Test batting nominees January 20, 2019

The defences will hold

In a tough year for Test batting, our nominees stood out

On a deteriorating pitch against a challenging attack, Kane Williamson batted masterfully to give New Zealand their first away series win over Pakistan in 49 years © Associated Press

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AB de Villiers
126 not out v Australia
second Test, Port Elizabeth

Before the Port Elizabeth Test, de Villiers had last scored a Test hundred in January 2015. Injuries and a self-imposed sabbatical then sidelined him from Test cricket for nearly two years. Against a full-strength Australia attack, he produced a vintage century - like only he can - and showed he still had it. Six down for 183 in response to Australia's 243 after being 1-0 down in the series? No problem, said de Villiers, as he marshalled the tail and zoomed to a series-defining 117-ball hundred. It was only fitting that he reached the landmark with a trademark trick shot: a flip over the slip cordon off Pat Cummins. Little did we know that it would turn out to be his last international ton.

Kevin O'Brien
118 v Pakistan
only Test, Dublin

Wet weather delayed Ireland's Test bow, but Kevin O'Brien - he who unleashed an incredible burst of power-hitting in the 2011 World Cup in Bengaluru - rose above the conditions and Pakistan's attack to give his side reason to dream again. This, after they had been dismissed for 130 in 202 minutes in their maiden Test innings. O'Brien himself batted 344 minutes in their second dig and stood up to the combined fury of Mohammad Abbas and Mohammad Amir. The pressure got to him in the nineties and on 99 he nearly tickled one behind, but, perhaps, it was written in the stars. Kevin O'Brien: Ireland's first Test centurion. The celebration from Kevin was understated but the cheers from his parents, Ginger and Camilla, in the stands and Associate cricket overall were nothing short of rapturous.

Dimuth Karunaratne
158 not out v South Africa
first Test, Galle

You are playing your 50th Test in the "toughest place" for opening batsmen. You watch Vernon Philander find swing, you watch Kagiso Rabada get a length ball to burst off the pitch, you watch Tabraiz Shamsi rip it both ways, and then you watch your partners tumble like nine pins. Karunaratne, however, coolly took on South Africa's attack like an action hero deals with a bunch of villains and carried his bat, staying unconquered on 158 off 222 balls. Galle is usually Rangana Herath's fortress, but on July 12, 2018 Karunaratne made the (toughest) place his own.

Usman Khawaja batted for more than eight hours to save the Dubai Test © AFP

Sam Curran
63 v India
first Test, Birmingham

In a match where Virat Kohli produced a tour de force and Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow hit impressive fifties, it was 20-year-old Sam Curran who made the difference with an audacious 65-ball 63. Curran is slightly built - he looks like a perfect fit for rom-coms - but his meaty blows belied his frame and reminded his captain Root of Ben Stokes. After repeatedly flashing Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma over the slips, he jumped down the track against R Ashwin and launched him over the sightscreen. And just like that, he launched England from 86 for 6 to 180 before he was the last man dismissed. Job done. Man of the Match to Curran and 1-0 lead to England.

Usman Khawaja
141 v Pakistan
first Test, Dubai

Usman Khawaja, suddenly the senior batsman in the absence of Steven Smith and David Warner, who had been banned for the roles in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, was front and centre in Australia's great escape against a spin-heavy Pakistan attack. Khawaja is Superman against pace, particularly at home, but spin has been his kryptonite. Here in Dubai, however, he used efficient methods to combat his weakness. He pressed right forward to full, turning balls, and smothered them, in addition to upsetting the lengths of Yasir Shah and Bilal Asif with well-executed sweeps and reverse-sweeps. In a game where Australia had to bat out 840 balls (140 overs) to save it, Khawaja alone played out 302 balls - the most faced by any batsman in the fourth innings in the UAE.

Joe Root
124 v Sri Lanka
second Test, Pallekele

When Nasser Hussain's England pulled off a coup in Sri Lanka in March 2001, Joe Root was only ten years old. Seventeen years later, as England's captain, Root swept England to another series win on the island. Rangana Herath had just retired, but Sri Lanka still had four spin options, including the mystery spin of Akila Dananjaya. According to Cricviz, the Pallekele pitch was offering the spinners 4.3° of turn on average while Root was at the crease. An undaunted Root, though, counterattacked with a variety of sweeps and raised a masterful hundred off 120 balls. Forty-six of his 124 runs came via sweeps or reverse-sweeps. The almighty roar and the fist pump summed up how much the knock meant to him. Having conceded a 46-run first-innings lead, England needed some magic and Root conjured that to secure his side a rare series victory in Asia.

It was Cheteshwar Pujara's patience that underwrote India's first series win in Australia © Getty Images

Kane Williamson
139 v Pakistan
third Test, Abu Dhabi

Eighteen-year-old left-arm quick Shaheen Afridi threatened his outside edge in the early exchanges. Yasir Shah, the wily ol' fox, found sharp drift and turn with the old ball on a deteriorating pitch. One ripping legbreak started on leg stump and kicked past his bat and the off stump. However, Williamson was simply immovable. He nearly middled everything: the front-foot defence, the back-foot defence, the signature punch through cover and the leg-side flick. How else would you explain a control factor of 92 on an up-and-down track? His ice-cool second-innings 139 starkly contrasted with Pakistan's panic-stricken collapse on the final day and led New Zealand to their first Test series win in Asia (excluding Bangladesh) since 1984.

Kusal Mendis
141 not out v New Zealand
first Test, Wellington

Angelo Mathews is no stranger to batting time and pulling off miracles, but Kusal Mendis unlocked his defensive game and channelled his inner Mathews at the Basin Reserve, where they saw out the entire fourth day without losing a wicket. It was only the 22nd instance of no wickets falling through an entire day's play in a Test. Neil Wagner and Tim Southee resorted to the short-ball barrage while left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel wheeled away unchanged through the afternoon session, but they could not find a way past Mendis (and Mathews). Batting behind a massive deficit, Mendis helped save the fourth day for Sri Lanka. Wellington rain then completed their epic rescue act on the final day.

Cheteshwar Pujara
123 v Australia
first Test, Adelaide

Mitchell Starc rediscovered his 2015 World Cup swing. Nathan Lyon posed a threat with his overspin. Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood also cranked it up on a first-day Adelaide pitch. KL Rahul, M Vijay, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma were all dismissed attempting loose strokes. Pujara, however, pitched his tent at the crease and kept batting on, and on, and on - a template he would emulate through the series. He had nursed a hamstring niggle while batting with the tail but he brushed that off and powered through the gears to hoist India to 250 from 127 for 6. He was ultimately run out for 123 - the only way he could have gotten out - but nevertheless it was the innings that set India up for their first Test series win in Australia.

Virat Kohli
123 v Australia
second Test, Perth

Virat Kohli cracked Josh Hazlewood for four fours in nine balls, including a regal checked on-drive, but Pat Cummins wore him down with an incisive burst. Cummins first attacked Kohli's off stump and then shifted his lines wider to tease the India captain's outside edge. Nathan Lyon then bowled a biting offbreak that nearly kissed Kohli's off bail, but he weathered the storm and became the second fastest to 25 Test hundreds, only behind Don Bradman. He celebrated the landmark by pointing his hand to the bat and making a yapping mouth gesture. Just in case anyone needed a reminder: his bat was indeed doing all the talking, even in a year where the bowlers found their voice.

Click here for the Test bowling shortlist

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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