The year of South Africa and Graeme Smith
Two thousand and eight was the year of the IPL, of Twenty20 threatening to encroach into the space reserved for the longer versions, but it was also a year that contained some truly memorable moments from Test cricket, which regained some of its pre-eminence, both in terms of the number of matches and their quality. The batsmen made merry, with a record number getting past 1000 runs, but the bowlers had their say too - overall, the average runs per wicket for the year in was 33.96, marginally lower than the corresponding number in the previous two years. The year stood out, though, for a couple of things: the manner in which fourth-innings targets were ruthlessly chased down, and the way Australia finally lost their status as the undisputed kings of cricket. Cricinfo looks back at some of the important numbers.
Test cricket regains its glory
After 2007 offered a surfeit of one-day cricket, the balance was restored this year: 47 Tests and 126 ODIs were played, compared to 31 and 191 the previous year. There were more results too: From 29% drawn games in 2007, this year the percentage reduced to 23.
|Year||ODIs||Tests||ODIs per Test|
Australia's fall, and South Africa's rise
Australia's dominance of world cricket has been compared to Roger Federer's effortless mastery of the tennis tour, but 2008 was the year in which both fell off their perch. (Australia still finished as No.1, but they clearly weren't the best team of the year.) Unlike Federer, who won the last Grand Slam of the year to finish on a relative high, Australia made a meal of their last match, letting slip a huge advantage to eventually slide to their fifth defeat of the year - almost as many as they had lost altogether in the previous five years. Their win-loss record for the year was 5-5, their worst in the last 20 years.
The team that did most of the winning through the year was South Africa - admittedly, four of their 11 wins were against Bangladesh, but with series wins in England and Australia, and a drawn series in India, few can argue that they've been the best team of 2008. In fact, South Africa's 11 wins are the most by any team in a single year, equalling the record, which is jointly held by West Indies and England.
India had a pretty good year too, with wins against Australia and England, but their record was blotted by the 2-1 defeat in Sri Lanka.
Smith leads batting fest
In 2008, batsmen scored 1000 Test runs for fun - there are 12 of them in the list, more than in any other year.
|No. of batsmen||12||11||9||7||6||6||6||5|
Leading the run-glut was South African captain Graeme Smith, clearly the outstanding player of the year. The 1656 runs he scored is the third-highest by a batsman in a calendar year, after Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards. With Neil McKenzie, Smith added 1552 runs, the most by any pair this year. As if his exploits as captain and batsman weren't enough, Smith also went ahead and pouched 30 catches, the highest by a non-wicketkeeper in a single year, beating Stephen Fleming's record of 28 in 1997.
There's one batsman who didn't make the 1000-run cut, but who deserves recognition: Shivnarine Chanderpaul batted only 16 innings, made two ducks, but still found a way to amass 909 runs at an average of 101. During the year he had a nine-inning stretch that read 86*, 118, 11, 107*, 77*, 79*, 50, 76, 126. It's the second successive year Chanderpaul has averaged more than 100 - in four Tests in 2007 he averaged 111.60.
Thanks largely to the performances of Smith, Chanderpaul, Gautam Gambhir, Simon Katich, Ashwell Prince and Andrew Strauss, left-handers in the top seven average almost six more than their right-hand counterparts. This despite nine out of 12 in the 1000-run club being right-handers.
All left-handers didn't have it their way, though. Michael Hussey had hardly known the meaning of failure in his first two years in Tests, averaging a staggering 80.58 after 19 games. Like in the stock-market crash, though, Hussey's numbers fell spectacularly in 2008: He still averaged 37.50 in the year, but due to his unusually high average before this slump, his overall mean fell to 59.04, an erosion of almost 27%.
Chase away the ghosts
New Zealand chased 317, India chased 387, South Africa chased 413, and even Bangladesh scored 413 chasing 521 - 2008 was the year when teams put to bed the fears of fourth-innings targets. Ten times a score in excess of 175 was successfully achieved, with South Africa accounting for 50% of those. There was an uncanny symmetry there too: They began the year chasing down 185 against West Indies, losing just three wickets in the process, and ended with an equally emphatic victory against Australia in Melbourne. If ever there was an example of "start the year as you mean to go", this was it.
Wag the tail
South Africa's last four wickets put together 318 in the first innings in Melbourne, which was only the 11th instance of the last four adding more than 300. Two of those happened in 2008, and by another quirk, the first one came in the first Test of the year. Australia, who were at the receiving end in December, had begun the year by dishing out similar punishment to the Indians in the controversial Sydney Test, when Andrew Symonds' unbeaten 162 helped the team add 329 for the last four wickets. In all, this was a glorious year for lower-order partnerships - the last four wickets averaged 21.96 per partnership, which is the second-highest for any year since 1990.
Steyn leads bowlers' charge
With 74 wickets from 13 Tests, there was no doubt about who won the bowling honours in 2008. Coming on the back of 44 wickets from seven Tests in 2007, Dale Steyn has clearly established himself as the best fast bowler going around today: In his last 20 games he has averaged nearly six wickets per Test at an incredible strike-rate of a wicket every 33.5 balls.
|Period||Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
|First 9 Tests||32||35.93||52.8||2/ 0|
|Last 20 Tests||118||19.06||33.5||9/ 3|
The 22 wickets in four games against Bangladesh helped, but Steyn was equally effective against most other teams as well, taking 14 wickets from two Tests against Australia, 15 from three against India and 15 from two against West Indies. While he was effective against both right- and left-handers, the wickets came at a lesser cost and better rate against the right-hand batsmen.
Steyn and Mitchell Johnson (63 wickets at 29.01) led the way for the fast bowlers, who took more than twice the number of wickets that the spinners did in 2008, at a slightly better average. Harbhajan Singh, Daniel Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan were the spin leaders, with Murali taking more than 40 wickets for the ninth year in a row.
|Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
India take the ODI honours
South Africa were the leading Test team, but India were the leading ODI team, not only winning more than any team but also conquering difficult challenges in Australia and Sri Lanka. Australia struggled in the Tests, but are on an eight-match winning streak in ODIs, having defeated West Indies 5-0 and Bangladesh 3-0. Pakistan had the best win-loss record in the year, but that needs to be qualified by the fact that 13 of their 21 ODIs were against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Hong Kong. (Click here for the team-wise results in 2008.)
With India on such a roll, it's hardly surprising that the list of run-scorers this year is dominated by them. Gautam Gambhir is on top of the year after an amazingly consistent year, but the breakthrough finally came for Virender Sehwag, who averaged nearly 50 at a strike-rate of 120, the first time since 2003 that he has averaged more than 34 in a year. After a disappointing run in the CB Series in Australia, Sehwag has been on a superb run since June, scoring more than 40 in 11 of his last 13 innings.
|Batsman||ODIs||Runs||Average||Strike rate||Ave x SR|
The Sehwag-Gambhir partnership was clearly the dominant one of the year - they scored 898 runs in 14 innings at an average partnership of 64.14. The three leading pairs for the year, in terms of runs scored, were all Indians.
Mendis tweaks his way to the top
The bowling star of the ODI year was clearly Ajantha Mendis, with 48 wickets from just 18 games as an astonishing strike-rate of less than 17 balls per wicket, which is the best among all bowlers who have taken 40 or more wickets in a single year.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo