By Bharath Ramaraj
In 2013, Test cricket had its fair share of thrills and spills. There were some exhilarating performances with both bat and ball that enriched the game of cricket. The matchless brilliance of some top notch cricket also resulted in some nail biting monumental Test matches. In this series of 2013 yearender articles, we would look at those exceptional Tests that would be remembered for ages to come.
South Africa vs Pakistan, Cape Town
The Test match played at the scenic Cape Town ground between South Africa and Pakistan had its share of see-saw battles. For the first few days of the Test, Pakistan appeared to have a slight edge over their rivals on a dry wicket, before the hosts came roaring back to snatch the Test away from Pakistan.
At four for 33 in the first innings, Pakistan seemed to be on the road to another inevitable collapse. However, the experienced campaigner Younis Khan and the youngster, Asad Shafiq shepherded their innings to take the team out of the wallow of troubled waters to a score of 338.
With their wily off-spinner Saeed Ajmal reducing South Africa to six for 164, Pakistan was in the ascendency and well on their way to achieving their third Test victory in the Rainbow Nation. Yet, the lynchpin of South African batting line-up AB de Villiers and the ever enthusiastic all-rounder, Robin Peterson helped them to come within touching distance of Pakistan’s score. In particular, Peterson with his counter attacking innings floored Pakistan’s bowlers.
In the second innings, while facing sustained hostility from Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and company, Pakistan crumbled to a meagre score of 169. Some nondescript shots didn’t help their cause either. The way Sarfraz Ahmed, the wicketkeeper left a rather harmless delivery from over the wicket by Peterson to carry on its path and shatter his timber with him not offering a shot just gives an inkling about the lack of fight in Pakistan’s second innings.
Despite Ajmal bowling with a great heart to engineer a minor collapse in South Africa’s second innings, they held their nerve to win by four wickets. Ajmal’s 10-wicket haul turned out to be a valiant effort in a losing cause. Peterson for his all-round efforts was rightly adjudicated as the Man of the Match.
New Zealand vs England, Auckland
In March 2013, England was still ranked No 2 in Test Rankings and were known as a good Test side then. So, they were expected to bestride New Zealand after winning the One-Day International (ODI) series convincingly. However, Test cricket can throw its share of surprises. Going into the last Test match at Auckland, the series was still hanging in the balance with the first two Tests resulting in drawn games.
In the final Test match at Auckland, Peter Fulton and Kane Williamson‘s herculean efforts took New Zealand past a formidable score of 400. New Zealand then proceeded to stake the upper-hand in the Test by taking a slew of English wickets upfront. Only Matt Prior who met fire with fire took upon the gauntlet of facing up to New Zealand’s swing merchant, Trent Boult. Boult swung it around the trees to take a six-wicket haul.
Despite losing a few quick wickets in their second innings, New Zealand set England a monstrous target of 481 runs. Fulton made centuries in both innings. On the final day, with England tottering at 4 for 90, it looked grim for the visitors. However, Bell, drip by drip, was trying to take them to realms of safety. On the other hand, Prior was playing with bravery and tenacity. Bell survived a couple of chances, before he got out to Neil Wagner’s seam bowling. Prior though, continued to play his naturally instinctive game. He was well supported by Stuart Broad who played out valuable time. In fact, he was stranded on zero for a long time. A clatter of wickets right at the end of England’s innings saw them on the brink of a defeat. But in a cauldron of bubbling tensions and drama, Monty Panesar just about held his tangle of nerves to support Prior and help England to eschew with a drawn game.
England vs Australia, Trent Bridge
When Australia came to the shores of England, they were ridiculed and made fun off. The first Test match of the Ashes 2013 though, turned out to be a closely fought contest that could have gone either way.
