India is yet to play England in the final Test match of the series (which India have already won 3-0), and Australia has only begun its Test series against Pakistan, but it’s safe to assume that the biggest and best batsmen of the year have already expressed themselves abundantly. The list is not likely to change with a couple of Test matches – unless, say, there’s a triple century or two from batsmen who’ve been on the fringes of the top 5 through the year.
Some of them, however, have been head and shoulders above the rest. It’s not only about how prolific they were, but more about the print they’ve left on the game with some stunningly consistent batting. The numbers are often misleading, given that some have played far more cricket in the calendar year than others (England have played so many Tests and ODIs as compared other teams).
Here’s a list of the five best batsmen (across all formats) in 2016, starting from bottom to top:
5. STEVE SMITH
The Australian captain hasn’t had the best of years leadership-wise, but one can’t fault the doughty batsman in him leading the way. Even when they collapsed to South Africa recently in the first innings of the second Test for less than 100, he had scored 48 of them – which sort of encapsulated his status in a brittle batting middle order. It’s funny that two Australians find themselves in this list despite their Test and ODI teams suffering through one of the worst years in recent history. They’ve always been a bit top-heavy, and Smith’s average of 50 in Tests and 58 in ODIs proves that he has struggled through the ruins. With almost 1900 runs in Tests and ODIs (hasn’t played too many T20 internationals this year), Smith is proof that they’ve chosen an exemplary craftsman. If only they find the rats following this pied-piper into the end of a tunnel.
4. DAVID WARNER
He has only one Test century this year, and averages less than 40 in this format, but oh my, has there been a better ODI opener this year – or ever? With seven ODI centuries and a superb IPL tournament, there was perhaps nobody as prolific and imperious as Warner in the limited-overs format (if you exclude a certain Indian batsman), especially in the way he literally dragged a ragged Australian ODI team across a humiliating 5-0 loss in South Africa and an inspirational 3-0 win against New Zealand. Nobody has scored more than seven ODI centuries in a year except Sachin Tendulkar, who scored nine back in a record-shattering 1998. Warner is at the top of his game, and it’s a pity it has coincided with his team’s fluctuating fortunes and perhaps the weakest Australian middle order in recent history.
3. QUINTON DE KOCK
The 23-year-old South African wicketkeeper has hit back brilliantly after a bad 2015, cementing himself as part of a resurgent Test team and leading the way with five centuries in ODIs and Tests. South Africa haven’t played as much cricket as Australia and England, but de Kock has more than once led a rearguard lower-middle-order attack in Tests (he averages a Gilchrist-like 58 at number seven this year), as well as opening the batting and averaging the same in ODIs at a strike-rate of 108. This is the year de Kock truly came of age, and fulfilled expectations long invested in him after a horrid 2015 ODI World Cup. His late bursts in the Tests against Australia won his team the series before the decider.
2. JOE ROOT
He hasn’t been having the best of times in the sub-continent, but Root has consistently gotten starts in a batting line-up often bereft of purpose. He almost won his team the World T20 tournament and final on his own even with his part-time off-spin bowling, and has never shied away from attempting to lead the way with his all-around abilities. He may be primed to take over as captain in Test cricket, which could well affect him positively as it did his Indian counterpart, who he has often been pitted against and compared to for the title of the best batsman going around in cricket. His averages of 61 (in ODIs) and 50 in Tests is still not “peak Root,” which he will soon achieve in years that could make him perhaps the finest English batsman of all time.
1. VIRAT KOHLI
Was there ever any doubt? He has “expanded” his expertise from ODIs and T20s into Test cricket, with phenomenal year-highest averages of 105 (T20s, seriously), 92 (ODIs, seriously) and 80 (Tests), and more than over 2600 runs – not to forget a mind-numbing 973 runs in a non-victorious IPL campaign for Royal Challengers Bangalore. And in a year that has included so many Kohli highlight reels, not many will debate about his “best performance” coming over the two weeks of the World T20 in India, where he dragged an underperforming Dhoni-led team to the semifinals single-handedly. Everyone was scared, until West Indies snatched it away at the end. Kohli is imperious, and looks so sure and confident of his strokes and ability that it’s difficult to imagine any other Indian batsman so “set” as soon as he reached the crease. And we can’t even begin to describe those fitness levels.