Monday 31 December 2012

The Fifth Annual OB Innings Of The Year

Is that December already? Can it really be five years of bestowing an arbitrary and unheralded gong that its recipients know nothing about? Well it looks that way. And an award that goes to a single innings* somehow feels more appropriate than ever in what has been the most atomised 12 months since this blog began.

Each of the previous winners have appeared emblematic of other things. The first, in 2008, went to Brendan McCullum's 158 in the IPL's debut game; 2009's was Thilan Samaraweera's 159, made a few months after his recovery from being shot in the legs in the Lahore attacks; 2010 went to Alastair Cook's 235 in Brisbane, the moment when England's superiority over Australia at last felt more permanent; and 2011 was Kevin Pietersen's double hundred at Lord's as England became the number one Test side (on reflection this is the one that now feels wrong: Dhoni's World Cup winning innings in Mumbai holds more ongoing meaning).

In 2012, none of the candidates carry much freight beyond the immediate enjoyment of having seen them played. If the idea was to recognise the batsman of the year, there would be just three contenders, Alastair Cook, Hashim Amla and Michael Clarke. Of the three, Cook is the only one without a triple hundred, but in his way he seems the most remorseless, his runmaking less about individual knocks than the overall effect. The circumstances of the matches change as do the settings, but Cook remains, occasionally out caught at slip or leg before, but more often than not pushing through cover, cutting behind square, bunting off his legs, hour upon hour, session upon session, day upon day. There is very little jeopardy once he is in.

Both Amla and Clarke appear more ethereal, although probably not if you're fielding at cover. Clarke in particular always seems to give the bowlers a chance. By my back of a fag packet calculations (okay, it's a guess), there has been an increase in the ratio of Test triple hundreds scored in the T20 era. Clarke's 329, made at Sydney against India four days into the year, came at a strike rate of 70.29, Amla's 311 at the Oval in July at a hair under 59. During both, two other batsman made scores of more than a hundred, all at a slower rate. Clarke and Amla are both classicists of course, and Clarke's was perhaps the more sustained effort.

All triples, though, sort of end up being about themselves, in that the score tends to supercede other considerations. Clarke embarked upon a golden run, and three doubles followed. For connoisseurs, his 259 not out against South Africa at Brisbane was perhaps the pick. It was counterpointed by an Amla hundred too, and a stoush in which that well-known digger-out of scores David Warner claimed that the South African batsmen had problems concentrating. Faf du Plessis duly made 110 from 376 deliveries in one of the great modern rearguards in Adelaide, and the Saffers took the series in Perth on the back of 196 from Amla and 169 from De Villiers.

Like David Warner, I dined at length on my own words after a conversation with a friend at the start of the English summer when I called Marlon Samuels "a waster". In this case, it was a pleasure to be proved wrong. Samuels possesses the same coiled athletic grace as Viv Richards; he is utterly unhurried. The waster comment was directed at his evident talent and this was the year it aligned with the properly matured man. His batting at Nottingham, when he made 117 and an unbeaten 76 in a nine wicket defeat, had the England side waiting at the top of the pavilion steps to applaud him off. Samuels' running battle with Jimmy Anderson was a highpoint of the tour, as was Sammy's noble ton at Nottingham and Tino Best's 95 at Edgbaston. The windows really were in danger that day.

The best of Samuels came in Columbo in the final of the ICC World T20. His matchwinning 78, in which he dominated Lasith Malinga, was an exhibition of pure skill, and perhaps alone of the innings mentioned here came closest to being that emblematic moment of previous years. If West Indies re-emerge in all forms, we may look back on it as such. In isolation, it was perhaps the most joyous, along with Tino's mad run at a Test century.

Chris Gayle's 75 from 41 deliveries in the semi-final against Australia was typical of the method that is transforming T20 batting. In the 2012 IPL, Gayle hit 59 sixes in 14 innings, during which he averaged 61.08 while striking at a rate of 160.74. This still feels slightly unrecognised. Mavinder Bisla, almost the victim of an undercover match-fixing sting, changed his life in exactly eight overs in the final, turning those 48 deliveries into 89 runs that crowned a charged tournament that remains just the right side of overwrought.

