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Six moments to remember from Test cricket in 2019


Test_Cricket_review_2019Though 2019 was the year of the World Cup, Test cricket assumed significance with the arrival of the World Test Championship (WTC) in August. The year saw 39 Tests, nine less than were played in 2018. As many as 35 of them ended in a result – of which 25 were home wins – and only 13 went into the fifth day. There were four day-night Test matches, compared to two in 2018. On that note, here is a look back at six of the most memorable Test moments from 2019.

January – India’s historic high down under

India had reason to rejoice early in the year, as they secured a maiden Test series triumph in Australia, thus becoming the first subcontinental team to do so. The stage was set in December 2018, when India retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a 137-run win in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne to take an unassailable 2-1 lead in the four-match series. Earlier, they had won by 31 runs in the first Test at Adelaide. Thus, they only needed to draw the final Test at Sydney.

Mayank Agarwal (77), who had scored 76 on debut at Melbourne, continued to impress, before Cheteshwar Pujara, who was instrumental in the Adelaide win with 123 and 71, dented the hosts in the course of making 193. Wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant (159*) and Ravindra Jadeja (81) piled on the runs thereafter, taking India to a massive 622/7. Australia replied with 300 and were duly made to follow on, before rain ensured a stalemate and India’s long-awaited moment to cherish.

February – Sri Lanka ride on Perera special to set the rainbow nation alight

When Sri Lanka arrived for their two-Test series in South Africa under new captain Dimuth Karunaratne, it had been just a week since they had been mauled 2-0 in Australia. By contrast, the Proteas were coming off a 3-0 rout of Pakistan. If ever there was a recipe for a mismatch, this was it. Or so it seemed. The opening Test at Kingsmead in Durban, where Sri Lanka had recorded their only Test win in South Africa in 2011-12, saw the hosts set a testing target of 304.

At 226/9, a Protean win looked inevitable. But left-hander Kusal Perera had other ideas, and he went on to compile one of the greatest innings seen in Test history. He ended with an incredible 153*, adding a record 78* for the last wicket with Vishwa Fernando, whose contribution was six, as Sri Lanka notched a stunning one-wicket win. By virtue of an eight-wicket win at Port Elizabeth a week later, the Lions became the first Asian side to win a Test series in South Africa.

July – Ireland realise their Lord’s dream

Ireland played their much-awaited maiden Test match in England at Lord’s, and gave the home team a serious run for their money. Veteran seamer Tim Murtagh, in what would be his final international outing, produced a fine performance on the first day at his county home ground – he has been a Middlesex regular since 2007. Bowling in tandem with the promising debutant Mark Adair (3/32), Murtagh flattened the English batting line-up on the way to figures of 5/21.

Openers Jason Roy and Rory Burns both succumbed to Murtagh, who further upped the ante by getting rid of Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali – all for ducks – in a span of five balls to become the first man to take a Test five-wicket haul for Ireland. At the other end, Adair accounted for Joe Denly and captain Joe Root. Though England were blown away for 85 before lunch, they clinched a 143-run win – Ireland were bowled out for a mere 38 in the fourth innings.

August – Smith and Stokes set up an Ashes series to remember

Six months after Perera’s epic, Ben Stokes conjured an equally remarkable knock that helped England stay alive in the Ashes. Trailing the five-match series 1-0 ahead of the third Test at Headingley, England were bundled out for just 67 in the first innings, and were left facing an improbable target of 359. When last man Jack Leach joined Stokes, the requirement was still 73. However, Stokes was determined, and proceeded to flay the bowling en route to a dazzling 135*.

Leach made only one run as the stand fetched 76*, giving England a win for the ages. Earlier, in the first Test at Edgbaston, Steven Smith (who missed the Headingley Test due to a head injury sustained in the second Test at Lord’s) marked his Test comeback with innings of 144 and 142, which powered Australia to victory by 251 runs. Not content, he scored 211 at Old Trafford to guide his team to an urn-retaining 185-run win. The hard-fought series was ultimately drawn 2-2.

September – Afghanistan tame the Tigers in their own den

Afghanistan won their first ever Test in March, beating Ireland by seven wickets at Dehradun in what was only their second appearance at the highest level. But they achieved a much more significant success in their third Test less than six months later, when they upstaged Bangladesh at Chittagong. Rahmat Shah (102), who became the first Afghan batsman to hit a Test century, and Asghar Stanikzai (92) built the foundation for a total of 342 after Afghanistan opted to bat.

Newly-appointed captain Rashid Khan scored 51 down the order, and then snared 5/55 with his leg-spin to hand his side a vital lead of 137. Debutant opener Ibrahim Zadran, aged just 17, top-scored in the second innings with 87 as Bangladesh were set a target of 398. Rashid was in his element again, this time taking 6/49 to return match figures of 11/104. A rain delay threatened to halt Afghanistan’s charge towards their first overseas Test win, but they prevailed by 224 runs.

December – Test cricket returns to Pakistan

Test cricket returned to Pakistan after over a decade when Sri Lanka – incidentally the last team to have played in whites there in 2008-09 – toured for a two-match series. The first Test at Rawalpindi was a rain-affected draw, with opener Abid Ali scoring 109* on debut. The second Test at Karachi resulted in a 263-run win for Pakistan, thanks to a second-innings total of 555/3 that overturned a deficit of 80. Abid struck 174 this time, and was named the man of the series.

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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