Feature

India live the Test dream, Australia get the elusive World Cup, and Bangladesh suffer ignominious defeat

In our second batch of report cards for 2021: India, Australia, England, Bangladesh, South Africa, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe

03-Jan-2022
India's Gabba win was all the more incredible because they were missing many of their first-choice players to injury  •  Albert Perez/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

India's Gabba win was all the more incredible because they were missing many of their first-choice players to injury  •  Albert Perez/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

India

by Sidharth Monga
India started 2021 by batting 131 overs in the fourth innings to save the SCG Test with half their side injured. In the next match they scored more than any side has ever done in the fourth innings at the Gabba and consigned Australia to their first loss in 32 years there. They ended the year by sending South Africa to only their third defeat in 27 Tests in Centurion. In between they bowled England out in 51.5 overs in a sensational fifth-day turnaround at Lord's.
A series win in Australia, on track for one in South Africa, and a 2-1 lead that ensures they can't lose the incomplete one against England away. You won't find many arguing with the claim that this was India's greatest year in Test cricket. Some might bring up the lost World Test Championship final and, when discussing the other formats, their early T20 World Cup exit.
That India don't rule the world in limited-overs cricket despite running the best and most competitive T20 league in the world is an aberration that the new team management combination of Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma will look to address in coming years, but don't use one final to knock the Test team down. Virat Kohli's (and at times, Ajinkya Rahane's) team does and will compete against more teams in more conditions than any other going around.
High point
India were many kinds of special at Lord's, The Oval and in Centurion, but how do you top winning a Test at the Gabba against an all-time great Australian attack with a total of four Test caps among your bowling attack? That it came in a series decider made it extra special.
Low point
India were unlucky at the World Cup, losing tosses in two crucial matches in a tournament that significantly favoured sides winning the toss. It didn't matter that they won their other three because they were unable to make it out of their group. Still, they have, for a while now, looked like a side that needs to take that extra step in limited-overs cricket.
Results
Tests: P14 W8 L3 D3
ODIs: P6 W4 L2
T20Is: P16 W10 L6

Australia

by Andrew McGlashan
A year that at times saw the men's team on the verge of disarray ended with a maiden T20 World Cup title and the Ashes retained in crushing fashion. Whether it's the start of another golden era remains to be seen, but the last few months have gone better than many thought possible despite some big hurdles.
In January 2021, Australia were upended thrillingly by India, their Gabba record blown to dust (it was back to business when England arrived) and cracks soon emerged, especially between head coach Justin Langer and the senior group of players. A Test tour of South Africa was called off due to Covid-19; that and an over-rate penalty meant they missed out on the World Test Championship final. The Test side did not play again until December.
It meant a lot of time for things to fester, especially with losses in T20 mounting - though they did not have a full side together until the World Cup. There were series defeats against New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh which left low expectations heading into the tournament, although throughout it all the refrain was "Wait until the gang's back together."
No one really believed it, especially when batters who largely played in the top order (Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade) were asked to become finishers and they went for a new No. 3 in Mitchell Marsh. It appeared their hopes would be shattered by a crushing loss to England, but in a manner that even Hannibal Smith from The A-Team would have been proud of, they really did love it when a plan came together.
Back home to prepare for the Ashes, there was more drama when Tim Paine resigned after the emergence of explicit text messages from three years ago, parachuting Pat Cummins into the role. He and Steven Smith were revealed as the new leadership duo while they were still in quarantine in Queensland.
However, any thoughts that the Ashes campaign would be derailed were dispelled on the opening day (in fact, largely by the first ball from Mitchell Starc) and even Cummins' close contact with Covid caused barely a ripple. But with tougher challenges to come overseas and the future of Langer still uncertain, 2022 promises to be eventful as well.
High point
The T20 World Cup knockout against Pakistan. When Shadab Khan spun through the middle order in the semi-final it looked like it might be over, but Stoinis and Wade repaid the faith in their new roles with a thrilling partnership. In the final Marsh sealed a triumphant story as Australia's men finally claimed their missing piece of limited-overs silverware.
Low point
For the second time in three years, an Australia Test captain resigned in tears. No one came out of the Tim Paine texting saga unscathed, from those involved in the past to the current set-up, and though for a while Paine clung to the hope of playing the Ashes, he soon took time away to manage his mental health.
Results
Tests: P5 W3 L1 D1
ODIs: P3 W2 L1
T20Is: P22 W10 L12

