ICL: Indian Cricket League

Cricket in 2008: Ones to watch

Written by Anil Baig on December 29th, 2007   (808 views)

Mahendra Singh Dhoni (India): The new year could propel Mahendra Singh Dhoni as India’s Test captain less than three years after playing his first five-day game for the country in December 2005. Dhoni, 26, is already India’s one-day and Twenty20 captain and almost got the Test job in November following Rahul Dravid’s resignation and Sachin Tendulkar’s refusal to take up the hot seat.

The selectors, however, opted for 37-year-old Anil Kumble, who admitted he was only a transitional Test captain till Dhoni took up the high-profile job, often seen in cricket-mad India as the second most important after the Prime Minister’s. Dhoni, the swashbuckling wicketkeeper-batsman, was fast-tracked as captain when Dravid, Tendulkar and former skipper Sourav Ganguly, declined to play in the inaugural Twenty20 Worlds in South Africa in September.

Dhoni impressed with his inspirational and unclustered leadership as India won the championships with wins over England, South Africa and Australia before beating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final. He has proved a reliable ‘keeper and a frontline batsman with brilliant one-day knocks of 183 not out against Sri Lanka and 148 against Pakistan - against whom he also has his lone Test century, a match-saving 148 in Faisalabad when India were facing a follow-on.

Ahmed Shahzad (Pakistan): A member of Pakistan’s double junior World Cup-winning teams, teenage opener Shahzad also earned rave reviews for a series of impressive performances on Pakistan’s Under-19 tour of England this year, inspiring them to level the Test series and win the one-dayers. Undaunted by a fourth innings target of 342, Shahzad kept his cool during a match-winning 167 to help Pakistan clinch the second test at Derby in August.

His brilliant batting with a highest of 115 helped his team crush Australia Under-19s 5-0 in a one-day series which followed the England tour. Although the 16-year-old managed just 35 in a one-day tour match against South Africa in October his technique and approach impressed the Proteas. He even stepped up to hit veteran Shaun Pollock over the ropes and then treated Andre Nel in the same manner. “Shahzad is impressive and the confidence with which he bats is a testimony to his talent. I think he is the sort of opener Pakistan is looking for,” said former Pakistan opener Mudassar Nazar, who is also the head coach at the national academy.

Phil Jaques (Australia): Justin Langer has endorsed his successor Phil Jaques as a new batting star of Australian cricket. Jaques has taken over from Langer as Matthew Hayden’s opening batting partner and already looks to have the voracious appetite to keep the runs flowing for the all-powerful Australian batting lineup heading into 2008. Since Langer retired from Test cricket at the age of 36 after last January’s fifth Ashes Test against England in Sydney having amassed 7,696 runs in 105 Tests, Jaques has made every post a winner.

The 28-year-old left-hander hit back-to-back centuries against Sri Lanka in the two-Test home series in November and went into the series against India averaging 69 in six innings. Jaques may be ungainly looking with his unusual stance, high grip on the bat handle and unorthodox style of stroke play, but he is highly effective as a run-getter. Such is the ease with which Jaques has taken over from Langer, rival nations can only look on in bemusement as Australia unearth yet another batting star. Jacques illustrated his talents with an innings of 66 and shared a first wicket stand of 135 with Matthew Hayden on the opening day of the first Test against India in Melbourne on Wednesday.

Adil Rashid (England Under-19): All-rounder and respected leg-spin bowler, Rashid is only the third Yorkshire-born Asian to play first-team cricket for the county and the first of Pakistani origin. Made his debut for England Under-19s in 2006. Rashid started the 2007 season impressively with an innings of 86 against Surrey at The Oval sharing a partnership of 190 with Jacques Rudolph. At the end of April, he took 5-88 against Durham at Headingley.

In July 2007, Rashid was called up to the England Lions side for a four-day match against a touring Indian side before going on to score his maiden first class century, 108 against Worcestershire at Kidderminster in August. At the end of the season, the 19-year-old was named the Cricket Writers’ Club 2007 Young Cricketer of the Year and was awarded the title of PCA Young Player of the Year

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