Feature

Australia bruise, India cruise, and Pakistan find success at home

How did India, Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan fare this year?

02-Jan-2021
Of the three formats, India found the most success in T20Is in 2020  •  Cricket Australia via Getty Images

Of the three formats, India found the most success in T20Is in 2020  •  Cricket Australia via Getty Images

India

By Sidharth Monga
Hardly any cricket at home, most of the time spent in lockdown and biosecure bubbles worrying about their own health and that of their families back home, India's players ended the year with a win for the ages. They were rolled over for 36 in the first Test of the series in Australia, were missing their full-time captain and two key bowlers, and still outplayed Australia in the Boxing Day Test to level the series 1-1, underlining their status as the best Test team of recent years despite the 0-2 loss in New Zealand earlier in the year.
In keeping with the spirit of the upside-down year that 2020 was, India excelled in the format that on paper is the one they are least proficient in, T20Is. They expectedly beat Sri Lanka in T20Is at home, but they followed it up with a 5-0 whitewash of New Zealand in New Zealand and a 2-1 win over Australia in Australia. With a home T20 World Cup scheduled next year, India will feel they have a fair idea of how to plug the well-documented holes in their limited-overs cricket: the middle-order power-hitters and allrounder.
India lost their ODI series in New Zealand and Australia, but that format is the lowest preference with the ODI World Cup still three years away.
It was off the field that India's cricketers triumphed the most perhaps. Through the lockdown, the cricketers made an effort to stay in touch with their fans through their Instagram interviews with each other, and once the cricket began they wore their privilege lightly, respecting their biosecure bubbles and dealing with on-field events with admirable perspective.
Results
Tests: P4 W1 L3
ODIs: P9 W2 L6
T20Is: P11 W9 (two ties) L1 NR1

Australia

by Daniel Brettig
Due in part to Covid-19, but largely the seminal nature of the event, the singular moment of 2020 for Australian cricket belonged not to the teams of Tim Paine or Aaron Finch but Meg Lanning.
To host and win the women's T20 World Cup in such emphatic fashion, watched by more than 86,000 enraptured spectators at the MCG, was a moment of great cricketing performance but also social breakthrough as far as the women's game was concerned. It remains the responsibility of all boards, not just Australia's, to ensure the momentum of this magical occasion is not lost. Lanning and company can be expected to hold up their ends of the bargain.
As a men's Test team, Australia spent much of the year luxuriating in recent performances against England, Pakistan and New Zealand and their place at the top of the World Championship table while keeping one eye on their next opponents, India. That they postponed a WTC series against Bangladesh and a separate one-off Test against Afghanistan underlined the complexities of the year, but in all, their trajectory was little changed in terms of looking ever forward towards an assignment against the team led by Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane.
Over the course of three matches separated by almost 11 months, the pre-eminence of Pat Cummis, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc as the game's premier pace attack was maintained: they rounded up New Zealand in Sydney in January and then razed India in the second innings in Adelaide in December. But the fortunes of the batting line-up, seemingly so settled at the beginning of the year, were not so straightfoward.
A groin injury to David Warner upset the balance at the top, Joe Burns lost his way, and neither Matthew Wade nor Travis Head benefited from the reshuffling. Meanwhile Seven Smith continued to climb down from his 2019 Ashes peak, while Marnus Labuschagne found India's attack a much harder assignment than those of Pakistan and New Zealand had been. A hefty defeat at the MCG ended the year in a state of some uncertainty, even if the WTC lead remained.
In ODIs and T20Is, Aaron Finch led combinations that were reset after the 2019 World Cup, with mixed results. One-day series defeats away to India and South Africa slipped largely under the radar before series against New Zealand and Zimbabwe were overtaken by Covid-19. All stops were pulled out to ensure the white-ball tour of England took place, made memorable by a 2-1 series win that featured perhaps the best innings yet by Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey. At home, India were thumped in the ODIs as they found their feet after post-IPL quarantine, but the T20Is fell the other way.

Pakistan

by Danyal Rasool
For every country, what felt important in 2020 wasn't how the cricket panned out, but that it happened at all. That cannot be true of any other side more than Pakistan, who have marked a few milestones that might allow them to look back at they year with something other than profound distaste.
In this most abnormal of years, one thing began to feel normal - the mere act of playing international cricket in Pakistan. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe visited, and there is more promise on that front with South Africa and England potentially arriving next year. The PSL was held in the country for the first time, and went off without a security hitch.
On the field, it was a surprisingly predictable year, with Pakistan winning the games they were meant to and demonstrably off the pace against the elite sides. A 1-0 Test series loss to England might be the biggest missed opportunity, given how close the visitors came to inverting that scoreline. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh were, one Super Over loss notwithstanding, swept aside at home, while New Zealand edged out the tourists in a T20I series to round out the year; the 2-1 scoreline in that series was perhaps not indicative of quite how far Pakistan have fallen behind in the format. The T20I slide was officially recognised by the rankings, with Pakistan's 27-month grip on the top spot broken in May; they have now slid back into mid-table mediocrity.
There was, of course, the usual musical chairs with the captaincy: the selectors got rid of Azhar Ali after just a year in charge, and replaced him with Babar Azam. Captain in all three formats now, Azam remains Pakistan's brightest star by some distance, and their premier batsman.
Results
Tests: P4 W1 L1 D2
ODIs: P3 W2 L1
T20Is: P11 W7 L3 NR1

South Africa

By Firdose Moonda
If you thought 2019 was South Africa's annus horribilis, think again. Things got even worse in 2020 at all levels, in every aspect from administration to on-field efforts.
After ending 2019 with victory over England in Mark Boucher's first Test as coach, South Africa went on to lose the series 1-3, their batting becoming progressively more ragged. Pressure on Faf du Plessis mounted and he stepped down as Test captain at the end of the series and was removed as white-ball skipper, with Quinton de Kock installed in his place. Under fresh leadership, South Africa played an energetic brand of shorter form cricket against England and Australia but won only one series - a 3-0 ODI sweep of Australia.
Then came Covid-19 and the postponements of a white-ball tour to Sri Lanka and a two-Test, five-T20I tour of the West Indies. A proposed three-match T20 series against India never happened. But the winter was far from quiet.
Amid Cricket South Africa's meltdown, which saw the CEO sacked, one acting CEO resign and another get suspended and the entire board step down after the sports minister threatened to intervene, it collided with the Black Lives Matter movement in a series of incidents that exposed schisms in the country's game. At the centre of it were debates around the symbolism of taking a knee, which the national team have not done. Instead, they raised a fist at the start of their first Test of the summer, which they won.
Results
Tests: P4 W1 L3
T20Is: P9 W2 L7

Sri Lanka

by Andrew Fidel Fernando Sri Lanka, generally one of the most active teams on the cricket circuit played 21 days of cricket in 2020. Fourteen of those were Test cricket days, as Sri Lanka won one in Zimbabwe, drew the next, and many months later, lost both the match and half their players to injury in their last game of the year, in Centurion. They were good in the one ODI series they played, and terrible in the two T20I series.
There's not a lot you can read into all that. In the ODIs they dominated, Sri Lanka were playing West Indies, who don't field anything approaching their best team in non-World Cup years. Sri Lanka were slammed in the two T20I series they played in January and February, but were trying out combinations and perhaps had a better idea of the talents at their disposal at the end of the year.
There's not a lot to offer in terms of analysis in a year with this little cricket, but here are some Lankan cricket truths that are good for every year: Chamari Athapaththu rocked the planet, but the rest of her team did not. Kusal Mendis was fleetingly awesome but frequently awful. Angelo Mathews got injured. Lasith Malinga got older and probably rounder. A new spinner emerged (Wanindu Hasaranga this time) and the selectors immediately thrust him into every XI available. There was one unusual thing in 2020: the head coach of the men's team didn't get sacked.
Sri Lankan cricket doesn't operate according to steady or predictable laws, so the pandemic year was of course the one in which they successfully launched a franchise T20 tournament. There was the fantastic story of eventual winners Jaffna Stallions, whose aim was not just to win the tournament, but also develop cricket infrastructure in a neglected part of the country. Also, for the first time, there was clarity on the depth of T20 talent in the country, and at least one breakout star in Dhananjaya Lakshan.
Results
Tests: P3 W1 L1 D1
ODIs: P3 W3
T20Is: P5 L4 NR1

Zimbabwe

by Firdose Moonda
A team that usually gets the scraps of the international schedule had to make do with even less in 2020, despite relatively fewer coronavirus cases in the country. Zimbabwe played little more than a handful of fixtures in each format in series against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and had scheduled visits from Ireland, India and the Netherlands and a tour to Australia postponed.
Perhaps much worse than the scarcity of matches was the almost absolute absence of victories. Zimbabwe won just one of their 14 fixtures, but only after it was tied first. They prevailed in the Super Over against Pakistan thanks to Blessing Muzarabani, who returned from a Kolpak deal over the winter. Muzarabani was also their joint-leading ODI bowler and highest T20 wicket-taker in 2020, though Zimbabwe continued to struggle in the shortest and longest format.
They suffered five heavy T20I defeats, where the only positive was the emergence of Wesley Madhevere. The former U-19 international was their only batsman to score more than 100 runs in the format, was their third highest run scorer in ODIs, and will doubtless graduate to Tests soon.
In Tests, Zimbabwe's best result was a draw against Sri Lanka in Harare, but they lost the series and a one-off Test in Bangladesh.
They also lost the services of veteran allrounder Elton Chigumbura, who called time on his 16-year career after a string of injuries. Chigumbura was Zimbabwe's third most-capped ODI player.
Despite the lack of cricket, things remained stable at board level, which is not always something that can be said of Zimbabwe Cricket. Their challenge will be to secure fixtures for 2021 and to get on track for 2023 World Cup qualification.
Results
Tests: P3 W0 L2 D1
ODIs: P6 W1 L5
T20Is: P5 W0 L5

Afghanistan

By Peter Della Penna
Afghanistan's international calendar was short and sweet, featuring three T20Is against their longtime frenemy Ireland. As has been the case for much of the past five years, Rashid Khan's impish grins disguised the pain he dished out along with his mystery spin twin Mujeeb Ur Rahman to clinch the series in the first two matches before falling short in a Super Over that denied Afghanistan a clean sweep in the final one.
Though the rest of the men's national team's fixtures were wiped out by the pandemic, Afghans continued to make their mark on the franchise T20 scene. Khan duelled with Yuzvendra Chahal for the title of best spinner in the IPL, finishing one wicket behind the Indian leggie. Mujeeb was the leading overseas wicket-taker in the CPL, while Mohammad Nabi's all-round heroics helped propel long-time losers St Lucia Zouks into the CPL final for the first time ever.
Twenty-year-old Qais Ahmad, buried behind the aforementioned two spinners in Afghanistan's squad, followed up solid performances in the CPL by ending as the leading overseas spinner in the inaugural Lanka Premier League, highlighting the depth in Afghanistan's spin stocks. Meanwhile, medium-pacer Naveen-ul-Haq carved out a regular spot in the Guyana Amazon Warriors and Kandy Tuskers starting XIs with his canny variations at the death.
Perhaps the most significant achievement for Afghanistan cricket in 2020 was a pledge by the board to award 25 central contracts to female players. The country was exempted from having a women's programme as a requirement for a successful application to Full Member status in 2017. But a women's national team camp organised in October 2020 indicated that may be changing sooner than later.
Results
T20Is: P3 W2 L1