(All stats provided are against the top 8 ranked sides of the world.)
With the last two Tests of the year taking place simultaneously in the southern hemisphere, one would suppose we have enough information with us about who the best batsmen, bowlers and wicket keepers are for the bygone year. So without further ado, let's dive into it.
The first step to picking any XI is to decide on what combination of batsmen, bowlers and all-rounders one wishes to have at their disposal. Ideally having your top five as specialists, your number 6 as the batting all rounder, followed by the wicket keeper batsman, and then a bowling all rounder, plus three specialist bowlers would do the trick. But with batting all rounders like Kallis batting at number four, and wicketkeeping batsmen like Kumar Sangakkara batting at number three, the batting order may differ depending on the players selected.
In the 21st century, selecting a good opening pair is probably the easiest task for a selector. With such few quality openers going around, it doesn't exactly pose a selection quandary.
For 2010, there were only a handful of batsmen who turned in, what one might label, world class performances. They were, in order of most runs scored against the top 8 ranked sides, Virender Sehwag, Graeme Smith, Alastair Cook and Tamim Iqbal. Shane Watson scored more runs for Australia than Iqbal did for Bangladesh, but his tendency to throw starts away has resulted in a mediocre average of 42, which effectively rules him out of contention.
Sehwag is an automatic choice for the team. For the last 6 years, the Nawab of Najafgarh, as he was proclaimed by Sunil Gavaskar himself, has been the premier opener in the world. He has gotten runs on all kinds of surfaces, treating Dale Steyn and Muttiah Muralitharan with equal disdain. In 2010, he has continued in the same rich vein of form. With 1237 runs so far in 20 innings, and a mind boggling strike rate of over 90, comfortably the highest among all batsmen, Sehwag walks into almost any XI.
Choosing a partner for the erstwhile Tendulkar-clone is a tough task indeed. In Graeme Smith and Alastair Cook one would have ideal foils for Sehwag, just like his India and Delhi opening partner Gautam Gambhir provides. Yet, Cook's early season failures effective put paid to his chances in the World XI. Of the 886 runs scored by Cook in the year, over 500 have come in his last five innings.
Graeme Smith is one of the classiest openers of all time, and would have walked into this XI with his impressive stats, had it not been for one Tamim Iqbal.
The dashing left hander from Bangladesh smashed an impressive 837 runs in the year, with some outstanding performances against England both home and away, and a very memorable 150 against India in a fourth innings effort. His striker rate too compares favorably with that of his partner. He strikers at a mind boggling 80 per 100 balls, 10 worse off than his partner, but still miles ahead of any other opener out there. The fact that he hails from a cricketing lightweight team only makes all his numbers look even more impressive.
Whether having two destructive batsmen as openers is a sound decision or not is up for debate. But in our fantasies, all practicality can go out the window, and we can just close our eyes and imagine these two stroke makers go hammer and tonks from the word go.
The Middle Order (Numbers 3, 4, 5)
Kumar Sangakkara would count himself unlucky on this one. With nearly seven hundred runs in just nine innings and an average of 99.28, you would think he would walk into the side.
But when you have a batsman in the middle of dream run like Hashim Amla is at the moment, even Bradman would struggle to make it. The classy South African has pulverized bowling all over the world from his own back yard of South Africa to his ancestral home of the sub continent. Amla started 2010 in AB de Villiers' shadow. But 16 innings and 1138 runs later, there is no doubt in an SA supporter's mind who the premier batsman in the side is. At number 3, Amla occupies a spot which is more crucial than most batting positions. He is the shield between the new ball bowlers and the middle order in case of an early wicket. He is also the first line of attack if the openers are successful in laying a solid platform. While his strike rate of 51 might suggest a stoic batsman, having Sehwag and Iqbal as openers should give him some cushion to take his time.
The selection for the number four slot is as easy as it gets for a selector. Jacques Kallis may edge Sachin Tendulkar out when it comes to the performances particularly from the fourth slot, but taking into consideration Tendulkar's crucial knocks from number 5, due to India's policy of introducing night watchmen upon the fall of a wicket late in the day, Tendulkar gets the spot for yet another vintage year. Five centuries, nearly 1300 runs, all at an average of 76 puts this right at the top of Tendulkar's year on year pile. The fact that the man is fast approaching is 38th birthday only makes his numbers seem even more insane.
For the final middle order slot, we have a fight on our hands. It's de Villiers versus Venkata Sai Laxman. Where de Villiers is destructive, Laxman is poetry in motion. Laxman is all wrist and fine angles, de Villiers all about the punchy drives and clearing mid wicket. The two couldn't be more dissimilar, except for the common love of scoring runs. De Villiers boasts the superior run aggregate and conversion rate, whereas Laxman epitomizes the grit and fighting spirit required at this position. Laxman's two back to back fourth innings specials, 103, unbeaten, against Sri Lanka in Colombo, followed by 73* at Mohali epitomized Laxman's mastery over pressure situations. This is the man who scripted what is perhaps the greatest modern day innings, 281 against Australia after following on. Both innings came at blistering strike rates, the one at Mohali especially so. Where he batted with newbie Suresh Raina at the P Sara Oval to finish a fantastic win, his effort at Mohali was even more surreal, putting on 81 for the ninth wicket with Ishant Sharma and guiding India home from a stage where the game looked sealed for Australia. De Velliers' case is perhaps not as straight forward. He constantly threw away starts against England at home, failed to make a major impression in India, and barring the utter destruction of a weak West Indies, and highly under strength Pakistani attacks de Villers' only remaining stand out innings is his better than a run a ball 129 in the first Test against India in South Africa at Centurion.
