Richard Mann picks out his 12 best moments of 2019, a year in which Ben Stokes wasn't the only name to light up the cricket field.
One last dance for Steyn - Newlands, Jan 5
All good things come to an end and it was in August of this year that Dale Steyn announced his retirement from Test cricket, bringing the curtain down on a remarkable career that saw him rise to the top of the world rankings and become the leading South African wicket-taker of all time. Injuries plagued the fast bowler as he moved into his thirties but he still had time for a few last hurrahs and his four-wicket haul on the third day of the second Test against Pakistan at Cape Town in early January was significant for two reasons; it helped South Africa claim series victory and would be Steyn’s last notable performance in whites. This was Steyn at his best; fast and snarling, accurate and persistent. When he ripped out Shan Masood, Pakistan’s chances of levelling the series had been dealt a hammer blow and two searing Steyn bouncers took care of the tail just as he had so many times before. Thanks for the memories, Dale!
India seal famous series win Down Under - Sydney, Jan 7
2019 was a year for touchstone moments and it began with a hugely significant one as India claimed their first ever series win in Australia following a drawn fourth Test in Sydney. That India dominated the series throughout tells you a lot about just how strong a side Virat Kohli is building; a battery of excellent pace bowlers complementing a typically strong batting line-up. When persistent drizzle finally got the better of the Sydney ground staff, Australia were put out of their misery having been forced to follow-on after initially toiling in the dirt as Cheteshwar Pujara and India racked up 622-7 batting first. This was big moment for Indian cricket and there might be even better to come.
Perera 153* downs South Africa - Kingsmead, Feb 16
Ben Stokes’ Headingley heist will no doubt be many people’s idea of innings of the year but Kusal Perera's Kingsmead solo was equally impressive, equally brutal and equally unbelievable. In pursuit of an intimidating target of 304 and in the face of a fearsome South African bowling attack, Sri Lanka were always swimming against the tide and when rookie Vishwa Fernando joined Perera at the crease, the tourists still needed 78 for victory with only one wicket remaining. What followed was one of the most remarkable innings of all time, Perera farming the strike as he whittled the target below 50 before he met the new ball with a swinging and scything blade that sent Dale Steyn into the midwicket stands before he dealt Kasigo Rabada the same medicine. Another six off Steyn – his fifth of the innings – took Sri Lanka within touching distance of the winning line and moments later it was over, Perera steering a short ball down to the third man boundary to seal a famous win. That Sri Lanka were able to wrap up the series at Port Elizabeth the following week owed everything to Perera’s sublime solo.
Melbourne is Red - Melbourne, February 17
Fours and sixes, glitz and glamour; cricket is in the entertainment business and T20 is its crown jewel. That's the theory, anyway. As it was, the most thrilling T20 offering of the year came in the final of the Big Bash where Melbourne Renegades somehow denied neighbours Melbourne Stars in a dramatic climax to a season that needed a grandstand finish following a largely forgettable tournament. The Stars looked home and dry when cruising to 93-0 in reply to the Renegades' modest total of 145-5 but what followed was the stuff of nightmares. 53 required from 43 balls with 10 wickets in hand should have been a walk in the park for the Stars but in the end they lost 7-39 as excellent defensive bowling proved too savvy for some brainless and panic-stricken batting. It wasn't the fours and sixes we were promised but there was no doubting its entertainment value. T20 had delivered at yet again.
Morgan leads the way again – Old Trafford, June 18
When Eoin Morgan took over as captain of England’s ODI team he was tasked with reshaping the dynamics of cricket in this country and its approach to the limited-overs forms of the game. It helped that he had the perfect ally in coach Trevor Bayliss – a white-ball innovator himself – but Morgan must take the plaudits for empowering his players and allowing them the freedom to produce their best out on the field. His own batting led the way; clever, fearless and, in the summer of 2019, very, very powerful. In a competition that saw the likes of Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer steal the limelight, it was only fair that Morgan enjoyed in his day in the sun when blasting 148 from only 71 balls against Afghanistan. It was an innings of brutal brilliance, so typical of Morgan’s England and the cricket they had produced in the four years prior to claiming World Cup glory on that unforgettable Sunday at Lord’s.
England prevail in World Cup final for the ages - Lord's, July 14
Four years of planning and preparation and it all came down to one day. England’s date with destiny had finally arrived and all that was standing in their way was New Zealand, perennial underdogs and expected to play nothing more than a supporting role as England took centre stage. When the Kiwis stuttered to 241 all appeared to be going to script but a fired-up Lockie Ferguson ensured England were never able to find any momentum and when Jos Buttler was dismissed with little more than five overs to go, England were still 46 runs from their target. Thankfully, Ben Stokes produced his first of two stellar innings that would light up the English summer, hauling England to a tie and forcing a Super Over that proved to be the most cruel and dramatic final acts imaginable. When Martin Guptill needed two from the final ball of the Super Over, his whip to midwicket was hit so sweetly that he wasn’t able to beat Jason Roy’s throw when desperately trying to make the second run needed to secure victory for New Zealand. As it was, he and New Zealand were short, by the ‘barest of margins,' as Ian Smith so brilliantly called it on commentary. New Zealand deserved so much better. Instead, it was heartbreak and despair while for England, it was joy and ecstasy.
