Ranking the 25 Most Improved Cricketers of 2013

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2013

Ranking the 25 Most Improved Cricketers of 2013

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    With 2013 drawing to a close, it's an apt time to reflect on the performances we've witnessed throughout a compelling year of international cricket.

    More specifically, with another Ashes series already decided and a heavyweight clash between South Africa and India just commencing, it's a nice opportunity to examine which players have shown the greatest degree of improvement on the global stage in 2013.

    All of the world's major Test-playing nations have overseen significant development in a number of their players this calendar year; even the dominant forces of the international arena witnessing new stars emerge amongst their ranks.

    So which players have improved the most over the course of this calendar year? Which 25 stand above the rest in terms of growth over the previous 12 months?

    Those players are presented in the following slides.

Criteria and Explanation of Rankings

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    Before viewing the rankings, it's important to outline the criteria used to judge a player, and how various factors influence one's ranking.

    It's also important to note that this list isn't just restricted to young and emerging players. Experienced cricketers who have enjoyed significant turnarounds in their performance are also eligible.

    Factors Affecting Ranking:

    1. Sheer weight of runs and wickets resulting from immense improvement is the primary factor influencing a player's ranking.

    2. The total degree of improvement in a player is more important than their overall standing in the game.

    3. Improvements to one's play and performance in the Test arena carry more weight than improvements in the One Day International and Twenty20 formats.

    4. Improvements which have resulted in a player completing match-winning performances are looked upon favourably.

    5. Players who have shown significant development whilst playing against the world's best teams are rated highly.

    6. Those who have defied the odds and grown to prominence in the face of doubt are also regarded highly.

25. David Miller

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    Country: South Africa

    Key Statistic for 2013: 544 ODI runs at 32.00

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 85 not out versus Sri Lanka at Pallekele

    David Miller has never been known for elegance with the bat. But until 2013, he'd never been known for consistency either.

    Coming in as middle-order blaster for South Africa, Miller has locked down a place in his nation's team with brutal hitting that can take games away from opposition sides in a rush.

    Having only played 16 matches before this year, the hard-hitting left-hander has worn his country's colours on 24 occasions in 2013, hammering 544 runs at a strike rate of 90.96.

    His brilliant 85 not out against Sri Lanka was delivered with his team under pressure at 95-4, steering South Africa to a comfortable 56-run victory in difficult conditions.

    Miller also smashed a savage 56 not out from 34 balls in his most recent innings against India on December 11.

    At 24 years of age, Miller's next target will be to push for Test selection.

24. Glenn Maxwell

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    Country: Australia

    Key Statistic for 2013: 387 ODI runs at strike rate of 138.70

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Making Test debut against India at Hyderabad

    Glenn Maxwell was scoffed at after being purchased by the Mumbai Indians for $US 1 million in the 2013 IPL auction.

    Those critics weren't laughing when the dashing right-hander hammered 60 from just 22 deliveries in Australia's seventh ODI against India in Bangalore.

    That stunning exhibition of hitting was Maxwell's third lightning fifty of the series, after making 53 in Jaipur and 92 in Ranchi. 

    Although Maxwell has considerable improvements to make if he's to push for permanent Test selection, the 25-year-old has proved he's one of the most exciting batsmen in the world in the limited-overs formats.

23. Kyle Abbott

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    Country: South Africa

    Key Statistic for 2013: 9 Test wickets at 7.55

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 7/29 versus Pakistan at Centurion

    When Jacques Kallis was forced to withdraw from South Africa's third Test against Pakistan in February, a 25-year-old Kyle Abbott was given his Test debut.

    Although he's been seen as a promising fast bowler for some time, what happened next quickly earmarked Abbott as South Africa's next star with the ball.

    In his very first stint, Abbott claimed a remarkable 7/29, reducing Pakistan to rubble as South Africa cruised to victory by an innings and 18 runs.

    Although Abbott is yet to play another Test since—being forced to wait his turn behind Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander—it seems certain that this bright young talent will be among the next fast-bowling stars in South African cricket.

22. James Faulkner

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    Country: Australia

    Key Statistic for 2013: 28 IPL wickets at 15.25

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Making Test debut against England at The Oval

    James Faulkner's rise in 2013 has been a significant one, rising from one of Australia's leading domestic players to become a prominent international all-rounder.

    His success in Sheffield Shield cricket for Tasmania laid the platform for a stunning campaign in the 2013 IPL season, where he was the second-leading wicket taker in a starring role for the Rajasthan Royals.

