by Andrew Miller
On the last two occasions when England produced a genuinely top-notch Test team, their moments of fulfilment were preceded by a season of bubbly galvanisation in which the cogs started to turn in unison and a sense of optimism imbued the operation.
Will this year’s results be seen in the same light as the summers of 2004 and 2010? Then as now, everything will be determined in hindsight, with a home World Cup followed by the Ashes in 2019 set to stress-test this cast of cricketers like few challenges ever before.
By the end of a Sri Lanka tour featuring a trio of trophies across all three formats, England could hardly have wished to have laid a more promising platform for their ambitions.
The tone for 2018 was set by the continued audacity of Eoin Morgan’s 50-over world-beaters, a side imbued with such batting depth that they even managed to look disappointed after posting a world-record 481 for 6 against Australia.
But having learned their lessons with impressive speed, they set about transferring them to the Test arena too. Jos Buttler, in particular, proved that positivity and recklessness need not be flip sides of the same coin, while the team’s extraordinary wealth of allrounders offered an abundance of options for all scenarios.
The year also witnessed the emotional departure of one of the great English barnacles. Alastair Cook’s stunning send-off against India at The Oval might have been one the great feel-good moments of the sporting year, but far from feeling the effects of his absence in Sri Lanka, England actually seemed liberated by the chance to set a different agenda.
The whitewash in Sri Lanka was extraordinary, for the manner in which England achieved it. With positive mindsets, versatile selection, and a rejection of timidity, they subverted all received wisdom about how to compete in Asian conditions.
England’s supine defeat against Pakistan at Lord’s was their sixth loss in eight Tests with no victories in between, but Buttler’s second-innings fifty, and Dom Bess’ spunky resistance, proved a watershed moment in the team’s evolution.
by Danyal Rasool
It has been said T20 cricket is a different ball game, and for Pakistan it might as well be. The wins the team have churned out in that format – 17 in 19 matches in 2018 – established their continued stronghold over the shortest format, leaving many fans bemoaning the absence of a T20 World Cup this year. Eleven series have now been won on the bounce, including against West Indies (three times), New Zealand (twice), Australia, Scotland, and a tri-series in Zimbabwe.
The picture elsewhere provides a stark contrast. Pakistan won a solitary ODI all year against teams other than Hong Kong, Afghanistan or Zimbabwe. A meek, early Asia Cup exit was perhaps the nadir, coming towards the end of a year that began with a 5-0 whitewash in New Zealand.
Pakistan in whites have alternated between scintillating and infuriating. In the era of Misbah-ul-Haq, those extremes had been ironed out, but in his absence, a win against England was followed by an equally thumping loss, while a series win hosting Australia was cancelled out by a self-destructive 2-1 reverse against New Zealand.
A crushing win over England at Lord’s to kick off the English summer. This result appeared to set the template for Sarfraz Ahmed’s Pakistan in Test cricket; that fanciful notion was short-lived.
A collapse in Abu Dhabi that saw Pakistan succumb to a four-run defeat in the first Test against New Zealand. They lost six wickets for 24 runs; they would go on to cede the series.
by Andrew McGlashan
There was a major change for New Zealand mid-year when Mike Hesson, who had been expected to take the team to the 2019 World Cup, announced he was stepping down as head coach. Gary Stead took the role and already has a notable achievement on his CV with the Test series victory in the UAE.
It was another year of limited Test action (seven matches) but New Zealand really made them count, beating England 1-0 at home before spinning to victory over Pakistan. By the end of the year, Kane Williamson was challenging Virat Kohli as the No. 1 batsman in the world, while Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner remain a wonderful pace trio, now complemented by growing spin resources. ODI form was more patchy, with a series loss to England, while in T20 they went backwards, something Stead will need to address over the next two years.
It had been nearly 50 years since they had beaten Pakistan away from home. If it had been suggested that the spin attack to do it for them would be Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville, few would have believed it.
An insipid performance in the deciding ODI against England, in March, suggested a few challenges to confront ahead of the World Cup.
by Mohammad Isam
Bangladesh will be happy with the year they have had, particularly given how rocky things have been, on and off the field. Ending the year with two limited-overs series wins over West Indies, and handing them a Test series drubbing at home after being on the receiving end of similar treatment away earlier in the year, is a sign of progress. Losing three tournament finals will, however, be chastening; Bangladesh continue to look for a major trophy.
They will definitely be contenders at next year’s World Cup. Their batting line-up has gained strength in 2018, while their spin attack has shown depth. The fast bowling has blown hot and cold depending on the format. Mashrafe Mortaza has ensured that the side remains a settled unit, particularly after the BCB spent half the year looking for a head coach.
The ODI series win in the West Indies, coming right after a drubbing in the Test series, should be considered as Bangladesh’s best performance this year.
Being bowled out for 43 in Antigua delivered several home truths for Bangladesh’s Test side, which has long had a hard time shifting focus from other formats.
by Liam Brickhill
Zimbabwean cricket may be forever changed by the events of March 22, 2018. Throughout the World Cup Qualifiers, Zimbabwe had left things late, beating Afghanistan by just two runs and being held to a tie by Scotland. Craig Ervine needed to hit the last ball of the game for six to beat UAE, but Zimbabwe’s three-run defeat in an atmosphere of high drama at a rain-soaked Harare Sports Club instead ended their World Cup dreams.
The loss cast a long shadow over the rest of Zimbabwe’s year. In the fallout, the entire coaching staff, as well as selector Tatenda Taibu, were sacked, Graeme Cremer lost the captaincy, and several players made themselves unavailable for selection in a spat with the board over unpaid salaries. Low on personnel and morale, Zimbabwe sank to one of the most one-sided series defeats of their history against Pakistan in July. Fortunately, by September the absent players were back in the fold and there was a lighter mood to Zimbabwe’s series against South Africa and Bangladesh that capped the year, despite results not often going their way.
Teams thought to pack a much more substantial punch than Zimbabwe have left Bangladesh empty-handed in recent years. The Zimbabweans’ 151-run victory in the first Test was their first overseas Test win in 17 years, and a truly historic achievement.
Rarely can Harare Sports Club have witnessed an atmosphere comparable to that of Zimbabwe’s final World Cup Qualifier game. Packed to the rafters, more than 13,000 urged the team on, but when Ervine’s attempt at last-ball heroics failed, it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the ground.
by Peter Della Penna
Ireland’s first full year transitioning to Full Member status was a bumpy one. In spite of lopsided losses to West Indies and Zimbabwe at the World Cup Qualifier, Ireland entered the final day of the Super Six stage controlling their own destiny for a spot at the 2019 World Cup in England. But they could not get past their long-time sparring partner Afghanistan, failing to defend 209.
Their results in other formats were not much better. A loss in their maiden men’s Test to Pakistan in May was followed a month later by twin T20I thumpings at the hands of India. They even finished in last place in a T20I tri-series against former Associate brethren Netherlands and Scotland, before they were once again humbled by Afghanistan on home soil with T20I and ODI series defeats. The retirements of Ed Joyce and Niall O’Brien cemented the end of Ireland’s golden era.
Even though it ended in defeat to Pakistan, Kevin O’Brien’s historic century symbolised a respectable fight in their maiden men’s Test at Malahide.
Having qualified for three straight World Cups as an Associate, Ireland’s failure to reach the 2019 edition ironically came after they had achieved Test status.
* Results for Pakistan and New Zealand do not include the Boxing Day Tests in Centurion and Christchurch
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