New Zealand's rise, Australia's fall, and bowlers lording it over all
The year gone by belonged to bowlers in Test cricket (more on that later), but it was also the year when the impact of the toss on match results was greater than it has ever been. Of the 43 Tests that produced decisive results, 32 went in favour of the team winning the toss, which means only 11 Tests were won despite the coin falling the other way. That is a win-loss ratio of 2.9 for the team winning the toss.
Among all the years when at least 20 Tests have been played - there are 50 such - only once has the team winning the toss had a better win-loss ratio, and that was way back in 1976, when teams calling correctly collectively had a 12-4 record. In both 2016 and 2017, the figure was 25-15.
The difference in 2018 was the ability of teams to win matches away from home when they won the toss. Sidharth Monga brought out this aspect of the game in this piece, which argued that toss advantage is greater than home advantage these days in Test cricket. In 2018, away teams had a 11-7 win-loss record when they won the toss (taking the UAE as home venue for Pakistan). India had a 3-0 record when they won the toss, winning games in Johannesburg, Adelaide and Melbourne; England did the same in three successive Tests in Sri Lanka; and New Zealand won both Tests in the UAE when they won the toss. In 2017, the away team had a 10-11 record when they won the toss; in 2016, it was 9-9; in 2015 it was 5-9, and in 2014 the win-loss record was 6-12 for the away team when they won the toss.
In all 11 Tests where the away team won the toss and the match, they chose to bat first. In the seven defeats, they batted first five times and chose to field twice - Bangladesh in Kingston, and Sri Lanka in Christchurch. That illustrates the other big trend in 2018: teams batting first (regardless of the toss result) had a 33-10 win-loss record, the best in any year in which at least 20 Tests were played; the next best is 10-4 (ratio 2.5) in 1981. When teams won the toss and batted, it improved further to 29-7, which means they still managed a 4-3 record when they lost the toss and were put in to bat.
A year for bowlers
In Tests in 2018, a bowler took a wicket every 27.37 runs and every 54.7 deliveries. Both numbers are the best for a calendar year since the start of 1960. In fact, this is the first time in 95 years that the bowling strike rate has dipped below 60 balls per wicket.
Fast bowlers and spinners alike delivered excellent numbers in 2018, though the quick bowlers outshone the spinners overall, averaging 25.39 to 30.30 for the spinners. The spin average is fourth best among all years since 1960, but the average for the fast bowlers is the best during this period.
Twelve teams played Tests in 2018 - including debutants Afghanistan and Ireland - but among the ten that played more than one Test, seven had a bowling average of less than 30, and all ten averaged less than 35. There were 22 bowlers who took more than 30 wickets in 2018, and only three of them - Keshav Maharaj, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon - averaged more than 30. On the other hand, five averaged under 20, and eight between 20 and 25. Last year, only six out of 15 bowlers who took more than 30 wickets averaged less than 25.
More incredibly, among the 504 instances of bowlers taking more than 30 wickets in a calendar year, two bowlers from 2018 finished in the top ten in terms of averages - Jason Holder, with 33 wickets at 12.39, and Mohammad Abbas, with 38 wickets at 13.76. Apart from these two, the two other most recent members of the top ten are Richard Hadlee, in 1984, and Imran Khan, in 1982.
Slim pickings for batsmen
With bowlers holding sway in Tests in 2018, it isn't surprising that batsmen didn't have much to cheer about. Of the 28 who scored more than 500 runs in the year, only six averaged more than 50. Five of those batsmen - including Alastair Cook and Hashim Amla - averaged in the 20s, while Azhar Ali and Ajinkya Rahane barely touched 30.
It's extremely rare for New Zealand batsmen to dominate the batting charts, but they did so in 2018. Among the six batsmen who averaged more than 50 (with a 500-run cut-off), the top three were New Zealanders. Topping the charts was the unlikely name of Henry Nicholls. He started and ended the year with unbeaten hundreds, and also scored another unbeaten ton against Pakistan. He was a second-innings giant, averaging a scarcely believable 144.33 in the second dig, and scored 73.11 runs per dismissal, in a year in which no other batsman scored 500-plus runs at a 60-plus average.
New Zealand hit the highs
New Zealand's batting strength was a big reason for them to have the sort of year they had: they won four of seven Tests, and all three series they played in 2018. For the first time in their Test history, they have now won four successive Test series. With the ball, Trent Boult (33 wickets at 23.90) and Tim Southee (29 wickets at 19.03) were consistent and reliable as always.
England's year lifted after a poor start, thanks to comprehensive wins against India (home) and Sri Lanka (away), while India ended 2018 on a high as well, coming through a tough year in good shape thanks largely to an exceptional bowling attack: their fast bowlers took 179 wickets, 54 more than they have taken in any other calendar year.
Australia plumb the depths
The Test team that struggled more than any other was Australia. They won three and lost six matches, and their win-loss ratio of 0.5 was the worst among the ten teams that played more than one Test. Obviously the loss of two world-class batsmen - and the circumstances of their ouster - was something they struggled to come to terms with. Australians scored only four hundreds in the year - three of those coming in the first Test of 2018 - while ten centuries were scored against them.
The Kohli juggernaut
Not satisfied with having scored 2818 runs at an average of 68.73 in all international cricket in 2017, Virat Kohli went ahead and amassed 2735 runs in international cricket in 2018, at a near identical average of 68.37. In each of these two years, he scored 11 international hundreds; there are only two other instances of a player scoring 11 or more centuries in a year - Ricky Ponting (11 in 2003), and Sachin Tendulkar (12 in 1998). Kohli now features twice in the top four instances of most international runs scored in a calendar year.
Kohli had a fine year in Tests, averaging 55.08 from 13 matches, and 51.72 from the 11 Tests he played in South Africa, England and Australia, but it was in ODIs that his numbers were truly staggering. In 14 innings he scored six hundreds and three fifties, remained not out five times, and had an average of 133.55. That makes him the first batsman to score 1000-plus ODI runs at a 100-plus average in a calendar year; before him, no batsman had averaged more than 80 when scoring 1000 in a year.
More numbers from 2018
8.36 The run rate in T20Is in 2018, the highest ever in a year. Apart from the inaugural year, 2005, when only three matches were played, the next highest run rate is 8.01 in 2017. The average runs per wicket - 24.76 - was also the highest in 2018, which suggests that this was one format in which the batsmen generally had the better of the bowlers.
17 Wins in T20Is for Pakistan, the most ever for any team in a calendar year. The previous highest was 15, for India in 2016. In the last two years, Pakistan have a 25-4 win-loss record, easily the best among all teams.
96 Wickets for Rashid Khan in T20s in 2018, the most by a bowler in a calendar year in this format. Rashid went past Dwayne Bravo's record of 87 dismissals in 2016.
5 Century stands between Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane across all formats in internationals in 2018, the most by any pair in the year. Kohli and Rahane averaged 79.69 per completed partnership in the year, with two century stands in ODIs, and three in Tests. Only one non-opening pair from India have ever had more century partnerships in a calendar year: Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar (six) in 1998.
137 Number of women's T20I matches that were played in 2018, which is more than the number of matches played in the previous three years put together. That is because the ICC decided to grant international status to all women's T20 matches between countries from July 2018. Twenty-eight different teams thus played women's T20I matches in the year. From January 2019, the same will apply to men's T20Is also.
3 Totals in excess of 400 made in women's ODIs in 2018 - all of them came from New Zealand in their series against Ireland in Dublin. Before 2018, there had only been two 400-plus totals in women's ODIs. Thanks to those scores, the average run rate for the year was 4.67, the highest ever in women's ODIs.
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats