Today, I want to write a little piece on the sport I love – cricket. I know our blogs usually focus on culture, politics and many more of life’s issues, but it’s nice to write something less serious every now and then. For those who are not all too familiar with the game, this should be a nice easy read, perhaps providing you with a modest amount of knowledge to deploy the next time a cricket debate/quiz question comes up. For those who bleed cricket, then see if you agree.

I will be releasing a piece early next week on the intriguing (and somewhat worrying) issue of cricket diplomacy. You can view this blog as an entrée for that juicy topic, whetting your appetite for more cricket-related insights.

What is noteworthy is that none of the players on this list played for India, South Africa or Australia, and there is only one from England. These countries usually play the most matches in a calendar year, and therefore, their players are usually at the forefront of people’s minds. The criteria for an underrated player is someone who does not get the praise that they merit, both through stats and style. So, here are my top 10 underrated batsman of the 21st century, in no particular order:

1) Thilan Samaraweera

Even the most fervent cricket fans across the globe may be unaware of this man. Thilan Samaraweera’s career was almost cut short when he was hit by a bullet in the thigh during the Lahore terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009. He was hospitalised but fortunately survived. Samaraweera was an unheralded member of the great Sri Lankan Test side of the 2000s, overshadowed by the many legends playing in that team, such as Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan, to name but a few. Samaraweera was a dependable middle-order player, something Sri Lanka are in desperate need of today. 

After a few years in the wilderness after a disastrous tour to England (where he scored only 17 runs), he returned to the Test side in 2008 and in 6 tests, he amassed 582 runs at an astounding average of 97. Samaraweera then went on to score consecutive double-hundreds against Pakistan in 2009 and finished 2009 with the most Test runs in the calendar year, scoring 1234 runs at an average of 72.58. Ridiculous numbers. 

He never translated his talent in the longer format to the one-day game, but I still feel he deserves a place on this list. His form in 2009 alone is enough to justify that. He finished his Test career with 5462 runs in 81 matches at an average of 48.77 with 14 Test hundreds. Those are world-class stats and he can count himself unfortunate that he is somewhat overlooked. 

2) Mohammed Hafeez

One need only watch the last two T20I’s against England to see Hafeez’ prowess with the bat, even at the ripe old age of 39. He has had a quite remarkable career trajectory, mirroring that of Shane Watson, a player who I feel is rated slightly higher in the cricketing world. His career started off in a tumultuous fashion, being left out of the Test side for two 3-year periods between 2003-2010. However, after returning to the side, his numbers in both ODIs and Tests were nothing short of outstanding.

Hafeez hit 11 ODI tons at the top of the order between 2011-2015 (chipping in with 100 wickets as well), cementing himself as a premier white-ball all rounder. Yet, it was in the Test arena that his game was augmented most. Much like Shane Watson, he was promoted to open the batting, and he excelled, hitting 10 Test match hundreds. If Pakistan had played Tests more regularly during the peak of his powers, he would have been in the mainstream conversation of elite openers. Hafeez has played over 350 games for Pakistan, and has been an outstanding batsman over the last decade for the men in green in all formats.

3) Chris Gayle

Okay, I know what you’re thinking – Chris Gayle is very highly rated, a transcendent superstar, a household name. Of course this is true; however, Gayle is much more than the brash opener who made T20 his own; to view him as such is a disservice to his immense talent in all formats.

Gayle played 103 Test matches for the West Indies and 300 ODI’s, averaging 42.19 and 37.7, and hitting 40 combined hundreds. However, the stat that really stand out is that Gayle has hit not one but TWO Test triple hundreds. TWO I SAY. Only 4 players in the history of the game have hit a triple hundred more than once: Donald Bradman, Brian Lara, Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle. Legen… wait for it…dary. He’s also the only player to hit the first ball of a Test match for six.

