The Starting XI: Players to watch in 2014
Every year cricket pundits and fans of statistics tell us about the players we should be watching. Sometimes they are wrong and Phil Hughes fails to live up to the Ricky Ponting comparisons. And sometimes we're given Shikhar Dhawan…
Every year cricket pundits and fans of statistics tell us about the players we should be watching. Sometimes they are wrong and Phil Hughes fails to live up to the Ricky Ponting comparisons. And sometimes we're given Shikhar Dhawan.
Here are 11 new-ish players we will be watching in 2014, rightly or wrongly as we'll discover over the next 12 months. Some have made their international debuts, but even they are in the infancy of their careers, so it's all to play for.
<b>1. Quinton de Kock (South Africa)</b><br><b>Domestic team</b>: Highveld Lions<br><b>International record</b>: 0 Tests, 16 ODIs with four tons and averaging 46.31
The 21-year-old wicketkeeper is easily the first name on this list, given his recent exploits in the ODI series against India. He scored three centuries in a row, added to the one he made against Pakistan a few weeks earlier, so he now has four tons and no fifties.
He was not called up to the Test squad to face India in December, with the selectors saying they wanted him to play more four-day cricket for the Lions. Thus, the reserve keeping spot to cover AB de Villiers went to Thami Tsolekile, who was once one of those 'players to watch' that never got the chance to shine.
The next year should see De Kock make it into the Test squad if he keeps scoring tons and batting solidly with Hashim Amla at the top of the knock. Who he would displace is the question, though he would make more sense as cover for De Villiers than his aging Lions team-mate.
<b>2. Ahmed Shehzad (Pakistan)</b><br><b>Domestic team</b>: Habib Bank<br><b>International record</b>: 0 Tests, 35 ODIs, 22 T20s, with three tons and seven 50s. Averages 41 in FC cricket.
The opening batsman has fairly cemented himself in the limited-overs sides with his aggressive stroke play akin to an early David Warner. He has not cracked the Test set-up yet though, but more failures from Khurram Manzoor and Shan Masood could change that.
Shehzad resembles India's Virat Kohli in more than appearance, but is not quite as technically impressive to watch. Yet. He didn't play for Pakistan at all in 2012, so his return in 2013 was a second debut of sorts, and he added a slew of fifties to his records, as well as a ton against South Africa in November.
<b>3. Unmukt Chand (India)</b><br><b>Domestic team</b>: Delhi<br><b>International record</b>: No caps in any format. Domestic average is 37.11 in 30 First Class matches, including four tons and eight fifties.
The 20-year-old top-order batsman led India's under 19 side to victory in the most recent World Cup, scoring an unbeaten century in the final. He made his Ranji debut as a teenager in 2010, and has steadily climbed in local and international estimations, both as a batsman and a brilliant fielder.
For Delhi he has made a handful of tons since September, while also writing a book about his World Cup captaincy experience and tweeting bizarrely spelled intellectual ramblings. Like De Kock, he will need an injury to get an 'in' into the Test side, but he's likely to impress once he does.
<b>4. Gary Ballance (England)</b><br><b>Domestic team</b>: Yorkshire<br><b>International record</b>: 0 Tests, 1 ODI in which he made a duck. FC average of 53.33, List A average of 56.11
With the departure of England batsman Jonathan Trott from the Ashes tour, eyes turned to the 24-year-old Zimbabwe-born batsman, who sat third on the First Class runs list for the season and averaging over 60. His most recent game for Yorkshire saw him score two tons against Surrey.
Thus, he went on tour with the Performance squad, and played in some tour matches, where he made just one fifty. As such, he was overlooked in favour of Ben Stokes, but then made some impressive scores for the EPP side in December.
His Test debut, given England's shambolic batting in Australia, cannot be far off, and even if that's not the case Down Under, he will hope for a shot in 2014 that doesn't end the way Nick Compton's did.
<b>5. Ben Stokes (England)</b><br><b>Domestic team</b>: Durham<br><b>International record</b>: 2 Tests with one century and averaging 41.75, and 10 ODIs at an average of 14.50. 11 wickets overall.
Look, this might be a reactionary inclusion given his recent efforts in Perth, but we reckon he will build on that maiden century in 2014. Whether he's the 'next Jacques Kallis' as some hystericals on Twitter insist, remains to be seen.
His record, statistically, before the WACA ton was not wonderful, but his effect as a third or fourth seamer was solid and inexpensive in most cases. With Steve Finn out of favour, Stokes' batting has put him ahead of taller lads Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin in the Test pecking order.
<b>6. Jos Buttler (England)</b><br><b>Domestic team</b>: Lancashire<br><b>International record</b>: 0 Tests, 19 ODIs averaging 24.83, 25 T20s averaging 23.83.
Looking at his international stats, you might wonder by the former Somerset wicketkeeper is on this list. He's unlikely to replace Matt Prior or Jonny Bairstow in the Test squad soon, no matter how dire their form is, so what gives?
We predict that 2014 is going to be his big year, as he's moved from Somerset where he was not getting time behind the stumps, to Lancashire. He's better than Bairstow or Craig Kieswetter with the gloves, so his LOI place should be secure, given his regular half tons in the middle order recently and increasingly solid keeping.
<b>7. James Faulkner (Australia)</b><br><b>Domestic team</b>: Tasmania<br><b>International record</b>: 1 Test with six wickets, 19 ODIs averaging 45 with the bat and 32 with the ball.
Australia currently have a wealth of young fast bowlers to pick from. When one invariably gets injured, they have another to call upon. Faulkner is one of the more regular choices, despite only having one Test cap.
He picked up a broken thumb in the Ashes in Oz, and could otherwise have played if one of the senior seamers got injured. His batting in shorter formats has been particularly impressive, both aggressive and technically good, and he'd be worth a fifty or two late in the knock.
Faulkner is one of the more fiery pacemen around, with facial expressions to rival Peter Siddle, and he should always be ahead of Nathan Coulter-Nile and company if Siddle, Harris or Johnson gets hurt or tired. Provided he is fit himself, obviously.
<b>8. Sohag Gazi (Bangladesh)</b><br><b>Domestic team</b>: Barisal Division<br><b>International record</b>: 8 Tests, 16 LOIs. One Test ton, averages 35 in Tests with the ball, economy under 3.
The Tigers' spinner crashed onto the scene late last year in a Test against the West Indies, taking nine wickets (six in the second innings) and continued from there to become the side's regular slow bowler.
His most recent Test saw him take a five-fer against New Zealand, and his economy rate is rarely over three. He also scored his maiden century against the Black Caps, giving Shakib-al-
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