Picking out eleven players who stood out in world cricket this year might seem like an easy task, but it took a week and the writer of this feature still couldn’t stick to eleven. It’s not a bad problem to have, though, and while there will certainly be some debate over who should be in and who shouldn’t, ANT SIMS has bravely picked out the best of the best.
When Andrew Strauss retired and Alastair Cook took over, he was sitting at a press conference at Lord’s looking somewhat bewildered. His big brows furrowed in concentration as statements were read out and mundane questions from the media were flung at him. He fended them off, like he tends to fend off any sort of delivery which threatens his stumps. Cook is a nice guy; pleasant, if somewhat boring, but he does have an air of quiet confidence and he has exuded that with the bat in 2012. He’s already scored over 1,000 runs and still has one Test to go against India – and it doesn’t seem as if though the pressure of captaincy has troubled him at all. If anything, it has allowed him to grow, to blossom, to become better. Elegant, boring as hell, resolute in his technique, Cook is arguably the best opener in world cricket at the moment – and he’s not even South African.
GRAEME SMITH (CAPTAIN)
Back-to-back series wins in England? Check. Another England skipper retired on your travels? Check. Back-to-back series wins in Australia? Check. A total of 825 runs at the top of the order at an average of just below 50? Check. Graeme Smith cops a lot of flak, but he still remains one of the best players in the world game. He might not be everybody’s favourite person, but luckily Smith has always relied on his record to do the talking. And what a record he has.
At The Oval in London just a few months ago, there was something special brewing. You could feel it in the air when you walked out of the press box, which is so dark it has been nickname the “Stevie Wonder” box. If you dare ventured out, you’d have been mesmerised by a man with his wristy flicks, his awkward lift and an aura so calm it would leave most Zen masters comatose. The unbeaten 311 Amla scored at The Oval during South Africa’s tour of England was captivating, engrossing, and pure class. When Amla went past the 300-mark, the crowd at the Oval stood up and gave applause so loud it could probably be heard echoing through the Underground. Amla averages 70.93 for the year and has scored just over 1,000 runs in 10 matches – pretty good going.
For a brief moment, this writer flirted with the idea of leaving Jacques Kallis out of the team of the year. Then she came to her senses and realised that a team of the year without Kallis would be like Cape Town without the South Easter – polluted and out of the ordinary. Still the best all-rounder in world cricket, if not the world, Kallis has had yet another incredible year, averaging 67.42 with the bat and picking up wickets when it mattered at a bowling average of 28.27. Not bad for an old lad.
KP gets a lot of press on these pages, maybe because we have a morbid fascination with the former player; maybe because he is just so easy to write about. When he’s not sending apparently dodgy text messages to opposition players, Pietersen is scoring runs in a way few other Test batsmen can. Some political writers, who should perhaps stick to writing about politics, reckon that the way he plays means he is not actually a Test batsman, while others are so enthralled by the enigma of KP that they cannot stop fawning over his ludicrously ruthless approach to a game which is supposed to be delicate. An average of just below 45 for the year, with 974 runs in total and a Test still to go, means Pietersen could walk into any team simply because of his utter disdain for the norm. When he is scoring runs, he scores them so brutally, you almost always need to pick your jaw up off the floor. His weakness against left-arm spin is perhaps his only flaw. That and, of course, his apparent ego. Ask him about it and he might just respond with: “FIGJAM”.
Michael “Pop Ya Collar” Clarke has scored double centuries for a laugh this year: four of them, to be precise. And he is the first player ever to do so in the history of the game. When the Aussie top order seems to have fallen apart, Clarke has always stepped in and steadied the ship. Much like Cook, Clarke seems to have blossomed under the captaincy “burden”. With 1,358 under his belt, at an average of 104.46 and two Test still to play this year, it’s unlikely that anybody will overtake Clarke as top run scorer for the year.
When it comes to fine-tuning the balance between keeping wicket and scoring gritty runs lower down the order, nobody seems to have perfected the art quite like Matt Prior. He has become one of England’s most reliable players, although he still sometimes falls victim to the mindboggling need to sweep with gay abandon against spin. He’s scored fewer runs than De Villiers in more Tests (De Villiers has 815 runs in 10 matches at an average of 58.21 for the year – and De Villiers only took over the gloves in July). But Prior’s efforts against Pakistan, South Africa and India earns him the keeper slot – if grit and determination were personified, Prior would be it.
THE BOWLERS: DALE STEYN, JAMES ANDERSON, GRAEME SWANN AND VERNON PHILANDER
Endless lines of prose could be written about the prowess of the four bowlers above, but then this feature would need to be chopped and diced into parts. Between them, they have picked up almost 200 wickets this year, and they lull their opponents into a false sense of security before dismantling the heart of any batting line-up, ripping it out and spitting on it as they trundle along picking up wickets at will. Anderson and Swann still have a Test to go, while the South Africans have polished off a fruitful year with their bowling average still below 30.
HONOURABLE 12TH MEN: ROSS TAYLOR, SAEED AJMAL, MORNE MORKEL, MARLON SAMUELS AND RANGANA HERATH
Sure, it’s a cop-out picking out five 12th men, but it’s hard to ignore the acheivements of the above players. Taylor has had a phenomenal year with the bat. In a year where his teammates seem to have flopped like cards, he has managed to hold his own. Saeed Ajmal and Rangana Herath have had ploughed their purple patches and picked wickets like plums, while Morne Morkel has been one of South Africa’s most consistent bowlers, for little reward. Samuels has been the poster boy for reintegration stories, sending a middle finger salute with his feats in England and against New Zealand. With an average of 96.50 in a three-match series against what used to be the world’s number one ranked team – Samuels might be given the nod in other esteemed writers’ XI of the year. DM
Photo: South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith (C) slaps hands with AB de Villiers (L) followed by Hashim Amla (R) after winning by nine wickets on day three of the second international cricket test match against New Zealand in Hamilton, March 17, 2012. REUTERS/Nigel Marple
Some firing squads are all issued with blank cartridges with the exception of one person. This helps alleviate personal responsibility for the execution squad.