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Last week Wisden announced their inaugural Test XI, the team of 2008. The purpose of the team’s announcement was to recognize the best players in the game and their contributions for the calendar year. The Wisden Test XI read as follows:
1. Virender Sehwag (India)
2. Graeme Smith (South Africa)
3. Ricky Ponting (Australia)
4. Sachin Tendulkar (India)
5. Kevin Pietersen (England)
6. Shivnarine Chanderpaul (West Indies)
7. Mahendra Singh Dhoni (India, captain)
8. Harbhajan Singh (India)
9. Mitchell Johnson (Australia)
10. Dale Steyn (South Africa)
11. Zaheer Khan (India)
In my opinion, they got the XI more or less correct. Therefore, rather than analyse the makings of this outfit, I am putting forward a team that would serve as worthy opposition to them.
Rather than solely base form on 2008, I have decided to base the side on three variables: current form, last year’s form and career form. Also, I have decided to give the side more of an even spread and avoid any instances like the Wisden XI who have five Indian players.
Now here is my World Second XI:
1. Gautam Gambhir (India)
Gautam Gambhir’s form at test level since his reintroduction to the Indian test side last year has been simply stunning. From the first test match in Colombo against Sri Lanka in July last year, Gambhir has hit 5 test tons, including a 206 against the Aussies in Delhi and most recently hit two centuries against New Zealand to finish the tour in style. It’s worth noting that since his comeback to the test team, in every innings (22 in total) he has recorded at least double figures, with 16 his lowest score.
2. Simon Katich (Australia)
The stellar form of Simon Katich in the past 9 months has been quite timely for the Aussies. With Matthew Hayden’s under performance in the final months of his career, it was Katich who held the top order together with his steady and patient approach. 5 hundreds and 7 fifties from his past 15 tests reflects a man of consistency. One coincidence of this opening pairing is that the two batsmen don’t have the healthiest professional relationship given their heated exchanges in the test series in India last year.
3. Younis Khan (Pakistan)
The unfortunate thing for Pakistani cricket is that there hasn’t been much test cricket for them over the past 18 months. There was none in 2008 and in their first series of 2009, in a home series, terrorists start shooting at their opponents team bus which basically ensures that there is no more test cricket in Pakistan for the foreseeable future.
Anyway, back to position number 3. Younis Khan is a brilliant batsman and has compiled a healthy 5129 runs in his 60 test career @ an average of 51.68 an innings. In his last test innings, he became the third Pakistani to score a triple century with his 313 in Karachi against the Sri Lankans. A game against the Wisden Test XI will finally give him a chance to play some more test cricket, therefore he is my pick at three.
4. Kumar Sangakarra (Sri Lanka, wicketkeeper)
Kumar Sangakarra is a glorious player to watch and normally would be a shoo-in for a World XI side. Sangakarra is a front line batsman, a match winner and is damn good to watch when in form. However, his current performances haven’t been top class, with 2 centuries and 6 fifties over the past twelve months. Despite this, he deserves his position at four by virtue of his versatility as a keeper / batsman and the fact that he has a more than handy average of 54.99 from his 80 tests to boot.
5. Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies)
Ramnaresh Sarwan is approaching the golden phase of his career. Being highly touted as a youngster, the talented right hander has never reached any lofty heights in his 8 year career. Till now, he has demonstrated an ability to bat well on occasion but without the required consistency to be regarded as a top flight batsman.
However, this all appears to be changing, with his most recent series against England this year possibly proving to be the turning point of his career. A century in each of the first three tests with a career best 291 and over 600 runs in the four match series have catapulted Sarwan to the top ten of the test batting rankings. Such form warrants him inclusion into this side and batting at number five should alleviate some of the pressure he finds batting higher in the order for the Windies.
6. AB De Villiers (South Africa)
One batsman who did stand up against the Australians in South Africa’s most recent test series between them was AB De Villiers. His 104 not out in the first test was a magnificent solo effort while his 163 in the final test off only 196 balls with 7 sixes was simply spectacular.
De Villiers is now right in his element and the stylish right hander has made his spot at number five in the South African order his own. De Villiers’ 2008 featured three masterful performances, all away from home that secured special victories for South Africa: 217 not out against India at Ahmedabad, 174 against England at Headingley and an unbeaten 106 against the Aussies in Perth that secured the second most successful fourth innings run chase in test history. De Villiers is a lock at no. 6.