Bangladesh

by Mohammad Isam
Bangladesh aren't going to look back fondly at 2021. The biggest event of the year, the T20 World Cup, went disastrously for them. They couldn't recover from their shock loss to Scotland and lost all five of their matches in the Super 12s. They seemed the weakest team in the main event.
Bangladesh have now lost their last ten international games, including three T20Is and two Tests against Pakistan at home. The year ended with them losing the Dhaka Test despite two and a half days being rained out.
Although Bangladesh started the year with a 3-0 win over West Indies in the ODI series, they squandered a strong position in the Chattogram Test against the same opponents, which culminated in Kyle Mayers hitting a fourth-innings double-century to take his side to an improbable win. In the match after, West Indies outspun Bangladesh in Dhaka.
Series losses in three formats in New Zealand and Sri Lanka, were followed by wins against Sri Lanka (in a home ODI series) and Zimbabwe. Then came a 4-1 win against Australia and a 3-2 one against New Zealand in home T20I series, but they didn't mean much in light of the debacle that followed in the World Cup.
Rather than building on their success in the mid-2010s, Bangladesh are now a team in freefall, with an aimless cricket board and a brittle team management in charge.
High point
It later became the butt of all jokes after Bangladesh's poor T20 World Cup campaign and Australia winning the trophy, but the big win in August against Australia was Bangladesh's zenith in 2021. They wanted to win with spin, negating the batters' impact, and they did it.
Low point
The poor showing in the T20 World Cup exposed several negative aspects of the game in the country. The fact that they are a one-track wonder - only comfortable playing on spinning pitches at home - is the biggest worry going into a busy 2022.
Results
Tests: P7 W1 L5 D1
ODIs: P12 W8 L4
T20Is: P27 W11 L16

England

by Andrew Miller
The "How it started vs how it's going" meme might have been conceived with England's 2021 journey in mind - a year that began with a very genuine hope that the Test team had cracked it, but ended with them cracked across the MCG like a basket of rotten eggs, after quite possibly the most pitiful Ashes challenge of all time.
Between the highs of England's three consecutive Test wins in Sri Lanka and India in January and February, and the lows of a 12-day Ashes drubbing, lay a tale of mismanagement, misfortune and missed straight ones. And by the end of it, the verdict was unanimous: England's Test cricket has never been at a lower ebb.
The reason why this fact was not clear from the outset lay in the preposterous, gravity-defying form of Joe Root, a man whose 1708 runs at 61.00 ended up being the third-highest tally for a calendar year in Test history, and more than three times as many runs as Rory Burns (530), the team's next highest contributor.
Such was Root's serenity that a modicum of support could have kept England competitive. But with the spectre of Covid hanging over a packed schedule - coupled with England's desire to mount a serious challenge for more white-ball silverware at the T20 World Cup in November - England's Test focus wavered fatally during an arduous tour of India in February and March, and that winning feeling was lost before it could become a habit.
Dispiriting home campaigns followed against New Zealand and India, the two best teams in the world, and though the latter does not yet count as a series loss due to the Covid outbreak that scuppered the fifth Test, by that stage Root's lack of batting support had been exacerbated by wider concerns about the depth of England's playing pool.
As if the batting wasn't sufficiently concerning, Jofra Archer succumbed to the first of two bouts of elbow surgery - a grievous blow to England's hopes in both the Ashes and the World Cup - before Ben Stokes, the team's talisman, took an indefinite break to manage a badly healed finger injury that he at one stage feared might end his career.
Stokes returned at the eleventh hour for Australia, a tour that had been shrouded in similar doubt due to the country's stringent Covid protocols. But like the team as a whole, his campaign never got out of the blocks.
At least the white-ball squad maintained its high standards - had the toss not been such a crucial factor at the World Cup, they might have fared better than their semi-final finish, while the scratch ODI side that beat Pakistan 3-0 in July, following a Covid outbreak in the main squad, provided probably the most uplifting performance of the year. It wasn't a whole lot of good news to fall back on.
High point
Root's flawless double-century in the first Test in Chennai. It was his third massive, match-winning hundred in the space of three Tests and we were barely a month into 2021.
Low point
The Boxing Day Test in its entirety. A surrender so unconditional that England even managed to smuggle their best day of the series into a two-and-a-bit-day debacle. Roll on the whitewash.
Results
Tests: P15 W4 L9 D2
ODIs: P9 W6 L2 NR1
T20Is: P17 W11 L6

