Sunday, 1 January 2012

2011: The World XI

ESPN Cricinfo have named their Test team of the year, based on performances in Test matches during the calendar year of 2011. Whilst it represents the dominance that England has exerted over Test cricket in becoming the No 1 Test side in the ICC ratings, is it really accurate to have more than half the side form the Old Dart? Pakistan's rising star has two of their best, Hafeez and Ajmal in the team and there's a place for the West Indies latest tyro Darren Bravo to slot in lower than usual at six. In a somewhat surprising development, South African, Dale Steyn, is the only member of a side which has pretensions to removing the English from the top spot in 2012. Rahul Dravid, with five hundreds, including three against England in a series which the Indians lost 4-0, is worthy of his place. For Australians, the bitterest pill to swallow is the absence of any Baggy Greens among the year's best.
Alastair Cook (Eng)
  1. Alastair Cook (Eng)
  2. Mohammad Hafeez (Pak)
  3. Rahul Dravid (Ind)
  4. Kevin Pietersen (Eng)
  5. Ian Bell (Eng)
  6. Darren Bravo (Windies)
  7. Matt Prior (Eng)
  8. Stuart Broad (Eng)
  9. Dale Steyn (SA)
  10. Saeed Ajmal (Pak)
  11. James Anderson (Eng)
Is this the side you would choose? Chosen by staff of the the world's most thorough and in-depth cricket website, what is the weakness in their choices? Try this on for size: although having writers and branch websites in all the Test playing nations, Cricinfo is still based in England and therefore perhaps there is just the slightest suggestion of bias towards the Poms. Slight suggestion ... who am I kidding?

The following is thecricketragics run at the same exercise. Our Test XI of 2011 would be:
  1. Alastair Cook (Eng) (927 runs at 84; 4 hundreds, HS 294) - okay, a lay down misere for the future England captain as he continued to cause bowlers to check their superannuation plans during breaks in play. His nine hour 294 against India at Edgbaston gave him more runs than the Indians in either of their attempts in losing by an innings and plenty. His bat looks wider than other mere mortals. No argument with his selection.
  2. Kumar Sangakkara (SL) (1034 runs at 49; 4 hundreds, HS 211) - its been a quiet year for openers and whilst I'm an advocate of Mohammad Hafeez, selecting him with less runs at nearly ten less per innings and leaving the Sri Lankan star out of the side because he normally bats at three, would be tantamount to stupidity. With Dilshan opening, Sangakkara has spent a lot of time as a virtual opening batsman anyway. Is it a good move? Ask opposition bowlers who they'd prefer to bowl to!
  3. Rahul Dravid (Ind) (1145 runs at 57; 5 hundreds, HS 146x) - an oldie but still a goody. When others stayed at home to prepare for England, Dravid went to the West Indies and walked the hard yards in a series when he and Ishant Sharma were the difference. Little wonder that he was the only Indian to stand tall in the flogging the English handed them. He has become less flamboyant as the years have advanced, preferring to offer a stout defence for hours on end but heh, its a Test team we are picking. Kirk Edwards may well have this spot next year.
  4. Sachin Tendulkar (Ind) (756 runs at 47; 1 hundred, HS 146) - tough call to fill this position in the order, with Kevin Pietersen unlucky to miss out (731 at 73) and Younis Khan (765 at 85) the other champion contesting the spot. It boiled down to the quality of the opposition they played against and although Pietersen scored the bulk of his runs against India and was one of the three reasons his side won handsomely, Tendulkar even as a fading star in the firmament is still a better bat than Pietersen. Younis Khan's return  has lent a lot of spine to Pakistan's improvement but their opposition have been from the second rung all year.
  5. Ian Bell (Eng) (950 runs at 118; 5 hundreds, HS 235) - no question, the best middle order batsman in world cricket, Bell scored five hundreds in just 11 Test innings. He averaged 84 against India, 115 against Australia and 331 against Sri Lanka. His batting was full of his trademark drives and almost casual cutting and he never at any stage, after starting the year with three hundreds in five innings, was dominated by a bowler. Its a long way from being one of Shane Warne's bunnies, a tag he buried in England in 2009 and then punished Australia for ever making the suggestion last summer. Among this batting line up, Bell would be the first batsman I picked.
  6. Misbar-ul-Haq (Pak-Capt) (765 runs at 69; 1 hundred, HS 102x) - as always, captains should be chosen as specialists but Misbar can maintain his position on batting form. Its a mark of his consistency that he could average nearly 70 from 16 innings and only score one hundred. In a side which has often been slow in building their scores, Misbar's ability to provide mid innings acceleration has been crucial. More importantly, his leadership since taking over from Salmon which had gone off, has been remarkable. Like Imran Khan, he is able to pull together the disparate strands which have always been Pakistan and bind them into a stronger cord.
  7. Matt Prior (Eng) (594 runs at 64; 3 hundreds, HS 126; 34cat, 2st) - MS Dhoni has more aggregate dismissals (50 for the year) but Prior has taken his in just eight Tests and has by far the best batting record of any keeper. A ringer for Mo McCackie, he has been a key element in the rise of a robust team morale in the English side.
  8. Stuart Broad (Eng) (33 wickets at 22.30; best 6/46) - he killed the Indians, being too much for them on most occasions. He bounced the ball from a good length on English pitches and moved it through the air at a decent pace. Add a batting average of 39 for the year and you have a difficult customer. Umar Gul was another contender for this spot but Broad is an infinitely better batsman.
  9. Vernon Philander (SA) (24 wickets at 12.38) - I wanted to include one bolter in the line up and despite some excellent candidates (Pat Commins or James Pattinson for instance), Philander gets the nod after just three Tests. His ability to swing and cut the ball both ways and his penchant for taking big wickets hauls (four 5 wicket hauls in just six innings) makes him dangerous in South Africa and England's biggest threat when they host the Sarth Efrikans in May? Big and strong, he is also more than handy with the bat.
  10. Jimmy Anderson (Eng) (35 wickets at 24.86) - once considered a joke in Australia, Anderson has now perfected swing bowling with the new ball. He has a late outswinger Bob Massie would have been proud of but his inswinging yorker to right handers caused just as much havoc. One of those rare tall men who can bowl fast and also take catches in slips, Anderson has safe hands and fast reflexes. The key bowler in the English attack.
  11. Misbar-ul-Haq captains
    thecricketragics World XI
  12. Saeed Ajmal (Pak) (50 wickets at 23.86) - the leading wicket taker for the year in Test cricket, he was a long way ahead of the rest. His off spin dominated the West Indies, even on their small grounds and he proved much too classy for Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. The mouth waters at the prospect of the English stroke makers trying to attack him on the usually good batting tracks of the UAE in the next month or so. The only competitor for his position was countryman, left arm orthodox Abdur Rehman, whilst with more control Davendra Bishoo will be a suitable candidate.
So there we have it. The differences - Sangakkara for Hafeez; Tendulkar for Pietersen; Misbar for Bravo; and Philander for Steyn - and I still picked five Poms! They really must be the best in the world.

Unfortunately, still no Aussies. Oh well. A new year starts on Tuesday.