A look at the cricket personalities who performed out of their skins in 2015 and won encomiums:
Michael Clarke: Regarded as one of the most ingenious and astute captains of modern era, Michael Clarke piloted Australia to the World Cup title in 2015. He came good with bat in the final against New Zealand and played abreezy innings of 74. His tactical nous and inspirational leadership were instrumental in Australia’s World Cup triumph, after which he retired from the ODIs. However, his Test career ended on a tad sombre note as Australia lost the Ashes 2015 (2-3) to England.
Steven Smith: 2015 was the annusmirabilis for the 26-year-old Steven Smith as he established himself as one of the leading batsmen in the world in all formats of the game. He tonked 1270 runs in 13 Tests at an average of over 60 (with 5 tons to his credit), and 805 runs in 19 ODIs at an average of over 50. He bagged Man-of-the-Match award in both the Ashes Tests which Australia won (Lord’s and The Oval), and also led Australia to victory over New Zealand in his first Test series as the captain. Fittingly, he fetched the ICC Cricketer of the Year and ICC Test Cricketer of the Year awards.
ABde Villiers: AB de Villiers is unarguably the mostaudacious and arresting batsman at present and is admired across the globe. Theflamboyant batsman had an incredible year as he smashed 1193 runs in 20 matchesat an astonishing average of 79.53. The highlight of the year, among his scores of sparkling performances, was his 31-ball hundred vs West Indies (the fastestin the ODI history) at Johannesburg. He also, almost single-handedly, catapultedSouth Africa to the ODI series victory in India by cracking three hundreds inthe 5-match series.
He was also the sole bright spot for South Africa, who countered Indian spinners with a semblance of dexterity, in an other wise miserable Test series (which they lost 0-3) in India. He was named ICC ODI Cricketer of the Year for the second successive year.
Brendon McCullum: Brendon McCullum won lashings of laurels in laurels for his innovative and aggressive captaincy and peachy sportsmanship. Under histutelage, New Zealand emerged as a major force to reckon with in thelimited-overs cricket and reached the final of the World Cup 2015. New Zealand was by far the most exciting and admired team in the World Cup and earned the reputation of being the team of ‘nice guys’ which displays rollicking brand of cricket. He also led Black Caps toa Test series victory (2-0) against Sri Lanka and hence cementing hisreputation as a leader with spiffing strategic acumen.
As a batsman, McCullum unleashed an array of corybantic cameos which were instrumental in his team’s shimmering show in 2015.He is the recipient of ICC Spirit of Cricket Award 2015.
Kane Williamson: Kane Williamson came of age in 2015 and earned his spurs. He emerged as the most complete and compact batsman of his era by scoring runs in all conditions under tough circumstances. He started the year with unbeaten 242 against Sri Lanka in Wellington Test, and later smote Test tons at Lord’s and Perth. Overall, he scored 1172* runs in Tests at an exceptional average of 90.15 (with 5 hundreds), and 1317 run in the ODIs. His unflappable temperament and sturdy technique have impressed everyone.
Allan Border rated Williamson over Ab de Villiers and asserted that he would choose Williamson to bat for his life.
Alastair Cook: After copping scathing flak for his unimaginative captaincy and poor batting form in 2014, Alastair Cook reinvented himself – both as acaptain and as a batsman – and came out smelling of roses in 2015. He presided over England’s Ashes victory over Australia (3-2) and managed to draw series vs New Zealand at home. His own performance with the bat was creditable throughout the year and he is set to remain the highest run-scorer in Tests in 2015 (1357*runs at an average of 59 with 3 tons).
He was the only bright spot for England (scoring 450 runs in the 3-Test series at a stupendous average of 90) in the series against Pakistan which they lost 0-2.
Kumar Sangakkara: Arguably the finest batsman Sri Lanka has ever produced, Kumar Sangakkara whipped up some of his finest innings – in both the ODIs and Tests – in the twilight of his cricketing career. During the World Cup, he became the first batsman to crack four tons in a row in the ODIs. On the whole, he thumped 862 runs in just 14 ODIs at an average of 86.20 (with 5 hundreds) in 2015.
Though he could not do much in his last international series (Test series against India at home), hes till managed to hoover up 405 runs in 5 Tests (which includes his sparkling 203 against New Zealand at Wellington) in his last year in international cricket.
Mitchell Starc: Mitchell Starc emerged as the spearhead of Australia’s bowling attack in 2015 as he consistently tore apart the batting line-ups of almost every team. His ability to swing the ball both ways – from new as well as the old ball – coupled with stinging yorkers made him a brute of a fast bowler especially in the limited-overs cricket. He snapped up 22 wickets in 8 matches at an average of 10.18 and finished as the joined leading wicket-taker in the World Cup 2015. His knack of prising out top-order batsmen and bowling yorkers in death overs proved pivotal in Australia claiming the title.
He finished the year as the leading wicket-taker in the ODIs with 41 scalps to his credit in just 18 matches. His performance inTests was also quite good as he snaffled 46 wickets in 11 Tests at an average of 25.06.
R Ashwin: After licking his wounds in 2014, R Ashwin stormed back as a more skilful and spunky spinner. He recalibrated his repertoire around opposition batsmen who were left totally flummoxed. His superlative form helped India vanquish Sri Lanka (2-1) and South Africa (3-0). He was adjudged Man of the Series in both the Test series.
He grabbed 62 wickets in 9 Tests (highest by any bowler in Tests in 2015) at an average of 17.20 and strike-rate of 36.4. In the ODIs too, he wove his magic and scalped 21 wickets in 13 ODIs.
Yasir Shah: In 2014, Shane Warne earmarked Yasir Shah as the next big thing in international cricket and in 2015 Yasir Shah measured up to the top billing. He impressed everyone with his flight, loop, zing and control, and racked up 49 scalps in 7 Tests at an average of 23.00 and strike-rate of 48.3.He walked away with Man-of-the-Series award against Sri Lanka as well as England.
His delivery to Samit Patel, which pitched outside the leg-stump and turned sharply to rattle the off-stump, in the 3rd Test against England at Sharjah is touted as the best ball of the year 2015.