It's that time of the year again!
Yes, the year 2020 hasn't been great for the world of sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic but the concerned parties have started adjusting to the "new normal". There was no international cricket for almost four months, while many tours and some of the major events had to be cancelled or postponed. The matches are now being played in bio-secure bubbles in front of empty stands, barring countries like Australia and New Zealand where the circumstances have been better and safer of late.
However, we have had enough cricket on display to pick some of the best knocks played this year across all three international formats. We have only taken matches played between January 1st to December 20th into consideration. There were quite a few quality knocks, but we have picked only seven - three from Test cricket and two each from ODIs and T20Is.
Masood was schooled by James Anderson when Pakistan toured England in 2016 and the opener had a point to prove when he returned to the same soil in 2020. The left-hander came to England on the back of two consecutive centuries against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh respectively but batting against the likes of Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes was going to be a different ballgame altogether.
Masood however responded in style and batted for nearly eight hours to craft 156 off 319 deliveries. Masood was patient and aggressive and almost single-handedly propelled Pakistan past the 300-run mark. The visiting side would have won the game if not for Woakes and Jos Buttler's match-winning partnership in the final innings. Masood only managed 23 runs in the next four innings but no-one can take that career-defining century away from him.
In the first innings, the 28-year-old middle-order batsman from Jamaica got out playing an unnecessary shot, but managed to turn things around in grand fashion when he was offered another shot at redemption in the second essay. West Indies were chasing 200 in the second innings but were reduced to 27/3 with John Campbell retired hurt.
Anderson, Archer and Mark Wood were breathing fire and West Indies needed someone to bat out of his skin and then Blackwood stood up. The right-hander was dropped twice on 5 and 20 and also survived quite a few run-out chances, but Blackwood kept scoring runs and brought West Indies back in the game. He played some outstanding cut and pull shots and was also fluent with his lofted cover drives. He missed out on his century by five runs but did play a massive part in West Indies' historic win.
The first Test of the two-match series between New Zealand and India was dominated by fast bowlers, but Williamson stood out with his fluent 89 in the first innings. After bundling India out for 165, New Zealand lost Tom Latham early and in came their skipper. Williamson was greeted with a bouncer that left him with a stinging finger but the right-hander shrugged it off and put in a fine display of batting.
Williamson played some glorious drives and played the ball very late on a surface where almost everyone struggled with pace and bounce. The right-hander put on 93 runs with Ross Taylor for the third wicket and played a huge role in helping his team gain a 183-run lead. Williamson missed out on a century as he fell to Mohammed Shami. The Black Caps then dismissed India for 191 in the second innings and won the game by 10 wickets. Williamson recently scored 251 against West Indies, which was equally impressive, but this 89 had something about it.
The three-match series was already lost but Stirling and Andy Balbirnie brought back memories of Bangalore when they helped Ireland chase down a target of 329 in Southampton. The surface was easy for batting but nobody gave Ireland a chance after the 2019 World Champions smashed 328 in the first innings. The visiting side lost Gareth Delany early but then Stirling and Balbirnie put up a show for the ages by adding 214 in 32.4 overs.
Balbirnie (112-ball 113) was impressive but it was Stirling who brutalised the England bowlers with his fine strokeplay. The right-hander smoked nine fours and six maximums in his 128-ball 142 and went after almost every single bowler. Stirling however was particularly aggressive against Adil Rashid and David Willey. He couldn't complete the chase but Harry Tector and Kevin O'Brien did, that too in the final over.
"The past few days I have found something ... I have found my hands which I am extremely excited about. It's hard to explain but it just hasn't quite been right until probably two days ago and I found a little something and everything just clicked in," said Smith ahead of the ODI series against India. The right-hander however got quite a few things "right" in the first ODI and probably played the best white-ball innings of his career.
Smith hit 11 fours and four sixes during his stay in the middle and completed his century off just 62 deliveries – third-fastest for Australia in ODIs. David Warner and Aaron Finch added 156 runs for the opening wicket but it was Smith who took the game away from India. He then followed it up with a 64-ball 104 in the second ODI and helped Australia take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
Having had a stop-start international career, Phillips finally stamped his authority at this level by slamming a 46-ball hundred - the fastest in T20Is by a New Zealand batsman. The dynamic batsman blasted 10 fours and eight maximums to help New Zealand amass 238/3 in their 20 overs. The 24-year-old put on 184 runs with Devon Conway - the highest partnership for New Zealand for any wicket.
Phillips came into bat after the end of six overs and yet managed to smash a century. Among the top-10 teams, no other batsman has scored more runs than him while coming in to bat in T20Is after the Powerplay. 88 of Phillips' 108 came via boundaries and he didn't allow any bowler to settle in. Phillips scored nine off his first nine deliveries before smashing Kieron Pollard for his first six. He didn't look back from thereon and smacked everyone all around the park and etched his name in the history books.
Chasing 180, England were reduced to 34/3 before Bairstow walked in and took the game away from South Africa. With Jason Roy, Jos Buttler and Dawid Malan forming a top-order, Bairstow was asked to bat at No. 4 and the right-hander aced the new role given to him by clobbering 86* off 48 deliveries, studded with nine fours and four maximums. England were in a spot of bother but Bairstow looked in control from the word go and played without any fear.
When they needed 51 runs off the last four overs, Bairstow and Eoin Morgan hammered Beuran Hendricks for 28 runs and killed the game then and there itself.