZ, CWC19 Final, Lord’s
Really? Do you need more?
Team of the Year
Rohit Sharma, Jason Roy, Virat Kohli, Babar Azam, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, James Neesham, Mitchell Starc, Mohammed Shami, Lockie Ferguson, Imran Tahir (12th man: Shakib al Hasan)
Tests*: Two classics and a lot of gulf in class
Test cricket in 2019 witnessed two humdingers to match with the best of all-time — impossibly against the odds one-wicket victories, both miracles pulled off by left-handed counter-punching batsmen batting at number five with only a number 11 for support through the last 70+ runs of the chase.
At Durban in February, Sri Lanka were 226/9 chasing 304 against South Africa; at Leeds six months later, England, chasing 359, had 286 on the board when the ninth wicket fell. Then, Kusal Perera and Ben Stokes (yeah, him again), respectively, pulled elephant-sized rabbits out of their hats.
But those two jaw-dropping finishes aside, this would be a year of utterly one-sided Test-match action, across the globe. Of the 37 Tests played in 2019 (prior to the two Boxing Day Tests in South Africa and Australia), only four were drawn; take away the two one-wicket wins mentioned above, and the 31 remaining results were astonishingly one-way traffic. 10 matches were won by an innings, and the average victory margin in the other 21 cases were 240 runs or eight wickets.
It’s not the best reflection in a year where the oldest form of the game underwent a makeover - this, clearly, isn’t what world cricket bosses had in mind when conceptualising the World Test Championship.
World No 1 ranked India went unbeaten through the year — the only team to do so — and their seven games under the inaugural World Championship cycle so far have seen them register wins by 318 runs, 257 runs, 203 runs, an innings and 137 runs, an innings and 202 runs, an innings and 130 runs, and an innings and 46 runs. Virat Kohli’s side started the year with a draw at Sydney that helped them seal the country’s first-ever Test series win in Australia; India end the year as the first-ever team to have claimed four successive innings wins in Tests.
Australia thrived on the return of Steven Smith (and later the discovery of Marnus Labuschagne) to finish 2019 with only two defeats, both during a 2-2 Ashes series that was a rare riveting contest this calendar year.
The greatest shock, undeniably, came early on, when Sri Lanka rode the wave of Perera’s Durban delight to clinch a 2-0 series win in South Africa - a first Test series victory for any Asian side in the country.
Best Batsmen: Super Smith, and a sublime shadow
Steven Smith hadn’t played a Test until the start of August. He bids goodbye to 2019 with more runs to his name than all but one player this year — and that man only really came into the scene because Smith got concussed at Lord’s.
As much as the English might want to paint 2019’s battle with the oldest enemy as ‘Stokes’ Ashes’, it really was Smith’s Ashes and no one else’s. The former Australian captain announced his return — and his redemption song — to the format he bosses with 774 runs from seven innings during the summer in England, going past 50, six out of seven times.
Where Smith left, Labuschagne took off, stirringly enough to have crossed 1000 runs at an average exceeding 68 even before playing the last game of the year. Leave out these two Australian freaks, and no batsman had even touched 800 runs prior to Boxing Day.
Also worthy of praise is Mayank Agarwal, who marked his first full year in international cricket with consistent displays all along to amass 754 runs at an average of 68.54.
Best Bowlers: India, Australia rule the roost
As of before the Boxing Day Tests, the top-three wicket-takers in Test cricket this year were Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc. In terms of strike rates, the top-five read: Ishant Sharma, Starc, Mohammed Shami, Kemar Roach and Cummins.
Cummins and Starc proved to be devastating as ever for pretty much all comers in the line of Australia’s fire, with both the Aussie quicks averaging around the 20-mark.
India’s bowlers might not find themselves at the summit of the wickets table but bear in mind that the team only played eight Tests — and brace yourself for a sample of what transpired during the same.
Shami: 33 wickets at 16.67, a wicket every 35 balls. Ishant: 25 wickets at 15.56, a wicket every 32 balls. Umesh Yadav: 23 wickets at 13.65, a wicket every 23 balls. Jasprit Bumrah: 14 wickets at 13.14, a wicket every 30 balls.