7. Andrew Flintoff (England)
‘Freddie’ Flintoff is certainly one player in the side who has been selected in this outfit on reputation. At his best, Andrew Flintoff can change a game within a matter of overs with both bat and ball. At 6’4”, he is an imposing figure and with the bat can not only bludgeon boundaries with ease, but can also play with composure and steady the side when the top order has failed. With the ball, his accuracy, reliable pace of 90mph, along with his mastery of the reverse swing, makes him a threat throughout all stages of an innings.
Returning from an 18 month absence in mid July due to ongoing ankle troubles, his form with bat and ball since then hasn’t been awe inspiring. Despite this, his presence on the world stage is worthy enough for him to become the richest contracted player in IPL history, with a US$1.55 million price tag courtesy of the Chennai Super Kings.
8. Daniel Vettori (New Zealand, captain)
Captain of the Kiwis, Daniel Vettori is the ‘Mr Consistency’ for his country. A left arm spinner by trade, Vettori enjoyed five 5-fors in test cricket in 2008, totaling 54 wickets from 14 tests. His performances don’t stop there. His batting has reached new heights to the point he can now be almost seen as an all rounder. He scored 5 fifties in 2008 and most recently compiled a rearguard 118 in the first test against India in Hamilton this year after entering the crease at 6/60.
Daniel Vettori is truly a team player and his presence in this outfit will be strongly felt. With this being the case, I am selecting him as the team captain, where despite New Zealand’s lack of test success, I feel his wealth of knowledge from all sides of the game would benefit this team.
9. Brett Lee (Australia)
We’ve done well so far, 8 players from 8 countries, the buck stops here though. Brett Lee. Despite being expensive at times, bowling a bit too short and not to mention the odd beamer, Brett Lee is an integral part of the Australian bowling line up and has proved a vital cog in its function over the past decade.
Lee enjoyed a successful start to 2008, which petered out towards the end of the year largely due to his ongoing ankle problems. From his last 15 tests which include the 2007 Boxing Day test against India, he has taken 63 wickets. At his best he is a sight to see that can trouble any batsman in the world and on that basis he gets my nod as an opening bowler for the World Second XI.
10. Ishant Sharma (India)
As all the Indian fans on this website would attest to, Ishant Sharma is a superstar in the making. Although he might be one ‘in the making’, over the past 12 or so months, he has demonstrated on numerous occasions why he is being referred to in this context.
At 6’4”, bowling at 90mph with great poise at his 20 years of age, Sharma has become an integral member of the Indian pace attack, which has since seen the likes of Irfan Pathan, RP Singh and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth unable to find their way back into the test lineup. He will add an exciting element to this World Second XI and will complement Lee and Flintoff in the pace brigade, therefore he is my choice as the third seamer.
11. Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
With 770 wickets @ 22.18 from 127 tests, the Sri Lankan spin king certainly belongs in this World Second XI. His 2008 wasn’t ordinary, how can it be when you take 46 wickets from 7 tests. Given he played just the 7 tests within the year, Murali was never really going to be considered as a mention in the Wisden Test XI.
Murali is a genius. There’s no way around it, he can weave magic with the ball in his hands. In this World Second XI he will certainly make life difficult for the opposing batsmen and with Vettori, we have an awesome spin duo.
12th Man. Jacques Kallis (South Africa)
Jacques Kallis has been the most difficult of selections in this line up. I would like to pick him because he is a proven test batsman with over 10,000 runs to his name with an average at a shade under 55 runs per innings. Along with being quite a handy test bowler, one could argue he is the best all rounder since Sir Garfield Sobers.
The reason I’ve left him out is that I tried to avoid picking two batsman from the same country and that his batting on a stand alone basis over the past 12 months doesn’t warrant selection. Despite this, you could also argue that I picked Flintoff on reputation and as an all rounder, Kallis has probably performed better than Flintoff over this period. Kallis would assist the line up by bringing a fourth seamer into the side and as a medium pacer, would provide greater variety to the attack.
Therefore, on game day he might squeeze into the final XI but at this stage I’ll keep him as the 12th man. Who would he replace? It is a toughie, but I’d say Ramnaresh Sarwan, so he’d come in at number 5.
This would be a terrific battle between the two best all star line ups in the world of test cricket. The odds? Assuming batting conditions are friendly but juicy enough for the quicks early in the test and helpful for spinners as the game progresses, i.e. an ideal test wicket, I’d have the draw as favourite in this encounter.
If a draw wasn’t going to happen, I’d have the Wisden side slightly ahead of the World Second XI with the edge mainly lying with the bat. But only just....only just!
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