by Andrew Miller
It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts. Who knew that Covid’s onset would bring such crusty old Corinthian values surging to the fore? Such was the impact of a season like no other.
Judged purely by that outdated old yardstick of “results”, England actually fared pretty damned well in every on-field facet in 2020. They lost just one of their ten series across three formats, and just one of their nine Tests against three opponents – a series-opening cliffhanger against West Indies that confirmed the sport’s intensity could survive the absence of crowds.
And if the planning for England’s next World Cup campaign – the T20 version in India next year – has been back-of-the-fag-packet stuff compared to the glories of 2019, the confidence and ferocity of Eoin Morgan’s men translated with ominous poise across the white-ball formats. In particular, Dawid Malan’s surge to the top of the ICC batting rankings proved that pressure need not always be a downward force.
But nothing that happened in 2020 mattered more than the fact that it happened at all. When the Test squad abandoned their warm-up in Colombo in March to rush back to England before the world’s borders slammed shut, the doomsday scenarios were writ large across the sport.
The county season went into abeyance for the first time since the Second World War, and the ECB warned of a catastrophic £380 million bill if the summer in its entirety was canned.
But then, out of adversity, rose something quite magnificent. A patched-together itinerary, masterminded by the ECB’s Steve Elworthy – the year’s true MVP – enabled England to play all 18 of their scheduled men’s home fixtures in the space of nine weeks, across two venues and two “bubbles”.
None of it could have been possible without some above-and-beyond buy-in from England’s visitors – Pakistan, Ireland, Australia and, most especially, West Indies, who not only braved the bubble at the pandemic’s height in June, but also agreed to send a women’s squad in September, for a short but compelling campaign at a time when Heather Knight’s squad were resigned to their international season being a write-off.
More’s the pity, therefore, that England themselves were unable to find quite the same tolerance for the invidious circumstances come their year-end return to South Africa. By that stage of an arduous year, however, the thrill of winning and the thrill of taking part were insignificant compared to the thrill of just getting the hell out of the bubble lifestyle and getting back home for Christmas.
by Nagraj Gollapudi
On July 8, an emotional Jason Holder, along with the rest of the West Indies Test squad, knelt in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. By the end of the day, Holder had career-best bowling figures of 6 for 42. Three days later, thanks also to the batting heroics of Jermaine Blackwood, West Indies created history by taking the lead in the series against England. Holder would go on to sit on a talk show with prime ministers of three Caribbean countries, who told him how proud they were of his leadership and his men.
Sadly that would be the only bold statement the Test team would make in 2020. They lost their remaining four Tests – two in England and a two-match series in New Zealand in December. Embarrassed by repeated batting failures, Holder, after the innings defeat in Hamilton, put it bluntly: West Indies were “throwing in the towel too easily”.
It was much the same in white-ball cricket, including T20Is, in which West Indies are defending world champions. Both captain Kieron Pollard and head coach Phil Simmons agreed the white-ball teams were works in progress, and said they wanted players who were willing to “die for” the team and play selflessly. A defeat against Ireland in a T20I at home was proved to be not an aberration as West Indies went on to lose to New Zealand 2-0.
On-field struggles aside, they showed courage and spirit in travelling to different parts of the world and competing despite the suffocating and demanding conditions of life in biosecure bubbles. Fittingly, the MCC awarded Cricket West Indies with the Christopher Martin-Jenkins award for the Spirit of Cricket, for salvaging cricket by sending both men’s and women’s teams to England at the peak of the pandemic in the English summer.
by Andrew McGlashan
New Zealand’s year started with the disappointment of having failed to compete in Australia, where a patched-up side was hammered in Sydney, but finished with them a few percentage points off being the No. 1 Test side.
At home they remained almost unstoppable as they secured 2-0 victories against India and West Indies. A dynamic pace attack was further bolstered by the emergence of Kyle Jamieson, the tall pace bowler and powerful lower-order hitter, who formed a formidable quartet with Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner. Quite what the future for a front-line spinner is on home soil remains to be seen.
Kane Williamson produced a masterful unbeaten 251 against West Indies and even his absence on paternity leave barely caused a ripple against an outclassed opposition. Despite the problems in Australia, the line-up remained very stable (Will Young made a belated Test debut) and a debate around Henry Nicholls’ form was halted by his 174 against West Indies.
In the limited-overs arena, New Zealand could not escape the spectre of the Super Over. Consecutive T20Is against India went to the tiebreaker, and New Zealand lost both. That series was a 5-0 whitewash, but late in the year the form of Tim Seifert and Devon Conway offered promise as they built towards the T20 World Cup and led to the dropping of Ross Taylor.
by Annesha Ghosh
The best of women’s cricket and the worst of its administration were on view in 2020, and Australia played a starring role in throwing both into stark relief.
For Australia, a tri-series win against India and England, and an atypical topsy-turvy league-stage campaign preceded a historic T20 World Cup triumph at home. A record 86,174-strong crowd watched first-time finalists India stumble against Australia in the final. Player-of-the-tournament Beth Mooney’s stocks continued to rise, and pop star Katy Perry brought the house down in a fitting finale.
Then the curtains came down on the women’s game altogether.Top-flight women’s cricket remained off the radar for an additional 75 days after men’s bilateral series resumed after a 117-day pandemic-induced hiatus. Germany women’s record-breaking tour of Austria marked the official return of women’s international cricket. Among Full Members, Australia and England showed the way; the subcontinental sides and South Africa faced a raft of tour postponements and cancellations, and decisions that spoke of administrative apathy.
Only two ODI series, one either side of the pandemic pause, were played through the year. New Zealand, hosts of the now-postponed 2021 ODI World Cup, featured in and lost both. The second of those series was against Australia, who equalled a record 21 successive ODI victories before closing out the year with a T20I series win, also against New Zealand. The same day, England sealed a 5-0 whitewash of West Indies in T20Is.
Other highlights of the year included a first-of-its-kind documentary, on the T20 World Cup, Thailand women’s World Cup debut, and first-ever central contracts for Nepal women. Add to that record viewership figures for the WBBL and the Women’s T20 Challenge, proving that women’s domestic tournaments could hold their own and shouldn’t have to jostle for space.
by Mohammad Isam
Bangladesh is one of only two Full Member nations not to have played a single international match since the country’s Covid-19 lockdown began in mid-March, in what was to have been their busiest year in Test cricket yet. In the end they played just two of their scheduled ten Tests, plus three ODIs and four T20Is between January and March.
On their first tour of Pakistan in 12 years, Bangladesh were outplayed in two T20Is and the Rawalpindi Test that followed. But even as the Test team was staring at an innings defeat, the U-19 team clinched their maiden World Cup title in Potchefstroom.
The senior team had better luck against Zimbabwe in a one-off Test a couple of weeks later, in which Mushfiqur Rahim made his third double-century and offspinner Nayeem Hasan took nine wickets.
Bangladesh swept the ODI series against Zimbabwe likewise, with Tamim Iqbal breaking his previous national record for the highest individual score in the second ODI. Three days later Liton Das did better, with 176 in the third game, which also saw a number of other records tumble. It was also the last ODI under Mashrafe Mortaza, with Iqbal stepping into the captain’s role.
The board has conducted two domestic tournaments, within a bio-bubble, to kick off the 2020-21 season, and there’s hope for more cricket in the new year.
by Peter Della Penna
Prior to 2020, the only times Ireland had been able to schedule a home ODI series of more than two matches were against Afghanistan in 2018, because nobody else would volunteer to play the two newest Full Members; and Zimbabwe in 2019, because neither side had qualified for the World Cup taking place at the time across the Irish Sea.
So the introduction of the new ODI Super League for 2023 World Cup qualification heralded a new dawn of sorts. A pair of three-match ODI series and seven T20Is against Bangladesh and New Zealand, not to mention two more T20Is against Pakistan in Dublin, were pencilled in – a bumper crop for fixture-starved Ireland. But like for most countries, the pandemic wiped all of it out. The loss of revenue resulted in Cricket Ireland needing a €1.5 million euro government bailout.
However, the fixtures that were completed either side of the shutdown provided a silver lining. Andrew Balbirnie took over from William Porterfield in Tests and ODIs and from Gary Wilson in T20Is as captain at the tail end of 2019. Though they took their fair share of lumps against West Indies and Afghanistan, Ireland also departed both away tours with a T20I victory to their name.
Their habit of bounce-back wins after early defeats continued in England. Playing in the series that officially launched the ODI Super League, Ireland suffered lopsided defeats in the first two matches in Southampton before capping their 2020 fixture list with a thrilling reprisal of their 2011 World Cup heroics in Bangalore. Set a target of 329, Ireland completed the highest successful chase by a visiting team in England as Balbirnie and Paul Stirling both scored centuries, offering a hopeful glimpse of what lies ahead in 2021.
Stats current as of December 27, 2020
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