It was a strange year for everyone. International cricket was no exception and went into a 117-day long lockdown. But we still had enough cricket to cherish. Here is a selection of some of the most thrilling cricket matches played this year, across formats:
India beat New Zealand in Super Over
3rd T20I, Hamilton
High-quality cricket, a thrilling T20I and an inexplicable choke by New Zealand to close out the game. They required only 9 runs from the last over. Kane Williamson was there, unbeaten having stroked an effortless 95, maneuvering the best T20 bowler in the world, Jasprit Bumrah, expertly into the gaps to deem him ineffective.
Ross Taylor sent the first ball off the last over from Mohammed Shami for a maximum. Just 3 away from the target with five balls to spare, it was New Zealand’s game. But Williamson’s departure on the third ball took away all the calmness which was required to go over the line. New Zealand levelled the scores with a ball to go and Taylor was bowled on the last ball, stretching the game to a Super Over.
Batting first, the Kiwis scored 17 runs. 10 away from the target after four balls, Rohit Sharma sent the last two for a six each, thus subverting Williamson’s classy 95 with his power.
West Indies beat England by 4 wickets
1st T20I, Southampton
Given the love West Indies cricket receives all over the world, this can be termed as the most heartwarming outcome of a cricket match this year, except for English fans of course. Jason Holder’s men had the better of England in 2019, beating them 2-1 but things were different in England’s den.
The match was a perfect return to cricket after a halt of 117 days. It was a slow-paced thriller where England threatened to be back into the contest a number of times but never got a strong hold of the proceedings. It was observed once again when they had West Indies three down for 27 in a run-chase of 200.
Many believed West Indies would throw it away but Roston Chase and others batting below him put things into order pursuing their chase inch by inch. Jermaine Blackwood, in the side only because others preferred over him had refused to tour, scored 95, curbing his natural instinct to go for aerial shots. He got out only when victory was in touching distance - 11 runs away - and Holder took the side home with John Campbell.
It was the only victory for West Indies in Test cricket this year. They lost all their four subsequent Tests with heavy margins.
Ireland beat England by 7 wickets
3rd ODI, Southampton
Ireland took England back in time. Losing the first two ODIs to concede the series, Ireland was set 329 to win the third ODI. England had a second-string bowling attack and the Irish batsmen feasted on them on this occasion. Paul Stirling struck 142 and the skipper, Andrew Balbirnie chipped in with 113.
England attempted to come back into the contest after both of them were out but Kevin O’Brien, the hero in Bangalore, forged a 50-run stand in 32 balls with Harry Tector to pull it back for Ireland. It was the same score they managed in Bangalore nine years ago. O’Brien struck the winning runs. The Irish-born Eoin Morgan, who was in the England squad back in 2011 but not in the XI for that match, was England’s captain now.
Zimbabwe beat Pakistan in Super Over
3rd ODI, Rawalpindi
It was a game of ups and downs. Pakistan had sealed the 3-match ODI series 2-0 and when Zimbabwe were down to 22 for three while batting first, another win seemed on the cards for the home side. Sean Williams, having tested Pakistan’s fielding, scored an unbeaten 118 to lift Zimbabwe to 278.
Zimbabwe soon turned the table on Pakistan, having them five down for 88. Babar Azam was their only hope, that too if he did not run out of partners. He did not and produced a masterclass. By the time he was out for 125 off 125 balls, Pakistan were 13 runs away from the target, but with only 1 over and as many wickets in hand. It could have been anyone’s game. The equation came down to 5 off the last ball when Pakistan’s number 10, Muhammad Musa scored a boundary, with the ball going through the hands of the extra cover fielder.
A game Zimbabwe should have won went to the Super Over. Blessing Muzarbani, who picked a 5-for in the regular course of play was in no mood to let his hard work go in vain. He picked two more in the Super Over, ending Pakistan’s innings for 2 and Zimbabwe finally crossed the line with an easy chase of 3 runs. “We are tired of competing and getting beaten”, said Williams after the game.
India beat Australia by 8 wickets
2nd Test, Melbourne
A batting meltdown which led to 36 all out, India’s lowest score in Test cricket made the Boxing Day Test their toughest assignment of the year. Virat Kohli was supposed to go back home and Mohammed Shami was out of the tour. On top of that, Tim Paine opted to bat on one of the tougher grounds to bowl on Day 1.
However, the Ajinkya Rahane-led Indian team shattered every obstacle in their way to dictate terms right from the start of the Test match. They bundled out Australia for only 195, the lowest first innings score at the venue since 2012. Rahane, then led the team with the bat, scoring 112, in what can be termed as his best knock since his last hundred at the MCG in 2014. When batting got easier in the second innings, India still tightened the noose on the Australian batsmen, despite losing Umesh Yadav to a calf strain. Chasing 70, it was fitting that the winning run came from Rahane’s bat, who had made a strong fanbase in the Australian commentary box with his leadership skills. It was a win that will forever be etched in Indian cricket folklore.
New Zealand beat Pakistan by 101 runs
1st Test, Mount Maunganui
There was another Boxing Day Test going on simultaneously in New Zealand. After the first innings, it seemed like another win for the home side who had won their last four Tests in the country. New Zealand set Pakistan a target of 373 and approximately 130 overs to bat to save the Test.
Fawad Alam scored a Test century after 11 years and resurfaced hopes of a draw. The lower-order dug deep as well. When the last pair - number 10 and 11 - got together, they had to bat out 15 overs. They blocked well for eight of those before Naseem Shah played one back to Mitchell Santner in the air. One of the best fielders around, Santner leaped up and gobbled the catch with his left-hand, making it the last ball to be bowled in international cricket in 2020.
One’s joy is someone else’s despair. While the Kiwi players rejoiced, Shaheen Shah Afridi was trying to convince a distraught Naseem who was on his haunches. With this result, New Zealand also reached the summit of Test rankings for the first time in their history.