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By Bharath Ramaraj
Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the future of Test cricket, the year 2013 saw the longest format of the game thrive with some fascinating contests that thrilled the senses of fans and scribes alike. Over the past 12 months, many twinkling stars of the game lorded the cricketing world with their majestic brilliance. In this article, the writer looks to pick those 11 players, who shone bright, to form the CricketCountry Test XI for 2013.
Graeme Smith: When the South African skipper takes guard with his broad shoulders and an even broader willow, the bowler struggles to even have a sneak peek at the stumps. With the willow in hand, he made opposition bowlers scratch their heads by amassing 624 runs at 48.00 this year. Despite coming back into the South Africa setup in the Test series against Pakistan in UAE from an ankle injury in October, he rode on a tide of resurgence by essaying a typical gritty double ton in the second Test match played at Dubai.
Murali Vijay: Indian opener Murali Vijay showed in 2013 that he was a much improved batsman. He started the year with two hundreds against Australia. Yet, questions were raised about his technique and temperament, while playing away from home in alien conditions. However, he quashed those question marks with his eloquent riposte at Durban. Vijay has amassed 641 runs at an average of 53.41 this year.
Cheteshwar Pujara: The Indian No 3 has been the cornerstone of the batting line-up in 2013. He started with a well-constructed double hundred at Hyderabad against Australia. He then made the battery of South African pacers toil, toil and toil even more to take his wicket. His knock of 153 at Johannesburg in the first Test in alien conditions would have given him a lot to cheer about. From India‘s perspective, the insatiable hunger in Pujara to reach the summit of batsmanship would hopefully continue for many years to come.
Hashim Amla: The magician from the Rainbow Nation had another magnificent year. With an unorthodox technique, he has continued to defy the logic with his regal brilliance. Amla was arguably at his best when he essayed a century on a turning wicket against Saeed Ajmal’s deadly doosra at Abu Dhabi. Despite South Africa crumbling under the sheer weight of pressure of facing up to the wily tricks of spinners, Amla stood firm and passed the litmus test with flying colours.
AB De Villiers: Just like his South African colleague Amla, AB De Villiers was a symbol of excellence in 2013. The eye-catching stroke-maker started the year with a scintillating century against Pakistan at Wanderers. He yet again tormented the Pakistan line-up with timely knocks of 61 and 121 at Cape Town and Centurion, respectively. Just recently, he was in the thick of things again by almost scripting a coup de theatre act in the first Test at Wanderers, while South Africa was chasing down a total of 458. With the likes of Amla, de Villiers and Faf Du Plessis in the South African midde-order, it evokes nothing but fear in the opposition team.
Remember, de Viliers has also come up by leaps and bounds as a wicketkeeper. You may call the writer old school, as he believes in picking the best wicketkeeper rather than a great batsman who is an adequate wicketkeeper. Yet, no one can question the high standards de Villiers has set this year behind the stumps. So, he doubles up as the glove-man in this side too.
Michael Clarke (c): Compared to last year, Australian captain Michael Clarke had his fair share of ups and downs. Yet, he crossed the 1000-run mark with an impressive average of 47.26. One of his finest knocks of the year was his 187 at Old Trafford against England. After Australia put up an enervated performance in the second Test at Lord’s, they were down in dumps, but Clarke lifted the sagging morale of Australia with his magnificence in the Old Tafford Test. He is also picked in the side for his tactical acumen. Thus, he will lead the Test side of the year.
Shane Watson: The injury prone all-rounder from Australia wasn’t consistent with the willow. However, his ability to bowl a slew of maiden overs with the older ball helped Australia to make a rejuvenated comeback in the Ashes series, Down Under. He was the unsung hero of the Australian pace bowling machinery.
Mitchell Johnson: The left-arm Australian speedster has etched a truly remarkable comeback from wilderness by being utterly ruthless with his sheer pace against England. He has blown away the English batting line-up, especially the lower-order time and again with his burst of brilliance. He already has 34 scalps to his name in the series. To make it even better, Johnson can hold his own as a batsman too.
Stuart Broad: This time last year, Stuart Broad left the shores of India with question marks hanging over his future in Test cricket. He struggled to take wickets on benign surfaces of India and a troubleshot foot injury didn’t help his cause.
In 2013, he has turned the tables around and is currently at the top of the pile in terms of leading wicket-takers for the year. In Australia, amidst all the boos and snide jokes from public and media, he has come up trumps by taking 17 wickets at 25.64. In fact, he has been one of the bright spots for England in what has been a disastrous tour for them. Earlier in the year, he touched noteworthy crusts with his top notch spells at Durham against Australia and at Lord’s against New Zealand.
Dale Steyn: Unquestionably the greatest bowler of the era, Dale Steyn definitely has to find a place in the side. This year, with his trail of blaze, he demolished batting line-ups. He proved to too good for both New Zealand and Pakistan earlier in the year. However, in the second innings of the first Test match of the series against India at home, he went wicket-less for the first time in his career, at Wanderers. Just like fine wine though, he seems to be getting better as he becomes older. He left behind his insipid performance at Wanderers with an inspired spell of bowling in the second Test at Durban.
Saeed Ajmal: The lone spinner’s slot is taken by the Pakistan’s off-spinner, Saeed Ajmal. With a deadly doosra up his sleeve, he continued to be a thorn in batsmen’s flesh by taking 37 wickets at 24.72 in 2013. The 36-year old touched glorious heights in the Test match played at Cape Town against South Africa with a 10-for. Unfortunately for him, Pakistan still lost the Test.
New Zealand’s swing merchant Trent Boult who swung the ball around the corners is perhaps unlucky to miss out from the XI, along with the current No 1 Test bowler, Vernon Philander. The same can be said about Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ryan Harris. However, as the old adage in cricket goes, only 11 players can be picked in the side.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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