So the International Cricket Council have picked their ‘Test Team of the Year’.
And here it is…
Alastair Cook (capt)
AB de Villiers
MS Dhoni (wk)
R Ashwin (12th man)
The selection of this team raises a number of issues; I’ll deal with the team in batting order.
Alastair Cook is an interesting selection and as captain too. Cook has averaged just under 45 over the selection period (7th August 2012- 25th August 2013) which seems healthy enough, however this was bolstered by an outstanding series in India and runs against a weak New Zealand attack. Cook’s technical flaws have been severely exposed against South Africa and Australia (averaging just 24 from 12 innings). However, his selection as captain is, for me, justified. Although he may not be the most imaginative captain he uses the players at his disposal well and is a strong leader on the field. Despite his recent technical issues Cook would still be opening the batting and leading the team for me.
I’m glad to see both Pujara and Amla in this side. Both of these batsmen have punished England over the last 12 months and go on to score big hundreds. I think Amla is just about the best batsmen in the world over the last 2 years and he has scored runs wherever he plays. Pujara is India’s ready- made replacement for Rahul Dravid; solid in defence and willing to play long attritional innings but also able to punish the bad ball with supreme consistency. These two along with Michael Clarke would make up my middle order. Clarke has held together Australia’s flaky and inconsistent top six with ease while also juggling the captaincy during Australia’s toughest period for over 20 years. He is also a player who rises to the big occasion and his hundred at Old Trafford during the 2013 Ashes was arguably the best in the series.
I struggle to see the sense in picking Mike Hussey in the Test Team of the Year. It seems to me that Hussey’s stock has risen substantially more since his retirement than at any point in his playing career. In both the 2009 and 2010/11 Ashes series Hussey was playing for his place and was never far away from criticism. However since his retirement in January Australia have learnt to appreciate his calm and measured assurance in their middle order. Both Steve Smith and Geroge Bailey don’t quite fill an Englishman with the same sense of fear Hussey once did. While all of this is true, if this side is supposed to be the best side of the year I struggle to see how a man who missed half the year and the biggest series of the year justifies his place. I am astonished that there is no place for Kumar Sangakkara in this team, a man who has captained his country for years as well as being a superb diplomat and public speaker. In the qualification period he scored over 600 runs at an average of over 60 and scored 3 hundreds.
The selection of De Villiers is, for a lot of people, a given. However he wouldn’t be in my team despite averaging over 60 last year. Don’t get me wrong he is a truly world class player but I just think that he lacks a little bit of mental toughness and has been found out in more demanding conditions. If I was picking a team to play on South African pitches then he would be a shoe-in, but for a team that needs to play all around the world I would pick Ian Bell. Bell has only averaged 45 in the year over 14 tests, but it is his newly discovered mental toughness that makes him a stand out. No longer is he seen as man who only scores runs when England are playing well, his performances in the Ashes show that he is now capable of producing the match and series defining innings.
It really is hard to argue with three seamers chosen by the ICC. All three have been outstanding performers over the last 3 years all around the world and I think they are leaps and bounds ahead of any other test bowlers at the moment. The level of consistency shown by Steyn and Anderson in particular means that they can already be counted as one of the greatest fast bowlers in their respective countries.
The only area of the bowling department I have an issue with is the spinner. I’m a huge fan of Graeme Swann and he is easily England’s best spinner in my lifetime but I still feel his inclusion in this team is a little odd and maybe says more about the state of test cricket than it does about Swann. Swann has taken 60 wickets at an average of 26 over the last year and this is a superb return, but when looking at consistency he falls a little short. In 1 test against South Africa he averaged 72 and during 4 matches on the helpful pitches of India still averaged in the mid 30’s. He was also consistently outbowled by Monty Panesar in India and struggled with injury for large parts of the year. The main problem is that he doesn’t have any rivals for his spot in the ICC test team. R Ashwim (who is 12th man) was hammered to all parts by England and although Lyon and Herath are steady, neither will win a game on their own. Saeed Ajmal is the only bowler close to Swann but he has only played 3 tests in the last year due to the ICC’s ludicrous scheduling. Therefore I would pick a fourth seamer and that man would be Ryan Harris. He has proved that he can take wickets just as comfortably on hard pitches in Australia as he can on English greentops and an average of 19 with the ball proves this point.
My Test Team of the Year
Alastair Cook (captain)
12th Man : AB De Villiers