    That impressive campaign resulted in the left-armer becoming a permanent member of Australia's limited-overs teams for 2013, impressing many with his combination of tight bowling and hard-hitting efforts as a lower-order batsman.

    Faulkner now finds himself on the fringes of Australia's Test team, having made his debut at The Oval against England.

    At just 23 years of age, it's certain that we'll see a lot more of Faulkner on the international stage.

21. Mohammad Irfan

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    Country: Pakistan

    Key Statistic for 2013: 38 ODI wickets at 24.28

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Making Test debut against South Africa in Cape Town

    Mohammad Irfan has made an incredibly late start to his international career, after being forced to pursue other work because of a lack of cricketing opportunities in his hometown of Gaggu Mandi.

    However, after breaking into Pakistan's side last year, the giant left-arm speedster has enjoyed a breakout year in 2013, claiming 38 ODI wickets and making his Test debut in February.

    With his extreme bounce and lively pace, Irfan has troubled the world's best batsmen and has grown to become an indispensable member of Pakistan's side.

    Although the 31-year-old doesn't have time on his side as a fast bowler, his rapid rise through the ranks of Pakistani cricket means the mileage on his body should be significantly lower than other bowlers of a similar age.

    Pakistan will be hoping he can continue for quite a while yet.

20. Ryan McLaren

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    Country: South Africa

    Key Statistic for 2013: 45 ODI wickets at 23.77

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 4/19 versus Pakistan at Edgbaston

    Ryan McLaren has been a fringe player in the South African limited-overs teams since 2009. A bowling all-rounder capable of brutal hitting, McLaren had never been able to grab his chance until this year.

    Playing in 27 ODIs for his country, the right-armer has claimed 45 wickets to leave him as the third most prolific bowler in ODIs this year.

    The bustling speedster has claimed a four-wicket haul on four separate occasions in 2013, in addition to compiling 410 runs in his side's lower-order.

    With South Africa opting to field different line-ups in the game's various formats, McLaren has risen to become one of his nation's most useful limited-overs competitors.

19. Nathan Lyon

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    Country: Australia

    Key Statistic for 2013: 36 Test wickets at 36.44

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 7/94 versus India in Delhi

    Little more than two years ago, Nathan Lyon was a member of the ground staff at the Adelaide Oval.

    In 2013, he's grown to become Australia's leading spinner.

    Although the 26-year-old has been treated somewhat harshly by selectors at various stages this year, the off-spinner has now cemented his place with a string of consistent performances.

    Dropped for the first two Ashes Tests of 2013 in favour of Ashton Agar, Lyon regained his spot at Old Trafford and hasn't looked back.

    With an ever-improving control of pace and flight, the classical off-spinner has troubled England's batsmen, claiming critical wickets at important times for Michael Clarke.

    After completing an extensive search for a long-term spinning option, Australia has stumbled across a gem in Lyon.

18. Mohammed Shami

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    Country: India

    Key Statistic for 2013: 41 international wickets at 26.44

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 5/47 versus West Indies in Kolkata

    Mohammed Shami had never played an international match prior to 2013. Suddenly, he's the most promising fast-bowling talent India has possessed in years.

    Quick, hostile and able to viciously swing the old ball, Shami made his ODI debut versus Pakistan in January. Since then, he's grown to become a consistent wicket-taker, with 30 scalps in 20 matches—20 of those coming in his last nine games.

    That impressive run saw the right-armer selected for his first Test series at home to the West Indies.

    In his very first appearance, Shami destroyed the tourists in the opening Test in Kolkata, taking a rapid 5/47 in the second innings to finish with match figures of 9/118 to deliver an innings victory for India.

    At just 23 years of age, Shami is one of the world's hottest fast-bowling prospects.

17. Ben Stokes

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    Country: England

    Key Statistic for 2013: 42 County Championship wickets at 26.57

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: First Test hundred versus Australia in Perth

    Had he spent more time on the international stage this year, it's likely this man would appear far higher up this list.

    Yet, amid the misery of losing the Ashes to Australia in Perth, Ben Stokes provided the sole shining light in a desperately poor tour for England.

    With his team-mates being blown away by the rampant Australians, Stokes compiled a blistering 120 on one of world cricket's most unique pitches against a formidable attack.

    The ease with which he flayed Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris around the WACA Ground in just his second Test was breathtaking, highlighting the talent that England has on its hands.

    After an impressive county season this year, Stokes looks set to cement himself in his nation's Test side in 2014.

