There will always be those who insist that cricket of the old is as good as it comes. But there are a few from this new generation that have turned the heads of even the staunchest critic. Be it Rashid Khan or Hardik Pandya, Fakhar Zaman or Jasprit Bumrah or Hasan Ali, these young bloods have lit up the stage over the past year, and hold out the promise of an even brighter future.
The year has seen a fair share of quality youngsters in the running for the tag of the most improved newcomer, but few have hogged the limelight like the legspinner from Afghanistan. Rashid’s story is as engrossing as any to have come out of the war-torn nation, but a rise of such magnitude has never been chronicled before. After starting his career as a 17-year-old, he has trampolined up the ICC rankings in limited-overs cricket, and his evolution took on new heights when he turned up for Sunrisers Hyderabad as he and Mohammad Nabi became the first Afghan representatives in the IPL. He picked up 17 wickets with a best of 3 for 19 in his debut season. He also proved that though he isn’t a big turner of the ball, batsmen struggle against the simple line-and-length leg-break with a nasty wrong ‘un to go.
Year’s best performance: 7 for 18 against Windies, Gros Islet ODI, June 9
Year’s ODI aggregate: 43 wickets in 16 matches at 10.44
Year’s T20I aggregate: 17 wickets in 10 matches at 9.41
While most pacemen find success with a new ball in hand, Hasan seems to have mastered the art of picking up wickets during the middle overs when the ball is softer and there isn’t as much movement available. A big part of the Pakistan’s success with the older ball is because of his ability to keep things tight and use the slower ball to good effect. The best of his skills were on display during the Champions Trophy 2017 where he finished with 13 wickets — 12 of which came in the last four games — to bag the player-of-the-tournament honours. Since then, he has made it to the Test side and has shown that he can deliver in the longest format too.
Year’s best performance: 5 for 34 against Windies, Abu Dhabi ODI, October 18
Year’s Test aggregate: 6 wickets in 2 matches at 27.33
Year’s ODI aggregate: 45 wickets in 18 matches at 17.04
Year’s T20I aggregate: 12 wickets in 9 matches at 21.41
When Zaman made his debut against South Africa in 2017, there were whispers that he was the next big thing to come out of Mardan. It’s probably too early to say if he will match up to Younis Khan’s stature, but so far so good. A massive back-lift and quality timing stand out when it comes to Zaman, but it was his 114 against India in the final of the Champions Trophy at The Oval that catapulted him into the big league. Yes, the knock was luck-ridden, but it was also dotted by plenty of grit and style. Those traits are easy to develop while working one’s way through Pakistan’s unrelenting domestic circuit. After all, Zaman did spend over five years before his international breakthrough arrived.
Year’s best performance: 114 against India, The Oval, Champions Trophy final, June 18
Year’s ODI aggregate: 400 runs in 9 matches at 44.44
Year’s T20I aggregate: 130 runs in 9 matches at 16.25
A handful of strides and a wonky action. That about sums up Bumrah’s bowling, but what that description fails to add is just how effective he has been for India over the past year. When he turned up for Mumbai Indians as yet another ‘mystery’ bowler, he wasn’t the obvious choice as India’s go-to man in limited-overs cricket, but yet that’s exactly what he has become. His mode of bowling is quite straightforward: keep it tight. While line, length and a steady mix of slower balls keep the batsmen guessing, his yorker is the scud he finishes them off with. The Indian team has relied on him to deliver when the chips are down and he has. A Test cap could be on the cards after his selection for the South Africa tour.
Year’s best performance: 5 for 27 against Sri Lanka, Pallekele, August 27
Year’s ODI aggregate: 39 wickets in 23 matches at 26.25
Year’s T20I aggregate: 12 wickets in 11 matches at 20.00
He is beginning to evoke memories of The Great Pretender, but even Freddie Mercury would have been tongue-tied by this man’s quality. He made his limited-overs debut in 2016, but has since become a feature in the Test side too. Not as a regular, and that’s something he will work on, but in the shorter formats, his versatility makes him a huge asset. Although he has large scope for improvement as a bowler, he is astonishingly good with the bat and is tremendously athletic on the field. He is the perfect next-gen allrounder India have been praying for. Pandya does one thing meticulously: sticking to the basics. His emphasis on fitness and an innate intelligence suggest good things ahead. His 76 in a losing cause against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final has to be one of the counter-punches of the year.
Year’s best performance: 76 (43b) against Pakistan, The Oval, June 18
Year’s Test aggregate: 178 runs in 3 matches at 59.33; 4 wickets at 23.75
Year’s ODI aggregate: 557 runs in 28 matches at 34.81; 31 wickets at 35.51
Year’s T20I aggregate: 76 runs in 11 matches at 9.50; 8 wickets at 23.50
Shai Hope sparkled briefly in the summer to suggest that he could spearhead a Windies revival in time to come. The youngster from Barbados was primed for great things when he made his debut in 2015 with only 14 first-class games under his belt. There were some doubters, but the image of his raised bat in Headingley dismissed all questions. At 23, he scored 147 and 118 not out against England, leading Windies to their most memorable Test victory in recent times. He hasn’t shown the same class or consistency since, but with such talent, it clear that there’s more to come.
Year’s best performance: 118 against England, Headingley Test, August 29
Year’s Test aggregate: 773 runs in 10 matches at 45.47
Year’s ODI aggregate: 600 runs in 22 matches at 33.33
Sri Lanka have probably endured their worst year ever. They lost to Zimbabwe in an ODI series at home, humiliated by India in their own backyard, and then travelled to India to be handed another beating. In their latest round of whipping, there were few players that stood out. One such was Niroshan Dickwella. The Indians won’t forget him in hurry. The feisty wicketkeeper-batsman was not only able to get under the skin with his verbals, he also was a livewire with the bat and behind the stumps. He had already set stall earlier in the year, with back-to-back ODI hundreds against Zimbabwe.
Year’s best performance: 116 against Zimbabwe, Hambantota ODI, July 8
Year’s Test aggregate: 773 runs in 11 matches at 38.65
Year’s ODI aggregate: 826 runs in 26 matches at 33.04
Year’s T20I aggregate: 233 runs in 9 matches at 25.88
During the entire tour by India, Sri Lanka hadn’t sniffed victory once, but that changed when the ‘mystery’ spinner brought out his bag of tricks in Pallekele. Dananjaya had been good against Zimbabwe, picking up four wickets in the final ODI, but his systematic dismantling of a far superior Indian batting line-up was breathtaking. On August 24, a day after his wedding, he picked up 6 for 54 and made India’s batting order look amateurish. India still managed to seal the deal but there was no mistaking his impact. Even in the limited-overs leg in India later in the year, he held his own, mixing up off-breaks with the leggie and the googly, all backed up by tight lines. He is a brilliant fielder and has the heart of a fighter, a bit of a novelty in a misfiring team.
Year’s best performance: 6 for 54 against India, Pallekele ODI, August 24
Year’s ODI aggregate: 18 wickets in 13 matches at 33.05