Top-knocks

Though this year will be more remembered for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, it also saw as many as 43 Tests being played. While South Africa remain the No. 1 side as per the ICC Test rankings, they had a pretty ordinary year in the longer format. While Australia won most matches, England reclaimed the prized Ashes but taking the win-loss ratio into consideration, India and Pakistan were the most successful teams. There were a lot of runs scored and some exceptional knocks played. Starting in reverse order, Suvajit Mustafi picks the 15 best knocks played in Test cricket in 2015. Read: Yearender 2015: Top 10 batsmen in Test cricket

15. Luke Ronchi (New Zealand) – 88 (70) vs England at Headingley

Luke Ronchi plays a stroke on the leg side off the bowling of Stuart Broad en route to 88. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Luke Ronchi plays a stroke on the leg side off the bowling of Stuart Broad en route to 88. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

If Luke Ronchi doesn’t play another Test, he will end up with incredible stats. An average of 59.50 and a strike-rate touching 130. What a Test debut he had? New Zealand were one down in the series and making his Test debut at Headingly, he came out to bat when his side was 144 for 5. He made his maiden Test innings memorable by launching a counterattack. He slammed 88 from 70-balls, an innings containing 13 fours and three sixes, before Stuart Broad dismissed him. He deserved a hundred for sure. New Zealand got to 350. In the second innings he played another cameo as New Zealand went on to level the series. Unfortunately, Ronchi didn’t play another Test in the year.

Brief scores: New Zealand 350 (L Ronchi 88, T Latham 84, M Craig 41*; S Broad 5-109) & 454 (BJ Watling 120, M Guptill 70, B McCullum 55, R Taylor 48, T Southee 40; M Wood 3-97) btEngland 350 (A Lyth 107, A Cook 75, S Broad 46; T Southee 4-83) & 255 (J Buttler 73, A Cook 56; K Williamson 3-15, M Craig 3-73) — by 199 runs.

 

14. Steven Smith (Australia) – 215 (346) vs England at Lord’s

Steve Smith celebrates his maiden double ton at Lord's. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Steve Smith celebrates his maiden double ton at Lord’s. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

In the second Test of Ashes, Steven Smith achieved a landmark that Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting didn’t. Smith brought up his maiden hundred at the Mecca of cricket — Lord’s. Smith went on to register a 215, sharing a 284-run second wicket stand with Chris Rogers. Australian were one down in the series and Smith’s classic helped them stage a return in the series. In the second innings too he scored a quick 48-ball 58 as England collapsed to a massive 405-run defeat.

Brief scores: Australia 566-8 dec (S Smith 215, C Rogers 173, P Nevill 45; S Broad 4-83) & 254-2 dec (D Warner 83, S Smith 58, C Rogers 49) btEngland 312 (A Cook 96, B Stokes 87; M Johnson 3-53, J Hazlewood 3-68) & 103 (M Johnson 3-27) — by 405 runs.

 

13. Ross Taylor (New Zealand) – 290 (374) vs Australia at Perth

Ross Taylor raises his bat to the Perth crowd after his epic 290. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Ross Taylor raises his bat to the Perth crowd after his epic 290. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

The inconsistencies had resulted in seeping of self-doubts for Ross Taylor. Now one down in the series and coming into bat with New Zealand still trailing by 472-runs, the expectations were immense from Taylor. He first added 265 with Kane Williamson and then went on to break one record after other. His 290 stands as the highest score of the year and it’s the highest by a visiting batsman in Australia.

It was a knock of immense quality and sheer domination, and even the Mitchell Starc thunderbolts could counter him. New Zealand managed a 65-run lead but the match ended in a draw.

Brief scores: Australia 559-9 dec (D Warner 252, U Khwaja 121, A Voges 41, J Burns 40; M Craig 3-123) & 385-7 dec (S Smith 138, A Voges 119; T Southee 4-97) drew with New Zealand 624 (R Taylor 290, K Williamson 166; M Starc 4-119, N Lyon 3-107) & 104-2.

 

12. Joe Root (England) – 182 (229)* vs West Indies at St George’s

Joe Root acknowledges the crowd after crossing 150 (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Joe Root acknowledges the crowd after crossing 150 (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

A month after England’s inglorious exit from the first round of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, they toured West Indies for a Test series. All eyes were on England who were under tremendous pressure. The track at Grenada wasn’t the best to bat on and was on the slower side. In a track where other batsmen took time to get moving, Joe Root crafted 182 not out from just 229 balls. Root’s quick scoring not only helped England get a sizable lead but also gave their bowlers extra time to bowl the side to a victory.

Brief scores: West Indies 299 (M Samuels 103; S Broad 4-61) & 307 (K Brathwaite 116, Darren Bravo 69; J Anderson 4-43, Moeen Ali 3-51) lost to England 464 (J Root 182*, G Ballance 77, A Cook 76, J Trott 59; D Bishoo 4-177) & 144-1 (A Cook 59*, G Ballance 81*) — by 9 wickets.

 

11. Ben Stokes (England) – 101 (92) vs New Zealand at Lord’s

Stokes hammers one through the covers at Lord's. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Stokes hammers one through the covers at Lord’s Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

There was never a doubt about Ben Stokes’ calibre and it was only a matter of time he showed more consistency. In the Lord’s Test against England, Stokes came in to bat at 30 for 4 on Day One. He struck a 94-ball 92 to help England to 389 but New Zealand had got a sizable lead of 134. Stokes played a hurricane knock in the second innings and ensured this time that he wasn’t missing the three-figure mark as he went on to script a memorable English win. He brought up his hundred from 85-balls and in process became England’s fastest Test centurion in more than 100 years. He also registered the fastest Test hundred at Lord’s. He struck 15 boundaries and three sixes.

Brief scores: England 389 (J Root 98, B Stokes 92, J Buttler 67, Moeen Ali 58; T Boult 4-79, M Henry 4-93) & 478 (A Cook 162, B Stokes 101, J Root 84, Moeen Ali 43) btNew Zealand 523 (K Williamson 132,M Guptill 70, R Taylor 62, BJ Watling 61*, T Latham 59, B McCullum 42; S Broad 3-77, M Wood 3-93) & 220 (C Anderson 67, BJ Watling 59; S Broad 3-50, B Stokes 3-38) — by 124 runs.

10. Shan Masood (Pakistan) – 125 (233) vs Sri Lanka at Pallekele

Not many have made a Test comeback like Shan Masood has. Returning to the side after a gap of eight months, the then 25-year-old displayed immense maturity and shared a 242-run third wicket stand with Younis Khan to guide Pakistan to a seven-wicket win. With the series levelled at 1-1, on a fourth day wicket, Pakistan were set a target of 377. Younis and Masood’s stand inspired the side to a memorable win. This became Pakistan’s highest successful chase in Test cricket and it also gave them their first series win in Sri Lanka in nine years. The win also saw Pakistan climb to the third place in the ICC Test rankings. Since then Masood hasn’t really replicated the consistency.

Brief scores: Sri Lanka 278 (D Karunaratne 130, U Tharanga 46; Yasir Shah 5-78, Rahat Ali 3-74) & 313 (A Mathews 122, D Chandimal 67, U Tharanga 48; Imran Khan 5-48) lost to Pakistan 215 (Sarfraz Ahmed 78*,  Azhar Ali 52; N Pradeep 3-29, T Kaushal 3-37, D Prasad 3-78) & 382-3 (Younis Khan 171*,S Masood 125,Misbah-ul-Haq 59*) — by 7 wickets.

