2018, മേയ് 6, ഞായറാഴ്‌ച

The dozen performances that lit up 2017

I am glad to be back "home", writing for my favourite readers on the premier cricketing portal. The sabbatical of six months, this time not of my own choosing, was spent fruitfully, writing for The Cricket Monthly and the long-standing print-cum-web magazine Sportstar. But there is no doubt that this is my home and it's nice to be back.
How do I return? With a bang, with what I have been promising the readers for many years, or quietly, getting my footwork, or in this case, handwork, settled? What settled the issue for me was the fact that the comments process on ESPNcricinfo is now handled through Facebook and I have no editing authority. Even my responses have to be through "Replies" on Facebook. Since I am not sure how this is going to work out, I decided to take the quieter way in, doing couple of low-profile pieces before switching to something that might draw heavy reader interaction.
For my first piece, I have chosen a favourite topic: an analysis-based review of the past year. I have combined an analysis-based shortlist and a final selection based on my perusal of the performances, looking into non-scorecard aspects as well. This is the correct way of identifying the really impactful performances. Later this year, I will come out with a comprehensive update of my individual Performance Rating tables and this article is a nice way to ease into that minefield.
I won't spend any time describing the current, much-revised, far-improved, Performance Ratings methodology. That is for later articles. Here I will only refer to the ratings points to help me identify the top three performances, so please do not raise queries relating to the basis of ratings work. Please be patient and wait a couple of months.
This article will not show tables of 2017 runs/wickets and proclaim Smith or Kohli or Lyon or Jadeja as the batsman/bowler of the year. There are enough excellent cricket writers who can do that very well. I will concentrate on performances that moved the world.
Tests
1. Test Batting - Innings
The top three innings of the year are listed below.
1. Roston Chase (WI): 131 vs Pak - 707 pts.

2. Dimuth Karunaratne (SL): 196 vs Pak - 696 pts.

3. Steve Smith (Aus): 109 vs Ind - 676 pts.
Chase came in at 37 for 3 and his innings helped West Indies recover from 107 for 5 to 312, and finally get a surprise win through a Shannon Gabriel blitz. Karunaratne's 196 was the anchor on which Sri Lanka's huge first-innings total of 482 in Dubai was founded. The buffer built in the first innings helped them to take in their stride a sub-100 second-innings score and defeat Pakistan to win the series, wholly unexpectedly, 2-0. In Pune, O'Keefe's once-in-a-lifetime bowling helped Australia secure a 150-plus lead.
However, the second innings was on a minefield and Smith's classic 109 helped them set India a huge target and a massive win. I might have gone for Smith's innings if it had helped them win the tough away series against India. They frittered away their advantages and lost 1-2. Sri Lanka were already sitting on a 1-0 lead and Karunaratne's innings, without doubting its magnificence, came when the team was comfortably placed through his long epic.
Hence, Karunaratne and Smith lose out narrowly to Chase's epochal innings. The state of the innings when Chase came in, keeping in mind the growing deterioration of the innings and the late wicket partnerships (all key Ratings measures), convince me that Chase's 131 was the best innings of 2017. Everything was right for this innings.

2. Special mention of a defensive classic

Thirty-five for 4, six hours to go, the Indian spinners on the rampage, delivering 20 overs per hour: The expectation was 120 all out at around mid-afternoon. What happened was a fightback that would warm the hearts of all cricket fans, irrespective of who they support. Dhananjaya de Silva orchestrated the save with a wonderful undefeated innings, with significant help from Roshan Silva. Dhananjaya's match-saving classic of 119 is specially recognised as the brave heart innings of 2017.

Anticipating pointed queries, let me say that both Smith and Kohli had a stellar year. However, many of these runs were scored in home conditions and not all attacks were world-class. The one innings of exception has found its way into consideration. It is very obvious that these two world-class leaders and outstanding batsmen will lay claim to being the best Test batsmen of 2017, but it is not a given that they also played the outstanding innings of the year.

3. Test Batting - Match

1. Shai Hope WI): 147 & 118 vs Eng - 1243 pts.
2. Kraigg Brathwaite (WI): 134 & 95 vs Eng - 1123 pts.
3. Hashim Amla (SA): 78 & 87 vs Eng - 935 pts.

There is no denying that this year offered rays of sunshine to West Indian supporters. They had three wins, two of these were against the top sides. The Headingley win against England was one of the most unexpected and well-deserved wins any lower-ranking side has had across the years. Their recovery from 35 for 3 in the first innings was due to centuries from Brathwaite and Hope. Then when they were set a tough target of over 300, Brathwaite scored 95 and Hope carried them home with an unbeaten 118. It is no wonder that both batsmen find themselves in the top two positions of match contributions in 2017. Amla is way behind with his cultured big fifties in South Africa's comfortable win over England at Trent Bridge.

However, there is no contest. Hope's two hundreds make the best match batting performance of 2017. In fact this outstanding performance finds a place in the top ten of the all-time match performance table.

4. Test Bowling - Innings

1. Rangana Herath (SL): 21.4-4-43-6 vs Pak - 774 pts.

2. Steve O'Keefe (Aus): 13.1-2-35-6 vs Ind - 764 pts.

3. Steve O'Keefe: 15.0-4-35-6 vs Ind - 733 pts.

Herath, as he did in Galle two years ago, produced an astonishing virtuoso performance and helped Sri Lanka defend the small target with 20 runs to spare. It is not surprising that this performance sits at the top of the table.

O'Keefe, who has not done anything of note either before or after, moved the Sahyadri mountains during those three days in Pune. He had identical figures of 6 for 35 and helped dismiss the strong Indian team for 105 and 107. It is again to be expected that these two almost identical performances are in the next two positions in the table.

The selection is tough. Do I pick either of the two O'Keefe gems or the masterclass of the wily old fox, Herath. In the end, the low Pakistani target, the lack of manoeuvring room and the way he finished off the innings in the course of five overs makes me give the nod to Herath's match-winning spell against Pakistan as the best bowling performance of 2017.


                                         
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