Throughout 2018, bowlers dominated.
The global average of batsmen in this calendar year was the lowest since 1959. Over the world, be it in South Africa or England, Sri Lanka or New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates or Australia, the conditions were often treacherous. And bowlers across the teams became potent units.
And therefore, some of the successful innings by batsmen this year have come against incredible odds and showcase some scintillating batting against a combination of incisive attacks on difficult tracks.
Here is our pick of the best innings of 2018:
10. Brendan Taylor 110 and 106 not out, Zimbabwe vs Bangladesh, Dhaka
Even the thought of Zimbabwe returning to the Test-arena was a miracle cutting across geopolitical, economic and sporting domains. Visiting Bangladesh has become a progressively difficult task for touring sides over the years. The wicket a veritable minefield prepared to avoid the humiliation of losing the series to Zimbabwe after the reversal at Sylhet.
With Taijul Islam and Mehidy Hasan Miraz making the ball turn square, Taylor stood alone among the ruins. He received some support during his first innings hundred, with late order resistance by Peter Moor. In the second knock, it was a solo effort. He remained unbeaten as batsmen came and went at the other end.
9. Dimuth Karunaratne 158 not out, Sri Lanka vs South Africa, Galle Facing the South African bowling of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philader, Kagiso Rabada and Keshav Maharaj is difficult in any condition, and the Galle wicket was loaded against the batsmen. That Sri Lanka pulled off a 278-run win had much to do with the more than decent 287 they managed in the first innings.
With no other batsman scoring more than 26, it was quite a miracle to get there, especially after being 176 for 8. But Karunaratne carried his bat, batting over six hours, amassing an unbeaten 158, adding 111 for the last two wickets. In the second knock he got 60, taking his match total to 218. South Africa managed 199 in their two efforts.
8. Cheteshwar Pujara 132 not out, India vs England, Southampton
Pujara had not been in the best of form, and the wicket at the Ageas Bowl was like any other English wicket this summer. The ball moved around, and the Indian batsmen succumbed one by one.
Once Virat Kohli departed for 46, the rest started following each other to the pavilion. Pujara, who had been characteristically slow to start with, not only stuck around, he brought forth an amazing array of strokes as he neared, and then crossed, his hundred. 32 added with Ishant Sharma, and 46 with Jasprit Bumrah. It even managed to get India a crucial first innings lead, which they could not quite capitalise on.
7. Aiden Markram 143, South Africa vs Australia, Durban
Steven Smith was still leading the Australian side, David Warner was still plotting strategies and Cameron Bancroft was still there in the middle. And hence, Mitchell Starc got the ball to swing and reverse incredible amounts, 5 for 34 and 4 for 75 in the match. Faced with a near insurmountable 417-run target in the final innings, the Proteans were soon 49 for 4.
But Markram, in just his first season of international cricket, batted magnificently, showing a panache and solidity tailor-made for the fast Kingsmead track. His 143 was a burning-deck effort, but as so often happens, the great knocks in losing causes are sometimes the most difficult to essay.
6. Tom Latham 264 not out, New Zealand vs Sri Lanka, Wellington
Just the enormous magnitude of the innings manages to haul this effort into the list. Latham batted 11 and a half hours, faced 489 balls and hit 21 boundaries and a six, displaying all the traditional qualities of an opening batsman intent on batting on forever.
He has carried his bat in a One Day International as well, thus making his way into a select club. The limpet-like qualities were on display, but there was more. When the sixth wicket went down at 499, he was already on 209. In the next 65 balls he scored 55 more, shepherding the tail and adding 79 to the total, not for a moment believing his job was over.
5. Kusal Mendis 141 not out and Angelo Matthews 120 not out, Sri Lanka vs New Zealand, Wellington
It is true that in the end rain played a big role. But teams have been known to throw their bats about and disintegrate in a hurry when faced with such a humongous task. Trailing by 296, more than two days left in the game, the two batsmen came together with the score on 13 for 3.
Led by Trent Boult and Tim Southee, and then Neil Wagner, the New Zealand attack was a formidable one. The third day ended at 20 for 3. The fourth at 259 for 3. Mendis and Matthews had batted out the entire day. They were still unseparated when the skies opened. A case of fortune favouring the gritty.
4. Virat Kohli 153, India vs South Africa, Centurion
Morkel, Philander, Rabada, Ngidi, Maharaj. An attack seldom gets better than that. Murali Vijay scored 46, battling over two and a half hours. The rest frittered away. But Kohli, the Indian captain, kept batting as if on a different surface altogether.
He could not only survive the good balls, he could dispatch them to the boundary. 153 runs at a strike rate of 70 with the rest of the side struggling to stick around at the other end. He finally fell trying to get as many as possible with Jasprit Bumrah in at the other end. An innings with genius written all over it.
3. Kevin O’Brien 118, Ireland vs Pakistan, Dublin
In the first ever Test match played by Ireland, O’Brien had hit a pugnacious 40 in the first innings total of 130, against Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Abbas on a seaming track. The deficit was 180, but since the first day had been washed out the follow-on requirements were different. Ireland was asked to go in again, the Pakistanis no doubt anticipating a quick rout.
O’Brien walked in at 95 for 4, and left at 321 for 8, rescuing the side from the precarious 157 for 6. One of the greatest innings in a country’s debut Test, alongside the efforts of Charles Bannerman and David Houghton. Pakistan did get the required 160 to win, but not before tottering at 14 for 3.
2. Kane Williamson 139, New Zealand vs Pakistan, Abu Dhabi
The New Zealand captain had already scripted a brilliant 89 in the first innings, out of a total of 274. However, hundreds by Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq meant that Pakistan led by 74.
Williamson came into bat with the score on 1/1, and it became 24 for 2, 37 for 3 and 60 for 4. But he continued to caress the ball as if playing in a different game, different situation and a different surface. When he fell for his 139-run gem, the score was 272 for 5. It helped script the first series win against Pakistan away from home in a long, long time.
1. Virat Kohli 149 and 51, India vs England, Edgbaston
In the first innings, the next best score was 26. India were progressively 5 down for 100, 8 for 182, 9 for 217. Kohli produced the most amazing of knocks in the face of fire, on a seaming Birmingham wicket, against an attack tailored for such conditions. 92 runs were added for the final two wickets, Indian No 10 and No 11 contributing 6 between them. Kohli was the one man army.
The magnificent 149 brought India within 13 runs of the England total. He was back with the score reading 22 for 2, the target 194. He was out seventh out at 141, for 51, and India folded for 162. The two Indian knocks amounted to 436. Kohli got 200 of them, no one else passed 31. The mark of a batsman far ahead of the others in contemporary cricket.