January 1, 2012

The teams of the year

The Test and ODI XIs of 2011, as picked by ESPNcricinfo staff

Test XI

Lord's, Trent Bridge, Newlands, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Hobart, Melbourne, Durban - it was a fantastic year for Test cricket, and ESPNcricinfo's staffers have selected their 11 Test stars of 2011. Only one of the names, Alastair Cook, gained a full house of 18 votes, while Rahul Dravid - with three votes as an opener - and Ian Bell had 16 each. Kumar Sangakkara, who ended the year as the No. 1 batsman in the rankings, was a surprising omission, having gained just five votes, but Matt Prior didn't have much competition as keeper. Vernon Philander pushed for a spot after his fantastic start, although on the whole there was consensus on the bowlers.

Alastair Cook, 927 runs at 84.27
Could Cook continue his prolific end to 2010 over the next 12 months? The answer, emphatically, was yes. He began the year with 189 in Sydney, to finish the Ashes with 766 runs, then started the English summer with 390 runs in three Tests against Sri Lanka. He had a slow start against India, but it was a brief lapse. At Edgbaston he produced one of most monumental innings by an England batsman, with a nearly 13-hour 294, and appeared destined for the team's first triple since his mentor, Graham Gooch, hit 333 in 1990, but sliced a drive to deep point.

Mohammad Hafeez, 647 runs at 40.43, 15 wickets at 25.93
Pakistan's resurgent year is typified by Hafeez. During the team's unbeaten run against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, he flourished at the top of the order after a sluggish start to his latest incarnation as a Test cricketer earlier in the year. Hundreds in Bulawayo and Chittagong were the standout performances. His offspin gave the bowling attack an added option and he ended the year taking the new ball.

Rahul Dravid, 1145 runs at 57.25
A year when the bowlers began to halt the free-scoring batting of recent times called for a return to some old-school skills with the willow. No one typifies those traits better than Dravid, who was one of just two players to make over 1000 runs. And his hundreds came when the going was very tough: Jamaica and Trent Bridge, especially, were not for the faint-hearted. He also did it from wherever his team needed his services, with his Nottingham ton and the unbeaten 146 at The Oval coming as opener.

Kevin Pietersen, 731 runs at 73.10
There is time yet for KP to finish with the career he promised in 2005. He still responds best to the biggest challenge, so it was no surprise he didn't fill his boots against Sri Lanka. India, however, got the juices flowing. His double-hundred at Lord's was the perfect model for a Test innings as he battled tough conditions early, then flourished against a tiring attack.

Ian Bell, 950 runs at 118.75
Nobody in this XI batted with more fluency in 2011 than Bell. He was a joy to watch almost every time he walked to the middle. In Sydney there was a first Ashes hundred, and he cashed in against Sri Lanka, but the defining innings came at Trent Bridge against India on a lively pitch. Promoted to No. 3 due to Jonathan Trott's injury, Bell produced the innings his supporters believed he would since the age of 16. Elegance, grace and timing. The performance will always be remembered for the recall by MS Dhoni at tea, but by then Bell already had 137. To cap the summer, he stroked his way to a maiden double-hundred, at The Oval. World No. 1 beckons.

Darren Bravo, 949 runs at 49.94
There were glimmers of a brighter future for West Indies during 2011 and Bravo offered many of the encouraging moments. It was in the closing stages of the year that he really flourished, converting promising starts into hundreds against Bangladesh (195) and India (166). It's tough to burden a youngster with endless comparisons, but such are the similarities in his batting to a certain BC Lara that it becomes very difficult not to. To the point that after 12 Tests, they had exactly the same stats: 941 runs at 47.05

Matt Prior, 519 runs at 64.87, 34 catches, two stumpings
Apart from an errant bat handle making contact with a window at Lord's, it couldn't have been a better year for England's wicketkeeper. Three hundreds from No. 7 gave the batting line-up formidable power, and there are few better cover-drivers in the world. Once ridiculed for his work behind the stumps, he now rarely misses a chance. He is also a very vocal presence in the overall fielding effort.

Stuart Broad, 33 wickets at 22.30, 239 runs at 39.83
Midway through the year, the chances of Broad making this list seemed non-existent. He very nearly didn't play the opening Test against India. Yet over the next four Tests he defined his season and, quite possibly, his career. Shelving the back-of-length approach which had come with the "enforcer" tag, he pitched the ball up with devastating effect. At Trent Bridge he changed the match in a manner befitting any of the game's finest allrounders. First he clubbed 64, then broke the back of India with a hat-trick. England didn't look back.

Dale Steyn, 28 wickets at 19.57
England's workload of eight Tests was a light year, but South Africa played even fewer. There were just five chances to marvel at Steyn's skill, which showed no signs of diminishing. His contest with Sachin Tendulkar in Cape Town was one for the ages, and when five-day action resumed he was a constant threat against Australia. Vernon Philander's record-breaking start to Test cricket took a lot of the headlines, but he was able to feed off the sustained pressure created by Steyn.

Saeed Ajmal, 50 wickets at 23.86
Ajmal, now firmly established as Pakistan's first-choice Test spinner, had a productive year. His best match haul of 11 wickets came in defeat against West Indies in the Caribbean, but he played a key role in the series-leveller, and then in October helped bowl Pakistan to victory against Sri Lanka. With his doosra he can run through lower-order batsmen quickly, and he also provides his captain with excellent control in the field.

James Anderson, 35 wickets at 24.85
To say that Anderson pushed Steyn to be the leading quick in the world is the highest compliment that can be paid. There was barely a bad spell with the red ball during a year that began in style in Sydney, and was summed up in his enthralling head-to-head with Sachin Tendulkar, one that Anderson dominated with skilful swing. And he didn't just do it when the pitch was green: Anderson is now truly a bowler for all conditions.


In a year where India sent a billion people into wild celebrations, it is unsurprising that their World Cup team is well represented in the one-day side, with five players making the cut. It's a team dominated by the subcontinent, with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka taking nine places and the other two going to Australians (despite their quarter-final exit). Two players, MS Dhoni and Shahid Afridi, were unanimous selections. Jonathan Trott, the second-highest run-scorer for the year, didn't make it while there was a single vote for a player outside the Full Members: Kevin O'Brien of Ireland. Only Saeed Ajmal made it into both teams.

Virender Sehwag, 645 runs at 53.75, SR 123.09
He launched the World Cup with 175 against Bangladesh and capped his year with a record-breaking, breathtaking 219 against West Indies. Sehwag alone is pushing the boundaries of one-day cricket. Outside of those two innings it was actually a fairly unproductive year for him, with injury limiting him to 12 ODIs, but Sehwag is an intimidating presence in any top order.

Shane Watson, 1139 runs at 56.95, SR 108.89
There would be no shortage of sixes with Watson partnering Sehwag. Watson clubbed an astonishing 42 maximums in 22 innings, his tally boosted by the world-record 15 he struck against Bangladesh in his unbeaten 185. Throw in his very useful medium pace - which includes a good array of slow balls - and he is the ultimate one-day package.

Virat Kohli, 1381 runs at 47.62, SR 85.56
In Test cricket India are still waiting for their young batting talent to flourish, but there are no such worries in the 50-over format. Kohli led the way, topping the run charts with 1381 runs, including four hundreds. The closing stages of his year were especially productive, with two hundreds against England and one against West Indies. Although much smaller than those scores, his 35 in the World Cup final was an important hand following the early losses of Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar.

Mahela Jayawardene, 1032 runs at 46.90, SR 82.62
There is still a place for elegance and accumulation in one-day cricket. Jayawardene produced two of the finest innings of the year: his World Cup final hundred that gave Sri Lanka a chance was an innings of the highest quality, and then there was his 144 against England at Headingley - a textbook example of controlled acceleration.

Yuvraj Singh, 453 runs at 50.33, SR 81.91, 20 wickets at 26.05
Due to injury and illness, Yuvraj didn't play another ODI after the World Cup final but his impact on that tournament had been immense with a Man-of-the-Tournament display. He'd been in poor form heading into the event but struck three consecutive fifties before an unbeaten 113 against West Indies. His bowling was vital too, and his 20 scalps included a five-wicket haul against Ireland when they were been threatening a damaging total.

MS Dhoni, 764 runs at 58.76, SR 89.88
No one has played an ODI innings under more pressure than Dhoni in the World Cup final. He hadn't scored a half-century in his previous 11 innings of the year, but with the run chase at its defining moment, 114 for 3, he promoted himself to No. 5. The result was 91 of the outwardly calmest runs you could imagine while a nation (noisily) held its breath. The image of him driving the winning six was immediately etched in history. Later in the year, during the back-to-back series against England, Dhoni piled up 340 runs between dismissals to reaffirm his standing as one of the game's finest finishers.

Shahid Afridi, 45 wickets at 20.82, Economy 4.18, 462 runs at 22.00, SR 127.27
Like Dhoni, there is no argument over Afridi's place in this team. He has reinvented his career to become the most effective legspinner in the one-day game. His abilty to run through a batting order is highlighted by four five-wicket hauls during the year. Against Sri Lanka, in Sharjah, he single-handedly turned a match on its head, first with 75 off 65 balls then with 5 for 35. By and large his batting is now considered a bonus when it comes off.

Mitchell Johnson, 39 wickets at 20.94, Economy 4.43, 208 runs at 23.11, SR 106.12
This probably seems the oddest selection across both XIs, considering there is now a debate about whether Johnson will resume his career. However, for all his Test match problems, it was a very solid season in coloured clothes for Johnson. Often it's the white ball the bowlers find harder to control, but Johnson's economy rate suggests otherwise, and he also claimed important hauls, including 6 for 31 against Sri Lanka.

Lasith Malinga, 48 wkts at 19.25, Economy 4.80
The leading wicket-taker in ODIs for the year, despite missing the start of the World Cup, Malinga was again thrilling to watch in full flight. He made up for lost time with a hat-trick against Kenya in his first World Cup outing, but couldn't strike often enough in the final for Sri Lanka. His presence alone can buy wickets because batsmen know they can't bank on scoring many off Malinga's toe-crushers at the end of an innings.

Zaheer Khan, 30 wkts at 20.66 Economy 4.85
Like Yuvraj, Zaheer's one-day year ended after the World Cup, but he was a vital element to securing the major prize. Runs were unlikely to be an issue for India, but they needed someone to lead the attack and Zaheer did it with great skill. His spell of reverse-swing against England turned defeat into a tie (and almost a victory) and he chipped in during each of the knockout matches.

Saeed Ajmal, 34 wickets at 17.08, Economy 3.48
Ajmal spent much of the year forming a formidable partnership with Afridi as Pakistan strangled teams in the middle overs, yet he had only played three matches in the World Cup, with Abdur Rehman often preferred over him. For Ajmal it was his economy rate as much as his wickets that stood out, as he tied batsman down with guile and variation.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo