Any self-respecting cricket lover engages in the enduring past-time of selecting their World XI. Whilst we did so for the 2013, we thought we’d challenge ourselves and provide you with eleven players we feel should be watched closely in 2014. It is not the best XI heading into the new year, nor is it the worst, most polarising or controversial. It may however, emerge as the most interesting.
These players have their representative careers on the line, they are primed to elevate themselves into the stratosphere as far as quality Test cricketers are concerned or perhaps they are being granted an opportunity previously deprived; either way, this XI has the potential to emerge from 2014 as a vastly different side to that which we write about today. So without further ado, here are our cricketers to watch in 2014.
1. Ahmed Shehzad | Pakistan
It took us some time to take notice of Shehzad, however Pakistan’s recent ODI series against South Africa gave us the perfect opportunity to witness the talents of Pakistan’s future long-term opening batsman. Failing to disappoint in his Test debut against Sri Lanka, we’re anticipating an early-career Test average of between 40 and 43 for the consistent yet unexceptional Shehzad.
More interestingly, as an opener, his tendency to make a start and no go on with it is acceptable, however will never render him revered opposition. Developing maturity (Shehzad is only 22), experience and a more comprehensive understanding of the mental rigours of Test cricket will further equip him, however that journey must begin in 2014 if this promising youngster is to stave off challenges from his talent-laden compatriots.
2. Jesse Ryder | New Zealand
Reminiscent of the great Shane Bond, Ryder is another beyond-promising New Zealander whose Test career has been unfairly stunted. Unlike Bond however, Jesse Ryder seemingly has a chance to get his career back on track following a turbulent few seasons in which a sabbatical, suspension and assault kept him in the public eye for all the wrong reasons.
With 2 centuries and 2 further scores of 80 in his 4 recent First-Class matches (not to mention a 3-wicket haul), Ryder appears to be on track to recover the form which saw him average 50.96 in Tests from 2008-2010.
He also returns to the New Zealand line-up an improved bowler, and whilst this trait will be more readily on show in the ODI arena, England proved in their recent tour of Australia that there is no such thing as too many players you can throw the ball to when in desperate need of a wicket.
Not a mainstay in the New Zealand Test side as yet, 2014 is the year in which national selectors determine whether Ryder will be given the opportunity to reach his potential once more, or whether he will be yet another immense talent left jilted by misfortune.
3. Alex Doolan | Australia
With George Bailey all but relinquishing his role as ‘designated experiment’ as Australia’s number 6, a player with a proven First-Class record is set to be given a chance. Whilst we’d still like to see Phillip Hughes given the opportunity, Darren Lehmann appears resigned to keeping the South Australian opener at the top of the order (a position unavailable until Chris Rogers’ potentially imminent retirement). With that, the Tasmanian Doolan appears next in line and should be given a chance in South Africa. A beyond-difficult tour against the impervious Steyn-led attack awaits, especially when you consider Doolan’s horrid form (1 First-Class half-century in last 9 innings and a Big Bash League average of 12), however this may be the best and only chance the 28-year-old is gifted.
Doolan may have emerged as Australia’s most promising middle-order Shield cricketer, however gone are the days in which Brad Hodge and Darren Lehmann, prolific and international-class cricketers were resigned to a domestic careers given the sheer quality of those donning the ‘Baggy Green’. Doolan is a sign Australia are scraping the barrel and he needs to improve drastically from our initial observations to convince us otherwise. His 161* for Australia A against South Africa in 2012 counts for little, just as George Bailey’s ODI form apparently did this past Ashes series.
4. Dinesh Chandimal | Sri Lanka
Having followed the development, or lack thereof, of Sri Lanka’s young batsmen for several years, we feel that it is now or never for most of their promising yet thoroughly underwhelming prodigies. Despite technical deficiencies which threaten to expose his longevity as a Test player, Chandimal emerges as the most likely to become a long-term fixture of Sri Lanka’s otherwise ageing middle-order.
A favourite of Blindside Sport, Chandimal’s progress was watched with great intrigue during Sri Lanka’s 2012/2013 and 2011/2012 tours of Australia and we believe the Test average of 56 that this 24-year-old boasts isn’t as unjustly flattering as recent commentaries have contended.
Without wicketkeeping responsibilities and with the extreme faith Sanath Jayasuria has conveyed through his unwavering selection coming under criticism, 2014 and a tour of England loom as vital to Chandimal’s Test prospects.
5. Shakib Al Hasan | Bangladesh
With the retirement of Jaques Kallis, Shakib Al Hasan becomes arguably the best all-rounder currently playing Test cricket. However whether he succeed Andy Flower as a player capable of transcending the mediocre aspirations of his developing, borderline Test-cricketing nation remains to be seen.
Having played Tests since 2007, the 26-year-old veteran has averaged 51, 50 and 45 with the bat over the past 3 years whilst taking 38 wickets in just 11 Test matches. Already Bangladesh’s greatest ever player, Shakib has the chance to further his nation’s cricketing cause by exploiting both the limited playing opportunities the ICC grant him in 2014 and the dearth of genuine all-rounders in the modern game.
