Cricket: The Best Eleven of 2008

Goutham BabuCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2009

Statistics alone do not provide a picture as sharp as a flat-screen television, and that is one strong reason why a best test XI like this—for the year 2008—could vary in its nature and content from a cricket fan to cricket fan, from country to country.

I have tried my best not to bring in the purported bias in this team and have refrained from getting personal favourites.

Yet, there may be some who may not agree with my choice of four Indians in the team, where as the others would have definite issues with my non-inclusion of Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh

But as I say, ‘to each his own!’

In fact, talking of Tendulkar and Harbhajan, both had a reasonable 2008, and yet I am not too sure whether it was good enough to include them in the top 11 cricketers of the year.

What I am definitely sure of is that my openers would be none other than the Delhi duo of Virender Sehwag' and 'Gautam Gambhir'. This space would run short for elucidating the reasons for this choice, but it is a no-brainer that Sehwag and Gambhir have had a smashing year. It has not only been their statistics, but also the manner in which the runs have been obtained that has put most of the opponents in a state of quandary—and quite often, Team India on the road to victory—which stands them apart from the crowd.

Both have not only got their runs in a manner so much akin to quicksilver, but also the fact that their running between the wickets has been of the top draw, and consistency has been the name of their game.

Graeme Smith’s batting constitutes only a part of his resounding success story this year—his leadership qualities been the other—but it is enough to land him a spot on the team. Overcoming his woes against the left-arm bowlers, he scored a whopping 1,656 runs at an average of 72 this year—and had it not been for the Sehwag-Gambhir pair’s inseparable habits, Smith would have had made it to the top as an opener.

There was much more to Kevin Pietersen than his unconventional switch-hits that had even the MCC scratching their heads in puzzlement, and he displayed that with a panache of a true number four batsman. After a shoddy display of captaincy by Michael Vaughan, the mantle had to pass on to Pietersen, and he did not disappoint even the worst of his critics by posting five successive wins against South Africa—one in tests and four in ODIs.

In doing so, he maintained his career average of almost 51, and just nudges out Tendulkar from the number four position because of his higher fitness levels and ability to feature in the matches on a more consistent basis.

Hashim Amla, the anchor, is my number five. His inclusion is based on two factors, the runs that he amassed in 2008 at a 50-plus average, and my gut feel that he is the one player to look out for.

I, for one, think that he was the most improved batsman of the year, and his journey from being an almost strokeless wonder to South Africa’s new stabiliser—having taken over the mantle from Jacques Kallis—makes him a desirable commodity in my team.

I have decided to go ahead with five frontline batsmen, and have M.S. Dhoni as my wicket-keeper-batsman at six.

The one thing that I would also do is to have Graeme Smith as the skipper and not Dhoni. Again, very little to choose from between the two as skippers, but Smith’s experience at the top that helped him beat the Aussies in Australia makes me my first-choice man. This, in turn, also allows Dhoni to concentrate on his batting, which would be a must, in such a line-up.

I have no qualms in calling Dhoni as one of the safest wicket-keepers in the world today, and despite not been the most graceful, he would have made it to the team on the basis of his glove-work behind the wickets alone.

Kiwi skipper Daniel Vettori makes it to my team ahead of some of the other distinguished spinners in the world for his brilliant left-arm orthodox and consistently reliable batting throughout the year.

From the Bishen Singh Bedi school of spin bowling, the bespectacled southpaw has shown enough guile and brain to lull the batsmen into giving their wickets away—as his bowling mean of 26 runs per wicket shows—while scalping 54. His willow has wielded almost 700 runs at an average of 36, and this all-round performance makes him my number seven.

With 63 wickets in the calendar year, Mitchell Johnson was Australia’s lone bowling hope this season. His biggest strength was his ability to pick wickets at alarming alacrity in return spells with the old ball. Not only that, it was also his ability—and one must add that he is only into his second year as a test bowler—to keep the batsmen quiet for lengthy periods that puts him behind Zaheer Khan and Dale Steyn as the first change bowler for my team.

For small measure, he proved to be a very difficult tail-ender to dislodge, as his batting average of 23 exhibits.

Zaheer Khan was the artist of 2008. Or at least his bowling was. Usually, the phrase, ‘poetry in motion’ is reserved to describe spinners, but one wouldn’t be too off the mark if the same was used for Zaheer. With the new ball, he was a menace, with the older cherry, he was almost demoniac.

On the deadest of pitches, he made the ball spit venom and had most batsmen in a fix. Again, like Johnson, when he was not picking wickets, he was doing the containing job, and his captain, Dhoni, had enough faith in him to anoint him the bowling captain in one of the matches against England.

The quickest bowler of the team, Dale Steyn, performed admirably well in 2008, and it was not only because of his pace, but the ability to swing the ball at that speed. Half of his 74 career wickets came in this calendar year, and the average was even more mesmerizing 20 runs to the wicket. Steyn would share the new ball in my team with Zaheer Khan.

For sheer wizardry, enjoyment, confusion, bamboozlement, artistry, and a whole of other things, Ajantha Mendis walks into my team despite having played only three test matches in the year. With the batsmen having yet to sort out this wily little fox, it would have been a difficult choice to leave him out.

And a fox he was, doling his bag of goodies in the form of offies that spun, the ones that did not, the ones that went the other way, the ones that threatened to go one way but went in a totally polarised direction, and the ones that hastened off the pitch as if they had a flight to catch!

Mendis was a little advanced version of Sachin Tendulkar the bowler, having a bag of everything, but with a lot more control and consistency, something that the Indians found difficult to bat against in the three tests that he bowled in.


My team: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Graeme Smith (captain), Kevin Pietersen, Hashim Amla, M.S. Dhoni (wicket-keeper, vice-captain), Daniel Vettori, Zaheer Khan, Mitchell Johnson, Ajantha Mendis, Dale Steyn.

This, according to me, is the Best XI of 2008.  What do you feel about it?  Comments are always welcome.