The Indian pace quartet, collectively, picked up 95 wickets in 2019, averaging 15.16 and striking once every 31.1 balls — that’s the second-best average for any country’s fast bowlers in a calendar year, and the best-ever strike rate (with a minimum qualification of 50 wickets in a year).
Fittingly for this Indian revolution, the year concluded with the team winning a Test at home without a single wicket falling to spin for the first time.
Best Knock(s): The Perera and Stokes specials
Kusal Perera 153* vs SA, Durban. Ben Stokes 135* vs AUS, Leeds.
Leave alone this year, both these knocks already fit comfortably into any all-time collective of the greatest knocks in 142 years of Test cricket.
Even Smith — and even his twin 140s in the Ashes opener at Birmingham — will have to take the second spot on the podium.
Best Spell: Roston Chase 21.4-2-60-8 vs ENG, Bridgetown
The best individual bowling analysis of the year, and even considering that England had nothing at all in the game — chasing 628, and needing to bat out more than two days for a draw — Chase’s decimation of the English batting line was wondrous.
A fourth-innings eight-wicket haul for a spinner is typically looked upon as a gift of the track. But that, in this case, would mean forgetting that West Indies had piled on 415/6 in their own second innings, immediately before England came out to bat — and that England had failed to pick up a wicket in the last 68 overs they bowled while conceding 295 runs.
Special mention: Jasprit Bumrah 8-4-7-5 vs WI, North Sound. Just go check it out if you haven’t. Or even if you have. Multiple times.
Best Match: ENG vs AUS, 3rd Test, Leeds
The two one-wicket triumphs can be bracketed together, and probably will be in the years to come. There’s certainly no picking between the two epic knocks that clinched these two victories, but as far as the game - and entire game - was concerned, the Leeds encounter holds the slightest edge.
Because it was a game of supreme individual fireworks even before Stokes began his mission impossible on the fourth afternoon. Jofra Archer’s six-for on the opening day to roll over Australia; the subsequent submission by England as they got shot out for 67 to hand the visitors a 112-run lead; Labuschagne stroking two other-worldly half-centuries in each innings; and then, the conclusion.
When it works this way, Test match cricket is alive and well!
Team of the Year
Mayank Agarwal, Tom Latham, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Ben Stokes, BJ Watling, Jason Holder, Ravindra Jadeja, Pat Cummins, Neil Wagner, Mohammed Shami (12th man: Ishant Sharma)
*All Test match figures as of before the start of the Boxing Day Tests (Australia vs New Zealand, South Africa vs England)
T20Is: Counting down to the World Cup
The shortest format of cricket, statistically speaking, is now a different ball-game, with all matches among all 104 member countries of the ICC having been granted international status since the start of 2019. A whole host of T20I records have thus been ‘rewritten’, with matches among non-ODI playing teams often producing scorelines beyond the bizarre.
In one game between the Czech Republic and Turkey alone, four of the standout T20I records were either levelled or broken — the Czechs smashed 278/4, the joint-highest team total in men’s T20Is; Turkey were then bowled out for 21, comfortably the lowest team total in the format (Turkey have now been bowled out for scores less than Netherlands’ previous mark of 39 thrice this year); the victory margin of 257 runs eclipses the previous record (172, Sri Lanka vs Kenya, 2007) by 85 runs; in the same game, Czech Republic’s Sudesh Wickramasekara blasted a 35-ball hundred, tying Rohit Sharma and David Miller’s existing record for the fastest T20I ton.
The metrics for T20 cricket at the international level, thus, are rather redefined.
From a qualitative perspective, considering the ‘top’ teams alone, 2019 in terms of T20Is can be split in two contrasting halves - for the larger portion from the start of the year, with an ODI World Cup and an inaugural Test Championship cycle to contend with, the Full-Member nations had put T20Is on the back-burner; through the back end, however, the focus is back on the 20-over game, with a T20 World Cup to be played before the end of 2020 (and another less than a year later).
Among these major countries, Australia enjoyed their T20Is the most, not losing any of their eight matches; Pakistan may still be the top-ranked side in the format, but their year was rather disastrous - one win in 10 matches, easily the worst win-loss ratio among the top sides, and placing them at a lowly 60th out of all 71 countries to play a game in the format this year.
