Dubai, January 1: Match winning knocks, sizzling spells, superhuman efforts and impeccable leadership – the four nominees for the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the ICC Player of the Year had a year to remember in 2021. Here, we take a look at their efforts and celebrate their achievements.
Joe Root – England
1855 runs in 18 international matches at an average of 58.37 with 6 centuries
The year that was
England’s Test skipper has enjoyed a year that will go down in the pages of the history books. Firmly establishing himself as the spine of England’s batting in Test cricket, he has often been the lone man standing for their cause. His year began with a marathon knock in 228 against Sri Lanka in Galle and he has only gone from strength to strength.
He would follow up his exploits against Sri Lanka with a memorable knock in Chennai, a brilliant 218 against India. He would continue his sublime form against India in the return leg of the Test series at home, aggregating 564 runs in four matches with three centuries to his name. His performance also helped him reach the summit of the MRF Tyres ICC Test Player Rankings for batting, where he would be eventually displaced by Marnus Labuschagne.
Despite failing to convert his starts into big scores, Root continued being England’s best batter against Australia in the first three Ashes Tests.
Root’s best knock this year has undoubtedly been the 218 in the sweltering heat of Chennai against an Indian spin attack of the highest calibre.
Batting out 377 deliveries, Root creamed 19 fours and two sixes in his marathon innings, completely nullifying the threat of Ravichandran Ashwin and co.
His knock set England up for a mammoth first innings score of 578 which eventually helped them win the contest by 227 runs.
What he said
On reaching the pinnacle of the Test rankings, Root brilliantly summed up his own performances but maintained that winning matches for England was his main priority. He stated, “As nice as it is there’s still so much hard work to do and the focus doesn’t change, it’s all about trying to continue getting better, continue scoring runs and hopefully winning Test matches. It’s not something that I have as a goal or a main focus in what I’m trying to do. I’m proud to hear I’ve achieved that and it would be nice to stay there now.”
Shaheen Afridi – Pakistan
78 wickets in 36 internationals at an average of 22.20. Best bowling figures of 6/51
The year that was
The tall Pakistani pacer was on fire throughout 2021, knocking some of the best batters over across all three formats of the game. He especially had a year to remember in Tests and T20Is, reaching his absolute peak during the T20 World Cup in UAE where he impressed one and all with his sheer speed and skills.
He would scalp 7 wickets in six matches during the tournament in Pakistan’s run to the semi-final. He ruled the shortest format throughout the calendar year, scalping 23 wickets in 21 matches with his death bowling improving by leaps and bounds.
After a slow start to the year in Test cricket in New Zealand, Afridi burst to life during the home series against South Africa. He continued his brilliant form throughout the rest of the year in the away tours of Zimbabwe, West Indies and Bangladesh. Overall, he scalped 47 wickets in only 9 matches at a staggering average of 17.06.
Swing, seam, sheer pace and sizzling yorkers – Shaheen Shah Afridi gave an exhibition of it all in the year 2021.
A high-pressure encounter against India in Dubai beckoned in October. The T20 World Cup tournament opener for both sides with the history well and truly against Pakistan. But Afridi’s opening burst changed it all and evoked audible gasps from one and all at the wizardry on display.
He would first trap Rohit Sharma with a late in-dipper. This would be followed by the dismissal of KL Rahul, who saw his stumps knocked over with another peach of a delivery. India simply could not recover from this, slumping to their first-ever defeat against Pakistan at a World Cup. Later on, he would also get the prized scalp of Virat Kohli in the death overs.
The numbers (3/31) simply do not do justice to what everyone witnessed from Shaheen on that fateful day in Dubai.
What they said
Indian captain Virat Kohli was left in awe of Afridi’s spell during the match-up. Heaping praises, Kohli said post-match: “He put our batsmen under pressure immediately with the new ball, and he ran in with intensity and showed that he’s bowling in consistent areas, so as batsmen you are forced to be a bit watchful.
“That spell kind of put us on the back foot immediately, and from there on to get those extra 20, 25 runs, in the end, seemed pretty difficult when you lose three wickets for 20 runs.”
