Time to name our Test best for 2008

2008-12-26 00:00

Every festive season Weekend Witness is obliged is to choose their Test team of the year.

Our side is chosen entirely on the basis of performances in 2008. Specialists will be chosen in every position.

Admittedly the year is not quite over, but newspapers of this calibre do not allow trifles of that sort to spoil our breakfast. Of course, figures cannot completely be isolated from their surroundings. To that end Tests involving Bangladesh have been removed from the reckoning.

Gautam Gambhir and Graeme Smith will open the innings. Gambhir scored three hundreds and averaged 70 in eight Test matches against strong opponents. After scoring heavily in Sri Lanka, he repeated the feat against Australia and England. Smith (1 031 runs at 64) takes the second spot ahead of Virender Sehwag (1 462 at 56) because he produced two fourth innings hundreds that helped to secure stunning victories. His unbeaten 153 at Edgbaston was as impressive as Brian Lara’s epic in Barbados. Considering his responsibilities, Smith has had a wonderful year. Of course, Australians are loath to omit Sehwag and he performed splendidly, especially in Sri Lanka where he contributed 314 in an otherwise lame innings.

Hashim Amla (820 at 51) 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 among them Amla has surpassed himself, averaging over 50 in a notably demanding position. Amla started with a bang in England before fading a little, but he scored solidly in Perth after an early wicket had fallen in both innings. Amla is the first cricketer of Indian extraction to play for South Africa and his success ought to inspire a somewhat insular community.

Kevin Pietersen (1 018 at 50) takes the second wicket down position a fraction ahead of Sachin Tendulkar (1 063 at 48). A week ago, the Indian was ahead, but the African-raised batsman rallied in Mohali. Tendulkar’s revival was widely appreciated and his match-winning hundred in Chennai was a corker, but his rival was captaining his side and took them 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 (all figures courtesy of Ric Finlay). Once settled, he was harder to shift than ink. He comes from a humble fishing village and developed his singular technique with the assistance of umpteen locals hurling the ball onto dying waves or hastily pounded grass. His success means there is no place for Ashwell Prince (629 runs at 57)

AB de Villiers must bat at fourth drop. Like most sides, the Proteas like to play a counter-puncher at six and the Afrikaner fitted the bill. In 2008 he has tallied 985 runs at 75 an innings. Funnily enough, he failed against Bangladesh. His hundred in Perth was a match-winning effort and his ability to work the ball into gaps told of a maturity beyond his years. Mind you, Australia was foolish to leave so many gaps. Incidentally, Andrew Symonds (56 an innings) was his closest challenger.

Despite the achievements of several rivals Mahendra Dhoni will guard the stumps. He is also captain. After culpably missing the tour to Sri Lanka, Dhoni led his team to wins 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 claimed 42 scalps at 22 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, further confirmation of the enduring threat posed by late swing delivered to consistently full length.

Now it is possible that some readers may have observed a gap in the make-up of the side. 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. Moreover Johnson bore the brunt of an underperforming attack and was obliged to work on mild tracks. 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 Kiwis at the Gabba, but that is the way it goes.

Asantha 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. The Indians could not make head or tail of him. Afterwards, one of them said he could pick him alright, but just could not play cleverly disguised slippery leg cutters landing on a length!

Provided he is fit, says nothing and leaves his fishing boat behind, Symonds is our 12th man. Sehwag and Ishant were omitted with reluctance.

•Peter Roebuck, an international cricket writer, is based in the KZN midlands and is currently covering the South African tour of Australia.

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