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Three cricketers to watch in 2016

The Roar logo The Roar 08-01-2016 Ronan O'Connell

James Pattinson - cropped © AFP James Pattinson - cropped

James Pattinson showed enough in Australia’s series win against the West Indies to suggest he is back on track to become a Test star. With 13 wickets at 22, reaching speeds up to 154km/h, Pattinson reminded us of his rare gifts.

2015 was the year the likes of Australia’s Josh Hazlewood, Sri Lanka’s Dinesh Chandimal and Pakistan’s Sarfraz Ahmed went from virtual no-names to highly valuable Test players.

Which players will make a similarly big leap in 2016?

Hazlewood remarkably started 2015 with just two Tests under his belt and finished it with selection in the ICC Test Team of the Year.

Joining him in that ICC team was wicketkeeper Sarfraz, who only became a regular in the Pakistan Test side in 2014 and then flourished last year, coupling his neat keeping with some dynamic batting, which saw him average 52 for the year at a scorching strike rate of 81.

Fellow gloveman Chandimal, meanwhile, must have been awfully close to beating Sarfraz into the ICC team. He was selected in The Guardian’s Test Team of 2015 after a prolific year in which he was the seventh-highest scorer in Tests, with 901 runs at 47, including two centuries.

I have picked three players I predict will have breakout years in 2016, cementing themselves as stars of Test cricket. All three made startling beginnings to their Test career, before having long periods away from the highest level for varied reasons.

Steven Finn (England, 26 years old) – 110 wickets at 29 from 28 Tests

The beanpole seamer’s career figures already are impressive. But he hasn’t had a long run in the England Test team since emerging as a key strike weapon in 2010 as a then 21-year-old.

Finn endured a problem with kicking the stumps in his delivery stride, before then making the ill-fated change of shortening his run-up on the advice of former England bowling coach David Saker.

He lost the searing pace that had made such an impression in 2010 and as a result, after playing 11 Tests in his debut year, Finn managed only 12 matches over the following four calendar years. From the 2013 Ashes to the 2015 Ashes he went two years without playing a Test for England.

On return, he sliced Australia with eight wickets and has not looked back. He moves the ball just enough through the air and off the pitch and has greatly improved his accuracy. Most strikingly, Finn’s 201-centimetre frame and high-arm action allow him to earn disconcerting bounce even from flat pitches.

Mohammad Amir (Pakistan, 23 years old) – 51 wickets at 29 from 14 Tests

Six years ago, I believed Amir was on target to perhaps become the greatest paceman Test cricket ever had seen. At just 17 years old, Amir already was an elite international cricketer, possessed not just of unnerving pace but also of great control and deft skills.

Some of the finest pacemen in history could not swing the ball both ways yet Amir had mastered that art while still at high school age. During his brief international career, Amir produced several of the most breathtaking spells of pace bowling I have witnessed.

Capable of hooping the ball in either direction at up to 150km/h an hour, he made a fool of the Australians in England in 2009 as a 17-year-old. He returned to the UK the following year and did the same thing to the then-mighty England side.

It was, however, during this series that his career and life took a savagely wrong turn. Amir was caught up in the huge spot-fixing scandal and subsequently handed a five-year ban from the game. Now he’s about to return and few things about cricket in 2016 excite me more.

Amir is set to launch his comeback in the limited overs formats against New Zealand this month. He has told media that he is targeting Pakistan’s mid-year tour of England to make his return in Test cricket. Look out England, even with his long absence from international cricket, Amir looks set to tear the game apart.

James Pattinson (Australia, 25 years old) – 64 wickets at 26 from 16 Tests

Pattinson’s story is similar to Finn’s in that he stormed on to the Test scene before spending several years in the cricketing wilderness. Where Finn’s absence was due largely to issues of technique, it was Pattinson’s body which let him down.

Three years ago, Pattinson was the most imposing young cricketer in the Test game, having snared 37 wickets at 21 in his first eight Tests. Even on dead surfaces in India in 2013, as his side crumbled around him, Pattinson was a standout taking 6-109 in the first Test before his fitness began to wane.

Back troubles saw him bowl in a restricted fashion in two more Tests in that series plus in two Tests in the 2013 Ashes, during which his pace was down by more than 10km/h. He promptly broke down in England and spent the next two years riddled with injuries.

Now, three Tests back into his latest comeback, Pattinson looks to be benefiting from a matured body. Many express pacemen before him have been plagued by injuries in their early 20s before coming into their own in their mid-20s.

After clearly bowling within himself in the first two Tests against the West Indies, Pattinson seems to have developed some trust in both his body and his remodeled action and is back at close to top pace. At the SCG, his average pace was a very lively 140km/h, and he topped out at a frightening 154km/h.

Pattinson is yet to regain the consistent outswinger that he boasted before the remodeling of his action but his pace, aggression and determination should make him a major weapon for Australia in 2016.

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