Test batting nominees January 10, 2017

Masters blasting (and grinding)

Fierce, measured and everything in between: all in our shortlist of the best Test batting performances of 2016

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Ben Stokes
258 v South Africa
second Test, Cape Town

See ball, hit ball, deflate opposition, shatter records: Stokes wasn't playing cricket as much as he was having a cage match with the memory of every bowler who had ever got the better of him. He probably saw Kagiso Rabada as the school bully who bounced him at every chance, and took three sixes and four fours off him. The treatment Dane Piedt received - six sixes and three fours - tempts the theory that there was a heckler back in Durham who looked just like him. The innings itself - 258 off 198 balls with 41 boundaries - was the second fastest double-century in Test history. If Stokes bats in 2017 the way he did at the start of 2016, bowlers had better be allowed on-field consultations with psychologists.

Temba Bavuma
102 not out v England
second Test, Cape Town

If point became Jonty's corner, then cover ought to be Temba's quadrant. However, months before he abracadabra-ed a momentous run-out, Bavuma pulled a momentous century out of his hat - the first by a black South African* batsman. It was almost poetic that he raised it at Newlands, which is located in a white-dominant suburb and only a few kilometres from where he was born. The significance of the innings was almost too great. It arguably even overshadowed the cricket. Who could look at how well he played proper fast bowling off the back foot? Who cared if he got to his fifty off only 52 balls and his hundred off 141? Did it even matter that he scored all but four of his runs in the company of Nos. 8 and lower?

Baz, blazing: McCullum made the fastest century in Test cricket in his farewell game © Getty Images

Brendon McCullum
145 v Australia
second Test, Christchurch

It can be difficult knowing you are about to do something super fun for the very last time. That's why Sundays are hard and the last day of vacation just sucks. Nor for McCullum. Playing the final Test he will ever play, he wasn't preoccupied with thoughts of the future, nor was he stuck in a rose-tinted past. He didn't hyperventilate about making it memorable either. He came. He smiled. He bashed. He crashed. He was himself. "I don't know how I'm going to play until I get out there," McCullum said on match eve. Less than 24 hours later he would break a 30-year-old record, making the fastest Test hundred of all time.

114 v England
first Test, Lord's

Forty-two-year-old cricket lovers can be prone to sniping, resting in their armchairs, and mumbling about how things could be done better. One from that lot has been refusing to put his feet up. He'd rather shuffle them back and across in front of his stumps to play a square drive that is the definition of "no nonsense". Most of Misbah's shots do not often stay in memory like that, but few can argue that his innings suffer the same fate. This one was at Lord's, six years after Pakistan players spot-fixed in a match there, starting a run that led his team to No. 1 in the rankings without playing a single Test at home. Celebrating with ten press-ups on the field was actually quite pedestrian considering the achievement.

Life in the old dog: Younis Khan's remarkable double-hundred at The Oval drew Pakistan level with England in the series © AFP

Younis Khan
218 v England
fourth Test, The Oval

For most of the series, someone had hypnotised Younis into believing he was a waffle and the crease the toaster he went into. The bowler running in was the timer winding down, and then, ding. It is not entirely a revelation that Younis likes to be mid-air when he makes a connection, but in England he was all over the place. Perhaps he was simply trying to make his feet move faster to counter the movement in the air and off the pitch. But all it did was make him look even more like a bunny. It took a phone call from halfway across the world to snap Younis out of his trance. "Listen, man," Mohammad Azharuddin must have said, "As delicious as you look driving the ball, you are not breakfast." Trust restored and hunger reignited, Younis hammered a match-winning, series-levelling, finger-lickin' good double-hundred.

Kusal Mendis
176 v Australia
first Test, Pallekele

There are thousands of 21-year-olds who have made a hundred against Australia to script a come-from-behind win. Mendis is probably the only one who has done so outside of a computer game. Clearly virtual reality is not for him; he would rather be out in the baking Pallekele sun, staring down fast bowlers a foot taller than him, hurling down welt-inducing projectiles at 150kph. Pshaw. Throwback. In an ideal world, Mendis would pop out of thin air at exactly this moment and say, "Yeah, sure. But I walked in at 6 for 2, under threat of losing by an innings, made 176 on a dustbowl where it was turning square and helped Sri Lanka beat Australia for the first time in 15 years. How was your 2016?"

Tamim followed up his first-innings hundred with a 40 in the second © Getty Images

Tamim Iqbal
104 v England
second Test, Mirpur

He likes being a show-off. And Tamim does it pretty damn well too. Those flamingo cover drives. The one-legged pull shots. He can truly enthral with his strokeplay. That he has been able to keep his natural flair while building the patience to play long innings was rarely more apparent than in this match. It takes something special to score a century at a strike rate of 70 on a day when 13 wickets fall. He contributed nearly half of Bangladesh's first-innings total, and was later instrumental also in making bowling and fielding changes during the final 22 overs of the match, in which Bangladesh took all ten wickets to secure their first ever Test win against England.

JP Duminy
141 v Australia
first Test, Perth

He was pretty much done with Test cricket. The constant need to prove something to someone. The pesky feeling of being watched and judged. Why are his shoulders down? Shouldn't he be leaving those balls? Is he really one of the country's 11 best cricketers? Duminy, like Roger Murtaugh, was getting too old for this shit. It didn't help that he was echoing the same questions the critics were asking. "I wasn't sure where I was going in terms of my career," he said. Duminy eventually found himself in Perth, when South Africa were down a premier fast bowler and fighting hard not to capsize. By scoring 141 runs at one of the toughest venues in the history of the game, forcing upon Australia a target of 539, and turning a match his team was supposed to lose into one of their most resplendent victories, he proved, as much to himself as anyone else, that he was still a lethal weapon.

Annus marvellous: Kohli made his third double-century of 2016 in India's Mumbai win against England © AFP

Virat Kohli
235 v England
fourth Test, Mumbai

Praise has been given, songs have been sung, books written, and puns good and bad savoured or endured. But Kohli had such a year that no amount of ink will have sufficed. Especially for his performance in Mumbai, where he made more than half of England's first-innings total of 400 by himself, and subjected them to becoming the third team to suffer an innings defeat after having put up so many runs batting first. Kohli batted for eight and a half hours. His patience bested his weakness outside off, and not for a second did he let his guard down. It was a revelation, he said, "understanding that 'Yes, you can bat for longer periods than what you might have thought initially.' If you're focused on what the team needs, you don't realise, you don't feel the tiredness, you don't feel the fatigue."

Peter Handscomb
105 v Pakistan
first Test, Brisbane

How must it feel to have made a match-winning contribution in the Test of the year? How must it feel to have done so in only your second game? Big occasions do not exactly perturb Handscomb, who made a first-class double-century on November 18, in a Sheffield Shield round populated with incumbents and hopefuls looking to save their bacon, to win the baggy green. Barely a month later, he had his first Test hundred, against the swing of Mohammad Amir and the pace of Wahab Riaz. He was fast-tracked into the Australian side, and his career so far has been in fast-forward: he struck the winning run on debut in the day-night Test in Adelaide against South Africa, and finished 2016 without ever being dismissed for under 50 in a Test. His 105 might not have been as eye-catching as Asad Shafiq's epic 137 in the final innings of a grand chase but it got the job done.

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07:39:35 GMT, January 10, 2017: The article originally said Bavuma was the first black African batsman to score a Test century

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo