The year 2021 is drawing to a close. T20Is in the year ended with the Pakistan vs West Indies series in Karachi. In the three-match series, the hosts hammered the hapless West Indies 3-0. Windies had set Pakistan what looked like a challenging 208 for victory in the final T20I, but the hosts gunned down the target without much trouble on the back of their batting might. Pakistan ended the year with 20 wins in 29 matches. However, they fell short of winning the T20 World Cup. In contrast, Australia lost 12 of their 22 games but captured the ICC title that had eluded them. Keeping these factors in mind, we have picked the T20I team of 2021.
Openers: Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Babar Azam (captain)
There was no doubt about the opening pair. Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam dominated the T20I batting charts in the year, and both of them delivered the goods in the T20 World Cup. For Rizwan, it was a record-breaking year. He became the first batter to 1000 runs in T20I cricket and 2000 runs in T20 cricket. Rizwan finished the year with 1326 runs in 29 games at a strike rate of 134.89. He scored 281 runs at an average of 70-plus in the T20 World Cup.
Azam was the second-leading T20 run-getter of 2021. He smashed 939 runs in 29 games at a strike rate of 127.58 with one hundred and nine fifties. As a pair, the duo was unstoppable. They put on a memorable century stand in the T20 World Cup clash against India and carried on the great work in the subsequent games. Azam ended up as the leading run-getter in the T20 World Cup, scoring 303 runs at an average of 60.60. It was fitting that both Azam and Rizwan ended 2021 with sparkling half-centuries in Pakistan’s win over West Indies.
Middle-order: David Warner, Jos Buttler, Aiden Markram
David Warner played only the T20 World Cup in the 20-over format in 2021. But he put up such a spectacular show that it was enough for him to find a place in the T20I XI of the year. The veteran Aussie left-hander smashed 289 runs at an average of 48.16 and a strike rate of 146.70. He hit three fifties, one of them in the final against New Zealand and was deservedly named Player of the Tournament.
England’s wicketkeeper-batter Jos Buttler had a brilliant year with the bat. He smacked 589 runs in 14 matches at a strike rate of 143.30 and an average of 65.44. Buttler had a terrific run in the T20 World Cup as well, the highlight of which was his maiden T20I ton against Sri Lanka when England had their backs to the wall. The dashing batter registered six 50-plus scores in 14 matches.
South Africa’s Aiden Markram has been on the international circuit for a few years. But 2021 has been a coming of age of sorts for him, at least as a T20I batter. He scored 570 runs in 18 matches at a strike rate of 148.82 with as many as six fifties. Markram had a terrific T20 World Cup, where he came in towards the second half of the innings and went berserk. Earlier in the year, he registered three consecutive 50-plus scores in the home series against Pakistan.
All-rounders: Mitchell Marsh, Wanindu Hasaranga
2021 was the year of redemption for Mitchell Marsh. Ridiculed for being unable to deliver despite being given ample opportunities and criticized for his constant fitness issues, the batting all-rounder stood up on the biggest stages and answered all the critics. Marsh clobbered 185 runs in six T20 World Cup matches at a strike rate of 146.83. This included a brutal 53 off 32 against West Indies, which went a long way in confirming Australia’s place in the semi-finals. He then smashed an unbeaten 77 in the final against the Kiwis to complete his salvation. Marsh’s place in cricket’s folklore is secure whatever he does from here.
Wanindu Hasaranga was expected to be Sri Lanka’s standout bowler in the T20 World Cup. And he did not disappoint. He was the leading wicket-taker with 16 scalps in eight matches at an average of under 10. The performance featured a hat-trick against South Africa in a losing cause. Hasaranga bamboozled some of the best in the business with his guile. He also chipped in with the bat and contributed 119 runs at a strike rate of 148.75. World Cup aside, Hasaranga was the leading wicket-taker in 2021 with 36 scalps from 20 matches at an economy rate of 5.44.
Anrich Nortje, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa, Tabraiz Shamsi
South Africa’s Anrich Nortje was a sensation with the ball in the T20 format. Despite his extra pace, he maintained exceptional accuracy and kept chipping away at the wickets game after game. He was easily the Proteas’ best pacer at the T20 World Cup, outshining his senior Kagiso Rabada. Nortje ended 2021 with 15 scalps in 11 games at an exceptional economy rate of 6.07.
Even as Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins under-performed in the T20 World Cup, Josh Hazlewood rose to the occasion. More often than not, when Australia needed a wicket, Aaron Finch turned to Hazlewood, and the bowler did not disappoint. 2021 will be remembered as the year he was reborn as a T20 bowler. Hazlewood finished 2021 with 23 scalps in 15 matches at an economy rate of 6.87.
Spinners were dominant in 2021, so we have picked a bowling combination of two pacers and two slow bowlers in Adam Zampa and Tabraiz Shamsi. Both the spinners had a memorable year in T20Is, and their success in the World Cup was the icing on the cake. Leg-spinner Zampa ended 2021 with 26 wickets in 21 games and the T20 World Cup trophy. South Africa’s Shamsi was the joint leading wicket-taker of the year with 36 wickets in 22 matches at a splendid economy of 5.72.