Neil McKenzie, a man who appears to have dispensed with anything as superfluous as a backlift, would seem unsuited to T20, yet Hampshire's ongoing success owes much to his wiles. This year's win was made possible by his ghostly 79 from 49 chasing down Nottinghamshire's 178 in the quarter-final. Sometimes it's what you know as much as what you do that counts.

Yet there came a feat of sustained and pure hitting that was to eclipse all others seen, at least by me, and it came from Scott Styris, a man whose resemblance to George C Scott playing Patten grows with each passing year. On a misty and mystical late July evening at Hove, he batted for 37 minutes and 37 balls, making a round hundred. Nine sixes, five fours and a strike rate of 270 told their story, as did the season's most remarkable over, bowled by James Fuller, which went for 38. He concluded with figures of 3-0-57-1.

Is Kevin Pietersen a great player or a player of great innings? The former I think, although a number of series have now slipped by without him making more than one century. He made three in 2012 and all were game-changers, which sums up his strange magic. To say he bats on emotion does not do enough to acknowledge his complexity, yet he is usually highly-charged. But the force that united these three was that they could not have been played by anyone else. His 151 in Columbo and 186 in Mumbai came on wickets that no other batsman could make sense of in the way that he did. The 149 against South Africa at Leeds was the knock of a man who had isolated himself and had just one form of communication left.

It was the Mumbai innings that produced a rare consensus among experts and veteran observers. Almost all used the word genius. It felt justified, because it was an innings that ran against all logic. A few days before in Ahmedabad he didn't look as though he knew what end of the bat to hold. In Mumbai he could have made a hundred with either end, so in control was he. He'd come in with England having just lost 2 for 2, hit his first ball for four, and the internal switch had clicked. This is why we watch cricket. Last year, he won this prize and maybe shouldn't have. This time, there can be no doubt. As a thing of wonder and beauty it stood alone. KP, the innings of the year is yours.

*The full criteria: an innings seen by me either live or on the telly. If you played a blinder in 2012 and I missed it, apologies.  I'm sure you're gutted.


Rachit Tiwari said...

i saw tnat Mumbai innings live. deserves every word that can be used to appreciate it! pure genius!

Gary Naylor said...

I'd go for Faf's, but I shan't quibble about KP's.

Vinay said...

Good choice of innings & picking up the best one.

One does however feel a bit disappointed that Kohli's superlative ODI centuries do not figure in the discussion at all

The Old Batsman said...

Vinay - just didn't see em apart from as edited highlights i'm afraid. am a big kohli fan though.

Anonymous said...

Great choice, I'm not complaining. KP fully deserved it.

@Vinay - yeah, same here. That 133* off 86 balls vs SL from Kohli deserved a mention, masterclass. His 183 vs Pak was equally magnificent.

Pietersen made just three Test tons this year, just three. But three admirable, majestic and solid centuries. 151 vs SL in SL, to save the #1 ranking was a marvelous effort. Then the 149 vs SA in Eng to, again, save the #1 ranking and the series. Finally, the 186 vs Ind in Ind was the icing on the cake, where India totally struggled on a tailor-made pitch for them.

KP, take a bow. You deserve the "OB Innings of the Year". :)

Sai Ram

ShakaZulu said...

I won't quibble about KP but Faf's innings was just a little step ahead of that.

Russ said...

I wouldn't rate it the innings of the year, but in a list of T20 blitzes, it is worth a mention: Paul Stirling's 79 off 38 balls against a very good Afghanistan attack was pure mastery. He didn't get going in September, which is a pity, but this carried the weight of being a final (albeit where both teams had qualified, but he had hit 59* off 32 only a few hours earlier to sort that out).

Gerrard said...