2017 has begun amazingly well for cricket in general. All the Test-playing nations are involved in enthralling contests at the moment, save West Indies and Zimbabwe.
Interestingly, the best batsmen in the world, better handlers of the willow in the two longer versions of the game than the rest of the world, have given a peek of their intentions for the year: Smith, Kohli, Williamson and Warner have already struck sensational hundreds. With de Kock still to flex his muscles, the focus is once again on batsmen who can raise cricket to its finest glories.
Here are some key batsmen to watch out for:
1. Tom Latham
New Zealand’s new hope and a daring exponent of Test Cricket, a platform that naturally sits well with his technically-proficient game, Tom Latham was the one batsman who made India’s bowlers work hard in the Kiwis’ forgettable recent 2016 tour to India.
This isn’t to suggest that Latham was an indestructible force of nature. But he was obdurate and patient, focused and determined at discouraging bowlers- including Ashwin, who he lofted for a few meaty blows, in his attempt to delay New Zealand’s inevitable defeats.
Latham accumulated 658 of his 2000 plus Test runs in 2016, striking 2 hundreds and 5 fifties. He scored 461 ODI runs from 14 games, including a century, and batted at a strike rate of 89. His fluent timing and gift for finding gaps are qualities for which New Zealand pinned high hopes in 2016. They will expect him to continue his form in 2017.
2. Kraigg Brathwaite
Coming from a part of the world where cricket is worshipped, almost like a religion in India, Kraigg Brathwaite stormed into world-record books when he carried his bat in both innings of a Test, a feat accomplished against Pakistan in the UAE.
The charismatic and staidly cautious opening batsman’s 142 and 60, both unbeaten knocks, made him the only opener in the history of the game to have batted from the start of both innings to the very end. In the process, he helped Windies win a memorable Test – their only victory in 2016 – at Sharjah.
With familiar foes Pakistan soon visiting the Caribbean, Brathwaite will hope to derive inspiration from his 2016 performance.
3. KL Rahul
His batting has suggested the control and poise of Dravid as well as the aggression of Virat Kohli; it is hard to keep KL Rahul out of action. Even though his recent scores in ODIs this year do not live up to his humungous potential, the truth is that the gritty Karnataka batsman, through knocks such as his fighting 110 (his maiden hundred in his second Test vs Australia in 2014), his gritty 158 versus West Indies during India’s tour to Caribbean in 2016, and his blistering IPL form suggest that India have found a batsman who seems ready for the long run.
4. Babar Azam
He has got both age and a natural gift for timing the ball on his side, the latter a quality that yields charm to his craft, much like his composure and steadiness on 22 yards.
The 22-year-old’s 3 ODI hundreds and 8 fifties across formats in just a year and a half since making his international debut warrant greater attention that he currently gets. Of course, it helps to see an enthusiastic Rameez Raja bring out the best through his affable underlining of a Pakistani talent that world cricket can be proud of.
In 2016, Azam hammered the Windies in UAE and currently, despite suffering from indifferent form against Aussies, he will look to quickly regroup with his inner calm to make most of this year.
5. Peter Handscomb
At 25, Peter Handscomb, neither mighty like Hayden nor a maverick like Kohli, has managed his fair share of cricket media’s attention. The reason could be his natural poise at the crease, where the technically skilled batsman fights to protect his wicket. And at the same time, he chooses bad balls to score runs, something he excels at.
It can’t be said that Peter Handscomb has arrived, after just 4 Test and 2 ODI appearances. Not yet. But a Test batting average that measures in excess of 99 helps!
He has so far struck 2 hundreds and 3 fifties, and demonstrated skill and focus- both vital qualities that make an accomplished cricketer in the longer run. But then, he has just begun and there’s a long year to go.
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