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Cricket in 2019: Stokes and Smith shine in eventful year

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London (AFP)

Ben Stokes starred as England won the World Cup for the first time before producing one of the most memorable innings in Ashes history as Australia's Steve Smith enjoyed a successful return to the international stage after the 'sandpaper' ball-tampering scandal.

But they were not the lone standout performers in 2019.

Below AFP Sport looks back at five memorable incidents from the year in cricket.

Perera's 153 not out stuns South Africa

-- January saw Kusal Perera compile one of the greatest innings in Test history when his stunning 153 not out guided Sri Lanka to a remarkable one-wicket win over South Africa in Durban.

Sri Lanka still needed 78 more runs for victory when last man Vishwa Fernando joined Perera in the middle.

Perera was then 86 not out and the only realistic hope was that Fernando would hang around long enough for him to get a hundred.

He did rather more than that though while Perera, who hit five sixes including two off fast bowling great Dale Steyn, managed the strike superbly to see Sri Lanka to their target of 304.

World Cup final thriller

-- England finally ended their 45-year wait for a first men's World Cup title with a stunning win over New Zealand in an extraordinary final at Lord's in July that saw them triumph by "the barest of margins" in the words of former Black Caps wicketkeeper turned commentator Ian Smith.

Ben Stokes's 84 not out helped England equal but not surpass New Zealand's 241, his innings including a lucky six that came after a throw from the outfield deflected off his bat and went for four bonus runs.

For the first time, the final went into a Super Over and here too the scores were level, with the run out of New Zealand's Martin Guptill off the last ball of the match seeing England win on superior boundary count.

Stokes, whose career was nearly ended by a court case that eventually saw him acquitted on a charge of affray, was a national hero.

Star batsman Smith returns

-- Doubts over whether Steve Smith was still the same Test batsman following a 12-month ban for his role in the 'sandpaper' ball-tampering scandal in South Africa that cost him the Australia captaincy were settled in the Ashes opener at Edgbaston where he marked his comeback with a superb innings of 144 and 142 during a 251-run triumph.

It was the start of an extraordinary run spree that saw Smith score 774 runs at an average of 110.57.

Australia retained the Ashes as five-match series ended all square at 2-2, with the blow to the head Smith suffered after being struck by a Jofra Archer bouncer during the drawn second match at Lord's eventually seeing Marnus Labuschagne become Test cricket's first concussion substitute.

Stokes's Headingley heroics

-- England had already been bowled out for a woeful 67 in their first innings when last man Jack Leach joined Stokes with the hosts still needing 73 more runs to reach a victory target of 359 in the third Test at Headingley.

But Stokes, in an innings that mixed defensive resilience with attacking flair, hit an unbeaten 135 that saw England to a stunning one-wicket win, arguably even more extraordinary than their celebrated 1981 Ashes victory at Yorkshire's headquarters, although it would have been a different conclusion had not Australia's Nathan Lyon fumbled a clear run out chance with Leach stranded.

Test cricket back in Pakistan

-- A weather hit draw between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in a Test completed Monday may seem to be a run-of-the-mill result.

But this was arguably one of the most significant fixtures this year given the match at Rawalpindi marked Pakistan's first Test on home soil for a decade since a militant attack on Sri Lanka's team bus made the country a no-go zone for leading sides.

And the match itself did see Abid Ali score a century as the Pakistani became the first batsman to compile a hundred on both his Test and one-day international debuts.

What to watch in 2020

-- October and November will see the men's World Twenty20 take place in Australia, with the hosts looking to win the one major global trophy that has so far eluded them as holders West Indies bid for a third title.

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