January 5, 2018

A super year for spinners, captains, and Test results

For the first time in Test history, spinners took more than 600 wickets in a calendar year, while Steven Smith and Virat Kohli led a run-fest for captains in 2017

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The last day of Test cricket in 2017 - when top-order batsmen scored runs, bowlers struggled for wickets, and the match petered to a dull draw in Melbourne - was the very antithesis of what happened in the format through the rest of year. Out of 47 Tests in 2017, only seven were drawn, which is exactly what the numbers were in 2016 as well. The result percentage of 85.11 is joint second-highest in any calendar year (with a cut-off of ten Tests), next only to 2002, when the percentage of decisive results was marginally higher at 85.19.

Highest result % in a calendar year (Min 10 Tests)
Year Teams Mat Result Draw Win %
 2002  10  54  46  8  85.19
 2016  10  47  40  7  85.11
 2017  10  47  40  7  85.11
 2014  10  41  33  8  80.49
 1956  7  15  12  3  80.00

Of the seven drawn Tests, three were in India, two in New Zealand, and one each in Zimbabwe and Australia. On the other hand, England, Sri Lanka and South Africa all hosted at least five Tests without a single draw.

Despite the heroics of Steven Smith and Virat Kohli, 2017 wasn't a great year overall for batsmen. The overall runs per wicket in 2017 was 32.06, the lowest among all years since 2000, when it was 29.44. The numbers were particularly disappointing for the top-order batsmen (Nos. 1-7), who averaged 35.98, again the least since 2000. The lower order was actually quite effective, averaging 17.15, which is the third-highest since 1990. The five centuries scored by lower-order batsmen (Nos. 8-11) equals the highest in any calendar year.

Lowest averages for top order (Nos. 1-7) in Tests since Jan 2000
Year Mat Ave 100s
 2000  46  32.58  68
 2017  47  35.98  87
 2011  39  36.41  68
 2013  44  36.72  88
 2005  49  36.90  96

With a cut-off of five innings, there were 14 top-order batsmen (Nos. 1-7) who averaged more than 50, but also 14 who averaged less than 20, including Stephen Cook (57 runs in seven innings), Lahiru Thirimanne (97 in six), Babar Azam (184 in 12), Imrul Kayes (189 in 12) and Keaton Jennings (127 in eight).

Spin is king
For the first time in Test history, spinners went past the 600-wicket mark in a calendar year - they took 638 at 33.23 in 2017, compared to 584 at 35.11 in 2016. In terms of wickets, these are the two best years for spinners. Of the top eight wicket-takers in Tests in 2017, six were spinners, including Nathan Lyon, who led the list with 63, at a superb average of 23.55. The others were R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Rangana Herath, Keshav Maharaj and Yasir Shah. Among the fast bowlers, only Kagiso Rabada and James Anderson were in the top eight.

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Spinners also struck once every 63.7 balls in 2017, which is their second-best strike rate in any year since 1930; in 2015, they took a wicket every 60.9 balls. It helped, of course, that there were so many Tests in Asia and especially India, but the performances of non-Asian spinners like Lyon (63 wickets, SR 52.2) and Maharaj (48 wickets, SR 46.3) made the difference between another good year for spinners and an exceptional one.

Most Test wkts for spinners in a calendar year
Year Mat Wkts Ave SR
 2017  47  638  33.23  63.7
 2016  47  584  35.11  66.0
 2004  51  577  34.59  67.2
 2015  43  554  33.01  60.9
 2001  55  521  34.48  76.8

The spin success was also partly due to the pitches, which, over the last few years, have tended to be drier, offering more assistance to spinners. That has also meant that Test results have tended to favour the teams batting first: in 2017, they had a 26-14 win-loss record, which is in keeping with the trend over the last four years. Since the start of 2014, teams batting first have won 98 Tests and lost 49, which works out to two wins per loss. In the four-year period between 2010 and 2013, teams batting first won and lost 62 Tests each.

Test results for teams batting first
Period Tests W/L Ratio
 2014-17  178  98/49  2.00
 2010-13  168  62/62  1.00

Fingerspin v wristspin
Spinners did well in all formats in 2017, but the fortunes of the fingerspinner and the wristspinner depended on the format - the fingerspinners had plenty of success in Tests but not so much in the shorter forms, while it was the other way around for the wristspinners.

In Tests, Pakistan's Yasir Shah was the only wristspinner who made an impression last year, taking 43 wickets in just six Tests at 28.88. In T20Is, though, the list of top wicket-takers was filled with legspinners. India's Yuzvendra Chahal was on top of the list with 23 wickets, while Rashid Khan, Shadab Khan, Imran Tahir, Kuldeep Yadav and Ish Sodhi all had plenty of success. Most of these wristspinners did well in ODIs too, while fingerspinners struggled, averaging 41.26 runs per wicket.

Fingerspinners and wristspinners in 2017
Format FS-wkts Ave SR/ER WS-wkts Ave SR/ER
 Tests  524  32.86  64.0/3.1  117  35.06  63.5/3.3
 ODIs  341  41.26  50.6/4.9  266  27.56  33.2/5.0
 T20Is  131  30.62  25.6/7.2  151  17.87  15.8/6.8

India on a roll
India won 37 matches in 2017: seven Tests, 21 ODIs and nine T20Is. Only once has a team won more international matches in a calendar year - Australia won 38 in 2003. Add their 31-11 record in 2016, and they have been on a roll over the last couple of years, winning 68 games and losing only 23. India were outstanding in all formats, notching up a 7-1 record in Tests, 21-7 in ODIs, and 9-4 in T20Is. Apart from the Champions Trophy in England and the limited-overs tour to the West Indies, though, India played all their cricket in Asia last year; the bigger tests will come over the next 18 months when several overseas challenges beckon.

In 2017, though, no team came close to India in terms of win-loss ratio. The next best was South Africa's 25-13.

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Smith v Kohli, and a run-fest for captains
They were the two dominant batsmen in 2017, especially in Tests. There was little to separate the two in terms of averages, and while Kohli had three double-hundreds for the second year in a row - only Michael Clarke has more in a calendar year - he also endured a terrible series against Australia, when he scored 46 runs in five innings. Smith, on the other hand, scored a bucketful of runs in the two big series in 2017 - in India, and at home against England. In the entire history of Test cricket, there have only been eight instances of captains scoring 1000-plus runs at 75-plus averages, and two of those happened in 2017. Also, Kohli is the only captain to appear twice on this list.

Captains scoring 1000+ Test runs at 75+ ave in a year
Player Mat Inns Runs Ave 100s Year
 DG Bradman  8  13  1025  113.88  5  1948
 MJ Clarke  11  18  1595  106.33  5  2012
 RT Ponting  10  18  1333  88.86  7  2006
 GA Gooch  9  17  1264  79.00  4  1990
 AD Mathews  11  20  1160  77.33  2  2014
 SPD Smith  11  20  1305  76.76  6  2017
 V Kohli  12  18  1215  75.93  4  2016
 V Kohli  10  16  1059  75.64  5  2017

Thanks to all these runs from Smith and Kohli, plus more runs from other captains, 2017 was an outstanding year in terms of runs from captains, both in Tests and in ODIs. In Tests, there were seven captains who scored 500-plus runs at 50-plus averages; apart from Smith and Kohli, the others who managed this were Kane Williamson (average 62.88), Mushfiqur Rahim (54.71), Faf du Plessis (54.30), Joe Root (50.84) and Dinesh Chandimal (50.40). All of those runs made 2017 only the second year since 1980 when the overall average for Test captains was more than 50. In ODIs too, their collective average was second-best since 1980, thanks largely to Kohli (1460 runs at 76.84).

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

More numbers from 2017
5.36 Runs per over in ODIs in 2017, the third-highest in any year, after 2015 (5.50), and 2016 (5.43). The T20I run rate of 8.01 was second-highest among all years, after the rate of 8.11 in 2005.

6 Test hundreds for Smith in 2017. Only once has a captain scored more Test centuries in a year - Ricky Ponting had seven from ten Tests in 2006.

51 ODI totals of 300 or more in 2017, the most in any non-World Cup year. There were 59 such totals in 2015, and 51 in 2007 as well.

689 Runs added by Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan in nine innings, the most by any pair in Tests in 2017. They were marginally ahead of Kraigg Braithwaite and Shai Hope, who added 685, also in nine innings. Across all formats, the leaders were Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, who added 1337 runs in 25 innings. They were slightly ahead of Kohli and Rohit Sharma's 1271 runs in 15 partnerships.

2 Hundreds in T20Is for Colin Munro, making him the first batsman to score more than one century in this format in a calendar year. Munro made 101 against Bangladesh in Mount Maunganui in January 2017, and 109 not out against India in Rajkot in November.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats