As a difficult year draws to a close, the time has come to look back at the interrupted cricket calendar and sift through scorecards and stats to determined the most significant Test batting performances. There were many match-winning innings which contributed to Test victories at home and overseas, which gave fans of cricket reason to celebrate the five-day format.
Here, in no particular order, are the ten best Test innings of 2020.
Jermaine Blackwood – 95 vs England, 1st Test, Southampton
In the first bit of international cricket since the lockdown, West Indies made a rousing start to their three-Test tour of England in the bio-secure ‘bubble’ of Southampton’s Rose Bowl, where victory was achieved thanks in no small part to Jermaine Blackwood. West Indies, chasing 200, were three wickets down for not much. And a fourth batsman, John Campbell, had retired hurt. That they chased 200 from there, in the fourth innings and on a surface of variable bounce, is the story of the Southampton Test. Blackwood was the star with the bat with a stroke-filled 95 on the fifth day as West Indies held their nerve to go up 1-0 in the series.
Ben Stokes – 176 vs West Indies, 2nd Test, Old Trafford
That hosts England rebounded from that loss to West Indies owed largely to their talismanic allrounder Ben Stokes, whose twin knocks during the second Test at Old Trafford showed that he was ready to play whatever kind of innings the situation demands.
Star was once more the toast of English cricket after starring with bat and ball in a series-levelling victory over West Indies, becoming the first English player to score more than 250 runs and take more than two wickets in a single Test. Stokes truly dominated this match; he was on the field for all but 51 of the 350 overs while playing contrasting innings with the bat and making vital breakthroughs with the ball. His first-innings 176, the slowest of his 10 Test hundreds, was followed by a rapid unbeaten 78 from 57 deliveries while opening in the second innings as England chased quick runs, the fastest ever Test half-century by an England opener.
Ajinkya Rahane – 112 vs Australia, 2nd Test, Melbourne
Ajinkya Rahane’s inspirational century in the Boxing Day Test will go down as one of the most important innings in the Indian cricket history. It came just days after India were shot out for 36 – their lowest Test total ever – to slip to an eight-wicket defeat in the first Test, and amid questions about how the visitors would bounce back at the MCG. There was the small matter of Rahane needing to find for himself, while trying to inspire India as stand-in captain following Virat Kohli’s return home to be with his wife Anushka or the birth of their first child.
After leading India sharply as Australia were bowled out for 195, Rahane led a stirring fightback to give his team a strong first-innings lead. The 32-year-old survived two dropped catches on day two but showed immense composure to ride out tough sessions and add fifty-plus stands with Hanuma Vihari and Rishabh Pant and then a match-changing century alliance with Ravindra Jadeja for the sixth wicket. Thanks largely to Rahane’s 112 – the sole century of the campaign so far – India were able to level the series 1-1 and seal one of their greatest overseas Test wins of all time.
Chris Woakes – 84* vs Pakistan, 1st Test, Old Trafford
This match might well go down in history as Jos Buttler’s redemption, but it was Chris Woakes’ unbeaten 84 that should be remembered equally. All too often England’s forgotten man, the 31-year-old Woakes underlined his immense value as an allrounder by taking his team to a tense three wicket-win over Pakistan in the series opener that followed on the heels of a 2-1 series win over West Indies.
It was an extraordinary chase of 277, which came from the depths of 117/5 on a spiteful Old Trafford surface. With Buttler, Woakes put on on 139 in a match-winning partnership and claimed Man-of-the-Match honours. When you consider that Woakes had not crossed six in nine Test innings – hardly confidence-boosting numbers for a No 7 batsman – it was surreal to watch the allrounder cream drives on the rise and pull short-of-length deliveries with ease.
Jos Buttler – 75 vs Pakistan, 1st Test, Old Trafford
Would Woakes’ unbeaten innings have been possible without Buttler? We’ll never know, but Buttler’s half-century was an equally stirring effort given the hole England were in. Backed by the selectors and team management despite a lean run with the bat and as wicketkeeper behind the stumps, Buttler kept his composure to take his team to the doorstep of victory.
A dusty, dry Southampton surface had suddenly seen deliveries spit up – Stokes and Ollie Pope had bee dismissed to such nasty balls – and England were unravelling from the safety of 86/1. On that same pitch, Buttler started off by sumptuously driving two boundaries off Yasir Shah and those shots set in motion a supreme innings from a batsman reminding his detractors what he could do in Test cricket.
Tim Paine – 73* vs India, 1st Test, Adelaide Oval
A Test that will forever be remembered for India subsiding to a record low of 36 has, for winners Australia, a momentum-shifting innings from their skipper, Tim Paine, to thank. Paine stood firm for his team amid the flow of wickets, scoring an unbeaten 73 off 99 balls in a period in which Australia scored at over four runs per over.
This was a true captain’s innings for it came with Australia six down for 11 and helped them reduce India’s lead to 53. Paine’s presence meant that he Australia added 80 runs for the last three wickets, and when you consider the manner in which all the other batsmen had to graft, this was a different innings. Paine’s strike-rate of 73.74 threw India off their lines and reduced the deficit significantly. This was his fourth fifty in home Test matches, and proved his most pivotal yet.
Dom Sibley – 133* vs South Africa, 2nd Test, Cape Town
Dom Sibley made his Test debut in late 2019 and scored his maiden hundred against South Africa in Cape Town during his fourth match, displaying the application and mental fortitude required to succeed in the five-day format.
This was a noteworthy hundred because England were 0-1 down in the four-Test series, and on the third day had managed a lead of 46. While others got starts, the 24-year-old Sibley bedded down to score 133* off 311 deliveries in 495 minutes to lay the foundation for a series-levelling win. Only two other England batsman crossed 50 (Stokes with 72 and Joe Root with 61), but Sibley ensured one end was held up until a target of 438 was set for South Africa. England won by 189 runs and Sibley was Man of the Match.
Kane Williamson – 251 vs West Indies, 1st Test, Hamilton
A man who puts aside seemingly every obstacle to shut out the noise and score a career-best 251 across ten and a half hours is a rare gem in today’s era. That is Kane Williamson for you, the New Zealand skipper whose marathon double-century laid the foundation for an innings-and-134-run win in the series opener versus West Indies.
Some may point to his 129 versus a better Pakistan attack a few weeks later, but this was a better innings due to the manner in which Williamson shut out the world and was in control of almost everything he did. His defensive play, off front foot and back, was picture-perfect and his ability to place the ball pretty much wherever he liked was astonishing. Fewer double-centuries have been more controlled.
Williamson scored almost half the runs as New Zealand ended day two on 519/7 at Seddon Park in an innings that deflated the visitors. He expertly dominated middle-order partnerships with Henry Nicholls (7), Tom Blundell (14) and Daryl Mitchell (9) before Kyle Jamieson scoring a half-century to offer robust support.
Ollie Pope – 135* vs South Africa, 3rd Test, Port Elizabeth
Not all young Test debutants have progressed to glittering careers, but there is plenty about England’s Ollie Pope that suggests he will. Having played his first Test at the age of 20, against India in 2018, it was not until the tour of South Africa in January 2020 that Surrey batsman Pope emerged from the shadows of some middling scores to stamp his class.
Compact at the crease yet forceful in nature, Pope became the youngest Englishman to score a Test century since record-setting Alastair Cook when he top-scored with an unbeaten 135 in the pivotal third Test which England won to take an unassailable lead in the four-match series. At 22 years and 15 days, the right-hander batted with a maturity that belied his age and with Stokes (120) helped England from 148/4 to 499/9 declared, which proved enough for the visitors to beat South Africa by an innings.
Henry Nicholls – 174 vs West Indies, 2nd Test, Wellington
Faf du Plessis – 199 vs Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion
A first Test double-century was missed by one run, but it took nothing away from Faf du Plessis’ stroke-filled 199 to put South Africa in command after day three of the first Test against injury-plagued Sri Lanka. Du Plessis came out to bat with the cushion of 200/2 on the board, but then saw Dean Elgar depart without a run added and his skipper Quinton de Kock at 220/4.
With Temba Bavuma, du Plessis began the resurrection of the innings and once he lost his partner in bizarre circumstances for 71, walking after a caught behind appeal even though replays indicated he had made no contact with the ball, the former South African skipper progressed to his 10th Test hundred.
“I’ve batted better,” said du Plessis after making 199, but he took plenty of satisfaction from a career-best innings in Tests (his previous high was 137) and given the backdrop of all that has transpired in South African cricket this year, this was an innings that contributed to a morale-boosting victory.