Comeback kings and a last kiss goodbye
Jerome Taylor 5 for 11 v England
first Test, Jamaica
On the fourth afternoon in Jamaica, the Test was meandering aimlessly and inevitably towards a draw. After two slow innings, West Indies had managed a 74-run lead. England looked like they would play out a safe draw. Enter Taylor, with the spell of a lifetime. He bowled full and fast and attacked the stumps. After each wicket the crowd went mad, recreating the atmosphere from West Indies' heyday of the mid-1980s. Nine overs, five wickets, 11 runs, and England had lost by an innings.
Mitchell Johnson 4 for 25 v South Africa
first Test, Johannesburg
Australia's revenge for the series loss at home to South Africa was set in motion by a hostile Johnson. His last act of the home series had been Graeme Smith's wicket, sealing the Sydney win. It took him five deliveries to remove the South Africa captain here, setting the tone for the rest of the series. His figures of 18.1-7-25-4 gave Australia a decisive 244-run lead in the first innings. South Africa would not come back in the series until the dead rubber.
Zaheer Khan 5 for 65 v New Zealand
third Test, Wellington
India had all but won their first series in New Zealand in 40 years, but having failed to capitalise on starts in the final Test, their batsmen had left the door slightly ajar. Zaheer slammed it shut with a clinical and clever five-for. He was relentless from the first ball. Operating mostly from a short run-up, he seemed to bowl within himself and yet worked up a brisk pace. He found the perfect length, and some swing, and with the Wellington wind behind him, he charged in, mixed in the short deliveries smartly, and changed his line of attack to keep the batsmen guessing. It proved all too much for New Zealand, who folded for 197, conceding a 182-run first-inning lead.
Rangana Herath 4 for 15 v Pakistan
first Test, Galle
A 15-minute delay in calling him up from club cricket in England and Herath would have gone to the gym and not taken the call asking him to return to Sri Lanka and replace Muttiah Muralitharan in the line-up for the Galle Test. He wouldn't have bowled the first ball on the fourth day, with Pakistan's last eight wickets needing just 97 runs. That first delivery was an arm ball that got Mohammad Yousuf lbw. Three balls later he got Salman Butt, and it was game on. His spell of 11.3-5-15-4 engineered a collapse, the likes of which Pakistan would be struggling with for the rest of the year.
Andrew Flintoff 5 for 92 v Australia
second Test, Lord's
When it came to a sense of occasion and an ability to stir the crowds, not many did it better than Flintoff. In his final Test act at the home of cricket, he broke England's 75-year Lord's curse with his first five-wicket haul since the Ashes-clinching Oval Test of 2005. It was, unquestionably, a performance that enhanced his already mythical status within English cricket, but more pertinently it gave them a critical 1-0 lead. He steamed in from his favoured Pavilion End, as 25,000 screaming voices drowned out the pain in his knee. Only a famous exit from Lord's would do and he duly obliged with the wickets of Phil Hughes, Simon Katich, Brad Haddin and two tailenders.
James Anderson 4 for 55 v Australia
second Test, Lord's
Anderson turned in a performance befitting his recently acquired mantle of England spearhead, maintaining a threatening line and swinging the ball just enough to create angst among the opposing batsmen. With Flintoff conceding barely two per over at the other end, Anderson created a pressure atmosphere in which the Australians cracked spectacularly. They lost six wickets for the addition of just 49 runs, and were eventually left trailing by 210 runs to start their Ashes slide.
Stuart Broad 5 for 37 v Australia
fifth Test, The Oval
Broad produced a performance better than Flintoff's at Lord's to prise away, finger by finger, Australia's grip on the Ashes. Responding to England's first-innings 332, the Aussies collapsed from 73 for 0 to 160 all out. The star of England's show was Broad, who responded with a full and straight 12-over spell that perfectly exploited a pitch that was showing increasing signs of uneven bounce. He claimed the first four wickets to fall for eight runs in the space of 21 deliveries, and wrapped up his second five-wicket haul in consecutive innings by yorking Brad Haddin.
Sreesanth 5 for 75 and 1 for 47 v Sri Lanka
second Test, Kanpur
Playing his first Test in 19 months, Indian cricket's prodigal son returned in style with a five-for, and six wickets overall, to consign Sri Lanka to an innings defeat on a flat Kanpur track. For nine successive overs in the first session, and for seven on the trot in the second, Sreesanth ran in hard, hit the deck, and found life in a slow pitch. If he troubled the batsmen with seam movement in the morning, he found some reverse-swing post-lunch, severely testing the batsmen with a cluster of good deliveries and then invariably picking up a wicket with one slightly wide of the stumps.
Shane Bond 5 for 107 and 3 for 46 v Pakistan
first Test, Dunedin
Finally back in New Zealand whites, hurling that red thing in anger on a flat pitch, Bond rattled the Pakistan middle order with pure pace during a seven-over spell of 3 for 25. It took him his first spell to graduate from the early 140s to close to 150kph, but once he got there, he mixed bouncers, legcutters and yorkers dangerously to scythe through Pakistan's middle order. The wicket of Mohammad Yousuf summed up his performance: in one over Bond gave him a bouncer at 151 that just missed the edge, followed by a yorker at 149 and a legcutter at 144 just outside off; the next ball, he dived low and forward during his follow-through to take a return catch.
Graeme Swann 5 for 54 v South Africa
second Test, Durban
Swann, easily the spinner of the year, had spent the year away from the spotlight, doing his bit and then being sidelined by various star performers. In the last two Tests of the year, though, he grabbed the spotlight by the throat. Swann's penchant for taking wickets in the first over of his spells continued here, as he sent South Africa - behind by 231 runs with little over four sessions to go in the match - to defeat, turning around a game that looked to be shaping inevitably into a draw. Thirteen Swann deliveries later, 27 for 0 had become 37 for 2, and everything had changed. He finished with his fourth five-for of the year, more than any other bowler, and his second Man of the Match in a row.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo