Chris Gayle hardly had a bat in both formats of the game this year. Even De Villiers registered a long break from the game. Despite big absentees, 2017 proved to be a productive year for batsmen. As many as six Test double hundreds were scored and with Rohit Sharma’s 208 against Sri Lanka recently, we also got the year’s first double hundred in ODIs albeit in the closing stages.
There was that coruscating 217 by Shakib-al-Hasan in the Wellington Test in January that started the year in an indomitable fashion for the Bangladesh all rounder. Steve Smith’s unbeaten 178 against India at Ranchi was another exceptional effort. AB de Villiers’ sensational 104-ball 176 against Bangladesh, only among the few games the Protean starred in was perhaps the most breathtaking limited overs knock of the year.
But in the sea of these unforgettable performances, there were quite a few underrated ones that did not get the attention they deserved. So while we marvel at the great batting performances of 2017, let us also cherish some of the more underrated efforts of the year.
Kane Williamson (NZ) 130 v South Africa at Dunedin, March 2017
The New Zealand captain, is quite an understated cricketer. Not a flamboyant striker or a fluent big hitter, Williamson is grace and solidity personified. He goes about his business quietly, without any fuss, and yet conjures up some very special performances regularly. In the first Test of South Africa’s tour to New Zealand at Dunedin this year, the visitors could post 308 on the board. The surface at Dunedin was a typical New Zealand Test wicket – blades of grass allowing good swing and bounce. The South African bowling attack – comprising Rabada, Philander, and Morkel – had reduced the home side to 193-5. But Kane Williamson negated them brilliantly. His solid technique came in handy as he smothered the swing from the seamers and forged a crucial 84-run stand with BJ Watling (50). Williamson’s drives flowed smoothly and he went on to caress 18 boundaries in his brilliant knock of 130. It was his 16th Test hundred and was special as it came under trying circumstances, on a pitch that helped seam and movement and against a quality bowling attack. Courtesy this fantastic effort by their captain, New Zealand posted 341. The rain-affected match ended in a draw, unfortunately.
Craig Ervine (Zimbabwe) 160 v Sri Lanka at Colombo, July 2017
It came in a losing cause, yes. But that does not undermine the value of this very special performance from a relatively inexperienced batsman. Playing only his 12th Test, Zimbabwe’s Craig Ervine crafted a magnificent hundred that helped bail his team out of troubled waters in Zimbabwe’s one-off Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo earlier this year.
With his team reeling at 195-6 after batting first, it was only Ervine who stood tall and played with real gumption to thwart the Sri Lankan bowlers. While Rangana Herath (5-116) was all over the other Zimbabwe batsmen, he could not burst through Ervine’s defenses. The left-handed Ervine played some solid strokes through the covers and was very astute in rallying the tail around him. He was the last man out and fell for a splendid 160 with 13 fours and a six. Despite this fine effort, Zimbabwe lost the game by four wickets. But it proved a point that Ervine has a lot to offer a side that needs him every bit to bail itself out from the current state of turmoil that has engulfed their sport.
Matt Renshaw (Australia) 68 v India at Pune, January 2017
It’s surprising that someone as young and talented as Matt Renshaw did not find a place in the current Australian Test team. After all, he had smashed a career-best 184 against Pakistan just earlier this year. The tall, left-handed batsman is a fine opener with a robust technique and tenacity to stay for long hours at the crease. I
n the first Test of Australia’s tour to India in March this year, Australia opted to bat first on a slow, spinning deck. Renshaw, playing just his fifth Test, was absolutely outstanding. The opener had to counter the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and did an outstanding job of it. He negated the vicious spin and bounce the two Indian spinners generated and once he had settled in for a bit, Renshaw batted like a pro. He cut and punched the ball well and was quick to pick up on anything short and on the legs. It was hot and humid that day and the youngster battled cramps, unrelenting weather and a dust bowl of a pitch to score a sturdy 68 off 156 balls with 10 fours and a six. It was the highest score of Australia’s innings and helped them put on 260. That proved enough eventually, as Australia won the match by 333 runs. But did Renshaw get the credit he deserved?
Mushfiqur Rahim (Bangladesh) 110* v South Africa at Kimberly, October 2017
Bangladesh’s tour to South Africa in October this year was a complete disaster where they were walloped in every format ruthlessly. But despite finding themselves in despair, there was some light. In the first ODI of that tour at Kimberly, Bangladesh opted to bat and the decision would have backfired had Mushfiqur Rahim not dug in and played a brilliant knock.
While the others around him could hardly make a decent contribution, Mushfiqur exhibited great resourcefulness in accumulating his runs. The wicket was good to bat on and the wicket-keeper batsman showed why he is one of the best batsmen Bangladesh have produced. Perhaps, its high time their young guns picked up a thing or two from the pocket sized dynamo.
He cut and pulled with authority and ran well between the wickets to move the scoring along at a brisk pace. While he didn’t get much support from the other end, Mushfiqur went on to slam his fifth ODI hundred. He remained unbeaten on an excellent 110 off 116 balls with 11 fours and 2 sixes. Though Bangladesh were easily beaten in the game later, the quality of this knock was truly topnotch and the team’s saving grace.
Kraigg Brathwaite (West Indies) 134 and 95 v England at Leeds, August 2017
In West Indies’ momentous Test victory against England at Leeds earlier this year, most of the praises went towards Shai Hope for his majestic 147 and 118 in both the innings of the match. However, opener Kraigg Brathwaite’s performance in the match was of no less significance.
Thankfully, in the Barbadian the Windies have found a solid opener who lends a lot of grace and tenacity to a unit that often craves for some.
In the first innings, Brathwaite’s classy 134 worked as the backbone of the innings even as Hope took the lead in scoring. But in the second innings, when given a target of 322, Brathwaite’s solid 95 at the top laid the foundation to an impressive and perhaps, unprecedented West Indies triumph that was to follow. It was Brathwaite who ensured that James Anderson and Stuart Broad do not get too many inroads into the batting at the start of the chase.
He rotated the strike well and kept clipping boundaries at regular intervals that kept the scoreboard ticking- those customary strong back foot punches creating soundless furore. And though Brathwaitte fell on 95 eventually, it was a true match-winning effort that truly epitomised the West Indies’ rare triumph