Monday, 21 December 2015

Highlights of 2015

Monday, 21 December 2015
Before the series against South Africa begins on Boxing Day, here's a moment to look back over the highs of the past year. Of course there have been many downs for England as well, perhaps even more than their ups, but still there are plenty of fond memories to look back on from the past twelve months. Last year in writing my highlights of 2014, Yorkshire's County Championship victory was my personal favourite. They did it again this year and it remains an obvious highlight - so to make this slightly easier on myself I've restricted my selections to the international game only. Here then are my favourite moments of English cricket in 2015:

5. Ben Stokes is reborn

Ben Stokes had a difficult 2014. After being the ray of hope to come out of England's Ashes gloom, he broke a hand punching a locker, was dropped from the test side, and then missed out on the World Cup squad too. What a joy then it was to see a return to form in 2015. There were signs during the tour to West Indies that his mojo was coming back - but it was the first test of the summer at Lord's where he truly made his mark. Back at number six, but coming in to bat when only 30 runs were on the board, he made 92 from 94 in the first innings; then in the second innings he went and made the fastest ever test century at Lord's. Six wickets in the second innings at Trent Bridge, as England secured their Ashes victory, further demonstrated his abilities as a genuine and exciting match winner. Consistency remained an issue, but Stokes ensured that England's love affair with all-rounders would live on.

4. England's ODI revival

The World Cup was a disaster for England. Knocked out against forever-unfancied Bangladesh, bowled out for 123 against New Zealand, their only victories coming against associate teams; really it couldn’t be much worse. It was the same old story repeating itself. What a surprise it was then to see such a dramatic turnaround. The first ODI against New Zealand saw England rack up an astonishing total of 408/9, and the runs didn't stop coming for the rest of the series. Victory over the World Cup runners-up, a close 3-2 loss against the champions Australia, and then victory over Pakistan showed not just a rebirth, but a complete transformation. New players were coming in and making their mark, whilst others were playing with the freedom and expressiveness that seemed absent at the start of the year - think Buttler twice breaking his record for fastest ODI century for England. ODI cricket had suddenly become something for English fans to really get excited about.

3. New Zealand's tour of England

The Ashes may have been the centrepiece for the English summer, but New Zealand were there to do far more than just whet the appetite. There came a test series of two thrilling matches, finishing one apiece and really begging for a deciding third. Five ODIs where the pendulum swung each way, the perfect tonic for English fans after a disappointing World Cup. It was the style of cricket played: full of positivity, always ready to go on the attack. It seemed to inspire England as well. It was the atmosphere throughout - it may be a stereotype to label New Zealand as the nice team of international cricket, but it was a series played in good spirits throughout. And it was the players: Kane Williamson, Brendon McCullum, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, and countless others. The only disappointment was that they couldn't stay for longer.

2. 60 all out

Did this really happen? It was a moment that was hard to believe, but it was the morning that well and truly won England the Ashes. England were without Anderson, but that was soon forgotten when Stuart Broad took 8-15. His five-for came in only 19 deliveries. It felt like you couldn't breathe for another wicket falling. Normally there's at least someone to stand up, rescue the situation somewhat to avoid a complete embarrassment, but this time that person never came for Australia. Batsman after batsman succumbed, often falling in reckless ways that could have been avoided. And there was that catch by Ben Stokes, that even those on the field could barely believe. There was no way back for Australia from there.

1. England regain the Ashes

It's hard to choose another moment as number one in an Ashes winning year. The series wasn't a classic - a 3-2 scoreline disguises just how one-sided the matches truly were. But it was a triumph indeed. Before the series, almost nobody had given England a chance. I thought myself optimistic in thinking that England could sneak a draw. England weren't necessarily that good either, but they pulled through at the right times. Like when Joe Root made the most of being given a second chance at Cardiff, making a century after Haddin spilled at the very start of his innings. How there was always someone to step up with the ball: Edgbaston and Trent Bridge seeing Anderson, Finn, Broad, and Stokes taking hauls of six wickets or more. Even the smaller innings, less remembered but no less important - Ballance's 61 at Cardiff and Moeen Ali's 59 at Edgbaston being examples. England were unfancied, still on the road to recovery after being whitewashed the previous time round. Yet the underdogs came out victorious, and that has to be my highlight of 2015.

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