Every festive season this column chooses its Test team of the year. Our side is chosen entirely on the basis of performances in 2008. Specialists will be chosen in every position. Of course figures cannot completely be isolated from their surroundings. To that end Tests involving Bangladesh have been removed.
Gautam Gambhir and Graeme Smith will open the innings. Gambhir scored three 100s and averaged 70 in eight Tests played against strong opponents. After scoring heavily in Sri Lanka he repeated the feat against Australia and England.
Smith (1519 runs at 72) takes the second spot ahead of Virender Sehwag (1462 at 56) because he produced two fourth innings hundreds that helped to secure stunning victories. His unbeaten 154 as his team chased 281 at Edgbaston was as impressive as Brian Lara’s epic in Barbados. Considering his responsibilities, Smith has had a wonderful year. Omitting Viru goes against the grain because he played several outstanding innings.
Hashim Amla (1112 at 52) bats at first wicket down. It has been a patchy year for first drops, with Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting faring about as well as the hedge funds. Alone amongst them Amla has surpassed himself, averaging over 50 in a notably demanding position. He is the first cricketer of Indian extraction to play for South Africa and his success ought to inspire a somewhat insular community.
Pietersen at No. 4
Kevin Pietersen (1015 at 50) takes the second wicket down position a fraction ahead of Sachin Tendulkar (1063 at 48). A week ago the Indian was in front but the England batsman rallied in the Mohali Test. Tendulkar’s match-winning hundred in Chennai was a corker but his rival was also captaining the side and took it back to India after the Mumbai outrage.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul was the cricketer of the year. In nine matches he collected 909 runs at an average of 101. Once settled he was harder to shift than ink. Enough said. Abraham de Villiers must bat at fourth drop. In 2008 he has tallied 1054 runs at 62 an innings. His hundred in Perth was a match-winning effort and his ability to work the ball into the gaps told of a maturity beyond his years.
Dhoni to captain
Despite the achievements of several rivals Mahendra Singh Dhoni will guard the stumps. He is also captain. After missing the tour of Sri Lanka, Dhoni led his team to victory over Australia and England, along the way displaying an ability to forge a fighting unit and to pursue ruthless strategies. Although his glovework was scratchy he scored important runs, averaging 35.
Ryan Sidebottom and Dale Steyn lead the attack. Despite his patchy form in Perth, the South African speedster has claimed 66 scalps at 21 apiece. At his best he sent down fast outswingers, a delivery calculated to perturb any batsman. Until injury struck, the Yorkshireman had taken 47 wickets at 20 each.
Johnson lone Aussie
Nine players and not an Australian in sight! Mitchell Johnson has saved the day. Although his wickets were not exactly cheap at 27 apiece, he took 61 and only Harbhajan Singh (63) was more rapacious.
Ishant Sharma was outstanding but his figures (38 at 31) were not quite good enough. Zaheer Khan’s 27 wickets cost 36 runs each. Neither had the opportunity to try their luck against the Aussies at the Gabba but that is the way it goes.
Ajantha Mendis is our spinner, narrowly ousting Murali (33 at 26). Mendis only played three Tests but took 26 Indian wickets at an average of 18. Afterwards the Indians said they could pick him alright but just could not play him!
(Statistics up to the end of the first day of the Boxing Day Test)