 

9. BJ Watling (New Zealand) – 120 (163) vs England at Headingley

BJ Watling pulls one through mid-wicket on his way to a memorable hundred at Leeds. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
BJ Watling pulls one through mid-wicket on his way to a memorable hundred at Leeds. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

If wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi was the hero of the first innings, it was their regular wicketkeeper who was now playing as a specialist batsman — Watling, who shone in the second innings. England had managed to wipe out the New Zealand lead by scoring 350 in the first innings. The need for New Zealand was a big score and in quick time to ensure a series levelling victory. Watling, who came in at 141 for 4, rose to the occasion and played attacking cricket. He struck a fine 120 as New Zealand set a target of 455. Watling, who is a Test specialist, scored the runs at a strike-rate of 73.61 and New Zealand maintained an innings run-rate of almost five.

Batting at brisk pace gave the Kiwi bowlers enough time to bowl out England for 255 as they went on to level the series. Watling’s heroics earned him the Man-of-the-Match award.

Brief scores: New Zealand 350 (L Ronchi 88, T Latham 84, M Craig 41*; S Broad 5-109) & 454 (BJ Watling 120, M Guptill 70, B McCullum 55, R Taylor 48, T Southee 40; M Wood 3-97) btEngland 350 (A Lyth 107, A Cook 75, S Broad 46; T Southee 4-83) & 255 (J Buttler 73, A Cook 56; K Williamson 3-15, M Craig 3-73) — by 199 runs.

 

8. Alastair Cook (England) – 263 (528) vs Pakistan at Abu Dhabi

Alastair Cook leaves the field after getting out for 263 at Abu Dhabi. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Alastair Cook leaves the field after getting out for 263 at Abu Dhabi. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

When the Alastair Cook-led England side arrived in UAE, not many gave them any chance. They might have been the Ashes winners but playing Pakistan in the UAE is a different thing altogether. When they toured the Gulf in 2011-12 as the No. 1 Test side, then too they suffered a 3-0 defeat. Powered by Shoaib Malik’s 245, Pakistan declared their first innings at 523. Then began England’s resilience, led by the captain himself. Cook batted close to 14 hours for his marathon 263 and helped England get a 75-run lead. Had bad light not played a spoilsport, England could have won the game. Chasing 99, England ended with 74 for 4.

Brief scores: Pakistan 523-8 dec (Shoaib Malik 245, M Hafeez 98; B Stokes 4-57) & 173 (Misbah-ul-Haq 51, Younis Khan 45; Adil Rashid 5-64) drew with England 598-9 dec (A Cook 263, J Root 85, I Bell 63; WahabRiaz 3-125) & 74-4.

 

7. Kane Williamson (New Zealand) – 140 (178)vs Australia at Brisbane 

Kane Williamson raises his bat after his century at Brisbane. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Kane Williamson raises his bat after his century at Brisbane. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

It seemed as if Kane Williamson was batting on a different surface when compared to his peers. Batting first, Australia had posted 556. In reply, New Zealand kept losing wickets at regular intervals but Williamson stood strong and scored runs at a brisk pace. Eventually New Zealand were all out for 317 and Williamson scored 140 at a strike-rate of almost 79. The knock was extremely easy to the eyes. He might not have won the game for his side but helped them salvage enough pride. Williamson was a bit unfortunate with the leg before decision in the second innings. Had Kiwis been luckier in terms of umpiring decisions, they could have saved the game.

Brief scores: Australia 556-4 dec (U Khawaja 174, D Warner 163, A Voges 83*, J Burns 71, S Smith 48*) & 264-4 dec (J Burns 129, D Warner 116; M Craig 3-78) btNew Zealand 317 (K Williamson 140, T Latham 47; M Starc 4-57, M Johnson 3-105) & 295 (B McCullum 80, K Williamson 59; N Lyon 3-63)— by 208 runs.

