In a year dominated by the Ashes, Michael Clarke is the only batsman from Australia or England to make my Test team of 2013. This reflects the ascendancy of ball over bat; the Ashes-winning captain was the only batsman from either team to average more than 42 for the year. It’s a big call to leave out Ian Bell after 1000 runs and three tons, but his dwindling returns in Australia and lame shot in England’s calamitous second innings at the MCG sealed his fate.
This team is to play against Mars in the first week of the new year, and Bell is out of form.
Though it may not have felt like it for much of the year, the world is bigger than Australia and England. An enthralling series between the top two teams – South Africa and India – was cut to just two Tests because of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s intransigence, and was played in near-empty stadiums.
It is a shame, because seven of the XI are taken from those two countries. Dale Steyn in full flight remains the greatest sight in world cricket, and the rising generation of Indian batsmen make the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar easier to digest.
For the second year in a row just four nations are represented. It is an indictment on Sri Lanka’s administration that none of its players could be considered because the team played just three Tests in 2013, two against Bangladesh.
The most contentious pick is Shikhar Dhawan, who hasn’t made as many runs as some but played the most attractive and authoritative innings of the year against Australia in Mohali. He is a fabulous player and, with apologies to Mitchell Johnson, boasts the best moustache in cricket.
In the spirit of Australia’s Ashes-winning coach Darren Lehmann, this team is picked both to win games and pull crowds. There is fierce competition for pace spots. Honourable mentions must go to Vernon Philander, who interrupted Steyn’s four-year reign as the world’s No.1-ranked bowler, and to New Zealand’s Trent Boult, who has been a consistent performer since helping his side to a drought-breaking win in Australia in 2011. But there is room for only one left-armer, and who else could it be but Mitch?
1. HASHIM AMLA
South Africa’s elegant No.3 has been bumped up to open, where he will have a calming influence on the dashing Dhawan. He has averaged more than 50 in three of the past four years and looms as a key wicket for Australia in February.
2. SHIKHAR DHAWAN
He played nine years of first-class cricket before his first Test but it was worth the wait. He plundered 187 from 174 balls against Australia – the fastest Test century by a debutant – and showed it was not a fluke with five centuries in one-day cricket. His Australian wife has lived in Narre Warren, but allegations of Victorian bias in selection are vehemently denied.
3. CHETESHWAR PUJARA
The successor to Rahul Dravid makes what Graham Gooch likes to call ”daddy hundreds”, having scored double centuries against England and Australia. The least flashy of India’s younger breed, he rubber-stamped his selection with his first century outside India against Steyn and Philander at Wanderers in December.
4. MICHAEL CLARKE (C)
The leading run-scorer in the world for the second year in a row, Clarke is the first batsman picked and the captain. There is much to admire in the way he led with the bat when the team was struggling, maintaining an average of 47 through losing tours of India and England. Proactive captaincy and sparkling centuries in Brisbane and Adelaide were instrumental in winning back the urn.
5. VIRAT KOHLI
Didn’t make a torrent of runs, but centuries against Australia and South Africa kept his average above 60 and he has the ability to take the game away from the opposition. He is chosen ahead of New Zealand’s Ross Taylor, whose runs came in a rush towards the end of the year against the West Indies.
6. AB DE VILLIERS
Wicketkeeping doesn’t seem to have wearied him but the South African commands selection as a specialist batsman after another outstanding year. Finished with a man-of-the-series performance against India.
7. BRAD HADDIN (WK)
The Australian vice-captain is in career-best form with bat and gloves, making his team better and tougher since returning to Test cricket in March after a long absence. Snapped up the most dismissals this year, his professionalism an important lesson for younger players.
8. RAVINDRA JADEJA
The accurate left-arm spinner collected 24 wickets in the home series against Australia, but showed he could thrive outside India with a six-wicket haul against South Africa in Durban to finish the year. Shane Warne nicknamed him ”rock star”, but there are enough experienced heads in the team to haul him into line if he behaves like one.
9. MITCHELL JOHNSON
Many wrote him off as a Test bowler after a wicketless performance in Delhi in March. That was a mistake. No England batsman will admit it but Johnson has instilled genuine fear in the opposition with an intoxicating mix of pace, brutal bounce and control.
10. STUART BROAD
The leading wicket-taker in the world for 2013, Broad produced match-winning spells against New Zealand in Wellington and Australia in Durham. He is also the only England bowler who has enhanced his reputation this summer, and deserves credit for maintaining his form through all nine Ashes Tests.
11. DALE STEYN
Steyn’s unplayable ball to dismiss Pujara in Durban served as a reminder that he is the best fast bowler of his time. Muthiah Muralidaran is the only bowler to have reached 350 wickets in fewer than his 69 Tests. Also started the year in destructive form, collecting 5-17 against New Zealand and 6-8 against Pakistan.
12TH MAN: RYAN HARRIS
His perfect ball to dismiss Alastair Cook for a golden duck in Perth will go down in Ashes folklore, but his skill and warrior-like efforts through eight Ashes Tests have been one of the most appealing features of back-to-back contests. May his creaky knee carry him on to South Africa.