Mohammad Rizwan, leading Twenty20 Cricketer in 2021

Alan Gardner

Twenty20 batting is supposed to be a volatile, high-variance occupation: boom-boom or bust. Occasionally, a player produces a purple patch to rise above the hurly-burly. But no one has had a year of such sustained run-scoring as Pakistan's Mohammad Rizwan. Never mind seeing it well: he was batting as if blessed with foresight. And in a sense he was. After starring in Pakistan's ten-wicket demolition of India at the T20 World Cup, his clarity of purpose was summed up by a viral video from the ICC that spliced his pre-game routine of visualisation alongside the boundaries he struck during his 55-ball 79.

Rizwan had begun the year uncertain of his place, either for his country or in the Pakistan Super League. "My T20 career looked finished to me," he said. Before October 2020, he had opened only eight times in T20; a little over a year later, he was one half of Pakistan's most-successful opening partnership ever, as well as the captain who had led his new team, Multan Sultans, to their first PSL title.

The bare numbers had a formidable heft. Rizwan peeled off 1,326 T20I runs at 73 - breaking the calendar record, set by Ireland's Paul Stirling in 2019, by almost 600. In all T20 cricket, he made 2,036 at 56. No one - not Chris Gayle, not Virat Kohli, not Rizwan's opening partner, Babar Azam, who last year scored 1,779 himself - had ever got near 2,000.

He had debuted for Pakistan in April 2015, but struggled to hold down a spot in any format. In February 2021, a few days after his maiden Test hundred, he raised three figures for the first time in T20s, an unbeaten 104 from 64 balls against South Africa in Lahore. That was the numerical high point, though it was downhill from there only in the sense that Rizwan was nigh-on unstoppable. He made 30 or more in two-thirds of his 45 T20 innings, and was dismissed in single figures just six times.

From stand-in opener, promoted as an experiment in Babar's absence in New Zealand in 2020-21, Rizwan became a standard-bearer for consistency in the face of T20's slings and arrows. His efforts were not quite enough to take Pakistan all the way at the T20 World Cup, though his 67 off 52 in the semi-final against Australia almost helped them overcome the disadvantage of batting first. It emerged he had spent the previous two nights in hospital with a severe chest infection. "I want to do what nobody else is doing, because if somebody's done it, then that's just ordinary," he said. There was nothing ordinary about Rizwan's rise.

© John Wisden & Co