©AFP and Getty Images
©AFP and Getty Images

2016 saw as many as 7 batsmen get past the 1,000-run mark in Tests, two triple-hundreds, 90 hundreds and 312 fifty-plus scores. Yes, all in 47 Tests. There were spells that broke gritty batting displays but cricket continued to remain a batsman’s game. The runs, the attractive strokeplay bring masses to this sport. The above numbers denote the kind of year this has been for the batsmen. There were plenty of quality knocks. Ruling the roost were Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Steven Smith, Jonny Bairstow and Azhar Ali, who were more consistent with the wooden blades than others. It is quite a task to shortlist top 10 from the massive list but Suvajit Mustafi makes an attempt, fails and stretches it to 11.

11. Roston Chase’s 137* vs India at Kingston

West Indies were one down and another ordinary outing later, a defeat loomed. West Indies had to survive the fifth day in a rain-effected Test to secure a draw. The Indian bowlers had their tails up. West Indies resumed the day at a hopeless 48 for 4. They managed to survive the final day and ended with 388 for 6.

Roston Chase, playing in his second Test, emulated what Garry Sobers had 50 years prior. He became the second West Indian to achieve the double of a century and five-for in the same Test. Another Bajan doing the same must have added to the pride factor for Sir Garry.

Roston Chase en route to his maiden hundred. (© AFP)
Roston Chase en route to his maiden hundred © AFP

Coming in to bat at 48 for 4, Chase remained unbeaten throughout the day. He played late and close to his body. West Indies’ reputation to switch-on the panic mode is well known but there was Chase paced his innings with calm. He was well supported by his captain Jason Holder and wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich.

West Indies almost scored at four an over on the final day with Chase remaining in complete control while negotiating the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami and co. The 24-year-old Barbadian defied the norm and prevented another West Indian defeat.

Brief scores:

West Indies 196 (Jermaine Blackwood 62; Ravichandran Ashwin 5 for 52) & 388 for 6 (Jermaine Blackwood 63, Roston Chase 137*, Shane Dowrich 74, Jason Holder 64*) drew with India 500 (KL Rahul 158, Ajinkya Rahane 108*, Wriddhiman Saha 47; Roston Chase 5 for 121)

 

10. Azhar Ali’s 205* & 43 vs Australia at Melbourne

Azhar Ali celebrates his double ton © Getty Images
Azhar Ali celebrates his double ton © Getty Images

One has to feel for Azhar Ali. He countered the Australian attack and frequent rain interruptions to construct a double-hundred, ensuring Pakistan put up a decent total. He became the first ever Pakistani to register two scores in excess of 200 in a calendar year.

He also became the fourth Asian after Ravi Shastri, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar to score a double-ton in Australia. It was a moment to cherish. It was a composed knock and he looked in complete control as he batted through.

Pakistan’s 443 was not enough. David Warner and Steven Smith’s quick tons propelled Australia to 624. The resilient Azhar came out to bat on the final day. He batted over two-and-half hours for his 43 and fell to a tight call. Then Pakistan suffered a collapse and lost a Test that headed towards a draw till the second last session of the final day.

The incredible bit was that Azhar was on the field for almost the entire Test till the past few minutes. Pakistan managed to bat just over two hours after Azhar fell on the final day. For the rest of the Test, he was out in the middle. In October, he had scored a triple-ton in the famous Dubai Test. He was among the 7 batsmen who finished with 1,000 Test runs in 2016.

Brief scores:           

Pakistan 443 for 9 decl. (Azhar Ali 205*, Asad Shafiq 50, Sohail Khan 65; Josh Hazlewood 3 for 50, Jackson Bird 3 for 113) & 163 (Azhar Ali 43, Sarfraz Ahmed 43; Mitchell Starc 4 for 36, Nathan Lyon 3 for 33) lost to Australia 624 for 8 decl. (David Warner 144, Usman Khawaja 97, Steven Smith 165, Peter Handscomb 54, Mitchell Starc 84; Sohail Khan 3 for 131, Yasir Shah 3 for 207) by an innings and 18 runs.

 

9. Brendon McCullum’s 145 vs. Australia at Christchurch

McCullum had announced in late 2015 that the Hagley Oval Test against Australia would be his last. It was not a quiet farewell. The New Zealand skipper ensured he bludgeoned his way to the record books, scoring the fastest Test hundred.

He walked out to bat at 32 for 3 in the 20th over on Day One and launched a brutal counterattack. Baz was not exiting the grand stage quietly. Corey Anderson and BJ Watling too followed the McCullum brand of cricket weaving crucial partnerships with him.

McCullum brought up his century from 54 balls, two fewer than what Viv Richards had taken in 1986 and Misbah-ul-Haq in 2014.

