The year of the Ashes and the debut of the World Test Championship saw numerous performances that helped teams overcome the odds. From two one-wicket victories to a rampaging debutant, here are the best batting and bowling performances from Tests in 2019
TOP THREE BATTING PERFORMANCES
Ben Stokes - 135* v Australia, First Ashes Test in Headingley
To say that Ben Stokes has almost single-handedly brought cricket back on to the British map would be no understatement. The cynosure of English cricket this year, he played the innings of his life at the ICC World Cup 2019 final to give England their first title. As once-in-a-lifetime affair that was, Stokes remarkably was involved in a similar, if not better innings barely one month later. England 1-0 down at home, against arch-rivals Australia, the Ashes on the line, chasing an improbable 359 and Stokes comes up with an innings of a lifetime. England needing 203 runs to win going into day 4 of the second Ashes Test, with seven wickets in hand, soon found themselves in a spot of bother. While Stokes was rock steady at one end, he quickly lost partners at the other and soon the hosts were reduced to 286/9, still 73 runs adrift of the target. This is when Stokes decided to step up. Batting like a man possessed, Stokes unleashed an array of strokes sparing no one. Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, all went the distance as the target started to reduce. He reached his eighth Test hundred but hardly acknowledged it and the crowd suddenly to believe. Three sixes, two fours, one dropped chance and one botched review later the target was down to just two. After some more drama, Stokes cut Cummins with utter disdain, led his arms aloft to soak in the atmosphere to signal one of the greatest wins in English history. Stokes, who was at one point on 9 off 81 balls finished with 135* off 219.
Kusal Perera – 153*, Sri Lanka tour of South Africa, First Test in Durban
Kusal Perera 153* vs SA (Test): Ben Stokes in The Ashes went on to play a memorable innings a few months later and Kusal Perera’s innings too was an equally top-notch knock. Not many expected Sri Lanka to pull off the run-chase of 304 especially after they were reduced to 52 for 3 when Perera walked in. He had scored a fifty in the first innings and was once again up against Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier. It was going to take a lot of heart, courage and a bit of luck. Sri Lanka needed more than 250 runs when Perera walked in. He faced a fierce spell from the fast bowlers, but played some fearless cricket, putting the bad ball away and was also lucky with the fact that the inside edges did not crash into the stumps. He initially built a couple of good partnerships – first with Oshada Fernando (58) and then with Dhananjaya de Silva (96), but the match-winning one was the unbeaten 78-run stand with Vishwa Fernando, which saw Sri Lanka pull off one of the most thrilling wins in Test cricket. Perera’s 153 not out is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best Test innings ever, if not the best.
Steve Smith - 144 and 142 v England, First Ashes Test in Birmingham
The innings by Ben Stokes and Kusal Perera are the benchmark to compare every individual batting effort in the distant future. However, it will be preposterous to leave out the genius of Steve Smith in the first Ashes Test as one of the performances of the year. Unlike the unbelievable-unless-scripted performances of Stokes and Perera, Smith’s heroics were less dramatic. His twin hundreds in the match, while being low on thrill, were significant enough to define the narrative of this year’s Ashes.
Before the first Test at Edgbaston – a venue were Australia had not won a game in any format since 2001, all eyes were on Smith who was making a return to Tests after a 12-month ban. The number one Test batsmen at the time of his ban, Smith, hungrier than ever, batted like a man with a point to prove.
Opting to bat, Australia were eight down for 122 when Smith collaborated with Peter Siddle and hit 144 to propel the total to a respectable 284. Facing a deficit of 90 runs in the third innings, Smith scored two hundreds in a Test for the first time as he added another 142 to help set a target of 398 for England. The Aussies eventually won the Test by 251 runs and England were left haunted by the fact that they will have to find a way to contain Smith to entertain any thoughts of regaining the urn.
TOP THREE BOWLING PERFORMANCES
Jofra Archer's Ashes exploits
Seldom has a cricketer made so much noise even before his international debut. But Jofra Archer's County and BBL exploits had already made him a household name well before he burst onto the international scene. He furthered his credentials by delivering a nerveless super over in the ICC World Cup 2019 final that gave England their first title. But he was yet to prove himself in the purest format of the game. He made his Test debut in the second Ashes Test and immediately made an impact. Archer struck five wickets in his debut game bowling with venom all through and showed he belonged to the highest level. But his best performance undoubtedly came in Headingley, which will forever be remembered as Stokes' Test. Archer first sent back opener Marcus Harris and Usman Khawaja in quick succession. He then later removed the bulk of the middle and lower order to finish with figures of 6/45 in 17.1 overs. Archer continued his good form the entire Ashes series finishing with 22 wickets in four Tests at 20.27.
Jasprit Bumrah - 6 for 27, India tour of West Indies, First Test in Antigua
Having already tormented West Indies in the second innings of the first Test in Antigua with figures of 5 for 7 (least expensive five-for by an Indian), Bumrah was already on cloud nine when he arrived in Jamaica for the second Test. After India posted a massive first innings score of 416, Bumrah took over the command and claimed five wickets in his first spell, including a hat-trick, to dismantle the home side. The right-arm paceman had John Campbell caught behind before dismissing Darren Bravo, Shamarh Brooks and Roston Chase in three consecutive deliveries in the eighth over to become only the third Indian after Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan to take a hat-trick in Test cricket. He then also got rid of Kraigg Brathwaite and Jason Holder to register his best bowling figures in this format. The pacer from Gujarat managed to swing the ball both ways and the Caribbean looked completely clueless against him. In total, he took 13 wickets in two Tests to end as series' highest wicket-taker.
Kemar Roach - 5 for 17, England tour of West Indies, First Test in Barbados
England had won just one Test series in West Indies since 1968 but when the Joe Root-led side arrived on the Caribbean shores, they would have fancied their chances against a weakened home side. They managed to bundle West Indies out for 289 in the first innings of the first Test, but then Kemar Roach happened! The right-arm paceman bowled with pace and accuracy and wreaked havoc at the Kensington Oval. Roach first knocked over Rory Burns and Jonny Bairstow and then didn't even allow Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali to get off the mark. He couldn't pick up a hat-trick but in his very next over, Roach bowled an absolute corker to have Jos Buttler caught behind. He finished with figures of 5 for 17 and Roach later revealed that the idea was to make England batsmen "uncomfortable", and he surely did that by testing English batters on back foot. His performance set the tone and England could never recover from that rampage. The visiting team were bowled out for mere 77 runs and then Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder joined hands to deliver a knock out blow to England who went onto lose that match by 381 runs. With 18 wickets to his name in three Tests, Roach ended up as the highest wicket-taker and played a key role in West Indies' 2-1 series win.