With the conclusion of Boxing Day Tests played in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, the calendar year 2018 came to an end. The year-end is the time when one would like to look back at the moments and memories of the year passed by. For the cricketing world, 2018 was an eventful year. It had a good mix of glories and disappointments.
The year started with the continuance of Australian dominance over the down under part of the Ashes. But the joy was short-lived for the Kangaroos as the "Sandpaper Gate" hit them hard during their tour of South Africa during the earlier part of the year. The high drama ended up with a year-long ban of Steven Smith, David Warner and nine months ban for Cameron Bancroft who confessed their involvement in the shameful act of tampering the ball.
India, the World No. 1 side in Tests, continued to struggle in overseas conditions for the most part of the year, losing the series in South Africa and England. But their performance has been better down under where they are leading the series 2-1 against Australia at the end of 2018 with one more Test to play in January 2019.
New Zealand was the best team among all the Test playing nations in 2018 where they extended their series winning streak to four which they have done for the first time. They even improved their performance in Asia by winning an away series against Pakistan after 49 years. They even climbed to No. 3 in ICC Test rankings.
England after going winless for the first five months, improved their show in the second half by winning their home series against India. They followed it up with a great performance in Sri-Lanka by winning the series in island nation after 17 years.
It was the year when Zimbabwe registered their first away Test victory after 18 years when most of the other touring nations struggled in away conditions. One time heavyweights Sri Lankans even struggled to win at home.
2018 was the year in which the batsman struggled playing the red ball as the bowlers dominated the longer version. Most of the times it was an individual brilliance with the bat that saved the day for the teams.
This article brings five such individual performances of the year 2018. The criteria for the selection are - performances in both the innings, challenging conditions, impact on the match/series and the resulting effect on the performer himself.
Brendan Taylor's twin centuries at Dhaka
Zimbabwe toured Bangladesh in November to play a couple of Tests. Looking at the African nation's performance in the recent past, it should have been a cakewalk for Bangladesh in spin friendly conditions. But the brilliance of Sean Williams and disciplined bowling effort won Zimbabwe their overseas Test win since 2001.
But the pride-hurt Bangladeshis hit back in the second Test by posting a mammoth 522 in the first innings. Zimbabwe slumped to 131 for 5 before Peter Moor joined Brendan Taylor. The latter had come out of retirement last year to play for Zimbabwe again. But his return had not brought as many runs as Taylor and Zimbabwe expected.
After a modest outing in the first Test, the pressure was on for the former captain. Batting at No. 3, he dropped the anchor and steadied the ship at one end which wickets were falling at the other. He forged a 139 run partnership with Moor for the sixth wicket. He scored a fine 110 which helped Zimbabwe cross 300 but unfortunately couldn't lessen the lead below 200.
When set to chase a mammoth target of 443, all the Zimbabwe batsmen buckled under pressure against Bangladeshi spinners except Taylor who took the attack to opposition almost single-handed. He played well against the Bangladesh spinners who seemed to be too hot to handle.
His stroke-filled undefeated 106 of 167 couldn't win the match for his team, but Taylor became the first Zimbabwean to score centuries in both innings of a Test match on two occasions. It marked a great comeback for the most accomplished batsman of his side.
Alastair Cook's heroics in his farewell Test
The legendary former England Captain struggled for runs throughout the year after his epic 244 in last year's Boxing Day test down under. With only one 50 plus score in the next 9 Tests, there was a certain call for his axing from all corners. He read the situation correctly and announced his retirement going into the fifth and final Test against India at The Oval.
Though from series perspective there was no pressure on Cook as the series was won already, but the thought of going out on high might have been weighing down in his mind when he went to bat in the first innings.
Unlike the previous four Tests, he was able to get a good start. He applied himself well at the crease and stitched his innings in his trademark slow and steady way. He played on after scoring a patient 71 off 190 deliveries causing a disappointing sight at The Oval where the fans came to watch a Daddy hundred from The Chef.
But it turned out to be a just couple of days wait for the fans. Cook received a warm welcome from the Indian players as they stood in line as a mark of respect when he stepped into the ground in the second innings to take guard for the last time.
The match was evenly poised with England having just 30 runs lead. Cook got into the groove quickly and started scoring in his own fashion. He got a solid support from his captain Joe Root at the other end. The two blunted the Indian attack churning the runs at their will.
The English fans came in thousands to cheer their best batsman for one last time and he was ensuring they didn't get disappointed. When he got to the three-figure mark, the crowd were on their feet and kept on cheering for minutes before the master himself requested to allow him to move on.
Cook's knock of 147 helped England to put a mammoth target 464 runs for Indians which they fell short by 118 runs. He became the fifth batsman to score centuries on both debut and farewell Tests.
Cheteshwar Pujara's Adelaide glory
After levelling the T20 series at 1-1, India started their red ball campaign down under with the first Test at Adelaide Oval. Indians won the toss and elected to bat. Aussie quicks soon reduced India to 41 for 4 and when the confident looking Rohit Sharma fell playing the horrendous heave of spinner Nathan Lyon, the score was just 86.
