2018 was the year of the bowlers. The batsmen have never struggled as much since 1959. And hence, the Test matches were mostly low-scoring. And with most of the teams showcasing bowlers of quality, this saw plenty of closely contested encounters which fluctuated this way and that before resulting in a thrilling finish.
Here is our pick of the best Test matches of 2018. We have not ranked them, but listed 10 Tests in chronological order, just to underline that the cricket remained riveting throughout.
1. India beat South Africa by 63 runs, Johannesburg
Incredible see-saw of a Test match. India 13 for 2, and rescued by Chetershwar Pujara and Virat Kohli’s half centuries before surrendering to Philander, Morkel, Rabada and Ngidi for 187. Jasprit Bumrah struck back with five wickets, but the hosts led by a flimsy 7-run margin.
The second Indian innings was a struggle against incisive bowling, but Kohli and Rahane got vital 40s and Bhuvneshwar Kumar added useful runs down the order. South Africa needed 241 and seemed to be coasting at 124 for 1. But then Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar scythed through the side. 177 all out and the cliff-hanger was decided India’s way.
2. Sri Lanka beat West Indies by 4 wickets, Bridgetown
A definitive example of the domination of the ball through the calendar year. As the Day/Night match started, West Indies recovered from 8 for 3 and 53 for 5 to 204, with Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder putting together 115. Kamer Roach knocked over the two openers in quick time, and the innings stumbled along to 154. In spite of a 50-run lead, the second West Indian innings was a tale of disaster.
Somehow, from 9 for 3, they made it to 93. That left Sri Lanka 144 to win, and with Holder running through the batting order and with 20 wickets falling on Day 3, they were limping at 81 for 6. It was now up to the two Pereras to put their heads down, play and miss while scampering the runs with plenty of grit to seal the issue. Kusal, returning from a brief stay in the hospital, managed to stick around, and Dilruwan, after several snicks through the slips, hit high over mid on to take the side home.
3. Pakistan beat Ireland by 5 wickets, Dublin
The 310-run first innings seemed more than sufficient in this rain-curtailed Test when Ireland managed just 130 in the first innings. The revised follow-on mark was thus unattained, and at 95 for 4 in the second innings it seemed destined to become another of those one-sided team debuts in Test cricket. Especially with Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Abbas bowling with their tails up.
But then Kevin O’Brien scripted his historic 118. Stuart Thompson chipped in with 53. In seaming conditions, Pakistan needed 160 and suddenly they were 14 for 3, veteran Tim Murtagh sensing history. The fairy tale was not fully scripted, with Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam stitching together a 126-run association. But what a Test match on the nation’s debut.
4. England beat India by 31 runs, Edgbaston
Yet another fluctuating edge-of-the-seat classic, with one of the greatest solo efforts by Virat Kohli. England had India on the mat, before Kohli’s single-handed brilliance took them within sniffing distance of the total put up by the hosts. Then the Indian bowlers had blown away the English top and middle order, before a baby-faced debutant turned things around with a fantastic 63.
Sam Curran did not stop at that. With Kohli going strong of 51 in the second innings, the match hanging on knife’s edge, he got the Indian skipper leg before. Pandya’s gallant hits could not finish things off for India.
5. England beat India by 60 runs, Southampton
36 for 4, 86 for 6, and then there was Sam Curran. England recovered to 246. 142 for 2 with Kohli and Pujara going strong, and India slumped to 195 for 8. And then Pujara put his foot on the accelerator, completing a masterly unbeaten 132. India had a 27-run lead.
Half of England were out with the lead less than hundred. And then it was Jos Buttler, with the young Curran once again. Chasing 245 to win, India were 3 down for 22, when Kohli and Pujara swung things India’s way. 123 for 3, and Kohli succumbed to Moeen Ali. The pendulum swung, for the last time, with Moeen’s apparently innocuous spin. Another incredible Test match India could not quite finish.
7. England beat Sri Lanka by 57 runs, Kandy
Sam Curran continued his rescue acts on the other side of the world, cracking 64 at Pallakele, as England recovered from 176 for 7 to 290. But a lower middle order resistance by Roshan Silva carried Sri Lanka along to a 46-run lead, against the spin trio of Moeen, Adil Rashid and the new man Jack Leach.
A masterly hundred by captain Joe Root and a solid half-century by Ben Foakes combated a threatening Akila Dhananjaya to take the target just beyond 300. From 26 for 3, Angelo Matthews tried his level best to turn things around. But Leach, in his third Test match, captured a fifer, Moeen four and the visitors were victorious … in the Test and the series.
8. New Zealand beat Pakistan by 4 runs, Abu Dhabi
Trailing by 74 in the first innings, New Zealand lost their first wicket without a run on the board. Kane Williamson was castled by Yasir Shah at 86, and it seemed the decisive blow. But Nichols and Watling added 112 invaluable runs, before the last 6 wickets were lost in a space of 29 runs. 176 to win on a turning track, but the New Zealand spin attack was rather inexperienced.
At 130 for 3, it seemed Pakistan had the match in the bag. But, fairytales still take place. Debutant Ajaz Patel ran through the innings, picking up five, and when the defiant Azhar Ali was trapped leg before the Kiwis had won by a wafer-thin four run margin.
9. India beat Australia by 31 runs, Adelaide
It was Pujara whose adamant resistance, and later sensible strokeplay, helped India reach 250 on a wicket that had enough in it to help both pacemen and spinners. The Indian bowlers ensured a 15-run lead before Pujara, again, and Rahane carried India to a near-impregnable position. But with 5 of the last 6 batsmen scoring 6 runs between them, including ducks for Nos 9, 10 and 11, the target of 323 remained attainable.
But with Bumrah, Shami and Ashwin turning the screws, the seventh Australian wicket went down at 187, and all established batsmen were back in the pavilion. But Nathan Lyon, who had picked up 6 in the second innings, fought hard, alongside Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, and broke down when Ashwin dismissed Josh Hazlewood to give India the Test by 31 runs.
10. Sri Lanka drew with New Zealand, Wellington
The draw also has a place in Test cricket, especially if it is as hard-earned as the one at Wellington. Tom Latham’s incredible vigil at the wicket, amounting to 11 and a half hours, saw New Zealand gather a 296-run lead. Latham carried the bat with 264. In response, with Boult and Southee striking three times, Sri Lanka were 13 for 3 and there were still more than two days to go.
However, Kusal Mendis and Angelo Matthews displayed the old-school virtue of occupation of the crease, and the fourth day was negotiated without the loss of a single wicket. 13 overs into the fifth day, the skies opened up and the match ended in a draw. Both Mendis and Matthews batted around seven and a half hours and added 274 without being separated.