 

6. Dinesh Chandimal (Sri Lanka) – 162 (169)* vs India at Galle

If DRS had been used then India would have this won the Test easily but let us not take anything away from Dinesh Chandimal’s second innings hundred. India dominated the first three days but Chandimal’s knock changed the game’s course. Starting an innings defeat, the Lankan wicketkeeper came out to bat at 92 for 4 with his side still trailing by 100 runs. He launched a counterattack and struck 19 fours and four sixes. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 367 and Chandimal remained not out on 162. The score gave the Lankan bowlers something to bowl at. India, chasing 176, were bowled out for 112. Rangana Herath picked 7 for 48 but Chandimal for his match changing innings won the Man-of-the-Match.

Brief scores: Sri Lanka 183 (A Mathews 64, L Chandimal 59; R Ashwin 6-46) & 367 (L Chandimal 162, J Mubarak 49, L Thirimanne 44; R Ashwin 4-114, A Mishra 3-61)bt India 375 (S Dhawan 134, V Kohli 103, W Saha 60; T Kaushal 5-134, N Pradeep 3-98) & 112 (R Herath 7-48, T Kaushal 3-47) —by 63 runs.

 

5. Ajinkya Rahane (India) – 127 (215) vs South Africa at New Delhi

Ajinkya Rahane celebrates his second hundred of the match. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
Ajinkya Rahane celebrates his second hundred of the match. (Photo courtesy: AFP)

Spectacular show by Indian bowlers put the South African batsmen in disarray and the latter were defeated for the first time in nine years in a Test series away from home. Having already won the series against the world no.1 Test side South Africa, India looked for another win in the final Test at Delhi. In a comparatively better batting surface that one had seen so far in the series, India were reduced to 139 for 6. Ajinkya Rahane, who till then was batting pretty fluently at a brisk rate, dropped the anchor and played a mature knock. Read more: Yearender 2015: Top 10 ODI Batsmen in 2015

In difficult conditions, he showed class and maturity as India put up 334 on the board. In process, he brought up his first hundred at home. It was also the first hundred registered in the series. He continued his brilliance and notched up another one in the second innings. Despite South Africa’s gritty resistance in the fourth innings where they batted more than 143 overs for their 143 runs, India registered a 337-run win with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja picking seven wickets each in the match.

Man-of-the-Match had to be Rahane for his twin hundreds. The Mumbai batsman ended as the only centurion from the four Test match series.

Brief scores:India 334 (A Rahane 127, R Ashwin 56; K Abbott 5-40, D Piedt 4-117) & 267-5 decl. (A Rahane 100*, V Kohli 88; M Morkel 3-51) bt South Africa 121 (AB de Villiers 42; R Jadeja 5-30) & 143 (AB de Villiers 43; R Ashwin 5-61, Umesh Yadav 3-9)—by 337 runs

 

4. Cheteshwar Pujara(India) – 145 (289)*vs Sri Lanka at SSC, Colombo

The conditions suited seam bowlers at the start and the pitch began to slow down as the match progressed. Batting was a challenge on the Day One at SSC. The series was 1-1 at the moment and Cheteshwar Pujara was making a comeback to the side. He was asked to open and he responded by carrying the bat in the first innings. While wickets kept falling at one end, Pujara held the fort at the other and played some breath taking strokes all around the wicket. He prevailed under immense pressure and that the innings laid the foundation for India’s win and with the victory India had claimed the series 2-1. India had won a Test series in Sri Lanka for the first time in 22 years.

Brief scores:India 312 (C Pujara 145*, A Mishra 59;D Prasad 4-100) & 274 (R Ashwin 58, Rohit Sharma 50, N Pradeep 4-62, D Prasad 4-69) btSri Lanka 201 (K Perera 55, R Herath 49, IshantSharma 5-54) & 268 (A Mathews 110, K Perera 70, R Ashwin 4-69, IshantSharma 3-32) —by 117 runs

 

3. Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka) – 203 (206) vs New Zealand at Wellington

The only thing that overshadowed Kumar Sangakkara’s brilliance at Basin Reserve was the Williamson double hundred that followed in the match. It took an incredible effort in the field from Trent Boult to end Sanga show. Sri Lanka had dismissed New Zealand for 221 and at one point struggling at 78 for 5. Sangakkara with a steady support from Chandimal powered Sri Lanka to 356. The Sri Lankan southpaw scored over 57 percent of his team’s run with a dazzling display of strokeplay. The Sanga-show wasn’t enough to seal a win for this side. We will come to that later. Read more: 2015 Yearender: Top 10 catches across cricket formats in the year

Brief scores: New Zealand 221 (K Williamson 69, N Pradeep 4-63, S Lakmal 3-71) & 524 for 5 dec (K Williamson 242*, Watling 142*; S Lakmal 3-117) bt Sri Lanka 356 (K Sangakkara 203*, L Chandimal 67; J Neesham 3-42, D Bracewell 3-93) & 196 (L Thirimanne 62*, J Silva 50; Craig 4-63) —by 193 runs.

  

2. Younis Khan (Pakistan) – 171 (271)* vs Sri Lanka at Pallekele

Masood’s knock finds a mention at No.10 but the real star here was Younis Khan. How often have we seen a team chase almost 380 to win a Test? This was Pakistan’s highest chase in Test cricket and they tumbled numerous records in process. The win saw Pakistan then jump to No.3 in the ICC Test rankings and gave them a 2-1 series win. With five hundreds in fourth innings, Younis now has the most centuries in the last innings of Test, surpassing the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Ricky Ponting, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Graeme Smith, all have four.

Younis belted 18 boundaries en route to 171 not out and added 242 (eighth highest partnership in fourth innings of a Test) with opener Shan Masood to ensure a memorable Pakistan win.

Brief scores: Sri Lanka 278 (D Karunaratne 130, U Tharanga 46; Yasir Shah 5-78, Rahat Ali 3-74) & 313 (A Mathews 122, D Chandimal 67, U Tharanga 48; Imran Khan 5-48) lost to Pakistan 215 (Sarfraz Ahmed 78*,  Azhar Ali 52; N Pradeep 3-29, T Kaushal 3-37, D Prasad 3-78) & 382-3 (Younis Khan 171*,S Masood 125,Misbah-ul-Haq 59*) — by 7 wickets.

 

1. Kane Williamson (New Zealand) – 242 (438)* vs Sri Lanka at Wellington

Kane Williamson plays a cut shot en route to his 242 not out against Sri Lanka at Wellington. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Kane Williamson plays a cut shot en route to his 242 not out against Sri Lanka at Wellington. (Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

This knock brought memories of New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum’s triple ton against India almost a year back from then at the same venue. McCullum had then shared a 352-run stand with wicketkeeper BJ Watling that was the highest sixth wicket partnership in Test cricket.

Sangakkara’s magnificent double hundred ensured Sri Lanka a 135-run lead. At 159 for 5 in the second innings, things didn’t look bright for the Kiwis, and then came a record stand. Williamson, and once again, Watling put up an unbeaten stand of 365, the new record for sixth wicket partnership in Test cricket. He did have some let-offs but he stepped up gears at will and registered his first Test double ton.

New Zealand set Sri Lanka a target of 390 and went on to register a 193-run win, claiming the series 2-0. Williamson went on to make the year his and by end of 2015 he rose to the No.1 spot in ICC ranking for Test batsmen. He registered five hundreds in eight Tests this year and averaged over 90.

Brief scores: New Zealand 221 (K Williamson 69, N Pradeep 4-63, S Lakmal 3-71) & 524 for 5 dec (K Williamson 242*, Watling 142*; S Lakmal 3-117) bt Sri Lanka 356 (K Sangakkara 203*, L Chandimal 67; J Neesham 3-42, D Bracewell 3-93) & 196 (L Thirimanne 62*, J Silva 50; Craig 4-63) —by 193 runs.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)