Nicholas Pooran leads pack of exciting underdogs to watch out for in 2020

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2019 saw the big names dominate once again with the likes of Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Pat Cummins enjoying prolific runs. Pakistan star Babar Azam made the step up as well, with the 25-year-old proving that he can translate his limited-overs success to the Test arena.

While the star names made a giant killing, there were several unheralded players who announced themselves onto the big stage in style. These are the players who will carry huge expectations on their shoulders in 2020, and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain or raise the bar they set in 2019.

Marnus Labuschagne

Labuschagne (1)

There were plenty of eyebrows raised when Labuschagne was fast tracked to the Australia Test squad in 2018 despite holding a modest first-class record.

His first five innings in Australia colours yielded only 129 runs, leading to more question marks over his selection. However, a fruitful County Championship stint with Glamorgan and a concussion to Steve Smith changed all that with Labuschagne taking Test cricket by storm in 2019.

Coming in as a substitute for Smith in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, Labuschagne racked up four half-centuries on the bounce to help Australia retain the historic urn on English soil. The best, though, was yet to come from the right-hander who is enjoying a sensational home summer with Australia.

Three big hundreds on the bounce coupled with two fifties against Pakistan and New Zealand have shown that his Ashes heroics were no flash in the pan. The 25-year-old ended 2019 as the leading Test run-scorer and was the only batsman to breach the 1,000-run mark in the calendar year.

This purple patch has seen him climb to the No4 spot in the ICC rankings with only Kohli, Smith and Kane Williamson ahead of him.

Rassie van der Dussen

rassie

2019 was not the kindest year for South Africa who have been ravaged by retirements of several key stalwarts. The Proteas shockingly lost a Test series on home soil to Sri Lanka at the start of the year before being chewed up and spat out by India in a comprehensive whitewash. Faf du Plessis’ men also had a dismal World Cup campaign in England, where they finished a lowly seventh out of 10 teams.

Despite their all-round travails, the emergence of van der Dussen as a competent middle-order batsman has been one of the few positives of the year for South Africa. The 30-year-old has had to wait a long time to get his shot at international level, but he has been able to grab it with both hands when the opportunity did finally arrive.

He was one of the better Proteas players in the World Cup and has shown a sound technique and mentality for the limited-overs game. His form with the white-ball was rewarded with a first Test appearance on Boxing Day against England and he impressed once again with a fighting half-century in testing conditions.

With that valuable knock of 51, van der Dussen has now become the first batsman to register fifties in his debut T20I, ODI and Test innings. As such, the expectations are enormous for the batsman in the years to come.

Abid Ali

Abid Ali

Like van der Dussen, Ali too has had to be patient for his chance. The opening batsman’s years of toil in the domestic circuit finally paid off in 2019 when he was handed his maiden ODI call-up for Pakistan.

The 32-year-old impressed by registering a ton against Australia on his debut in Dubai but was surprisingly ignored for World Cup selection. His next big moment would finally arrive in May when he was handed his Test debut in what was a historic series against Sri Lanka held on Pakistan soil.

Ali claimed the headlines in the first Test held in Pakistan since 2009 with a gritty ton in Rawalpindi. That innings made him the first batsman in history to score centuries in both his ODI and Test debut. There was still more to come from his bat in the next Test with the opener slamming another ton in Karachi to help Pakistan’s march to victory.

Those centuries have shown that he can be a beast in home conditions at least. The challenge for Ali, though, will be to replicate the same success in overseas tours as well in the coming months. All eyes will be on how he performs during Pakistan’s tour of England which takes place in the summer.

Nicholas Pooran

Pooran

Pooran’s talent was clear to see when he smashed a stunning 143 against Australia in Dubai during the 2014 ICC U19 World Cup. The remarkable aspect of that innings was that it came with Windies struggling at 70-8 with Pooran showing he was different class compared to the rest of the batsmen on that pitch.

The 24-year-old looked destined to scale greater heights in senior cricket before fate took an unruly turn in the following year. A horrific car accident in 2015 threatened to end the southpaw’s cricketing career and he had to undergo surgery on both his feet as a result. It took him nearly six months before he could walk again without assistance and few would have expected him to fulfill all that early promise at that stage.

A year later, Pooran was back on the cricket pitch and it didn’t take him long to rediscover his magnificent touch. While he did show flashes of brilliance in the years to follow, it wasn’t until 2019 when Pooran finally began to stamp his authority on bowlers around the world. The left-hander is arguably the most exciting limited-overs batsman to watch and the manner in which he tore apart India’s bowling attack in the recent ODI series was a sight to behold.

He has the gift of effortless timing with a smooth style that leads itself to such elegance that it makes batting look like a walk in the park. Expect Pooran to play some more blinding innings in the future. Keep an eye out for him in the 2020 T20I World Cup.

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