A few hours ago, Pakistan did a Pakistan, only days after almost chasing down the highest ever Test score against Australia. They lost 10 wickets in two sessions, failing to survive on the fifth day after Australia, led by captain and World No. 1 Test batsman Steve Smith, started the last day (two days were rained out in Melbourne) only 24 runs ahead in the first innings. This became only the sixth time ever in Test cricket where a team scored 400+ in the first innings and went on to lose by an innings. In December 2016 alone, England has accomplished this twice against India. In more than hundred years before this month, it had only happened thrice before.
As we speak, in the final Test result of the year, South Africa defeated visitors Sri Lanka by a crushing 206 runs at Port Elizabeth.
Let’s take a look at the top seven Test teams based on their 2016 results alone:
1. India (Played 12, Won 9, Draw 3)
This is the first time India has won as many as nine Test matches in one year – a record of their own. Given that they played lesser test cricket than England, this is a phenomenal achievement; they played only four Tests abroad though, winning seven out of eight at home this year – three against New Zealand and four against England. They will next face Bangladesh in February for one test, before Australia visits them for a four-Test series. India is also ranked No. 1 in the world, and bowler R. Ashwin, who is now more of an all-rounder, won the Cricketer of the Year and Test Cricketer of the Year ICC awards – only the third Indian to do so.
This year will go down as Virat Kohli’s year, though. The captain and star batsman stamped his authority all over a young team, completing the transition they started after MS Dhoni’s retirement in 2014. They last lost a Test in July 2015 in Sri Lanka. The undisputed No. 1, given that the other best teams have to be chosen subject to their number of losses than victories.
2. South Africa (Played 9, Won 5, Lost 2, Draw 2)
After perhaps their worst Test year since re-admission in 2015 including a sapping 3-0 whitewash in India, South Africa started the year losing the home four-test series against England 2-1, before reviving themselves with a home series win against New Zealand, an away series win in Australia again and winning the final Test of the year against a young Lankan side. They have definitely recovered under the captaincy of Faf du Plessis, who is now their permanent captain in the long format, and have played half the year without AB de Villiers, and with Hashim Amla in terrible form. But winning five out of nine, including a Test series in Australia, is quite a credible achievement, given that even Dale Steyn missed out on four Tests. The scars of India now seem far away.
3. Australia (Played 11, Won 5, Lost 5, Draw 1)
If not for the final two Tests of the year against an ailing Pakistan side, the Smith-led Australia would have had its worst year in decades after losing five in a row at one point, including a 3-0 whitewash against a weak Sri Lankan side away, and a 2-1 walloping at home by a rejuvenated Proteas side. But they dropped half their team in the final Test, winning it to not lose 3-0, and then won two exciting Tests against Pakistan, who only two months ago, was ranked No. 1 in the world after a superb 2-2 draw in England. Smith ended up only behind Kohli in the Test averages (72 to Kohli’s 76) after the same number of Tests.
4. England (Played 17, Won 6, Lost 8, Draw 3)
Phenomenal that a team loses eight Test matches in a year – their maximum ever – and still manages to be in the Top 4 of the year. Given that England started the year on a high, defeating South Africa in South Africa and blanking Sri Lanka at home 2-0, the downturn started against their bogey Asian team Pakistan, when they only managed a 2-2 draw at home. It all went pear-shaped as they entered Asia, drawing 1-1 against Bangladesh before losing 4-0 to India. England was the worst team in the second half of the year, and the best team in the first. As simple as that.
5. Sri Lanka (Played 8, Won 4, Lost 3, Draw 1)
2015 was a disastrous year for a Lankan side trying to deal with Kumara Sangakkara’s retirement mid-way through. They started 2016 equally badly, losing to England away in all formats, including 2-0 in the Test series. Then they rose like a phoenix from the ashes against a fancied Australian side at home, blanking them 3-0, before winning a one-off Test against Zimbabwe, and ending the year losing to a strong South African side in what could be a long tour for them.
Their highlight: 3-0 against Australia, led by the youngsters and Rangana Herath.
6. New Zealand (Played 11, Won 4, Lost 6, Draw 1)
Two series wins hide the fact that the Kiwis, yet to recover after the retirement of Brendon McCullum, lost series against Australia at home and to South Africa and India away in a year where Kane Williamson failed to impress as captain and batsman. They ended on a relative high, defeating No. 2 Pakistan at home and starting their slide – but they will have hoped to perform better than a 3-0 walloping to India, a 2-0 loss to Australia at home and a 1-0 in South Africa. They should be better, after having a stellar 2015.
7. Pakistan (Played 11, Won 4, Lost 7)
Only Pakistan can go through a year without drawing a single Test, losing the maximum Tests they have ever lost in a season, still managing to snatch the No. 1 position temporarily, and then losing five in a row to round up the year. A 2-2 draw in England was brave and inspirational, which handed them the No. 1 position, before they managed to lose the final Test to West Indies in UAE (in a 2-1 series win), going on to lose in New Zealand and then in Australia – the latest coming this week in the Boxing Day Test, despite playing only three days of Test cricket. Expect a Misbah-ul-Haq retirement anytime now, given that he has scored only 20 runs in his last two Test matches.