Australia bowled with fire and brimstone to clean up England for a modest total of 215. England batsmen did play some insipid strokes too. Yet, James Anderson with his tail up found some reverse swing on an abrasive surface to turn the tables around. He cleverly used the crease, especially against left-handed batsmen to catch the edge off the bat. At 117 for 9, Australia looked dead and buried. A 19-years old loose-limbed youngster in Ashton Agar though, took the game to the opposition with a sprightly knock of 98. Those strikes straight down the ground with a rapier-like arc of his back-lift made it an eye-catching innings. The disappointment was written large on his face when he got out for 98.
In spite of half centuries by senior batsmen, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, England were struggling in the second innings. It took an exceptional effort from Bell and able support from Broad to set Australia a target of 311. Broad had some luck on the way, as he was given not out despite clearly edging a delivery from Agar to slip fielder, Michael Clarke. Umpire Aleem Dar, though astonishingly didn’t move an inch. Australian team and public haven’t forgiven him for not walking.
Anderson bowling with gusto and yet again generating reverse swing reduced Australia to depths of despair. At 231 for 9, with 80 runs still adrift from a victory, England had all but sewn up the match. There was still a final twist in the tale waiting to happen though. Brad Haddin, the wicketkeeper of Australia played with indomitable attitude and James Pattinson, the speedster stood like a rock at the other end. Haddin was helped on the way when the boundary rider Steven Finn dropped a tough chance. He played with a live by the sword and die by it approach that day. It required Anderson, who had bowled 13 consecutive overs on the final day to reduce Australia to 213 for 9, to come back into the attack and give finishing touches to his tidal wave of brilliance. With an off-cutter, he lured Haddin to play a shot only to get a thin inside edge to Prior and England won by a mere 14 runs. The game ended in a bit of controversy with Decision Review System (DRS) coming into play to overturn the decision on Haddin. Anderson rightly got the man of the match award.
Zimbabwe vs Pakistan, Harare
After a few hiccups, Pakistan had won the first Test match rather convincingly. In the second Test match though, at Harare Sports Club, Zimbabwe stunned Pakistan by winning a match with full of ebbs and flows. Zimbabwe amassed 294 on the board in the first innings largely on the back of Hamilton Mazakadza‘s knock of 75 and Brendan Taylor the captain essaying a half-century. Tinnashe Panyengara and Brian Vitori bowled in tandem to give Zimbabwe a vital lead of 64 runs. Only the veteran batsman Younis Khan showed his class with a timely knock of 77.
Rahat Ali, the left-arm seamer well supported by Ajmal and left arm spinner Abdur Rehman took Pakistan to a position from where everyone reckoned they were the slight favourites to win the Test. However with Pakistan being a mercurial side, even with a score of 263 there were chances of more twists in the tale.
Now that is what exactly happened in the game. Tendai Chatara with a curious action where he rarely used his left-arm produced an inspiring spell to take Zimbabwe to a famous win. He produced awkward deliveries that homed into the batsmen to trouble them on a wicket with variable bounce. Misbah-ul Haq with his typical stonewalling innings stood firm, but got little support. Finally, the last man Rahat was run out in a comical mix up to leave Misbah high and dry at the other end. It is rightly said that with a tail-ender around there is always a great chane of a run-out coming on the way. Chatara took away the Man of the Match award for his sterling show.
South Africa vs India, Wanderers
When India took on South Africa at the Wanderers, everyone expected the hosts to steamroll, India. However, in another of those major surprises of the year, India dominated the contest for the first four days of the Test. The seamers bowled good channels and the young guns of Indian batting line-up like Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara blazed the Wanderers ground with their exceptional batsmanship.
While chasing a monumental target of 458 in the final innings of the Test, South Africa showed why they are the No 1 side by giving India a mighty scare. When both Faf du Plessis and de Villers were in the middle, South Africa seemed set to do the unthinkable by chasing down a record score. India just about held their nerve to draw the marvellous Test in the end. Many heart beats would have pumped and nails chomped while watching a truly remarkable Test match.
The year 2013 has yet again shown that Test cricket is alive and kicking. As we approach 2014, one can only hope that we would see another year full of action packed Test matches.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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