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New Zealand's golden year, Pakistan's World Cup highs, and the success of the women's Hundred

New Zealand's pace line-up: not so menacing after the day is done ICC/Getty Images

New Zealand

by Deivarayan Muthu
It was a banner year for New Zealand. After becoming No. 1 ODI team, they won the inaugural World Test Championship final and then reached their first T20 World Cup final.

They won each of the three ODIs they played in 2021 despite the injury-enforced absence of regular captain Kane Williamson. In some major changes, BJ Watling retired from Test cricket and Ross Taylor was dropped from the T20I set-up. A number players, though, emerged from the fringes and played vital roles for the side across formats, including Devon Conway, Daryl Mitchell, Will Young, Glenn Phillips and Rachin Ravindra.

Like Williamson, Lockie Ferguson, their premier fast bowler in white-ball cricket, was unavailable at various points because of injury, but New Zealand still found a way to succeed thanks to their enviable depth. Their second-string T20I side even tested a full-strength Bangladesh away.

Once New Zealand returned to full strength, they adapted smartly to conditions in the UAE and progressed to the T20 World Cup final from a group that included Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. The final, however, didn't go according to plan, nor did the India tour that followed immediately.

High point
New Zealand emerged winners of the inaugural WTC, two years after losing the ODI World Cup without actually losing it. It was quite fitting that the old firm of Williamson and Taylor sealed victory in fiendishly difficult conditions for batting in Southampton after Kyle Jamieson, the newbie in the attack, set it up beautifully with his swing, seam, and bounce.

Low point
While left-arm fingerspinner Ajaz Patel made history by becoming only the third bowler to bag all ten wickets in a Test innings, in Mumbai, the rest of the line-up fell away so badly that New Zealand's ten-match unbeaten streak was snapped. They began the year as the top-ranked Test side and slipped to No. 2 by the end of it after losing 1-0 in India.

Results
Tests: P6 W3 L1 D2
ODIs: P3 W3 L0
T20Is: P23 W13 L10

Pakistan

by Danyal Rasool
Pakistan cricket truly put its followers through the wringer of stratospheric highs and sub-zero depths in 2021. The bottom line will tell you this side, led by Babar Azam, won a lot more than they lost, and look like a team reinvigorated.

T20I success headlined the narrative, with home and away wins over South Africa, a delightfully dominant T20 World Cup campaign, and a clean sweep of West Indies to finish the year. A home Test series win over South Africa was perhaps the red-ball highlight, a heartening point being Hasan Ali's return to form in Tests. After Shaheen Afridi, Hasan has the most Test wickets for Pakistan this year. Pakistan are currently sitting pretty in the top two of the World Test Championship table.

All wasn't rosy, though. A third-string England side clean-swept Pakistan in an ODI series in July, and Zimbabwe embarrassingly skittled them for 99 in a chase of 119.

In an administrative shake-up, Ehsan Mani and Wasim Khan were replaced as chairman and CEO by Ramiz Raja and Faisal Hasnain, in what still feels like a makeshift, experimental set-up. Head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis, too, departed in somewhat contentious circumstances, and are yet to be replaced full-time.

Most devastatingly of all, the year showed the "Western bloc", as Ramiz put it, remains far from convinced Pakistan is a safe place to visit. First, New Zealand withdrew from a series minutes before the start of the first game, citing unspecified security concerns, before England plunged the knife in further by refusing to repay Pakistan's favour of a tour in uncertain Covid times in 2020, pulling out of their men's and women's tours.

High point
A ten-wicket thumping of India in the sides' opening match at the T20 World Cup. Pakistan marched to the semi-finals unbeaten, where…

Low point
… they ran into another of their old foes, Australia, who kept intact their hold over Pakistan in ICC knockout events, sealing a sensational heist with six balls to spare.

Results
Tests: P9 W7 L2
ODIs: P6 W2 L4
T20Is: P29 W20 L6 NR3

Sri Lanka

By Andrew Fidel Fernando
If you're an optimist, 2021was a year of regeneration for Sri Lanka's top men's team. In T20Is, the year saw the full blossoming of Wanindu Hasaranga - currently the top T20I bowler in the world - the re-emergence of fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera, and the arrival of top-order batter Charith Asalanka. In Tests, Pathum Nissanka made a relatively smooth transition to batting at the top level; left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama, and offspinning allrounder Ramesh Mendis began with promise; and the senior batters moved up a gear too. Dimuth Karunaratne can perhaps now be regarded one of the best openers of his era (however thin that field may be), and Lahiru Thirimanne and Dhananjaya de Silva also averaged more than 50 for the year.

But here's the pessimists' view: many of these gains are fragile. Although the rise of fresh talent was heartening, Sri Lanka's win-loss record in the limited-overs formats, particularly ODIs, remains woeful. This though they have increasingly become a side against whom top sides rest their front-line players. They turned heads in the T20 World Cup, sure, but didn't make a serious semi-finals charge. And for all the experience in that Test top order, it produced some of the most tragicomic collapses of the year.

Sri Lanka head into 2022 without coaching staff, with SLC's technical advisory committee, headed by Aravinda de Silva, seemingly intent on installing new coaches. Will the new set-up be able to build on 2021's gains?

High point
The victories over Bangladesh and West Indies in the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup, plus competitive outings against South Africa and England.

Low point
The unfathomably meek collapses against England, in the Test series in January.

Results
Tests: P9 W3 L3 D3
ODIs: P15 W4 L10 NR1
T20Is: P20 W8 L12

West Indies

by Nagraj Gollapudi
Hope and despair. The West Indies fan knows these two contrasting emotions better than anybody.

The year started full of hope, when the debutant pair of Kyle Mayers and Nkrumah Bonner stitched together a record partnership to mow down a large target set by Bangladesh and help West Indies to a 2-0 win - their first overseas series win since late 2017. By June the excitement had evaporated as West Indies were blanked out 2-0 by South Africa in a home Test series. The Test team would finish the year with another 2-0 defeat, this time in Sri Lanka.

Their fortunes were similar in white-ball cricket. In April, Kieron Pollard's team shook Australia with a 4-1 T20I series win at home. On September 9, former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum warned in a tweet that West Indies, the defending champions, had a "seriously strong squad" for the T20 World Cup in the UAE. But the team came a cropper, crashing out of the tournament in the group phase. All the big names, including Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Nicholas Pooran failed spectacularly. Pollard conceded it was the "end of a generation".

High point
In February in Chattogram, Mayers and Bonner's fourth-wicket stand of 210 runs helped a second-string West Indies side surpass a record 395-run target against Bangladesh. It was the fifth-highest chase in Test cricket history. Their 4-1 defeat of Australia in T20Is in July was their first limited-overs series win against Australia at home since 1995.

Low point
Fifty five. The third-lowest total in men's T20 World Cups, and the score Pollard's team was skittled for against England in the 2021 edition in Dubai.

Results
Tests: P10 W3 L5 D2
ODIs: P9 W4 L5
T20Is: P25 W9 L13 NR3

Women

by Annesha Ghosh
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Women's cricket oscillated between extremes in 2021. The inaugural Hundred was the headline act. Breaking new ground in the UK, the success of the women's competition surpassed that of its men's counterpart, reaching new audiences and belatedly forcing a review of the female competitors' pay.

In Australia, the WBBL got a record crowd for its final, and a record overall broadcast audience, which vindicated Cricket Australia's decision to make every game available on television for the first time in the competition's seven-year history. The tournament featured its largest Indian contingent, although it was the South Africans who played starring roles in the knockouts, like they did in the Hundred.

Australia's world-record unbeaten streak in ODIs was finally snapped at 26 in September by India in a record chase, two days after they went down in the thriller of the year.

India's wild swings in fortune weren't all on the field. Runners-up at the 2020 T20 World Cup, they suffered a full year of inactivity and waited over 14 months to lay their hands on the prize money from the tournament. Then, having not played Tests for seven years, they suddenly had two scheduled for 2021, including their first pink-ball Test, which inspired hopes that more teams beyond England and Australia would embrace the multi-format structure in bilaterals.

The ICC, for its part, granted Test and ODI status to women's teams of all Full Member countries and pledged to place the women's game at the centre of its global growth strategy.

Standout individual feats included Sophia Dunkley becoming the first black woman to play Test cricket for England, West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor becoming the youngest to make 8000 international runs, India captain Mithali Raj reaching the top of the run charts in the women's international game, Ireland's Amy Hunter breaking the record for the youngest player to make a senior international century, and Australia allrounder Ellyse Perry becoming the first woman to the double of 5000 runs and 300 wickets.

Towards the close of the year, the game lost one of its pioneers, former England allrounder Eileen Ash, who died at 110.

High point
The ICC replaced the word "batsman" with the gender-neutral "batter" in all its playing conditions, during the men's T20 World Cup in October-November. The move, described by the governing body as a "natural and overdue evolution" in the sport, followed the MCC's amendments regarding the term in the Laws of Cricket, aimed at recognising cricket as "a game for all".

Low point
The cancellation of the ODI World Cup Qualifier in November-December. Sri Lanka had played no cricket between March 2020 and the qualifying event, and it cost them dearly after team standings came into play to determine the final three entrants to the 2022 World Cup. Thailand, meanwhile, got a raw deal despite being a frontrunner for a top-five finish in the qualifier, which would have ensured their inclusion in the next Women's ODI Championship cycle.

Ireland

by Peter Della Penna
After a mostly charmed decade in the 2010s, the start of the 2020s has not been too kind to Ireland. Though they gained Test status in 2017, they have not played a match in the format since 2019, leaving many people within the Irish set-up wondering when another will happen.

They did not exactly cover themselves in glory in the limited-overs formats in 2021. The year started off with Ireland losing an ODI to the UAE, and later in January, losing 3-0 in ODIs against Afghanistan. That result was not entirely surprising considering Ireland's historic woes against Afghanistan ever since Rashid Khan made his debut. However, losing two out of three Super League ODIs to Netherlands in Utrecht in July was a jarring result. They bounced back somewhat to claim 15 out of a possible 30 points (ten from a win and five for a no result) in each of their home ODI series later in the summer against South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Ireland's T20I form was arguably worse. In a case of near déjà vu, they lost two of three T20Is to the UAE in the weeks prior to the start of the T20 World Cup. So losing two out of three in the opening round - to Sri Lanka and Namibia - should not have been altogether shocking. Despite the gradual expansion of the second-round format from Super Eights, to Super 10s and currently Super 12s, Ireland have not advanced to the second round of the T20 World Cup since 2009. In the recriminations that followed, head coach Graham Ford resigned, bringing an end to a tenure that started in 2017.

High point
Beating South Africa for the first time ever in ODIs: a century by captain Andy Balbirnie propelled Ireland to a 43-run win in Malahide on July 13.

Low point
Stumbling badly against Namibia in a win-or-go home encounter on the final day of Group A play in Sharjah to bow out of the T20 World Cup before the second phase had begun.

Results
ODIs: P14 W4 L8 NR2
T20Is: P14 W5 L9

Stats current as of December 18, 2021

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