South Africa

by Firdose Moonda
With as much action on the field as off it, South Africa endured another difficult year with middling results, long gaps between play, and more administrative issues.
Inconsistency is the word that sums up their performances, with a Test series win over an under-strength Sri Lanka and in West Indies but comprehensive defeats to Pakistan away and India in the Boxing Day Test, which may yet prove decisive in India winning a first series in South Africa.
After dropping points against Ireland, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, South Africa remain in a precarious position on the World Cup Super League table and notched up their worst win-loss record in the format since 2004. The only area of their game that demonstrated some sort of progress was T20, where they reeled off seven consecutive T20I wins, including three series wins (over West Indies, Ireland and Sri Lanka), equalling a record set in 2009.
They remain a squad in the rebuilding phase: they handed out three new Test caps, four new ODI caps and seven T20 caps as they sought to recover from big-name retirements. The last of those came when Faf du Plessis stepped away from Test cricket in February and was not selected in white-ball formats, while Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers announced their all-format retirements.
Behind the scenes, a new, mostly independent board took office and their most notable action was their instruction to the national team to collectively take the knee and their following through with the Social Justice and Nation Building (SJN) hearings.
High point
Against all expectation, and the backdrop of camp chaos when Quinton de Kock refused to take a knee at the T20 World Cup, South Africa won four matches in a row and put themselves on the brink of the knockouts. They missed out on net run-rate, which usually would not be cause for celebration, but this was a team that barely put a foot wrong after losing to Australia. Most importantly, there was no choking.
Low point
There are many to choose from, both on and off the field, including Australia's non-arrival for the four Test series in March-April, the tentative findings of the SJN committee, which necessitate another investigation into some of the biggest names in the game, and some heavy defeats. Questions about whether things had reached rock bottom were raised when South Africa lost an ODI to Ireland as widespread unrest rocked the country along with a brutal third wave of the pandemic.
Results
Tests: P6 W3 L3
ODIs: P10 W3 L5 NR2
T20Is: P23 W15 L8

Afghanistan

by Peter Della Penna
For much of their modern existence, cricket structures in Afghanistan thrived despite the turmoil in the country. The team's nomadic existence - they have never played an international on home soil - was undesirable, but it insulated them from the daily chaos experienced by the rest of their countrymen.
However, the politics of Afghanistan became firmly intertwined with that of the cricket team in the second half of 2021 following the complete withdrawal of the American military presence in the country after nearly 20 years. The Taliban's ensuing swift return to power had a major impact on cricket affairs. Both the ACB board chairman and CEO were replaced. Rashid Khan resigned as T20I captain before he ever led the team onto the field, citing his dissatisfaction over selections for the T20 World Cup squad, which he said he was never consulted about. And the majority of the coaching staff, led by Lance Klusener, did not have their contracts extended beyond the end of 2021.
An Afghanistan team that doesn't even exist on paper became the biggest discussion point of all. The women's squad, which was awarded Test and ODI status despite never having played an ICC-sanctioned match, became a lightning rod for debate when the new government regime made clear their opposition to women competing in sport. The policy then became used as a reason for Australia to cancel what would have been their first Test against the Afghanistan men's team. By the end of the year, Afghanistan were in the news more for the cricket they didn't play - which also included a cancelled ODI series against Pakistan - than the games they did.
High point
Sweeping a three-match ODI series against Ireland in January in Abu Dhabi to claim maximum points in the ODI Super League.
Low point
The cancellation of what would have been Afghanistan's maiden Test down under, in the wake of political upheaval.
Results
Tests: P2 W1 L1
ODIs: P3 W3
T20Is: P8 W5 L3

Zimbabwe

by Firdose Moonda
Despite the pandemic, Zimbabwe fulfilled all but one of their scheduled series on the FTP. They travelled to play against Afghanistan and Ireland, and hosted Pakistan and Bangladesh, but the results didn't go their way.
But of the 28 matches they played, they won just eight - and only one each in Tests and ODIs. A welcome change was their T20I form - they played more games in the format than in any other calendar year and achieved their best results, including their first bilateral T20I series win (featuring more than one match) - against Scotland in September.
Zimbabwe did not feature in the T20 World Cup after missing the qualifying event due to the temporary suspension of their board, but their form bodes relatively well for their chances of advancing to the 2022 edition.
Conversely, the likelihood of them achieving direct entry into the 2023 50-over World Cup is slim. They are at the bottom of the 13-team Super League table, with only two wins from their nine matches, and it is all but confirmed they will need to play in a qualifying event.
The year also marked the end of an era as former captain and Zimbabwe's senior-most player, Brendan Taylor, retired from international cricket. Test captain Sean Williams also said he was stepping away but appeared to be reconsidering. Several senior players are understood to be unhappy with coach Lalchand Rajput, and their future with the team hinges on whether he stays on or not.
Zimbabwe's biggest cricket headline was the eight-year banning of former captain, coach, and arguably their best known cricketer. Heath Streak admitted to breaching the ICC's anti-corruption code and will play no part in the game until at least 2029.
High point
The T20I series win over Scotland ended the year well for Zimbabwe but their crowning moment of an otherwise difficult 2021 came when they beat Afghanistan (though lacking Rashid Khan) by ten wickets in the first Test in Abu Dhabi. Zimbabwe bowled Afghanistan out for under 150 in both innings, Blessing Muzarabani took six wickets in the match, and Williams' century set them up for the win.
Low point
Losing the second Test against Afghanistan, after being forced to follow on, with Rashid taking 11 wickets in the match. Zimbabwe also went on to lose the T20I series 3-0.
Results
Tests: P5 W1 L4
ODIs: P6 W1 L4 NR1
T20Is: P17 W6 L11
Stats current as of December 30, 2021
Read the other team report cards here. More in our look back at 2021