This knock came in a lively wicket that had a lot of assistance for pace bowlers but McCullum’s counterattack, not for the first time in his career, nullified all the threat. Steven Smith even placed a long-stop for the top-edge when McCullum went for those cross-batted hoicks, but nothing mattered to him. He batted just over two hours to slam a 79-ball 145, an innings that consisted of 21 boundaries and 6 sixes. In contrast, his opposite number Smith batted almost 6 hours for his 138 on a considerably easier Day Two surface.

McCullum scored a 27-ball 25 in the second innings but could not help a Kiwi defeat as Australia went on to take the series 2-0. But McCullum’s final Test hundred is safe in the annals of record books.

Brief scores:

New Zealand 370 (Brendon McCullum 145, Corey Anderson 72, BJ Watling 58; Nathan Lyon 3 for 61) & 335 (Kane Williamson 97, Corey Anderson 40, BJ Watling 46; Matt Henry 66; James Pattinson 4 for 77, Jackson Bird 5 for 59) lost to Australia 505 (Joe Burns 170, Steven Smith 138, Adam Voges 60; Neil Wagner 6 for 106) & 201 (Joe Burns 65, Usman Khawaja 45, Steven Smith 53*) by 7 wickets.

 

8. Darren Bravo’s 87 & 116 vs Pakistan at Dubai

When he first entered the cricket scenes, many called Darren Bravo Brain Lara’s clone. He looks similar to his much older cousin and then the matched him stroke-by-stroke. Cricket has seldom seen such similarities. In fact, at one point of time, Bravo had similar numbers to Lara: after 12 Tests, both Bravo and Lara had 940 runs at 47.05. Wait. It did not stop there. In the first innings of 13th Test, Bravo scored 166 while Lara had made 167!

Unfortunately, Bravo’s career did not take off like should have from thereon and surprisingly it is because he has failed miserably in home conditions.

In Dubai, he almost replicated the Lara 153* at Bridgetown. The Test saw a brilliant triple ton from Azhar Ali declare at 579. Bravo’s patient 87 helped West Indies to 357. A freak Devendra Bishoo spell wiped out Pakistan for 123 and West Indies needed 346 to win.

Wickets fell at one end and Bravo held the other. Dogged defence was punctuated by fluid Lara-like drives and with little width and room on offer, he launched the majestic cuts.

Bravo kept the chase alive until the final session of the Test. At one point it seemed West Indies were inching towards a rare Test glory when Yasir Shah leaped to his left to complete a caught and bowled, one that went on to decide the Test.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 579 for 3 decl. (Sami Aslam 90, Azhar Ali 302*, Asad Shafiq 67, Babar Azam 69) & 123 (Sami Aslam 44; Devendra Bishoo 8 for 49) beat West Indies 357 (Darren Bravo 87, Marlon Samuels 76; Yasir Shah 5 for 121) & 289 (Leon Johnson 47, Darren Bravo 116, Jason Holder 40*; Mohammed Aamer 3 for 63) by 56 runs.

 

7. Kraigg Brathwaite’s 142* & 60* vs Pakistan at Sharjah

This was West Indies’ first Test win outside their isles and Bangladesh since 2007, and it was architected by opener Brathwaite. He became the first opener to remain unbeaten in both innings of a Test. To keep it short, he was active for the entire duration of the Test.

West Indies had lost the first two Tests against Pakistan. Misbah’s men are a force, especially in the familiar UAE conditions. Dubai was a scare but Abu Dhabi was an easy win.

Kraigg Brathwaite played one of his finest knocks to help West Indies to a rare Test glory © Getty Images
Kraigg Brathwaite played one of his finest knocks to help West Indies to a rare Test glory © Getty Images

Brathwaite’s hundred in the first innings was a composed knock that ensured West Indies a 56-run lead. Skipper Jason Holder ran through the Pakistani line-up registering his first five-for and West Indies needed 153 to win.

Knowing West Indies’ ability to implode, Brathwaite once again held fort at one end to guide the side to a memorable win.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 281 (Younis Khan 51, Misbah-ul-Haq 53, Sarfraz Ahmed 51; Shannon Gabriel 3 for 67, Devendra Bishoo 4 for 77) & 208 (Azhar Ali 91, Sarfraz Ahmed 42; Jason Holder 5 for 30, Devendra Bishoo 3 for 46) lost to West Indies 337 (Kraigg Brathwaite 142*, Roston Chase 50, Shane Dowrich 47; Mohammad Aamer 3 for 71, Wahab Riaz 5 for 88) & 154 for 5 (Kraigg Brathwaite 60*, Shane Dowrich 60*; Yasir Shah 3 for 40) by 5 wickets.

 

6. Virat Kohli’s 167 & 81 vs England at Visakhapatnam

Kohli’s grit helped India scrape out a draw in the first Test at Rajkot. England had the momentum going into Visakhapatnam for the second Test. The wicket was expected to turn but it had decent purchase for the pacers too.

England had James Anderson and Stuart Broad playing this Test. Both struck early and India were reduced to 22 for 2 in the fifth over. The onus was on captain Kohli to bail the side out yet again. A 226-run stand between Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli pulled things India’s way. Composure and control were hallmark of Kohli’s knock.

India had managed a 200-run lead but English bowlers had their tails up in the second innings. While wickets kept tumbling at one end, Kohli held the fort at the other. It seemed Kohli batted on a different pitch when compared to his colleagues.

Another Virat Kohli special in 2016 © AFP
Another Virat Kohli special in 2016 © AFP

India were 151 for 7 when Ben Stokes pulled off a screamer to dismiss Kohli for 81. By then he had ensured India had a sizeable lead. India went on to win the Test by a massive margin and won the other three that followed as well.

Kohli ended the year with 1,215 runs at 75.93. He registered 4 hundreds out of which 3 were doubles, but the two Kohli knocks were the most special ones because it enabled India to gain momentum against the visiting English side, a team they had lost three back-to-back series since 2011.

Brief scores:

India 455 (Cheteshwar Pujara 119, Virat Kohli 167, Ravichandran Ashwin 58; James Anderson 3 for 62, Moeen Ali 3 for 98) & 204 (Virat Kohli 81; Stuart Broad 4 for 33, Adil Rashid 4 for 82) beat England 255 (Joe Root 53, Ben Stokes 70, Jonny Bairstow 53; Ravichandran Ashwin 5 for 67) & 158 (Alastair Cook 54; Ravichandran Ashwin 3 for 52, Jayant Yadav 3 for 30) by 246 runs.

 

5. Ravichandran Ashwin-Wriddhiman Saha centuries vs West Indies at Gros Islet

West Indies showed a spirited fightback in the second Test at Kingston and their pacers had reduced the much-famed Indian line-up to 126 for 5. India were playing five specialist batsmen and West Indies had sent all of them back.

Young Alzarri Joseph, making his Test debut, bowled fast and at good lengths. He started with Kohli, who was set up beautifully and unsettled by a short ball. A memorable fightback was the need of the hour.

Saha and Ashwin added
Saha and Ashwin added 213 for the sixth wicket © AFP

Ashwin and wicketkeeper Saha countered hostile spells from West Indian bowlers on a lively wicket to guide India to 353. In the past, the bowler-’keeper duo had collaborated in many successful partnerships in their primary roles but here were they, bailing out their side from deep waters.

Ashwin was composed as usual while Saha’s exhibited great technique in negotiating short-pitched bowling. They added 213 for the sixth wicket. Saha got his maiden Test hundred while Ashwin got to his fourth.

The foundation was set. Later, Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first innings and Shami in the second bowled the side to a win. This was the first time India had won 2 Tests in a series in West Indies.

Brief scores:

India 353 (KL Rahul 50, Ravichandran Ashwin 118, Wriddhiman Saha 104; Alzarri Joseph 3 for 69, Miguel Cummins 3 for 54) & 217 for 7 decl. (Ajinkya Rahane 78*, Rohit Sharma 41; Miguel Cummins 6 for 48) beat West Indies 225 (Kraigg Brathwaite 64, Marlon Samuels 48; Bhuvneshwar Kumar 5 for 33) & 108 (Darren Bravo 59; Mohammed Shami 3 for 51) by 237 runs.

 

4. Younis Khan’s 218 vs England at The Oval

Pakistan arrived at The Oval 1-2 down in the four-Test series. Sohail Khan’s five-for rocked the English line-up before Moeen Ali guided them to 328. Pakistan had to win this to avert a series defeat and it was fitting that the highest scorer in their history would rise to the occasion.

The tour began in Lord’s with a marvellous ton from the 42-year-old Misbah. After two back-to-back defeats, the sides returned to the English capital and now it was Younis’ time. A surprise call from Mohammad Azharuddin aided Younis in altering his technique: Azhar had asked Younis to stand inside the crease. Younis had just two 30-plus scores from 3 Tests till then and here was a double ton. A double ton, uncharacteristic of Younis.

This knock was all about control and domination. His 218 came at a strike rate of almost 71. He picked boundaries at will and the knock saw him craft 31 boundaries and clubbed 4 sixes. Clubbing (the both meanings) is a verb you do not usually associate with Younis but that is why I used uncharacteristic.

London witnessed another Yasir five-for and Pakistan had levelled the series 2-2. The win came on their Independence Day and helped them climb to the pinnacle position of the ICC Test Rankings for the very first time.

Brief scores:

England 328 (Jonny Bairstow 55, Moeen Ali 108, Chris Woakes 45; Sohail Khan 5 for 68, Wahab Riaz 3 for 93) & 253 (Jonny Bairstow 81; Yasir Shah 5 for 71) lost to Pakistan 542 (Azhar Ali 49, Asad Shafiq 109, Younis Khan 218, Sarfraz Ahmed 44; Steven Fin 3 for 110, Chris Woakes 3 for 82) & 42 for no loss by 10 wickets.

 

3. Asad Shafiq’s 137 vs Australia at Brisbane

The snorter from Mitchell Starc that felled Asad Shafiq © AFP
The snorter from Mitchell Starc that felled Asad Shafiq © AFP

A Mitchell Starc-snorter ensured Australia were not changing the 26-year-old record. There was no record chase and Australia won another at The Gabba, extending their over two-and-half decade of unbeaten run at the venue.

Australia dominated most of the Test and set Pakistan 490. Australia were 165 for 4 when they lost Misbah. Shafiq walked out. A win was out of question. Only rain or a miracle could have averted the looming defeat. Shafiq stayed composed and marshalled the lower-order and in doing so crafted a sublime hundred. Pakistan were 382 for 8 at the end of Day 4 with Shafiq having reached his hundred.

Things got too close for comfort for Australia on the final day. Smith admitted that he had lost all his nails. Shafiq and Yasir added 71 and had reached 450 when Starc, wide of the crease, got a delivery to rise to Asad’s face. The batsman went for the play over ducking and the ball lobbed to Warner at gully. Yasir was run out four balls later and Australia had won by 39 runs.

Brief scores:

Australia 429 (Steven Smith 130, Peter Handscomb 105; Mohammad Aamer 4 for 97, Wahab Riaz 4 for 89) & 202 for 5 decl. (Usman Khawaja 74, Steven Smith 63) beat Pakistan 142 (Sarfraz Ahmed 59*; Mitchell Starc 3 for 63, Josh Hazlewood 3 for 22, Jackson Bird 3 for 23) & 450 (Azhar Ali 71, Younis Khan 65, Asad Shafiq 137, Mohammad Aamer 48; Mitchell Starc 4 for 119, Jackson Bird 3 for 110) by 39 runs.

 

 

2. Kusal Mendis’ 176 vs Australia at Pallekele

Australia had managed to skittle out Sri Lanka for 117 on the first day of the series. Sri Lankan spinners did well to restrict Australia to 203. The hosts were further reduced to 6 for 2 when Kusal Mendis walked out.

In his 13 previous Test innings, Mendis had scored a solitary fifty. With a defeat looming over, the 21-year-old played one of the greatest knocks in Sri Lanka’s cricket history to help them set Australia 268.

He played straight. The pulls and flicks came naturally. When the spinners operated, he swept with ease, played some glorious cuts, and was not scared to employ the slog sweep either. It was a counterattacking innings, an attractive one that put Sri Lanka in a winning position.

Brief scores:

Sri Lanka 117 (Josh Hazlewood 3 for 21, Nathan Lyon 3 for 12) & 353 (Kusal Mendis 176, Dinesh Chandimal 42; Mitchell Starc 4 for 84) beat Australia 203 (Adam Voges 47; Rangana Herath 4 for 49, Lakshan Sandakan 4 for 58) & 161 (Steven Smith 55; Rangana Herath 5 for 54, Lakshan Sandakan 3 for 49) by 106 runs.

1. Ben Stokes’ 258 vs South Africa at Cape Town

The top honours goes to Ben Stokes. He had a wonderful year, averaged 45.20 with the bat and 25.81 with the ball. He turned Tests on his own and this was nothing but one of them.

Stokes’ knock was absolute carnage that demoralised the South African bowlers. He came in to bat at 167 for 4. Later, he added a record 399-run stand for the sixth wicket with Jonny Bairstow.

Stokes’ hundred came in 105 balls, his next 50 in 30 balls, and the one after that in 28 balls; this meant his 200 came from 158 balls. He almost broke Nathan Astle’s record of fastest 200 that came from 153 balls. Astle’s knock had come came against England at Christchurch. Just for a fact, Christchurch happens to be Stokes’ birthplace.

Stokes’ 198-ball 258 came to an end when he was run out as he was ball-watching. England put up 629. The match ended in a draw but this one saw one of Test cricket’s most brutal knock.

Brief scores:

England 629 (Alex Hales 60, Nick Compton 45, Joe Root 50, Ben Stokes 258, Jonny Bairstow 150*; Kagiso Rabada 3 for 175) & 159 (Dane Piedt 3 for 58) drew with South Africa 627 (Dean Elgar 44, Hashim Amla 201, AB de Villiers 88, Faf du Plessis 86, Temba Bavuma 102*, Chris Morris 69)

Notable mentions:

Kohli’s 235 at Mumbai, Karun Nair’s 303 and KL Rahul’s 199 at Chennai, Joe Root’s 254 at Old Trafford, Misbah’s 114 at Lord’s and Haseeb Hameed’s 59 not out with a broken finger.