Added to these bewildering achievements, he’s hit 2 international T20 hundreds as well, and was the first man to hit a hundred in all 3 formats. A magical player who is right up there with the greatest players across all formats of the game.

4) Tamim Iqbal

Criminally underrated. Bangladesh struggled for years, often trampled on by more established international sides. However, they have become a real force in recent years, and the future looks bright. One of their key players over the past decade or so has been their stalwart opener Tamim Iqbal, a vital cog in the Bangladeshi machine. This is a man who would open for most international sides, but is overlooked in the conversation of world-class openers, purely because he plays for Bangladesh.

His numbers are right up there with the best: he averages 38.64 in 60 Test matches and 36.7 from 207 ODIs, with a combined 21 hundreds in these formats. He also has a hundred in T20I’s, making him one of a select group of players with hundreds in all 3 formats on the international stage. Not many openers of his generation can boast better stats.

Context also adds weight to these numbers. Bangladesh play very few Test matches compared to the likes of England, India etc, and so finding an extended run of form can be challenging. Iqbal also has the added pressure of having to deliver to give his side a fighting chance in any game. An aggressive batsman who can destroy any bowling attack on his day, Tamim Iqbal has been underrated for too long.

5) Ramnaresh Sarwan

Sarwan has to be the best player to average under 40 in Test cricket. He finished his Test career with an average of 39.74 and 5842 runs in 87 matches. He had a fluctuating career which lacked true consistency, which is why he is often placed in the ‘second-tier’ of great batsman.

Yet, if one observes both his ODI and Test in conjunction, you could make a strong argument that Sarwan has been overlooked as a modern-day great. He reached the apex of the ODI batting rankings, finishing his career with 5804 runs at an average of 42, eerily similar to his Test total. Over 11,500 runs across both formats is a stellar achievement, especially considering he played less than 300 games.

Again, context is important here. The West Indies were a poor side during the mid-noughties, a mere shadow of the great sides produced of decades past. This was mainly due to a weak bowling attack. Yet, Sarwan, along with an ageing Brian Lara, Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, provided the Windies with some stability in their batting. Lara and Chanderpaul took most of the plaudits, with Sarwan playing second fiddle to the pair. Whilst certainly not on the same level as these 2 legends of the game, he reminded everyone of his brilliance with a Test high-score of 291 against England in 2009. A top player during a turbulent period for the Windies.

6) Tillakaratne Dilshan

The creator of a striking new shot – the “Dilscoop” – was nothing but box office when he was promoted to open for Sri Lanka. Like several others on this list, Dilshan has hit a hundred in all 3 formats at the international level. He played just short of 500 games for Sri Lanka, an outstanding achievement in itself, and will go down as one of their greatest players.

He completely reinvented himself after making a comeback to the international side in 2009. He was a modest all-rounder prior to this, often batting in the lower middle-order and bowling some steady off-breaks. This complete transformation to deadly opener adds more weight to his greatness; he had to work so hard to be given another opportunity, and he took it with both hands.

In 2012 he was at the peak of his powers, hitting 1119 runs. He finished his career with 39 international hundreds, most of which came after his promotion to the top of the order. Imagine if this had happened earlier? He was especially dominant in ODI’s, amassing 10,290 runs. Scoring 10,000 runs in any format is a significant achievement, and he actually places 14th all-time for runs scored. Simply superb from the swashbuckling Sri Lankan.

Yet, over the course of his career, Dilshan was part of various Sri Lankan sides with several all-time greats, and thus he does not receive the recognition he deserves. He should certainly push for a place in an all-time ODI XI, but it seldom seems he is the conversation.

7) Jonathan Trott

Only since his retirement from the international circuit have England fans come to truly appreciate Jonathan Trott. His rather sudden retirement after being dominated by the short-ball in Australia harmed his legacy; yet, England’s struggles for stability at the top of the order in recent years has reminded everyone just how good he was.