Playing at No. 3, Cheteshwar Pujara kept his cool at one end. He was playing the ball to its merit - leaving the outgoing ones, negotiating the good ones and punishing the bad ones. He forged small partnerships with Rishabh Pant for the sixth wicket and Ravichandran Ashwin for the seventh wicket bringing India's total to 189/7.
By the time the tail started, Pujara was closing in on to his 16th hundred. Sensing he was running out of partners, he started attacking the Aussie bowlers who had just taken the new ball. He quickly crossed the three-figure mark and then hit a couple of lusty sixes, raising the eyebrows of everyone including his staunch critics.
Before running out in an unfortunate fashion, Pujara had ensured Indians reached a modest total of 250. He did well in the second innings as well, grinding the Aussie bowlers in the company of his vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane helping India to post 307 runs in the second innings.
Aussies fell short of their fourth innings target by just 31 runs and in the hindsight the late surge from Cheteshwar Pujara in the first innings emerged as the difference between the two teams, ultimately winning India No. 3 "Man of the Match" award.
Virat Kohli overcoming English challenge
When India toured England In August 2018, in addition to Indian pride, the reputation of Virat Kohli as the best batsman in the world in the current scenario, was at stake. It was mainly because of the poor outing he suffered when Indians toured the Home of Cricket four years back.
As a run-up to the series, there was a hype created as well around the Kohli-Anderson contest. Virat Kohli overcame the Anderson challenge in the first Test itself at Birmingham scoring 149 and 51.
He made a bold statement that he could play well in swinging conditions as well. But despite his heroics, India lost the Test by 31 runs. It was followed by huge innings drubbing at Lord's and Virat's captaincy came into huge criticism.
The third Test at Nottingham was a do-or-die match for Indians to remain alive in the five-match series. Virat got lucky with the toss for the first time in the series. He didn't hesitate to bat first.
After both the owners departed after putting a decent stand, Virat came to crease and started with his usual confidence. He got good support from his deputy Ajinkya Rahane at the other end. Both kept on scoring briskly on a batting-friendly surface.
The duo added 159 runs for the fourth wicket before Rahane got out in his 80s. Kohli known for his great conversion rate of 50s to 100s, surprisingly fell short of a well-deserved hundred by just 3 runs.
India posted a healthy 329 in the first innings and their bowlers reduced the England batsmen for a paltry 161. Batting second with a huge lead, India again started well with a 60 run partnership from the openers. No. 3 Pujara also got a good start.
Kohli came in when the score was 111 and continued from where he left in the first innings. He kept on scoring briskly keeping all the England bowlers at bay. He kept piling on the misery of Englishmen as the lead kept on swelling. This time he was not in a mood to get unlucky and reached the three-figure mark comfortably, making it second in three Tests.
India declared their second innings at 352/7 asking England to score 521 runs to win the Test. Despite Jos Buttler's flamboyant 106, England suffered a huge defeat of 204 runs. With the victory, India kept their hopes alive for the series and Virat's reputation went northwards by leaps and bounds.
Kane Williamson creating history for Kiwis in UAE
New Zealand toured UAE for a three-Test series after a break of 7 months. Playing in spin-friendly surfaces had always been a challenge for Kiwis though they had posted above average to impressive performances in their previous series.
They scraped through a narrow 4 run win in the first Test as Pakistani batsman imploded to lose their last six wickets for 24 runs when all they needed was to bat with common sense with just 28 runs to win. Debutant Ajaz Patel was a major destroyer claiming five wickets in the second innings.
Pakistan fought back in the second Test and handed a huge innings defeat to Black Caps to level the series, thanks to spinner Yasir Shah's mind-blowing match numbers of 14 wickets for 184.
In the decider at Abu Dhabi, NZ batted first and scored 274 runs on the back of Kane Williamson's masterful 89. Though Yasir Shah again did the damage for Kiwis reducing them to 72/4, Williamson steadied the ship in the company of BJ Watling. They forged a 102 run partnership before the skipper got out on the verge of a hundred. It has been a hallmark of Williamson's career to miss centuries after getting to 80s or 90s.
Pakistan scored 348 in their first innings getting themselves a handy 74 run lead. In the second innings, before they offset the lead, when Kiwis lost their top 4 wickets including that of experienced Ross Taylor, the writing was almost on the wall.
Skipper Williamson steadied the ship in the company of Henry Nicholls batting with utmost caution. Both of them made Yasir Shah and company toil hard without further success. They played session by session for the entire Day 4 and got Kiwis to driver's seat for the first time in the match. This time unlike the first innings, the skipper managed to script his 19th Test century.
By the time Williamson departed on the fifth day at the score of 139, the lead was nearing 200 and NZ were out of trouble. He took a bold and sporty decision of declaring well before the lunch of Day 5, giving almost 80 overs for Pakistan to chase a gettable 280. His bowlers did rest of the job by bowling out the opponents for just 156.
The victory marked the first series win for Kiwis at UAE and they had beaten Pakistan in a series away from home for the first time in 49 years. For his brilliant twin knocks and his display of bold captaincy, Kane Williamson won "Man of the Match" award. It would be one of those Tests which will be remembered by Kiwis for long.