The year 2020 is sure to leave its mark. This was the year in which positives were few and far. Dullness aside, let us focus on the positives and recall the cricketers who will remember the year when they left their mark on the cricketing fraternity for the first time.
A tall fast bowler can send chills to batsman facing. If someone is six-feet-eight-inch tall – the tallest ever for New Zealand - he is an embodiment of intimidation. Add to it the ability to frustrate the opposition with the bat in the lower order and you have a player for the ages.
If this was a usual year, Kyle Jamieson would have been the front runner for the ICC emerging player of the year award. Taking to international cricket like fish to water, he was the man of the match on his ODI debut against India. He stitched an unbeaten 76-run partnership with Ross Taylor and came back to take two handy wickets.
Jamieson was even more impressive on his Test debut against the same side. In the first innings, he had the best figures in the attack that included Tim Southee and Trent Boult. The first of his four scalps was the Indian captain Virat Kohli. With the bat, he put up 71 runs for the eighth wicket with Colin de Grandhomme, scoring a hard-fought 44 to help the Kiwis build a decisive lead.
In the second Test, Jamieson went a step ahead and took a five-for in the first innings. While batting, his knock of 49 helped New Zealand end up with 235, just seven short of India’s first innings total after reeling at 153/7 when he walked in to bat. His efforts earned him the man of the match award in Tests as well.
Jamieson followed these up with impressive performances against West Indies – when he scored a half-century and took a five-for in alternate Tests - and the recently concluded Test against Pakistan. Having played just five Tests, he was the third-highest wicket-taker in 2020 with 25 scalps which came at an average better than any other bowler with 10 or more wickets in the year.
It will be interesting to see how his career evolves given Jamieson has not played outside New Zealand yet. He was in their squad during their whitewash in Australia last year. We can only speculate if New Zealand missed a good opportunity to intimidate the Aussies.
Coming from a humble background and a town unheard of has all the recipes for a great story. The distance that T Natarajan has covered in 2020, he seems like an overnight success. The reality is far from it.
Hindered by a suspect action and elbow surgery, Natarajan spent his initial years – also the prime years for a fast bowler – being uncertain about his future in professional cricket. Impressive performance with a re-modelled action in the Tamil Nadu Premier League earned him his place back in the Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy team for the 2016/17 season.
After representing Kings XI Punjab in the IPL in 2017, Natarajan missed the rest of the domestic season with an elbow injury. Picked by the Sunrisers Hyderabad ahead of the 2018 season, he did not play a game for two seasons. Then, the year 2020 changed his life forever.
Grabbing eye-balls from every nook and corner, Natarajan ended the 2020 season of the IPL with 16 wickets at an economy of eight. What got everyone’s attention was his prowess with the yorker. In the tournament, he bowled more than two times the number of yorkers than the guy who is the best at it in the country.
His IPL performances resulted in him travelling as a net bowler with the touring Indian side to Australia. In a reversal of fortune, injuries to the first-choice bowlers earned him well-deserved opportunities in the two white-ball formats. His ODI debut in the third game of the series helped India alter their one-dimensional bowling attack and get their first win of the tour. He was more comfortable in the T20I series which he finished as the leading wicket-taker. The impressive quality about him was his ability to learn new skills as he added slower bowls and bouncers to his armoury.
Natarajan’s story once again highlights what the franchise level T20 tournaments can unearth. Talking about his journey in a video put up by the Sunrisers, he said - “My only aim was to play for Tamil Nadu. Set small goals and try to achieve them. The bigger will start following you”. If the reports are right, he is set to start the New Year as the 299th Test player for India.
Sometimes, first-class numbers can be misleading. England’s constant search of an opener led them to select a player with a first-class average of 31.27 for their tour to New Zealand in 2019. But, even with a low first-class average, Zak Crawley had two impressive centuries against quality bowling attacks in the 2019 County Championship.
Selected as a reserve opener for Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, Crawley got an opportunity to debut against New Zealand as a replacement for injured Jos Buttler. He batted at number six and scored one run in the only innings he batted in then.
It was the year 2020 when Crawley batted at the top of the order and registered the second-highest individual score for England’s number three. During England’s tour to South Africa next, Crawley got an opportunity to open due to Burns’ injury after the first Test. In the fourth and final Test of the series, he scored his maiden half-century while putting up the first-century opening stand for England since December 2016.
Getting to play at home after the COVID hiatus, he kept improving on his best-score while playing pleasing strokes. His uncomplicated technique was a refreshing sight in England’s unorthodox top-order. Against the West Indies, he scored a delightful 76 in the first Test but England dropped him in the deciding third Test as they opted to go with five bowlers.
Crawley got an opportunity again after Ben Stokes ruled himself out after the first Test against Pakistan. He scored his third half-century in the rain-affected game. It was the third Test when the promise in him reached fruition. In a chanceless 267-run knock he was at the crease for 127.5 overs against a Pakistan bowling attack that covered all bases. Along with Buttler, he stitched a 359-run stand which is England’s highest-ever for the fifth wicket and any wicket against Pakistan.
Though we are still to witness what he follows that knock with, it ensured that Crawley will be a certainty in England’s XI for some time to come. As things stand, he averages 48.41 in Tests and is among those rare players who average higher in Tests than in first-class cricket.