Kane Williamson – New Zealand
693 runs in 16 internationals at an average of 43.31 with one century
The year that was
Kane Williamson’s 2021 simply cannot only be judged on the basis of the runs he scored. It was also his influential leadership that helped the Blackcaps scale unchartered heights during the year. None more so important than the ICC World Test Championship Final against India in Southampton.
Williamson played a crucial role in that game with the bat as well, scoring a vital 49 in the first innings against a quality bowling unit in conditions assisting the seamers. He followed it up with a crucial 52* in the run chase of 139, taking his side home before lifting the mace.
His leadership would again be vital during the T20 World Cup in UAE and Oman, with his tactical nous helping New Zealand reach the final. After a relatively quiet tournament with the bat in accordance to his own high standards, Williamson played a knock of supreme ability as New Zealand batted first against Australia in Dubai. Unfortunately, his 43-ball 85 could not propel his side to a victory.
You simply can’t look past the batting masterclass against Australia in the T20 World Cup final. With the pressure of posting a challenging target on the board and the departure of Daryl Mitchell relatively early, the onus was on Williamson to be the man for the big occasion for his side.
What followed was a display of tremendous skill as he pierced the field and the boundary ropes at will. Williamson would hit 10 fours and three sixes in his knock of 85. What went unnoticed though was how he nudged the ball around and kept the strike rotating to keep the scoreboard ticking. The quartet of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Adam Zampa were rendered ineffective against the class of one of the greats of this generation.
Despite New Zealand falling short at the final hurdle, Williamson’s knock will be etched in the memories forever as one of the great innings played in a World Cup final.
What he said:
Expressing his ecstasy after New Zealand finally won the big one in Southampton, Williamson expressed the moment was one to be ‘savoured’.
“I’ve been part of [NZ cricket] for a short while, it’s a very special feeling, the first time in our history we’ve come away with a world title. We’ve had 22 players over the last two years, and they’ve all played their part and the support staff and the guys who played this match, it’s a special achievement to be savoured.
“We know we don’t always have the stars, we rely on other bits and pieces to stay in the game and be competitive. We saw a lot of heart and commitment to our style of cricket in this game.”
Mohammad Rizwan – Pakistan
1915 runs in 44 internationals at an average of 56.32 with 2 centuries. 56 dismissals.
The year that was
The Pakistan wicketkeeper-batter ruled the roost in 2021 when it came to the shortest format of the game. Aggregating a staggering 1326 runs in only 29 matches, Rizwan struck at an average of 73.66 and a strike-rate of 134.89. Apart from his exploits with the bat, he was as solid as ever behind the stumps, playing a key role in Pakistan’s run to the semis during the T20 World Cup.
Rizwan also upped his game in Test cricket, scoring 455 runs in 9 matches at an average of 45.50. Most importantly though, he was consistent throughout the year and played a variety of roles across all formats – be it getting Pakistan off to flying starts in the T20Is or stabilizing things with the lower order in Test cricket.
With some tough assignments coming up in 2022, both home and away, along with a T20 World Cup, Pakistan will again heavily bank upon the ever-dependable Rizwan to leave a mark.
Though a chase of 152 looked easy on paper, Pakistan had the weight of history against them in the T20 World Cup encounter against India. With the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami in opposition attack, the task was made all the more complicated. But as it was almost always the case in 2021, Rizwan along with his skipper Babar Azam ensured that a famous victory would be sealed.
Rizwan smacked 79* in only 55 deliveries, hitting 6 fours and 3 sixes. The ease at which he countered the Indian bowling attack was a thing of sheer beauty. He ensured that there were no hiccups in the run-chase as Pakistan galloped towards the target without losing a single wicket to seal a 10-wicket victory.
Rizwan would continue this form throughout the remainder of the tournament, scoring 281 runs and ending as the third-highest run-scorer.
What they said
Pakistan batting coach Matthew Hayden was full of praise for Rizwan after his knock of 67 in a losing cause against Australia in the T20 World Cup semi-final. It was revealed that Rizwan was lying on a hospital bed a night before the big clash battling a lung infection. The wicketkeeper-batter was hailed as a ‘warrior’ by the Australian legend for his effort which further displayed his character of steel.
Hayden said: “Rizwan, you probably didn’t know was actually in hospital just a night ago suffering from some sort of lung condition. This is a warrior. He has been brilliant through it (the campaign) and he’s got great courage.”