Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016: Memorable moments

Saturday, 31 December 2016
As we reach the end of a long 2016, it's that time when reviews of the year are to be found everywhere you look, and so it's time for me to add another. In the past I've done a list of five highlights; this year I'm going for more of a round-up, some memorable moments of the year mostly from the English game.

Ben Stokes batters South Africa

What list couldn't include this innings? Just the numbers speak for themselves: 258 runs from 198 balls; 130 runs scored in the morning session alone; a partnership of 399 alongside Jonny Bairstow, who made his own 150*. 2016 had barely begun, and it had already had one of its finest performances. It was a brutal assault, and one of the most incredible innings I've seen. And it was the start of a stellar year for Stokes, his finest yet with the bat and with the ball.

Carlos Brathwaite hits a six, and another, and another, and another

But not everything went right for Ben Stokes this year. West Indies needed 19 from the last over in the final of the World T20, with England sensing victory. Though Marlon Samuels stood at the other end with 85*, not much had come in the way of support with England's bowlers keeping it tight and taking regular wickets. But it was never quite over. Stokes was the bowler, Brathwaite was the batsman. Six, six, six, six. Four massive hits, an extraordinary innings for an extraordinary win. England were heartbroken; West Indies could dance the champion dance once again.

West Indies Women win the World T20

The men weren't the only West Indies team celebrating that night. Ahead of the women's World T20 final, Australia were the favourites by a distance. They'd won the last three tournaments, and beaten the West Indies in all eight of their previous meetings in the format. But history doesn't matter when finals are concerned. West Indies had 149 to chase down and were in charge all the way, not losing a wicket until they already had 120 on the board. 18-year-old Hayley Matthews made 66, captain Stafanie Taylor 59, and there was a new team at the top of the women's game. 

A big year for women's cricket

The West Indies' win was just one moment from a big year for women's cricket. The first WBBL in Australia, starting in late 2015, was a huge success, bringing new opportunities for players and bringing women's domestic cricket to the television screens. WBBL02 has built on this further, with more games on television and others streamed across Facebook. In England, it was all change, with a new captain and new coaching regime, with new players coming into the side and making an impact, and others coming on in leaps and bounds - opener Tammy Beaumont leading the way. It was also the first season for England's own Twenty20 competition, the KSL - with the Southern Vipers lifting the trophy. With a World Cup in England in 2017, it promises to be a bumper year again.

Misbah's press-ups

Maybe the most memorable moment of the English summer was not Misbah-ul-Haq's century in the first test at Lord's, but the celebration that followed - the press-ups on the hallowed turf. Four days later, after Yasir Shah had taken ten wickets in the game to defeat England, the whole team followed suit - with Younis Khan leading the way as the drillmaster. It was a Pakistan team united, and putting the ignominy of their last visit firmly in the past, with captain Misbah leading from the front. The series ended 2-2, and Pakistan rose to number one in the test rankings for the first time. 

England reach new heights

Though in test whites England often struggled this year, they were at home in the shortened formats. The pick of the bunch had to be that glorious day at Trent Bridge, where they racked up a mere 444/3 against Pakistan, the highest score in ODI history. Leading the way was Alex Hales, a score of 171 finally breaking Robin Smith's 23-year-old record for England's highest ODI innings. Jos Buttler (90 from 51) and Eoin Morgan (57 from 27) almost made that look boring. Last year's World Cup had become a distant memory.

The County Championship finale

I don't have the chance to go to a great deal of cricket, but I made sure to head down to Lord's for the last two days of the final round of the County Championship. Middlesex, Somerset, and Yorkshire were all still in the running going into the last match, with Middlesex and Yorkshire playing each other. First it was the battle for the bonus points, with Yorkshire needing 350 in the first innings to stay in the race - and rain stopping play at 349/9. Then, after Somerset's win, both sides were needing a victory to win the title. It came down to an engineered run chase, 240 from 40 overs for Yorkshire and a never-say-die attitude. Toby Roland-Jones took a hat trick and Middlesex were the winners, a dramatic end to a thrilling season.

A new star for Bangladesh

A series that England would have expected to win turned into a thrilling two games. The first, won by England, was one that went down to the wire. Ben Stokes was the hero, an all round display capped off by taking the last two wickets, but Bangladesh had only fallen 22 runs short. The second test saw England making a strong start in chasing 273, but 100/0 became 164 all out in the evening session. Bangladesh had claimed their biggest scalp yet, with Mehedi Hasan the hero - nineteen wickets across two tests, including three six-wicket hauls. And he only turned nineteen between tests. The future looked bright.

Bairstow's golden year

The year began with him only just having taken the gloves from Jos Buttler, still looking to really cement his place in the team, and still looking for that first test century having made his debut in 2012. The year ended with him established as one of England's star players, having scored the most test runs by any keeper in a calendar year, and only just falling short of Michael Vaughan's record for most runs by an Englishman in a year. Three centuries and eight fifties came in between, innings where he counterattacked, just attacked, or really had to dig deep and fight. His keeping, whilst still a work in progress, was definitely improving too. 

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