16. Kane Williamson

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    Country: New Zealand

    Key Statistic for 2013: 633 Test runs and 14 Test wickets

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 91, 4/44 versus England in Auckland

    Kane Williamson has been a highly-regarded talent in New Zealand ever since making his international debut in 2010.

    However, the 23-year-old hadn't shown his complete potential until this year.

    In 2013, Williamson has edged towards being a true all-rounder rather than a specialist batsman, averaging 39.56 with the bat and 31.21 with the ball.

    In Auckland in March, he completed his most impressive performance, just missing out on a hundred whilst also claiming four important wickets.

    That performance came in the middle of four other fifties and a smooth century against Bangladesh in October.

    While his batting has looked promising, being able to claim important scalps as a reliable off-spinner makes Williamson's potential all the more exciting.

15. Joe Root

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    Country: England

    Key Statistic for 2013: 823 Test runs at 35.78

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 180 versus Australia at Lord's

    It's sometimes easy to forget how gruelling it is to play 13 Test matches in a calendar year (with one still to come), particularly for a 22-year-old.

    Yet, that's exactly what Joe Root has done, cementing himself in England's Test team as one of his nation's brightest emerging talents.

    Thrown around the order to cover the deficiencies of others, Root has shown he can score runs at every position, reaching hundreds as both an opener and as a middle-order player.

    An impressive start against New Zealand at the beginning of the year saw the young right-hander grab a key position in England's Ashes team; a position he is yet to relinquish. 

    Although there are obvious improvements that he can make to his game, Root's 180 against Australia at Lord's was an example of what England can expect over the next decade.

14. George Bailey

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    Country: Australia

    Key Statistic for 2013: 1,098 ODI runs at 64.58

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Making Test debut against England in Brisbane

    While the jury remains out regarding his ability in Test cricket, George Bailey has proved he's a force in the limited-overs game.

    In fact, his 2013 season in ODI cricket has been nothing short of outstanding.

    Averaging over 60 at a strike rate of 100.00, Bailey is the second fastest man in history to reach 1,500 ODI runs.

    A maiden hundred against the West Indies kick-started his phenomenal calendar year, which was followed by an impressive summer-ending campaign in England, where he played a pivotal role in Australia's ODI series victory.

    But it was his blistering form in India that forced the cricket world to stand up and take notice; Bailey compiling four scores in excess of 85 in just five innings—including a brutal 156—to earn himself a spot in Australia's Test team.

13. Ravindra Jadeja

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    Country: India

    Key Statistic for 2013: 24 Test wickets at 17.45

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Dismissing Michael Clarke five times in six innings

    At first glance, Ravindra Jadeja's left-arm orthodox appears relatively sedate and unassuming. 

    However, his figures in 2013 would suggest otherwise, as the 25-year-old has become a valuable member of India's new generation.

    After being handed his Test debut against England in 2012, Jadeja was selected to face Australia in the first Test of the series in Chennai.

    Jadeja immediately impressed, claiming five scalps for the match, which included Michael Clarke as his first Test wicket.

    The left-armer went on to claim a minimum of five wickets in each match of the series, finishing with a superb 5/58 to wrap up a 4-0 whitewash.

    That he claimed Clarke's wicket on five occasions is an indication of the talent he possesses.

12. Stuart Broad

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    Country: England

    Key Statistic for 2013: 59 Test wickets at 25.37

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 6/50 versus Australia at Chester-le-Street

    Many would argue that Stuart Broad had already become a proven performer before this year. However, from a statistical standpoint, Broad has never bowled better than he has in 2013.

    The aggressive right-armer has claimed more wickets in this calendar year than any other bowler in Test cricket, considerably out-performing both James Anderson and Graeme Swann in England's world-class attack.

    The 27-year-old terrorised New Zealand at the beginning of the year, before completing one of the most breathtaking spells of 2013 against Australia in Durham, when he ripped the visitors' batting line-up apart to deliver a series victory for the home side.

    Even during England's miserable rematch with Australia, Broad has consistently been the most threatening of Alastair Cook's bowlers, as his partners begin to show the strain of heavy mileage. 

    With England's current team approaching a period of transition, Broad will be required to be his side's leading force with the ball in years to come.

11. Ravichandran Ashwin

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    Country: India

    Key Statistic for 2013: 41 Test wickets at 19.87

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 12/198 versus Australia in Chennai

    Despite becoming a prolific limited-overs spinner since his debut in 2010, Ravichandran Ashwin had struggled in Test cricket until 2013.

