By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The United Nations declared the year 2011 as the “International Year of Forests.” On hindsight they would be better off renaming it as the “International year for Debutants!” The year 2011 has witnessed a flood of emerging talent making immediate impression at the highest level. From the fighting century by Kirk Edwards to the game-changing spell by James Pattinson, the cricket world has been enthralled by the newcomers who made it look as if they have been a part of the trade for years.
Narrowing down the best performances on debut in the year 2011 is a tough task as there are numerous displays that challenge each other for the top spot. Thus it would be unfair to pick out a handful and rank them by numbers. It would be greater justice to look into these tyro performers who have lit up the stage and appreciate the worth of each display of brilliant cricket.
Here is a list of the top performances on debut this year in no particular order.
1. Vernon Philander, 5 for 15 vs Australia at Cape Town:
The Cape Town Test between South Africa and Australia would rank amongst the most bizarre games in the history of cricket. Having bowled out the hosts for 96 and in the process taking formidable first innings lead the Australians had a chance to bat South Africa out of the game. All those endeavors turned to dust as they got bowled out for 47 after being 21 for nine at one stage. The wrecker-in-chief was Philander, a right arm fast bowler who, as it turns out, just warmed up with a three-wicket haul in the first innings. In the second innings Philander looked absolutely unplayable. He mixed his pace and movement well leaving quality batsmen like Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke unsure of their footwork. Panic spread in the Australian ranks as the debutant tore through their line-up and posed serious questions with his seam movement. If the class of Ponting and Clarke were trapped in front, Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin were induced to do something stupid in a hapless situation. In the end, South Africa chased down 236 at the back of Hashim Amla’s and Graeme Smith’s tons but it was the latest addition to the Proteas pace pack who took the honours and wrote his name in history. The course of this historic game would have been different had he not delivered the spell of a lifetime.
2. Patrick Cummins, 6 for 79 vs South Africa at Johannesburg:
Having suffered the humiliation of being bowled out for 47 and losing the game from a position of strength at Cape Town, people had started writing epitaphs of Australian cricket. In came the 18-year old for the second Test and gave Australia hope of a bright future when he limited the South African target. His pace had been the talk of the town and it just blitzed the strong Proteas batting in their second innings. Batsmen like Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers were foxed by the young man’s pace and his nagging line outside the off stump. When the tail threatened to further the challenge, he cleaned them up with typical fast bowler’s energy. Even after the Cummins show, Australia needed a huge 310 to square the series and it was only fitting that he hit the winning runs in a nail biting finish. Australia had found their new poster boy.
3. James Pattinson, 5 for 27 vs New Zealand at Brisbane:
As the world heaped praises on young Cummins, another Aussie tyro put his hand up at Brisbane and said, “I am here too; watch out!”Australia had taken a formidable first innings lead and were the dominating force going into the second innings. When New Zealand walked out to overhaul the Aussie challenge and set a target, Pattinson turned domination into a juggernaut as he ran through the top order. Apart from the night watchman Doug Bracewell, the other four wickets were of top order batsman. Brendon McCullum (1), Martin Guptill (12), Kane Williamson (0) and Ross Taylor (0) were made to bite the dust. His pace and bounce caused huge problems to the Kiwi top order as they collapsed to 28 for five - all five falling to the debutant. McCullum was squared up, Guptill was foxed by bounce and Williamson andTaylor succumbed to their temptation to drive. The Kiwis somewhat recovered to 150 but the hosts needed just 19 to seal the deal.
With the emergence of Cummins and Pattinson, think again before saying “Australian cricket is on a decline”!
4. Shaun Marsh, 141 vs Sri Lanka at Pallekele:
The son rose in Colombo as Shaun carried on the legacy of the Marsh family. He was drafted in to the squad to fill in the big shoes of Ricky Ponting at No 3, and instantly delivered with a huge score against the Sri Lankans in their own backyard. As Justin Langer wrote on this very website, Marsh may have made a reputation as a hard-hitting limited-overs batsman, but at Pallekele, he batted like a “master technician” with a mix of attacking strokes and sound defence. It helped Australia take a huge first innings lead and put them on course for a 2-0 lead until the weather gods intervened. Such was the brilliance of the effort that by the time Ponting returned to the set-up, he had to vacate his spot for Marsh.
5. Kirk Edwards, 110 vs India at Dominica:
If Shivnarine Chanderpaul has epitomised the West Indian spirit and grit over the years, Edwards added a new dimension to it on his Test debut. India had taken a lead of 143 and had West Indies in trouble at 40 for three. Edwards, who came in at No 3 played a gem with all his mental energy channelised to keep the Indians out. He did manage to play quite a few aggressive strokes but it was his composure and application that won praise. For years, West Indies longed for a batsman to partner Chanderpaul and Edwards answered those calls with a gutsy display to help save the Test match. His exploits didn’t stop there as he continued to amass runs in Test cricket as the year progressed and highlighted his ability to play in the longer version.
6. Ravichandran Ashwin, 6 for 47 vs West Indies at Delhi:
Harbhajan Singh’s waning skill was the bone of contention after the horrendous tour of England. With a view to bring fresh energy into the spin department, India added Ashwin to their Test set-up when the West Indies arrived in late 2011. His carom balls, faster ones, the conventional off-spinners spun a web around the West Indians who couldn’t come to terms with his variations. His six-wicket haul came in the second innings after West Indies were in a position of strength and India needed to restrict them to a gettable total on a slow, low Kotla surface. Ashwin’s variations dumbfounded each batsman as even the well set Chanderpaul lost his wicket to him. The ball that got Marlon Samuels stands out. Samuels played for the off-spinner, but the ball turned the other way and zipped through his defence. India found a new spinner who has shut the door on Harbhajan – at least for the time being.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")