Rishabh Pant or Rassie van der Dussen? The new Mr. Cricket is just around the corner
Two years ago, I was sure that one of the 'Fab 5' batters would single-handedly dominate cricket. My nominations for this, like many others, were Steve Smith, Joe Root, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, and Babar Azam. The reason I chose them was simple. They had a technique that allowed them to be agnostic to playing conditions and formats.
In the last couple of years, two among them, Root and Babar, were exceptional. But while most of Root's runs were limited to Test cricket, Babar had a far better record in conditions that suited the bat.
Smith and Williamson showed glimpses of greatness, but their failures accompanied them through the 'pandemic era of cricket'. Kohli, while playing unbelievable shots and looking as smooth as ever, made batting mistakes that would end careers for debutants.
However, within this madness of cricket that had quarantines, mental fatigue, and the usual controversies, two players showed glimpses of greatness I have only seen once before.
Cricket, in my opinion, is the hardest game to play. Not only are you challenged by the usual expectations, but there is also a big element of luck and timing involved. Conditions, too, play an important role, unlike many other sports. You may be a great batter, but when you bat against fast bowlers with a new ball on a cold morning, you better expect bad things to happen.
Cricketers and experts have repeatedly focused on 'past trends' to match players with the conditions they are more likely to perform in, and the matchups that would favor a side.
Mr. Cricket Michael Hussey was the epitome of competency across all formats
However, two players, Rassie van der Dussen and Rishabh Pant, have defied expectations. They have scored across formats, conditions, and bowling attacks. I have never seen such competency since Michael Hussey, Mr. Cricket himself, graced this complicated game.
Michael Hussey was a unique player. Although he arrived late to the international scene, he made the most of it. Be it his heroics with the bat in the 2010-11 Ashes, against an opposition at the peak of their abilities, or his superhuman effort in the 2013 IPL, where he scored runs at will, he was truly a man for all seasons.
Similarly, both Rassie and Rishabh have shown class that is rare, yet needed to keep this beautiful game alive.
While Rishabh has set the stage on fire with his unorthodox batting abilities, Rassie has been getting runs under the radar. As I write this piece, Rassie has an ODI average touching 75.
This is not only exceptional, but unbelievable. Although his Test average is currently touching the bottom 30s, with the style of attritional cricket he plays, it won't be long before that changes.
Rishabh, on the other hand, is in no way attritional, as he hits sixes at will across formats, and is often the difference between winning and losing. Funnily enough, he has a decent Test average of 43, while his ODI average is in the mid-30s.
While Rishabh is just 24 and possibly still in the early stages of his career, Rassie is almost a decade older. Both, however, play with the same intensity that Michael Hussey used to play in his prime.
Rishabh Pant, Rassie van der Dussen are unique for their impact on the ground
Records are evil. They hide nuances from a player's game that separates them from the rest. Cricket, if anything, is a game of nuances. Many have scored as many runs as both Rassie and Rishabh, a few with similar strike rates too. But what makes these two unique is the impact they have on the ground.
A 94 from 60 balls from Rassie in the 2021 t20 World Cup helped South Africa beat the unstoppable England team, and a recent 133 from 117 against the same opposition showed South Africa that they too can beat the World Champions on their home turf.
Rishabh, on the other hand, is famous for his heroics at the Gabba, among others, where he almost single-handedly steered India to a win in the final moments in what could have been an easy defeat. Michael Hussey would be proud of what these two have achieved.
In the coming years, the game will find its new heroes. In no way am I saying that the 'Fab 5' that I mentioned earlier will fade away, but what these two bring is more than just records and headlines.
They bring what Dhoni brought to the ODI team in the past, what Kohli brought to cricket from 2014 to 2019, what Gayle brought to cricket between 2007 and 2017, and what Akram brought in the 90s: Impact.
The only difference being they do it in all formats, against all bowlers, in all conditions, just like Mike Hussey. So the question is: Do we have a new Mr. Cricket?
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