    Lacking the patience and guile needed from a spinner in the game's longest format, Ashwin often resorted to using his immense variations far too regularly, resulting in terrible inconsistency.

    However, a more mature Ashwin has presented himself in 2013, as he's used his variations more subtly to become a resilient and incisive tweaker for India.

    His first performance of the year was a 12-wicket haul against Australia in Chennai, which ensured a convincing victory for the home side.

    Since then, Ashwin has claimed at least four wickets in every Test, seeing his career average drop from 32.41 to 27.47.

    Following the departure of Anil Kumble and the slide of Harbhajan Singh, Ashwin now looks like the spinner ready to lead India for the better part of the next decade.

10. Steven Smith

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    Country: Australia

    Key Statistic for 2013: 692 Test runs at 38.44

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 111 versus England in Perth

    When Steven Smith made his Test debut in 2010, he was viewed as a technically-flawed batsman who bowled shoddy leg-spin.

    Three years later, Smith has begun to sway his critics by becoming a key figure in Australia's revamped middle-order.

    The 24-year-old has tightened his defence and expanded his repertoire to emerge as a long-term batting option for an evolving Australian team. 

    Although Smith scored an unbeaten hundred at The Oval in August, it was his vitally important century in Perth that secured his place in Michael Clarke's team for the foreseeable future; the right-hander preventing a collapse and halting England's brief momentum to setup a convincing Australian victory.

    After a number of frustrating years, Smith looks set for a big year in 2014.

9. Peter Fulton

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    Country: New Zealand

    Key Statistic for 2013: 599 Test runs at 39.93

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Twin hundreds versus England in Auckland

    Peter Fulton looked destined to be a journeyman of New Zealand cricket, having played just 10 Tests since making his debut in 2006.

    However, after a three-year absence, Fulton returned to New Zealand's Test side this year and sparkled at the top of his side's order.

    He announced his return with a brilliant 136 in the first innings against England in Auckland, thwarting a world-class attack containing James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

    Fulton didn't take long to add to his first Test century, compiling 110 in the second innings of the match to secure his place in New Zealand's side for 2014 and beyond.

    Three fifties since have built on that impressive platform, which could see Fulton join Test cricket's club of late bloomers. 

8. Trent Boult

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    Country: New Zealand

    Key Statistic for 2013: 41 Test wickets at 25.53

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 6/68 versus England in Auckland

    In 2012, Trent Boult claimed 22 Test wickets. In 2013, he has 41.

    Now a mainstay in New Zealand's Test side, Boult has impressed many with his consistent swing from a dangerous left arm.

    In back-to-back series against England, the 24-year-old claimed two five-wickets hauls, with his 6/68 in Auckland driving his side into a dominant position before England narrowly escaped with a draw.

    Carrying on from those impressive months against one of the world's best sides, Boult has torn through the West Indies in recent matches at home, claiming 15 wickets in two Tests as New Zealand look to bury their visitors.

    With Boult emerging as an incisive left-armer, New Zealand's attack has the potential to become significantly more threatening than it has been in recent years.

7. Quinton De Kock

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    Country: South Africa

    Key Statistic for 2013: 741 ODI runs at 46.31

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Three consecutive ODI hundreds versus India

    Before this year began, Quinton de Kock was nothing more than a fringe player in the South African limited-overs teams.

    Now, at the end of 2013, he stands as one of the most promising prospects in international cricket.

    At just 21 years of age, De Kock has replaced Graeme Smith at the top of his nation's batting line-up with instant success.

    In his mauling of India in December, the emerging wicket-keeper became the youngest ever South African to score an ODI century, just the fifth player in history to score three consecutive ODI centuries, and the the highest ever run scorer in any three-match bilateral series in ODIs.

    In 2014, De Kock will undoubtedly set his sights on the Test arena.

6. David Warner

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    Country: Australia

    Key Statistic for 2013: 875 Test runs at 41.66

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Starring role in Australia's reclaiming of the Ashes

    David Warner is far from being the most liked cricketer on the planet. However, in 2013, the aggressive batsman has become one of the most destructive. 

    Immaturity, rash strokes and unsavoury off-field behaviour had hindered Warner's career until the latter stages of this year, resulting in the punchy left-hander losing his place in Australia's Test side ahead of the 2013 Ashes series.

    Yet, Warner was offered a lifeline by the poor form of other batsmen—namely Phillip Hughes and Ed Cowan—which he has grabbed with both hands.

    Suddenly in the batting form of his life, Warner has two hundreds and two fifties so far in Australia's already successful Ashes campaign at home, with the opener averaging a staggering 91.40.

