What a year of cricket it’s been, across all the formats, but especially test cricket! From the Ashes to India’s tight tour of England to all the Boxing Day action, this year witnessed some great test matches, before the ODI World Cup steals the show next year. Australia won the Ashes, Afghanistan and Ireland made their test debuts and India tops the rankings heading into 2019. I thought about what would happen if I were to review seven of the now twelve test teams as if I were a teacher, handing out grades on a report card. Well, without further ado, here we go, starting with the hosts, England.
Bright spots: England’s not usually known for their spin department, as the country’s pitches usually produce pacers, but this year, England knew spin was the key to success. At home, a surprise inclusion of leg-spinner Adil Rashid ended up being the decisive factor as England beat red-hot India 4-1! Away in Sri Lanka, England whitewashed the host thanks to the spin trio of Rashid, Moeen Ali and Jack Leach. England ended the year on a high note in Sri Lanka and will likely work on spin heading into their next tests against the West Indies.
Areas to improve: Now without Sir Alastair Cook at the top, England are working on a more stable opening pair. Against Sri Lanka, England tried Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings together, both finding success in high scores individually, but rather failing to put up a key large partnership. England’s performances against Sri Lanka and India place them high on the grading scale, but a 4-0 loss to Australia in the Ashes is hard to forget!
Bright spots: At home, Australia has played some really excellent cricket. They’ve played two series at home this year, the first being a powerful 4-0 Ashes win against England, and the second ongoing against India, which they are losing 1-2. In both of these series, their wins have come from when the Aussies have batted well. In this year, Australia has found two starts: Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon. Cummins has taken 44 wickets in 16 innings, while Lyon continues to be the best of modern spinners with 335 career wickets to his name. However, despite his wickets, Cummins will be best remembered for the 63(114) he put up in the Boxing Day test against India.
Areas to improve: Although Australia can win when they bat well, their batting overall this year has been atrocious. The bans of captain Steve Smith, vice-captain and opener David Warner and opener Cameron Bancroft hit Australia hard. Having to already immediately replace the opening pair, the middle order rarely did their job of anchoring, resulting in series losses in South Africa and Pakistan.
Bright spots: New Zealand played a rather low number of tests this year, but they sure made the most of them. The Kiwis won all three of the test series they played in, two at home against England and Sri Lanka and one away against Pakistan, in which New Zealand got their first ever series win in the United Arab Emirates. The reason behind this success, in my opinion, goes to the smart batting. Ross Taylor and captain Kane Williamson were the key players, with others like Henry Nicholls pitching in. This year, the New Zealanders put up massive totals such as 427-8d against England and 585-4 against Sri Lanka.
Areas to improve: The bowling’s done their job as well, with Trent Boult being the pick of the pacers and Ajaz Patel becoming useful with his spin. Perhaps New Zealand will want to take their pace a step further, as Neil Wagner has not been the best partner of Boult, only collecting three wickets against Pakistan compared to Boult’s seven. Will Somerville looks like a good partner for Boult after he took four wickets in his first innings in the third test against Pakistan.
Bright spots: As usual, the fast bowling. When Mohammad Amir seemed to go out of form, right-arm bowler Mohammad Abbas stole the show. The 28-year old, in just 12 tests, has taken 61 wickets at an average of just 17! It’s even been known that in London, Abbas asked England’s top wicket-taker, James Anderson, how to improve his bowling, and Anderson simply responded with praise after his 8-64 at Lord’s in Pakistan’s first test against England.
Areas to improve: Somehow, Pakistan failed to win all their series except one, which was a one-off test against debutants Ireland. The amount of batting collapses feels unfortunately infinite, with the fourth innings being especially atrocious. Although the middle order can usually do their job in the first innings, the second innings is dismal, as seen in Pakistan’s losses to New Zealand, South Africa and England. In the first test against New Zealand, Pakistan went from 130-3 to 171 all out, falling short by four runs. Such poor batting is nearly unheard of in international cricket, and one name sticks out: captain/wicket-keeper Sarfraz Ahmed, who scored a total of just 337 runs at an average of 24. If Pakistan doesn’t fix their middle order soon, Pakistan may lose Ahmed from the team as well.
Bright spots: India’s a bit of an interesting one. They’ve played some really good cricket this year, which has led them to the top of the ICC Rankings. The fast bowling has impressed on the test level, the spin’s been good and the batting has been clearly majestic. King Kohli continues to rack up centuries, but the batsmen with the breakthrough year, in my opinion, has to be Cheteshwar Pujara. This year, he’s had three half-centuries and three centuries, including his 132(355)* against England at Southampton. What’s more impressive about Pujara, is his ability to bat patiently with a lack of impulsiveness, which is exactly what a successful batsman needs in modern test cricket.
Areas to improve: Surprisingly, India tends to fall short sometimes. Despite putting up good performances, they did struggle to get the job done and fell to England 4-1. In that series, both sides had the batsmen, both sides had the pacers. But England’s spin was more dominant than that of India’s. Don’t get me wrong. India has quality spinners in the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, with Kuldeep Yadav around the corner, but India will need to turn them into wicket-taking options to pose threats across matches rather than in just a match.
Bright spots: Sri Lanka has had the most amount of test cricket on their plates, which gave them a fair share of both wins and losses. Their wins were quite impressive: a series drawn away in the West Indies, a series win away in Bangladesh and a series win at home against South Africa. In all three, spin was the key. As Rangana Herath’s retirement loomed, Dilruwan Perera stepped up with his half-century of wickets this year.
Areas to improve: The fast bowling is weak and they’re suffering from just two pacers in New Zealand right now. We already know Sri Lankans know how to spin, but spin alone cannot win matches. Despite the series wins, Sri Lanka has suffered heavy defeats against New Zealand and England.
Bright spots: South Africa’s fast bowlers are stepping up. In this last test against Pakistan, Deyl Steyn became South Africa’s top wicket-taker with 422 test wickets as his partner Kasigo Rabado collected six. South Africa also has a third excellent pace bowler in Dan Olivier they can use, who took a surprising eleven wickets against Pakistan.
Areas to improve: Although normally a good batsman and on his way to legendary status, opener Hashim Amla didn’t have the best of years, though he did show signs of patching his form against Pakistan. It’s very unlikely to see him not in the test side in 2019, but it would be a major help to South Africa if he can work on his consistency and not be dismissed early.