(Note: Analysis below considers major nations only, keeping parity of competition as a key marker)
Best Batsmen: Warner unbeaten, Kohli unchallenged
The way he took his role and place back on, David Warner could have probably erased all sorts of records had he not been banned for the first half of this year; the Aussie opener eventually played six games, and piled on 287 runs, while being dismissed only once.
At the top of the run-charts was Virat Kohli, with 466 runs at an average of 77.66, with five fifties in 10 innings, and a strike rate of 147.93; by the end of the year, it was clear that India were striving hard to change their T20I batting template, and any success of that attempt will always have the captain at its heart.
Babar Azam and KL Rahul were among the most enjoyable batsman to watch, both scoring above 350 runs apiece with strike rates in excess of 135, while Glenn Maxwell and Eoin Morgan led the dashers’ brigade with strike rates of 183.33 and 172.90, respectively.
Best Bowlers: Chahar’s strides, Jordan’s pluck, Rashid’s guile
Though he endured a difficult year in ODIs, Rashid Khan continued to assert his dominance as the premier spinner - and arguably bowler - in T20Is with yet another supreme year: 20 wickets from 10 matches (the most for any bowler from the top sides) at an average of 12.90, while conceding a mere 6.61 runs per over. He had another spinner for company at the top of the wicket-taking charts, as New Zealand’s Mitchell Santner also produced impressive returns (average 15.40, economy 7.33).
Among pacers, three men stood clear from the rest of the competition. Deepak Chahar and Lasith Malinga delivered the two most unbelievable bowling spells of the year, while Chris Jordan upped his stocks as one of the leading death bowlers in T20I cricket at the moment.
Best Knock: Glenn Maxwell 113* off 55 vs IND, Bengaluru, Feb
Glenn Maxwell finished with 231 runs despite batting only thrice in T20Is this year, crossing 50 each time he was out in the middle. His headline act, though, was what should rank among the best centuries in any T20 chase.
Australia were chasing a stiff if not daunting 191-run target at the batting-friendly M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru to hand a rare series defeat at home to India - and Maxwell delivered that with a knockout punch. He had come in with trouble brewing at 22/2 in four overs, but once Maxwell got going, no other result looked a possibility.
Virat Kohli ended up on the losing side despite a 38-ball 72 not out, but the Indian skipper produced a close second-best to Maxwell’s 113* later in the year. India faced a tall order when West Indies had posted 207/5 in their series opener at Hyderabad, but Kohli’s innings of two phases concluded with the chase-master on an unbeaten 94 from 50 balls - and India were home with more than an over to spare.
Best Spell(s): Chahar & Malinga’s hat-trick heroics
Deepak Chahar 3.2-0-7-6 vs BAN, Nagpur. A decider against a side that India had never lost a T20I to before the start of the three-match series and Bangladesh were sniffing history halfway through their chase. Needing 175 to win, the Tigers had reached 110/2 in 12.5 overs. Chahar, who had struck twice in a two-over opening spell, was bowling his third over. 39 balls later, Bangladesh had been bowled out for 144 - and Chahar had in his name the best-ever bowling analysis in a men’s T20I.
Lasith Malinga 4-1-6-5 vs NZ, Pallekele. Sri Lanka’s bid to avoid a whitewash at home was on shaky ground after mustering 125/8. That allowed New Zealand to ease into their chase, which is what appeared to be happening for the first 14 balls of their innings. In the next four deliveries - in a straight recall to his storied heroics against South Africa in the 2007 World Cup - cleaned out Colin Munro, Hamish Rutherford, Colin de Grandhomme and Ross Taylor. Yeah, four wickets in four balls. Again. New Zealand were bundled over for 88.
Team of the Year
David Warner, KL Rahul, Babar Azam, Virat Kohli, Eoin Morgan, Glenn Maxwell, Kieron Pollard, Rashid Khan, Deepak Chahar, Chris Jordan, Lasith Malinga (12th man: Mitchell Santner)
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Proteas coach Rob Walter and West Indian captain Shai Hope will both be seeking a winning formula in the lead-up to the Cricket World Cup in India in October and November.
The third and final ODI will be played in Hamilton on Friday, with New Zealand leading the series 1-0.
Sri Lanka notched just 164 in their first innings and were asked to follow on after the Black Caps declared at 580 in Wellington. They were then bowled out for 358.