    Once nothing more than a Twenty20 bruiser, Warner appears to have transformed into an authentic Test batsman. 

5. Shikhar Dhawan

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    Country: India

    Key Statistic for 2013: 1,162 ODI runs at 50.52

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 187 on Test debut against Australia in Mohali

    Prior to 2013, Shikhar Dhawan had played just five ODIs for a combined total of 69 runs.

    This year, he's grown to become one of the leading limited-overs batsmen in the world by smashing more than 1,000 runs in just 25 innings.

    After making a stunning 187 from just 174 balls on Test debut against Australia in March, Dhawan compiled back-to-back hundreds in the ICC Champions Trophy against South Africa and the West Indies.

    Returning to India, Dhawan took it to another level, hammering Australia during two 350-plus run chases in Jaipur and Nagpur, in which he scored 95 and 100.

    The 28-year-old now finds himself as a critical member of India's line-up in both the Test and ODI arenas.

    You certainly wouldn't bet against him to have a mammoth year in 2014.

4. Mominul Haque

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    Country: Bangladesh

    Key Statistic for 2013: 584 Test runs at 83.42

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: 181 versus New Zealand at Chittagong

    Being a Bangladeshi cricketer makes it very hard to create headlines in the Test arena, but that's exactly what Mominul Haque has done.

    At just 22 years of age, Mominul has completed a stunning year at the international level, scoring two hundreds and two fifties in his first nine Test innings to finish the year with an average of 83.42.

    At a time when Tamim Iqbal continues to frustrate Bangladeshi supporters, Mominul has quickly become his nation's finest batsman, and one of the world's most promising talents.

    A free-scorer with a vast array of classy strokes, the young left-hander looks capable of becoming the first player from Bangladesh to break into the world's crop of leading cricketers.

3. Ian Bell

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    Country: England

    Key Statistic for 2013: 978 Test runs at 44.45

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Single-handedly winning England the Ashes in 2013

    Questions about Ian Bell's resiliency seemed a permanent presence throughout the batsman's Test career.

    Yet, in just one series, Bell disposed of all those doubts, single-handedly driving England to an Ashes triumph in 2013 with three majestic and match-defining hundreds.

    At Trent Bridge, Bell completed the most important innings of his career, scoring a fluid and defiant 109 to rescue England from trouble in a second-innings rearguard action.

    In the following Test at Lord's, the stylish right-hander arrived at the crease following the fall of three early wickets; his hundred driving England to a thumping victory.

    With his side needing him again in Durham, Bell stroked his way to a sumptuous 113, ensuring his side finished the Test as both match and series victors. 

2. Mitchell Johnson

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    Country: Australia

    Key Statistic for 2013: 26 Test wickets at 19.53

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Single-handedly changing the balance of power in an Ashes series

    Let's be honest. Absolutely no one expected this.

    From the laughing stock of Australian cricket to the most destructive bowler of the year in a matter of weeks, Mitchell Johnson has completed the full circle.

    Few will ever forget his savage assaults on England in Brisbane and Adelaide; the left-armer single-handedly destroying England with 17 wickets in two matches to effectively end Australia's Ashes drought in just 10 extraordinary days of Test cricket.

    Yet, the revival started much earlier in the year.

    Johnson's performance in the 2013 IPL was impressive, where he took 24 wickets at 19.12. That gave the previously fragile bowler confidence on the international stage which saw him complete impressive ODI campaigns in England and India.

    What followed in the Ashes in Australia was astonishing, marking Johnson's story as perhaps the most compelling of the year.

1. Rohit Sharma

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    Country: India

    Key Statistic for 2013: 1,196 ODI runs at 52.00

    Most Notable Achievement in 2013: Back-to-back hundreds in first two Test innings

    It has taken a long time for Rohit Sharma to reach the level that many have expected of him, after enduring a frustrating career since making his international debut in 2007.

    That, however, is now a thing of the past, with the stylish right-hander now sitting as the most improved player in the game.

    A shift up the order to open the batting early in the year saw a sudden change of fortune for Sharma, with a steady collection of fifties justifying his new role.

    Then came the explosion against Australia, when he scored 141 not out in Jaipur before becoming just the third player in history to reach a double-century in ODIs with a breathtaking 209 in Bangalore.

    That phenomenal performance landed Sharma in India's Test line-up for the home series against the West Indies. Entering the contest in the hottest form imaginable, the 26-year-old stroked his way to consecutive hundreds in his only two innings of the series to cement his long-term place in the side.