All things considered, Laxman gets my vote of confidence.
All-rounders and Wicket-keepers
There really is very little to argue when it comes to selecting the batting all rounder. Shane Watson with 843 runs at 42.15 and 19 wickets at 26.52 over shadows even Jacques Kallis. There really is no debate with this one.
M.S. Dhoni leads the way for the wicket keepers. While Matt Prior, Brad Haddin and Kamran Akmal boast higher dismissals-per-innings rates, Dhoni seals the deal with his batting ability, and the fact that he is probably the best captain going around at the moment. The likes of Grame Smith and Andrew Strauss have very good bowling at their disposal, but to marshal a mediocre bowling unit to the number one slot and keeping them there requires more effort than topping dismissal charts at 35 for the year. A lot more. Which also earns him the captain's position.
The bowling all rounder's slot is an interesting deal. Harbhajan Singh lies sixth on the wicket takers' list for 2010 with 35 sticks at a horrendous average of 44.2. But an economy rate of 2.9 coupled with over 420 runs and two centuries establish Singh as the best batsmen among the top ten wicket takers for the year, giving the much hyped spinner the number 8 slot.
The Bowling Attack
2010 could very well be marked down in years to come as the year which marked the resurgence of fast bowling in Test match cricket. From Dale Steyn to Zaheer Khan, James Anderson to Morne Morkel, Mohammed Amir to Mitchell Johnson, fast bowlers have ruled the roost this year as they seldom have in the past decade. Where in bygone years he Warnes, the Muralis and the Kumbles would top wicket taking charts, they have made way for a new wave of wicket taking fast men.
Yet, at least one berth must be made available for a spinner. And that is what we will do first, before picking a new ball opening pair. If you thought picking the middle order was a cake walk, this will seem like… I really don't know what could be easier than that, so I will leave it to the reader's discretion. But anyway, the spinner's slot in the World XI for 2010 goes to the one and only Graeme Swann. The English off spinner has been a breath of fresh air. At a time when Harbhajan Singh has made spin bowling look like climbing Mt. Everest with half a shoe lace, Swann has used his attacking instincts, well complemented by a captain who has shown faith in his abilities to pick up 40 wickets at just under 25. His economy and strike rates are impressive too for a spinner. All in all, the complete spin bowling package.
And now, the final piece, or pieces, of the jigsaw. The real question is who should partner Dale Steyn, as , just as with Sehwag, he has simply blown competition away. He takes wickets at a regularity with which most batsmen would rotate strike. His strike rate of 39.5 is simply stunning, with only Steven Finn and Ryan Harris coming close to matching the figure among all bowlers with 20 or more wickets. Steyn also has nine more wickets than his nearest competitor, Anderson, with three five-fors and a ten wicket match haul. Easily the best fast bowler on the planet.
To partner him, we primarily have two contenders. England's Jimmy Anderson, and India's Zaheer Khan. With likes of Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif ruling themselves out with accusations of match fixing against them, the Anglo-Indian pair come closest to providing Steyn with any competition for his throne.
Khan has been the lone work horse for his side. Complemented by huge underachievers such as Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma, Khan is often relied upon by Dhoni to not just pick wickets, but also bowl with frugality. It's a balance Khan has achieved masterfully. He is probably the greatest exponent of the reverse swing ever produced outside of Pakistan. It has been his primary weapon on the dead sub continental tracks, the only place he has bowled in so far this season. He is yet to bowl in South Africa, with the Indian batting still in progress in the Boxing Day Test, but expect him to do well in conditions which complement him for a change.
Anderson has been a different proposition altogether. Flanked by fantastic support from the likes of Swann, Broad and new boy Finn, Anderson has lead his attack with distinction, finally fulfilling the promise with which he burst on to the scene just before the 2003 World Cup. As mentioned, he is second highest wicket taker for the year, 47 wickets at an average just marginally better than Steyn. His ability to swing the new ball accurately and getting openers playing sets him apart as a fine new ball bowler.
If Khan has played more cricket and been less affected by injuries, the second fast bowlers spot could have been his for the taking, but Anderson, with his consistent displays all through the year get him the coveted position of Steyn's new ball partner.
The Final XI
- V. Sehwag (IND)
- T. Iqbal (BAN)
- H.M. Amla (SA)
- S.R. Tendulkar (IND)
- V.V.S. Laxman (IND)
- S.R. Watson (AUS)
- M.S. Dhoni (IND) (C)
- H. Singh (IND)
- G.P. Swann (ENG)
- D.W. Steyn (SA)
- J.M. Anderson (ENG)