Ireland let golden chance slip - Lord's, July 26
There are moments in many a sporting career that some would wish they could have back; think Jimmy White in the closing stages of any of his six World Championship final defeats or more recently Martin Guptill when facing up to the final ball of this summer’s World Cup final. England’s countless penalty shoot-out defeats will no doubt haunt many an England footballer and fan alike but for the Ireland cricket team and its then captain William Porterfield, July 26 will be remembered for the one that got away. Having dominated much of their one-off Test against England at Lord’s, they would have been hopeful of chasing down a target of 182 against an opposition bowling line-up missing the likes of James Anderson and Jofra Archer. Instead, the Irish were rolled out for a paltry 38 with the occasion and sense of opportunity clearly weighing them down. 'It wasn’t to be' was Porterfield’s summary afterwards but you suspect the following days and weeks were filled with great regret.
Stokes' special saves England - Headingley, August 25
An innings for the ages, one that is sure to stand the test of time as Ashes memories are replayed for years to come. If there is such a thing as the complete innings, this must surely be it; a watchful start in the face of a fearsome Australian pace attack who were circling for the kill before Ben Stokes exploded with a Sunday afternoon assault that defied belief. As the rest of his England colleagues wilted under the pressure, Stokes stood tall, taking number 11 Jack Leach along for the ride of his life as they put on 76 to drag England over the line and keep their Ashes hopes alive. That Leach would contribute only a solitary single to the partnership says everything about Stokes' rampage that saw the likes of Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood sent to all corners of the ground. When the Durham man brought up his century there would be no celebration - the job was not yet complete - but when he flayed Pat Cummins through the covers for the winning runs, he stood in the middle of the Headingley square with his arms aloft while the country went wild with euphoria. For the second time in the summer, cricket was back on the front pages, England having found itself a new hero. That hero was Ben Stokes.
Redemption for Paine and Australia - Old Trafford, September 8
Australia left Leeds shell-shocked, weary and with their Ashes hopes dashed after Ben Stokes had ground them into apparent submission before landing what appeared to be the knockout blow in most spectacular style. And yet, captain Tim Paine - who might have still been smarting after a number of poor DRS reviews almost certainly cost his side victory - picked his men off the canvass and led his side to an Ashes-retaining victory at Old Trafford only a couple of weeks later. More brilliance from Steve Smith set things up, this time a first-innings double century, but they were made to work hard on the fifth day as England produced a wholehearted rearguard with the likes of Joe Denly, Jos Buttler and Craig Overton taking the match deep into the final session. Nevertheless, four more wickets for Pat Cummins and a late burst from Josh Hazlewood gave Paine the redemption he and his side had been searching for ever since the ball-tampering scandal at Newlands some 18 months earlier.
Essex cling on for County Championship crown - Taunton, September 26
If you wanted someone to bat for your life, chances are that Sir Alastair Cook would be pretty high on your list. A hazy, sunlit autumn afternoon at Taunton paints a much less dramatic picture but for fans of Essex and Somerset the stakes could scarcely have been higher. Victory for Somerset would have handed them a first ever County Championship triumph while for Essex, a draw was enough to see them be crowned champions for the second time in three years. As it was, a draw appeared inevitable after rain had dogged the first three days but, on a turning pitch, Roelof van der Merwe ripped the game wide open on the fourth afternoon as the visitors lost nine wickets for 39 runs. Even then, with time running out for Somerset, Essex ought to have been home and dry until home captain Tom Abell forfeited their innings and left Essex needing to survive for just over an hour to secure the title. With the home faithful starting to believe and van der Merve and Jack Leach gaining appreciable assistance from the surface, Essex were far from safe and it needed Cook, who had also top-scored in the first innings, to steady the ship once more. Despite a few alarms, Cook would not be beaten - once again underlining what a fabulous performer he remains - and Somerset finally raised the white flag after the former England skipper had progressed to an unbeaten 30 from 48 balls. The Championship secured at the end of a dramatic conclusion to the county season, Cook could finally relax and reflect on another notable achievement in the dying embers of what has been a glittering career.
Warner breaks Bradman record - Adelaide, November 30
Love him or loathe him, there is no doubting David Warner's ability to overcome adversity and he has proven it once again with a spectacular start to the Australian summer. Warner had serious questions to answer having returned to the national set-up following the ball-tampering scandal with a disastrous Ashes tour of England. Stuart Broad made him his rabbit in that series, dismissing the pugnacious left-hander seven times in ten innings with Warner averaging a paltry 9.5. Fast forward a couple of months and Warner was back to his best, playing with freedom as he punched and pulled apart an inexperienced Pakistan bowling attack that had no answers. The crowning moment came on day two of the second Test at Adelaide as Warner piled on the misery to such an extent that Australian captain Tim Paine was forced to contemplate allowing Warner to chase down Brian Lara's Test record of 400 not out. In the end, Paine settled on surpassing Don Bradman and Mark Waugh's Australian record of 334, Warner finishing on 335 not out when the declaration eventually came. He's back alright.
Test cricket returns to Pakistan - Rawalpindi, December 11
After 10 years marred by security fears following the Lahore terror attack on the Sri Lankan team coach and security convoy which killed six policemen and two civilians, Test cricket finally returned to Pakistan. Bravely, it is Sri Lanka who have been first to return and despite the best efforts of the weather, the match passed without incident and gave an encouraging sign of what might be to come. The match itself saw Pakistan batsmen Babar Azam and Abid Ali strike sublime hundreds but with so much time lost to rain and bad light, there was never any chance of a result being forced and in the end, the home fans who came out to support the event were left hoping that this might just be the beginning.