Just look at his debut. Coming into the side in the deciding 5th Test of the 2009 Ashes, he scored a second-innings 119 to secure Ashes glory for England, the dream start. He was so consistent thereafter, in both ODIs and Tests, actually finishing his ODI career with an average of 51.25 from 65 innings. He was actually the fastest player to reach 1000 runs in ODIs, coming in 21 matches. His Test career was equally impressive before the aforementioned decline, hitting 9 hundreds, two of them doubles.

The story of Trott’s career and legacy is incredibly interesting. Often criticised for batting in a bland manner, now England fans are clamouring for a player of his ilk. He scored heavily for England during a golden period and should be regarded as an England legend.

8) Mohammad Yousuf

Mohammad Yousuf should be in the conversation for an All-Time XI. Period. He rose to the top of both Test and ODI batting rankings, a feat matched by only a select few in the history of the game. He had an incredible 6-year period, which culminated with a world-record 1788 runs in a calendar year, overtaking the previous record set by Sir Viv Richards. As a result of these exploits, he was awarded the prestigious ICC Cricketer of the year award in 2007.

Much like the man listed before, the manner of Yousuf’s career end harmed his legacy, although it was much uglier than Trott’s. He was banned from playing for Pakistan by their Cricket Board in 2010, stating that he had created disciplinary problems and infighting within the team. With this, Yousuf announced his retirement; however, just a few months later, the PCB asked him to come out of retirement.

This rather comical end to his career should not overshadow his brilliance with the bat over a lengthy period of time. To add to the accolades listed above, Yousuf retired with a Test average comfortably over 50 from 90 matches, with 24 tons. Moreover, he finished just shy of 10,000 ODI runs, immense numbers in both formats. An unheralded superstar that should be mentioned among Lara, Tendulkar and Ponting. A true modern-day great who turned up in big moments.

9) Ross Taylor

An absolute gun and one of the very best in the world. However, on observation, it seems that most of the plaudits for New Zealand’s batting go to either Kane Williamson in Tests or Martin Guptill in white-ball cricket. Put some respect on Taylor’s name. He’s played 100 or more matches in all 3 formats for New Zealand, a stalwart of the side for the past 14 years, an unsung hero. Taylor’s name should come up more often when we discuss the finest batsman in the world.

Not many players boast better stats than Taylor. He averages a shade over 45 in Tests, 48.4 in ODIs and 25.8 in IT20s, with 40 international hundreds – elite production. He should go on to pass 10,000 ODI runs by the time his career finishes, the hallmark of all-time greats.

Much like Tamim Iqbal, Taylor suffers from a lack of Test matches, with New Zealand playing only a handful each year. With this in consideration, his consistency in the longer format is even more impressive. Brilliant to watch and a pure match-winner on his day, Taylor is a true great.

10) Dimuth Karunaratne

The 3rd Sri Lankan on this list. Over the past 4 years, Karunaratne has been a mark of consistency in a Sri Lankan Test team that lacks just that. Opening the batting can be challenging at the best of times, but factor in the fact that if he fails, Sri Lanka usually collapse, then his feats are elevated further still.

Karunaratne was at his best in 2017. He played a decisive role in defeating Pakistan in the Middle-East, which had been their fortress for so long. In the process, he notched his highest ever score of 196, ending the calendar year as one of the highest run scorers. He has continued to score heavily since, currently averaging 36.74 from 66 Test matches – impressive number for an opener.

Whilst mainly a Test batsman, he was thrust into the limelight last year when he was made captain of the ODI side just before the World Cup. Sri Lanka had a feeble world cup campaign; however, Karunaratne was personally excellent, scoring 222 runs in 7 games, getting Sri Lanka off to numerous strong starts. He also became only the second batsman after Ridley Jacobs to carry his bat in a Cricket World Cup. If he continues this form in both ODIs and Tests, more people will take notice of his batting brilliance.

That’s my top 10 – do you agree? Comment your thoughts below!