6. Ben Stokes | England
Few players have made Test debuts and immediately been relied upon as heavily as Ben Stokes. With bat and ball, England’s lone positive to come out of their recent 5-0 Ashes whitewash demonstrates incredible potential. The contrast between his marathon century at the excessively cracked and bouncy WACA Ground, and the sheer aggression and distain shown towards Nathan Lyon’s bowling on a turning SCG pitch demonstrate an adaptability that should be garnered with great excitement.
In becoming just the 8th player in history to take more than 15 wickets and score more than 200 runs in a debut series, his capacity as a genuine all-rounder is undoubted. This heir-apparent to Andrew Flintoff may even surpass his predecessor and aspire towards Botham’s idolatry status. He’s that good.
7. Matthew Prior | England
From England’s Test Player of the Year to the proverbial wilderness in a matter of weeks, Matthew Prior has experienced a fall from grace like few before him. In his favour however, is the inability of Jonny Bairstow with both the gloves and the willow in hand. An extended break now awaits Prior before England’s 7-Test summer at home against the mediocre bowling attacks of Sri Lanka and India. Neither pace attack should pose the threat of Mitchell Johnson, his nemesis Peter Siddle will be on the other side of the world and with Graeme Swann’s retirement and the threat of Herath, Ashwin and Jadeja, England are unlikely to bowl pitches that will readily take spin.
Prior should get another chance on batting-friendly tracks if he proves he is worth of re-selection, the wicketkeeper-batsman just needs to find his confidence before he spurns what could be his final chance at the highest level. Youngster Jos Buttler is waiting in the wings as his successor and we see him as not only a chance at making England’s keeping job his own, but has the potential to be one of the greatest keeper-batsmen we’ve seen.
8. Corey Anderson | New Zealand
No player scores an unbeaten ODI century off just 36 balls without finding themselves on the radar of just about every self-respecting cricketing pundit. For such a long-standing record to be surpassed by an all-rounder who has taking 11 wickets at 19.36 in their limited Test-playing opportunities is unique. At just 23, Anderson is 173 days older than New Zealand-born Englishman Ben Stokes and may not have gotten his opportunity should the red-headed sensation not have moved to England.
Already a Test centurion, Anderson’s record almost mirrors that of Stokes, however whilst his English counterpart has played against Australia, in Australia and in a losing side, Anderson has endured the most desirable of introductions (series’ against Bangladesh and West Indies). How he responds against more competent opposition in 2014 will give a great insight into his long-term viability as a cornerstone of this rebuilding New Zealand Test side.
9. Shane Shillingford | West Indies
Exponents of spin-bowling only improve with age. That is the case with West Indian spinner Shillingford, who at almost 31 has become a typical Test off-spinner. With 65 wickets from his near-700 Test overs, Shillingford bowls for long periods with respectable economy, coming to life in the final innings’ of a match (in 3rd and 4th innings’, he has taken 24 wickets at 21.54).
One of the few current players who can resist the romance of being a West-Indian cricketer (possibly because he’s a spinner for a country that boasts the greatest fast-bowlers and batsmen of all-time) and show some discipline on the field, Shillingford has developed rapidly in recent years to emerge an exceptional, if not controversial cricketer. In the same category of Nathan Lyon, there is no risk of him losing his place in the side, however how far he can develop remains to be seen.
10. Mohammad Shami | India
We first saw Shami bowl in his 12th ODI match, against Australia, in which he took 3/42 on an incredibly flat Indian pitch. Of particular note was an in-swinging delivery which split Shane Watson’s defences off a length and clean bowled him in the most impressive of manners.
At just 23-years old, Shami is the future of India’s attack and is arguably their most important player when they embark on pace-conducive tours outside of the sub-continent (tours they have typically struggled on). Having taken 17 wickets at 26.17 in his 4 Tests, his skills aren’t limited to the white ball and with 5 Tests against a wounded England on what we’re predicting to be green decks in swinging conditions with a Duke ball, expect a thrilling 2014 for this emerging youngster. A 300-wicket bowler at the very least, in our eyes. Expect a fair few of them to come this year.
11. Trent Boult | New Zealand
New Zealand remain, to many, a poor cricketing nation. Given the immense talent they’re constantly uncovering however, such a position is blindly anachronistic. New Zealand are an emerging Test power at the very least, and a large portion of this drastic improvement can be attributed to Boult. The most potential-ridden fast-bowling figure to emerge from the country since a personal favourite in Shane Bond, Boult’s 72 wickets in 20 Tests at just 26.52, place his Test career only marginally behind the highly touted and incredibly respected Ryan Harris.
A 2013 in which he exploited New Zealand’s unusually packed schedule saw him take 46 wickets at just 25.02 a piece, however it is consistency over the past 3 years that has impressed us the most. More a useful exponent of fast-bowling nous than express fellow-left armer Mitchell Johnson, his ability to move the ball both ways is a delight. Expect more of the same in 2014 as New Zealand continue their under-the-radar improvement.