If cricketing talent were branded merchandise, this week would be the equivalent of a festive sale. It has been a cricket fan’s delight. Three crucial tons and three five-wicket hauls steal the limelight and no one is complaining.
It comes as no surprise that three of the six cricketers of the week are tweakers who either kept their team in the hunt or brought them back from the dead. Some really good performances like Quinton de Kock’s 91 and Temba Bavuma’s 89 for South Africa against the Kiwis and HM Nicholls’ 118 for New Zealand deserve special mention too.
Some credit must go to Bangladesh’s young Mosaddek Hossain for taking his team to a strong position against hosts Sri Lanka, who found their own star in Karunaratne.
Let’s take a look at the top five cricketers this week.
#1 Ravindra Jadeja
In the third Test between India and Australia at Ranchi, the hosts would have been in serious trouble if not for Jadeja. Jadeja picked up wickets at the right time including the big ones of Matt Renshaw and centurion Glenn Maxwell.
Australia seemed primed for a score in excess of 500, but Jadeja’s 5/124 kept them down to 451, giving India the chance to stay afloat in the game and thereby the series. Jadeja bowled 49.3 overs out of a total of 137.3 and yet, his economy was almost a run lower than Ravichandran Ashwin’s.
Jadeja also effected a brilliant run-out to wrap up Australia’s innings as they dropped from 446 for 7 to 451 all out.
#2 Steve Smith
Smith led from the front after a controversial week that involved barbs between the two skippers, him and Kohli. At Ranchi, Smith walked in at 50 for 1 and remained unbeaten right till the end, proving to be the thorn in India’s flesh yet again.
Smith amassed 178* in 361 balls adding 191 for the fifth wicket with Maxwell, 64 for the sixth wicket with Wade and then 51 for the eighth wicket with Steve O’ Keefe, pushing Australia to 451.
He missed out on a double century as Australia lost their last three wickets in the space of 18 balls. Smith had earlier scored a brilliant ton in the first Test at Pune on a treacherous pitch. The skipper played the role of an anchor to perfection and if not for his vigil, Australia would’ve been behind the ballgame by now.
Smith’s presence also helped Maxwell, who scored his maiden Test ton to get the monkey off his back. Smith, in remaining unbeaten, reached an average in excess of 60, which is second only to the great Don Bradman amongst batsmen with more than 5000 Test runs.
#3 Cheteshwar Pujara
India’s new wall stood between them and Australian dominance. Pujara came in to bat in the last session of the second day in the third Test at Ranchi. He played the whole of the third day ensuring India were not out of the contest despite losing wickets at regular intervals.
Pujara scored 130 in 328 balls, seeing off testing times as India lost their star batsmen, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane cheaply. He added 102 for the second wicket with Vijay, 51 for the fourth wicket with Rahane and then held fort late in the day by adding an unbeaten 32 for the seventh wicket with Wriddhiman Saha.
Pujara’s innings ensured India reached 360 by the end of day 3, still 91 runs behind Australia’s first innings target. This was Pujara’s 11th Test ton after he missed out narrowly in the second Test at Bengaluru. This is already a record-breaking run for Pujara, who became India’s most prolific batsman in a single season.
#4 Keshav Maharaj
When New Zealand started their second innings in the second Test against South Africa at Wellington, they were trailing by 91 runs. But Maharaj, with his left-arm orthodox, wrecked their batting with career-best figures of 6/40 in 20.2 overs.
Maharaj ran through the middle and lower order of New Zealand after Morne Morkel got rid of the first three New Zealand batsmen cheaply. Maharaj’s spell ensured New Zealand were all out for only 171, leaving the visitors to chase a paltry target of 81, which they did for the loss of just two wickets.
This was the 27-year-old’s sixth Test match and it was his second five-wicket haul. He had also picked up two wickets in the first innings for a match tally of eight.
#5 Shakib Al Hasan and Dinesh Chandimal
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are giving us a hard-fought match at the P Sara Oval, Colombo, thanks to two excellent performances. For Sri Lanka, it was Dinesh Chandimal who pulled off yet another rescue act, taking them from 35 for three all the way past 300. Chandimal’s 300-ball 138 ensured Sri Lanka reached a respectable total of 338 with contributions from the middle and lower order.
Despite that monumental innings, they still conceded a massive 129-run lead to Bangladesh thanks to their star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan who scored a 159-ball 116. Shakib had added 92 with skipper Mushfiqur Rahim and another 131 for the seventh wicket with Mosaddek Hossain. He had also taken two wickets in Sri Lanka’s first innings.
In the second innings, Sri Lanka managed 338 to set Bangladesh a target of 191. Once again, Shakib was the star with the ball with four important wickets including that of the centurion, Dimuth Karunaratne.