We may be witnessing the most batsmen-dominated era in world cricket presently. Pitches are getting flatter and scores are getting bigger by day. Many batsmen have racked up stats that would have been unimaginable in earlier times.
It’s sometimes hard to make out who is genuinely talented and who an average player benefiting from conditions being skewed in favour of the batsmen. But there also exists another category of them who possessed immense potential, sometimes even displayed it, but could never consistently produce runs to match their ability.
Here is a list of 5 such batsmen who flattered everyone with their talent only to deceive with their performances:
#5 Umar Akmal
It may sound ludicrous now but those who saw Umar Akmal in the early days of his career would testify that in terms of raw talent, he isn't too far behind, perhaps even an equal of, Virat Kohli. He started his career with a splendid hundred on Test debut and was immediately recognized as a potential future great. He then batted very admirably on his team’s otherwise disastrous tour of Australia in 2009-10. Akmal showed skill, temperament and sheer quality to impress everyone with some good scores while the others failed haplessly.
But prognosis of a great future didn’t come true. While Akmal is a match for Kohli when it comes to ability, he is nowhere close to having the application and focus that the latter possesses. His downfall often results from lack of concentration manifesting itself in the form of poor shots. On innumerable occasions he has got well set at the wicket only to give it away through a loose stroke.
There also seems to be an issue of temperament. Akmal has often shown a propensity to see himself as a victim and not identify the mistakes he has been making. The video of him complaining to Imran Khan about his batting position during the 2016 World T20 is a prime example of this.
For years, Pakistani fans, and cricket fans in general, waited for Akmal to produce that breakthrough performance that would set him on course for the type of successful career that he should have. Alas, they have now given up and Pakistan cricket has found other young batsmen to pin their hopes on.
#4 Ahmed Shehzad
Ahmed Shehzad bears a striking resemblance to Virat Kohli. But that wasn’t the reason this young batsman excited Pakistan fans way back in 2011 with his performance. He had shown bona-fide ability to score runs at the highest level and with a couple of ODI hundreds that year - one in New Zealand and the other in West Indies – looked a long-time prospect for Pakistan.
Unfortunately he fell a victim to Pakistan’s idiosyncratic selection policy just at the time his career was starting to bloom and once put off track by this setback, he took a long time to get back on it.
Shehzad’s debut came in 2009 but it really kick-started when he played as an opener in the 2011 away ODI series against New Zealand. A century in that series confirmed his spot for the upcoming World Cup. Unfortunately he couldn’t deliver on the biggest stage and was dropped during the tournament. But selectors retained faith in him and had him in the side for the ODI series in West Indies that took place shortly after. He repaid their trust by scoring a hundred in that series.
Then, strangely, he was dropped after the series and had to wait till 2013 to get back into the ODI side. This must have been hard and when he did get back into the team, it took him some time to regain his form. A hundred later in the year against South Africa in Port Elizabeth re-affirmed his promise and things started to look up again. He managed to get into the Test team too and with a hundred against Sri Lanka, showed he can succeed in that format also.
However, he was plagued by inconsistency, bad luck and lack of patience by the selectors. With few good scores interspersed with many low ones, he could not always retain his place in the team and had to make way for other talented young batsmen.
His Test career was jolted by a bouncer from Corey Anderson during a Test in Abu Dhabi when he was batting on 176. The ball hit him on the face before ricocheting on to the stumps thereby causing both a fracture and a dismissal. His Test career is yet to fully revive since that incident.
Like many other Pakistani batsmen, Shehzad has a good balanced stance and is an attractive stroke maker only lacking sometimes in the footwork. But his is also possibly a case of lack of enough application. With the likes of Babar Azam now hogging the limelight, it would be a great challenge for him to be the big hope for Pakistani batting again.
#3 Ravi Bopara
The story of Ravi Bopara’s career has been one of great success occasionally with many disappointments in between. With supple wrists which show his Indian lineage and good timing, Bopara was always a very capable batsmen.
But he repeatedly established himself in the side only to suddenly lose his way. He first made a mark in ODI cricket when he, along with Stuart Broad, rescued England from a position of little hope in an ODI against India and got them a crucial win.
When he got into the Test side, there was initial struggle but when given a second chance in 2009, he produced three hundreds in three successive innings against West Indies in an effort that seemed to book his place in the Test side.
But disaster followed when he was chosen to bat at No 3 in the Ashes that year. He failed miserably and conceded his place in the team to Jonathan Trott who made it his own. He had another go in the Test side in 2011 but again failed to deliver. However, in 2012, he proved successful in ODI cricket and forced his way back into the longer format.
He played the first Test against South Africa in which he failed and then suddenly, withdrew from the squad citing ‘personal reasons.’ England stuck by him in ODI’s but he looked hopelessly out of place rest of the year and exited the team.
The selectors gave him another chance in 2013 and he seemed somewhat revitalized and started making useful contributions. This included a hundred against Ireland where he, along, with Eoin Morgan took England to a comfortable win after the top-order collapsed.
The duo had combined to good effect in the Champions Trophy Final that year against India also but on the doorstep of victory, both got out on successive deliveries to give India the title.
Bopara continued to be in the ODI team but no longer as a leading batsmen but as a batting all-rounder, often chipping in with good bowling efforts. However, his career went down with England’s humiliating first-round exit in the 2015 World Cup and there was no place for him in the revamped English team that emerged after the World Cup.
There is very little hope that he would represent England again. In all likelihood, he would join the likes of Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick as a special talent that failed to live up to the expectations of their peers.
#2 Kusal Perera
The first thing that struck everyone when they saw Kusal Janith Perera was the resemblance of his batting style to that of Sanath Jayasuriya. And this is no co-incidence. Perera used to be a right-handed batsmen and became a leftie because he wanted to emulate his hero – who else but Jayasuriya.
He seemed to be a compact and punchy player in the same mould as Jayasuriya and could replicate some of the 'Matara Mauler's' trademark strokes – the lofted whip off the hips and the slash through the off-side.
The problem with Perera proved to be his inability to build on the starts he got. This frustrated the selectors and the Sri Lankan fans. He looked the part often in ODI’s and played many cameos that promised a lot but were cut short by indiscreet strokeplay.
To be fair, Sanath Jayasuriya too was often guilty of doing the same. But he had the ability to go big and play proper match-winning innings, a quality Perera seems to sorely miss. His powerful strokeplay meant that he was often trusted by the selectors and given a long rope and he did score three hundreds in ODIs. But we are yet to witness the kind of high-impact knock that Jayasuriya specialized in.
Another problem for him has been his consistency. There are far too many low scores between the substantial knocks he has played. The selectors will not remain favourable forever.
#1 Hamish Rutherford
Described as a ‘precocious talent’ by the late Martin Crowe, Rutherford burst onto the international scene with a big hundred against England on his Test Debut at Dunedin in 2013. A stylish left-handed batsman, Hamish seemed fully endowed with ingredients for success at the international level.
But success on his debut was followed by a string of non-impressive scores. New Zealand selectors, though, also had faith in his ability and persisted with him for a long period of time. But Rutherford couldn't repay their faith.
His was a case of a batsman who always looks good but often gets out before achieving a respectable score. There were clear technical flaws in his batting. He especially looked vulnerable against the away going deliveries and was prone to edging the ball. This was the main problem that plagued his batting. He played 16 Tests in all but after his debut hundred only managed one half-century in the other games. Eventually, the selectors ran out of patience and dropped him.
His decline after such a wonderful start has certainly left many in the New Zealand cricket community feeling let-down.