Two dream debuts, and a Mumbai marathon
Andrew Strauss 161 v Australia
second Test, Lord's
Days after England had saved the Cardiff Test by the skin of their teeth, they stunned Australia at Lord's. At the forefront was the captain, scoring an unbeaten 161 out of 364 for 6 on the first day. It was not just Strauss's runs, it was his stoic batting that averted what very nearly was a middle-order collapse. And he managed to score at a strike rate of 60-plus. That the innings came at Lord's, where England had not beaten Australia for 75 years; that it came with the series still alive; and that most of it involved blunting the attack before it could dictate terms to England, made it a major turning point of the Ashes.
Jonathan Trott 119 v Australia
fifth Test, The Oval
Debuts don't come much better than ones that produce decisive centuries in an Ashes decider. More so when your team needs a win and the opposition can retain the urn with a draw. In just those circumstances, at 39 for 3 in the second innings, out came Trott. He left at 373 for 9, having scored 119 off 193 in the knock of an instant veteran. His skill, determination and confidence made the men around him in England's middle order look like international novices, and his nerveless shot selection provided the scaffolding for a series of carefree cameos at the other end.
Virender Sehwag 293 v Sri Lanka
third Test, Mumbai
Even a bad back couldn't slow Sehwag down at the Brabourne Stadium. He scored at such breathtaking speed that India made their highest innings score ever, 726, in well under two days. Throughout the second day of the Test, when Sri Lanka tried to plug one hole, Sehwag rushed in through the other. For the most part it was no monotonous power-hitting but a delightful and clever exercise in finding the gaps in defensive fields. Think Twenty20 highlights but with the batsman playing lovely inside-out chips, straight lofts, reverse-sweeps to beat leg-side fields, and flicks to beat off-side fields. Once he saw himself in, the longest Sehwag went without a boundary was 12 balls.
Chris Gayle 165* v Australia
second Test, Adelaide
Gayle spent much of 2009 being panned for his supposed lack of interest in Test cricket, and derided for supposedly not being a good leader, and his side was the object of derision after they caved in in the first Test against Australia. They had a 35-run lead in the second with two days and two innings to go in the match, and it seemed at that point that there was enough time only for them to lose the match - a fate many touring sides have met in Australia after getting a slender first-innings lead. But the fourth day was when Gayle showed he cared - for Test cricket, for his team, for high-level competition. He carried his bat through, playing with utmost discipline, and made sure his team would not lose. The next-best score in the innings was 27.
Umar Akmal 129 v New Zealand
first Test, Dunedin
So you're a 19-year-old Pakistani making your Test debut in New Zealand, on a windy day, with your side 85 for 5 and Shane Bond bowling at a scorching pace. Bring it on, you say, and smack 129 runs in 160 balls, pulling sensationally, cutting and driving emphatically, slog-sweeping Daniel Vettori disdainfully: basically asking your senior and more accomplished team-mates what the fuss is all about. You also score a much more mature 75 in the second innings, but are let down by the rest again and end up on the losing side.