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ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2021 T20I batting nominees: Babar Azam accelerates, and Mitch Marsh keeps the faith

Our shortlist includes several World Cup gems, and a Liam Livingstone masterclass in a losing cause

Varun Shetty
Varun Shetty
20-Jan-2022
Babar Azam drives, South Africa vs Pakistan, 3rd T20I, Centurion, April 14, 2021r

Babar Azam's 122 in Centurion was his maiden hundred in the format and the second-highest individual score in a T20I chase  •  AFP/Getty Images

Mohammad Rizwan
104 not out vs South Africa
first T20I, Lahore

Rizwan's unbeaten 104 to start his T20I run in 2021 was arguably the innings that cemented the strategy to have him open alongside Babar Azam for the rest of 2021. Rizwan's ability to score quickly against pace shone in this innings, particularly for someone with a reputation for needing time to get set. He hit Junior Dala for three sixes in an over, going from 31 off 30 to 50 off 35 in the 11th over, and kept the tempo steady after, taking Pakistan to 169, which proved four runs too many for South Africa in the end.
Babar Azam
122 vs South Africa
third T20I, Centurion

Two days before this 59-ball 122, Babar had crawled to a run-a-ball fifty, but on this day, he showed a side of his game that he had never done before. Pakistan chased 204 in 18 overs, 197 of them coming from their opening stand, which Babar dominated: 15 fours, four sixes, and a strike rate of 206.77. Babar said he had waited a long time to play an innings of this sort, and he did it without changing his template too much: hard running, elegant pulls, and dabs past short third were all key features of the innings, which took Pakistan to a win with miles to spare.
Liam Livingstone
103 vs Pakistan
first T20I, Nottingham

Livingstone had been self-isolating for ten days leading up to this match, and said an indoor net session in Bristol was what it took for him to feel like something had clicked with his batting again. Here, he went on a rampage to produce an innings for the ages in a losing cause. With his new-found balance at the crease, Livingstone unleashed nine devastating sixes and six fours as he kept England alive in a chase of 233 with this 43-ball 103 - England's fastest T20I century - having come in at 48 for 3 in the powerplay.
Charith Asalanka
80 not out vs Bangladesh
T20 World Cup, Sharjah

Sri Lanka played Asalanka at No. 3 in this game because there was a hole to be filled. He wasn't particularly an expert at T20 batting either, coming into the match with a career strike rate of 122. But his solidity and skill in finding boundaries against spin came together sweetly on the day as he bailed Sri Lanka out twice - from 2 for 1, and then 79 for 4 - to seal an opening win for his side in the main round of the World Cup.
Jos Buttler
101 not out vs Sri Lanka
T20 World Cup, Sharjah

ESPNcricinfo's MVP calculation for this game gave Buttler's innings an impact score of 117.64. That is to say, his unbeaten 101 was, in the context of the game, worth 16 runs more than he actually got. The next best batter in the match was Wanindu Hasaranga, with an impact score of 43.16. That and the fact that it was Buttler's slowest T20I fifty, off 45 balls, spoke to the difficult conditions in Sharjah on the day - as did England's trickling to 47 for 3 in ten overs after being put in. Buttler got his last 51 runs off 22 balls, producing one of his most impressive international innings, and helping England to 163, which all but sealed a semi-final spot for them.
Rassie van der Dussen
94 not out vs England
T20 World Cup, Sharjah

Coming in at No. 3 in the third over, van der Dussen looked like he had grasped the brief - South Africa needed a big total to realistically stay in the qualification race. Through partnerships with Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram, he played a largely sensible innings but one that kept the score ticking along. In the 16th over he stepped on the gas, pumping Chris Woakes' first two balls for sixes. South Africa made 71 off the last five overs. van der Dussen was huffing from all the running by the 20th over, but still managed a six to end up with South Africa's highest individual score in a men's T20 World Cup.
Daryl Mitchell
72 not out vs England
T20 World Cup semi-final, Abu Dhabi

Opener Mitchell was on 28 off 27 and New Zealand needed 87 off the last eight overs. Liam Livingstone took 2 for 22 in four overs to take the ask to 57 off the last six. Jimmy Neesham's whirlwind 27 brought that down to 20 from the last two overs before he was dismissed. Mitchell had stuck around, hitting the odd six in the second half of the innings, but he made sure New Zealand didn't have to endure a tight finish, with two sixes followed by a four off the last ball of the 19th over to seal a spot in the final, knocking out the tournament favourites.
Matthew Wade
41 not out vs Pakistan
T20 World Cup semi-final, Dubai

When they were 96 for 5 in the 13th over, the feeling was that Australia's overachieving run at the World Cup was over; only Wade, Marcus Stoinis, and the bowlers remained to complete a chase of 177, and Pakistan still had two overs of Shaheen Afridi. The first of those, the 15th, yielded just six runs. Then Stoinis' calculated striking, and Wade's 11 runs off the 18th, brought it down to 22 off 12. Afridi took the ball and went for four off the first three balls. At this point Wade, who had been dropped off that third ball, decided to take his chances and exposed his stumps to scoop a yorker for six. The audacity of the shot seemed to rattle Afridi. Wade swung his next ball for six over midwicket, and a repeat scoop over fine leg took Australia into the final in dramatic fashion.
Kane Williamson
85 vs Australia
T20 World Cup final, Dubai

Martin Guptill struggling at one end, Williamson pristine at the other - at least from the 11th over onwards, which New Zealand began on 57 for 1 before Williamson hit three fours in a row against Mitchell Starc. He was dropped during the first, a reprieve that would go on to haunt Australia, and Starc in particular. In the 16th over, he managed only one dot ball against Williamson; the other five went into or over the ropes. New Zealand didn't finish their innings particularly strongly, but Williamson had given them a chance.
Mitchell Marsh
77 not out vs New Zealand
T20 World Cup final, Dubai

Australia have controversially backed Marsh all through his career, and a sense of why they do so finally shone through in the World Cup final. Marsh arguably put them in the driving seat with the first three balls he faced in the chase - a six over square leg to start, followed by boundaries square on both sides. That sequence neutralised both the threat of New Zealand's most feisty bowler on the night, Adam Milne, inside the powerplay, and any grip New Zealand had on the game after Aaron Finch had fallen early. Marsh batted till the end, through half-century stands with David Warner and Glenn Maxwell, to help Australia to their first T20 world title.

Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo