In a year that featured some of the most high-profile Test series in recent memory, several players made their mark on the public conscience. Some staked claim to greatness while others announced themselves with style. Here is a team of the best of the best- the International Test XI of 2013.
2013 will be remembered as a landmark year in Test history. For the first time in over nine decades, Australia and England played back-to-back Ashes- nine Ashes Tests in one calendar year. The two lowest ranked Test side earned rare Test wins, while the two highest ranked ones gave one of the hardest fought series in recent times. The year was one of the best for bowlers in recent memory. It is evident by the fact that while only two batsmen crossed the 1000-run mark, as many as eight bowlers took 40 wickets or more. In this competitive and tumultuous year, where legends bade farewell and new faces came to the fore, here is my pick for the Test Team of the Year, in batting order.
Graeme Smith (SA) Left Hand Batsman (Captain)
Mtchs- 9, Runs- 651, Ave.- 50.07, 100/50- 1/3, High- 234, Ctchs- 17
The South African captain had a solid 2013, with useful knocks against India, New Zealand, and Pakistan (the only three teams that South Africa faced this year). Needless to say, his most impressive innings was the dominating 234 against Pakistan at Dubai. A powerful, technically correct opener who can dominate opposition attacks, Smith is the perfect man to face the new ball. Given that he leads the no. 1 Test side in the world, he is also the captain of this side, as well as the first-choice slip fielder.
Chris Rogers (Aus) Left Hand Batsman
Mtchs- 9, Runs- 700, Ave.- 41.17, 100/50- 2/5, High- 116, Ctchs- 8
Chris Rogers will never set the world ablaze; Chris Rogers will never dominate bowling attacks; Chris Rogers is no crowd-puller. What he is, though, is effective and consistent, which is more than what can be said of most batsmen today. Rogers accumulated runs all year without making much noise. Averaging 40 in both the Ashes series this year, Rogers lent some much-needed calmness to a hot-headed Australian batting-order. He can be expected to do the same here as the perfect foil to Smith at the top of the order.
Cheteshwar Pujara (Ind) Right Hand Batsman
Mtchs- 8, Runs- 829, Ave.- 75.36, 100/50- 3/3, High- 204, Ctchs- 1
He might not exactly be the ‘New Wall’ as some have overzealously dubbed him, but Pujara has easily filled the giant-sized shoes of Rahul Dravid for India in Test cricket. Already building a reputation as a big-innings player, Pujara was the author of two big innings this year- a stroke-laden 204 in Hyderabad, and a more sedate match-saving 153 in Johannesburg. With the ability to both anchor the innings and increase the scoring-rate, as well as an experience of facing the new ball on occasions; Pujara is the team’s ideal no. 3
Ross Taylor (NZ) Right Hand Batsman
Mtchs- 10, Runs- 866, Ave.- 72.16, 100/50- 3/4, High- 217*, Ctchs- 20
Taylor’s 2013 can be divided neatly into two parts- the first where he made useful starts but failed to convert them into big innings, and the second where he was Bradman reincarnated. Taylor comes into this team on the back of an unimaginable form (495 runs in 5 innings) in the Kiwi summer. But even before that, he impressed with attacking half centuries in England and Bangladesh. A destructive player of both pace and spin, Taylor can easily change the course of a game in a single day, if not a session.
Michael Clarke (Aus) Right Hand Batsman (Vice-Captain)
Mtchs- 13, Runs- 1093, Ave.- 47.52, 100/50- 4/3, High- 187, Catches- 15
The Australian captain might not have been as consistent this year as he was in 2012, but he delivered some fine performances all year. He scored runs in all conditions, against all sorts of attacks; a 130 against Indian spinners on a Chennai turner, a dominating 187 against an in-form England attack at Old Trafford, and back-to-back match winning Ashes hundreds in the Australian summer. A genuine match-winner, Clarke brings something more than his batting prowess to this team- experience and leadership, apart from that famous partnership-breaking golden arm.
AB de Villiers (SA) Right Hand Batsman
Mtchs- 9, Runs- 933, Ave.- 77.75, 100/50- 4/5, High- 164
Rock solid technique, unmatched flair, icy cool temperament, and an insatiable appetite for runs have catapulted AB to the top of the ICC Test ranking for batsmen. Easily the best batsman in the world this year, de Villiers showed amazing consistency all year. While his Johannesburg ton against Pakistan was a typical counter-attacking innings, the one against India at the same venue was a gritty match-saving effort, showcasing his versatility. Although he keeps wickets for South Africa (quite efficiently), I have picked him in the side as a specialist batsman, a move that will allow the team to use his amazing fielding ability as well.
Brad Haddin (Aus) Left Hand Batsman, Wicketkeeper
Mtchs- 10, Runs- 647, Ave.- 38.05, 100/50- 1/6, High- 118, Ctchs- 51, St.- 1
A year ago, many considered Brad Haddin’s international career to be over. But here he is, as the wicketkeeper of the 2013’s Test Team of the Year. In the English leg of the Ashes, Haddin was one of the few Australians who managed decent performances as he equalled Rod Marsh’s long-standing world record for most dismissals in a series. In the return leg, he showcased his dormant batting skills, averaging 65 and executing some of the best innings of the year.
Mitchell Johnson (Aus) Left Hand Batsman, Left Arm Fast
Mtchs- 6, Runs- 166, Ave.- 23.71, 100/50- 0/1, High- 64, Wkts- 34, Ave.- 17.52, 5W- 3, Best- 7/40, Ctchs- 4
In 1998, Dennis Lillee saw a young Mitchell Johnson and called him a ‘once-in-a-generation bowler’. Today, finally it seems that Johnson is fulfilling that promise. After a largely forgettable first half of 2013 where he went wicketless in Delhi and wasn’t considered for the English leg of the Ashes, Johnson exploded on to the scene. He brutalized, tormented, and battered the English batsmen into submission. Add to this his effective lower-order batting and Johnson becomes invaluable for any Test side around the world.
Trent Boult (NZ) Right Hand Batsman, Left Arm Fast Medium
Mtchs- 12, Runs- 144, Ave.- 20.57, 100/50- 0/1, High- 52*, Wkts- 46, Ave.- 25.08, 5W- 3, Best- 6/40, Ctchs- 3
This spot on the team sheet gave me more trouble than any other and I know that I’m going for a rather unconventional choice here. Others would have gone for Philander’s control or Broad’s bounce, but I opted for Boult. The 24-year old has performed admirably all year without getting the kind of support that the other two names get from their bowling partners. Boult’s bowling has been a vital cog in New Zealand’s resurgence in Test cricket this year. Good enough to take the new ball and also play the supporting role while the senior partners take the wickets, Boult will round off this attack very well.
Dale Steyn (SA) Right Hand Batsman, Right Arm Fast
Mtchs- 9, Runs- 121, Ave.- 17.28, 100/50- 0/0, High- 44, Wkts- 51, Ave.- 17.66, 5W- 4, Best- 6/8, Ctchs- 1
Steyn’s name alone is enough to strike terror in the hearts of oppositions. The world’s best fast bowler had yet another memorable year where he demolished all the three oppositions he bowled to in different parts of the year. He began with a match haul of 8/65 against New Zealand, proceeded to obliterate Pakistan with 11/60 in the next game, managed 8 wickets in the dustbowls of UAE, and ended the year with his a 9/147 against India. Clearly the leader of this attack, his partnership with Johnson would be a treat for cricket fans.
Saeed Ajmal (Pak) Right Hand Batsman, Right Arm Offbreak
Mtchs- 7, Runs- 149, Ave.- 12.41, 100/50- 0/0, High- 49, Wkts- 37, Ave.- 24.72, 5W- 3, Best- 7/95, Ctchs- 3
Ajmal’s performances in 2013 came in tough conditions; mostly against the best side in the world (5 of his 7 Tests in 2013 were against South Africa). His 10-wicket haul in Cape Town in February was the first by a Pakistan spinner in South Africa and the best figures by a spinner in the country in 12 years. Ajmal’s natural variations and experience have made him successful world over. He rounds off a complete attack for this team- two tearaway fast bowlers, a left arm swing bowler and a world-class spinner.
12th Man- Shane Shillingford (WI) Right Hand Batsman, Right Arm Offbreak
Mtchs- 6, Runs- 43, Ave.- 04.77, 100/50- 0/0, High- 15, Wkts- 36, Ave.- 22.27, 5W- 5, Best- 6/49, Ctchs- 3
The ban on his action notwithstanding, Shane Shillingford created ripples this year. Just like Ajmal, he decimated Zimbabwe, taking 19 wickets in 2 Tests there. He returned an impressive figure of 26/4 in Dunedin on conditions hardly favourable for spinners. Even on the flat tracks of India, he managed 11 wickets in two innings. Had it not been for Ajmal’s exploits this year, he would have been my first-choice spinner. He remains on stand-by though, waiting to jump in on turning tracks.
In my opinion, this is a perfectly balanced Test side. It has two openers who are consistent and put a price on their wickets. They have contrasting styles but both are effective Test match players. The middle order is built of four run-scoring machines in Pujara, Clarke, Taylor, and de Villiers, all of whom more than capable of building long innings and scoring quickly if the situation demands. In Haddin, we have arguably the best wicketkeeper on the world today, and one who has recently scored an Ashes hundred.
As for the bowling, I need you to picture something- Steyn and Johnson sharing the new ball; scary, right? They will be followed by Trent Boult, one of the most promising young fast bowlers around, and by the wizard Ajmal, whose guile and cunning have made him one of the most successful spinners in recent years. On turning tracks, we can replace Boult with Shillingford and wait for our spin twins to wreak havoc on unsuspecting batsmen. All in all, I would bet my life savings on this team!
Image: The Australian