The Test XI of 2011

After 39 matches 2011 is now in the books and its time to reflect on what has been another fantastic year of Test cricket. England dominated the cricketing world from start to finish, winning six of their eight matches and deservedly ending the year as world number one. Elsewhere South Africa and Australia produced a scintillating two game series and India and the West Indies produced a drawn Test with the scores level for only the fifth time in history. New Zealand won in Australia for the first time since 1985 and we still await Sachin’s 100th hundred. We have also seen the emergence of some brilliant young talent and the resurgence of some wily veterans in 2011, but who deserves to be selected in the world XI of the year?  With six batters and four bowlers, here is my XI:

  1. Alastair Cook
  2. Rahul Dravid
  3. Kumar Sangakarra
  4. Kevin Pietersen
  5. Ian Bell
  6. Younis Khan
  7. Matt Prior
  8. Stuart Broad
  9. Dale Steyn
  10. James Anderson
  11. Saeed Ajmal

Alastair Cook – 927 runs at 84.27.

There is not much more Cook could have done in an England shirt in 2011. He started the year with 189 to complete a magnificent Ashes series before returning home to accumulate 390 runs in three Tests against Sri Lanka. After some uncharacteristic struggles early on against the Indians, Cook batted for almost 13 hours at Edgbaston for his monumental 294 that led Englandto 710-7 dec. A wonderful year was recognised with an MBE and Cooky then tied the knot on New Year’s Eve. Here’s hoping that 2012 is just as prolific for the world’s best Test opener.

Rahul Dravid – 1145 runs at 57.25.

Dravid is not a regular opener, and has clearly said that he does not enjoy it, but he did a great job for India when required to open the innings. Whilst his teammates were continuously terrorised byEngland’s bowlers, ‘the wall’ stood tall and averaged almost 80 when opening. He was the leading run scorer in Test cricket during 2011 and continues to improve his fantastic career stats, silencing those critics who questioned his position in the Indian side at the start of 2011.

Kumar Sangakarra – 1034 runs at 49.23.

Sanga was the only other man to score 1000 runs in the year and is just coming off a magnificent 108 in Durban that led Sri Lanka to a famous victory over South Africa. With his classy stroke play and steely determination he continuously seems to carry his vulnerable side. Sri Lanka will certainly need more of the same from their No.3 in 2012.

Kevin Pietersen – 731 runs at 73.10. 

Despite KP struggling to reach the fluency of his awe inspiring knocks that we saw in 2005, he still came to the party against India. His double hundred at Lords showed great battling qualities before he dispatched fatigued bowlers to all parts, proving that he can still entertain. His ODI struggles continue, but Pietersen is an integral cog in England’s test machine and he remains an incredible talent who can change any game in an instant.

Ian Bell – 950 runs at 118.75.

Nobody in the world bats with more fluency or elegance than Ian Bell; he was a joy to watch every time he walked to the middle. After years of criticism surrounding his ability to produce the goods under pressure, he produced an innings that we have all been waiting for against India at Trent Bridge whilst batting at No.3 due to Jonathan Trott’s injury. Despite being controversially run out and then recalled by MS Dhoni, he already had 137 by then in difficult conditions and he ended on 159. Bell finished the summer with a magnificent 235 at The Oval and an incredible average of 118.75. He is undoubtedly becoming one of the best in the world.

Younis Khan – 765 runs at 85.

Perhaps a player that has flown under the radar due to Pakistan’s constant off the field problems, but on the field Khan has shown some of his old class. Certainly tougher times await after a year playing New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but nobody can argue with his consistent performances that ended with a beautiful double hundred in Dhaka.

Matt Prior – 519 runs at 64.87, 34 catches, 2 stumpings.

Prior’s inclusion in this side shows just how far he has come as a player in the last few years. His ability to score quick runs at No.7, including three hundreds in 2011, has become essential for the balance of England’s side. Whilst admitting that his keeping still needs work, his ability behind the stumps has dramatically improved. Prior even found time to ‘accidentally’ smash a window and shower the MCC members with glass after being run out at Lords.

Stuart Broad – 33 wickets at 22.30, 239 runs at 39.83.

Another Englishman who can’t be left out of this side is Broad. After an awful series against the Sri Lankans, during which he tried to become an ‘enforcer’ by banging the ball in, he was in danger of being dropped for the Indian series. But he was retained and he suddenly remembered how to pitch the ball up, enabling him to become that devastating all rounder once again. His performance at Trent Bridge, where he smashed 64 and then took a hat-trick, epitomised his series during which he took 25 wickets at a brilliant 13.84 apiece and scored 182 runs at 60.66.

Dale Steyn – 28 wickets at 19.57, 169 runs at 33.80.

Despite South Africa only playing five tests, Steyn still managed to take 28 wickets and increase his career tally to 260 in only 50 matches. His pace, aggression and ability to move the ball makes him one of the most dangerous bowlers in the world, and one of the most exciting to watch. A devastating spell against the Indians was described by Sachin Tendulkar as the best he had ever faced, high praise indeed.  Not only does Steyn continue to bowl well, but his batting is improving and he can score useful runs in a flash down the order. South Africa would not be the same side without their quick, and his battle with England’s top order next summer should be fascinating.

James Anderson – 35 wickets at 24.85.

James Anderson is pushing Steyn extremely hard for recognition as the world’s best quick bowler. 2011 started in style with match figures of 7-127 in the Sydney test and he barely bowled a bad spell during the summer, constantly taking wickets and comprehensively winning his enthralling head-to-head battle with Tendulkar. Anderson has the rare ability to bowl at pace and move the ball both ways and he also showed that he can be a threat when the pitch isn’t so green, making him the spearhead of England’s attack.

Saeed Ajmal – 50 wickets at 23.86. 

The spinner in this side is Saeed Ajmal, the Pakistani who bowls the world’s best doosra and offers his captain incredible control with his off breaks. Like Younis Khan, tougher opposition awaits, but you cannot ignore his 50 wicket haul in just eight matches. He took at least one wicket in every innings that he bowled, including match figures of 11-111 against theWest Indies.

So there is my team of the year.  With the first two matches of 2012 already underway, let’s hope that Test match cricket continues to provide such fine entertainment and performances for the next twelve months and beyond.

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