Prediction: Best Test XI of 2013

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On January 5, 2013, ESPN Cricinfo released its Test side of 2012. The team virtually selects itself with cricket being a statistically oriented sport and as such, limited thought and analysis has to go into such a publication. Picking the eleven players that will excel over the coming 12 months however, is a completely different question and one which goes a way to determining what the landscape of international cricket will look like at the end of this year.

My recent article on the elite batsmen of the Test arena and the need for them to continue their progression towards ‘legendary status’ is also relevant here. Notably, I’m predicting the game’s most dominant batsmen of the past few years to thrive again this calendar year, thereby answering the call to represent the Test format to the cricketing fans of the world. Just as interesting though is the lack of young players selected, conspicuous in their absence as scheduling and a lack of natural talent precludes their emergence over the next 12 months.

Alastair Cook (Vice-Captain) (England)

Coming off a year in which statistics didn’t do his form or impact on the game justice, the English captain enters 2013 as a formidable opening batsman. Relishing his role as captain, Cook’s form against Australia in the back-to-back Ashes series late in the season will make or break his calendar year. If his performances down under in 2010/2011 are any indication, Cook will impress again this year and his statistics will reflect his dominance. The greatest risk to Cook’s production in his five Tests against the ‘Black Caps’ is the probability that he will only have one chance to bat once in most fixtures.

England – Current 2013 Test Schedule (14 Test Matches)

Test Series

Details

England in New Zealand 3 Test Matches
New Zealand in England 2 Test Matches
Australia in England 5 Test Matches
England in Australia 5 Test Matches (4 played in 2013, 1 in 2014)

 

Cheteshwar Pujara (India)

With long-term opener Virender Sehwag tipped to slide down the Indian order in 2013, an opportunity presents itself for this promising youngster to become one of the most established opening batsmen in Test cricket. Having emerged from India’s series defeat to England as the lone positive, Pujara, as India’s finest batsman, now carries weight of over one billion people’s expectations on his young shoulders. A strong technical foundation and a temperament of a player beyond his years, Pujara has shown himself to be the only Indian batsman of this new generation to translate domestic form into Test match success.

India – Current 2013 Test Schedule (4 Test Matches)

Test Series

Details

Australia in India 4 Test Matches

 

Hashim Amla (South Africa) 

Alongside Michael Clarke as the best batsman in the world, Amla’s sheer talent commands selection in this side. Already having produced individually during South Africa’s 2-0 demolition of New Zealand, the South African must also capitalize on his favourable home series v Pakistan if he is to replicate the form he has demonstrated in recent seasons. The greatest threat to a seemingly infallible technique is the fatigue associated with being the driving force behind the world’s best Test outfit and the undeniable ‘Player to Watch’ for the Champions Trophy in June.

South Africa – Current 2013 Test Schedule (5 Test Matches)

Test Series

Details

New Zealand in South Africa 2 Test Matches
Pakistan in South Africa 3 Test Matches

 

Darren Bravo (West Indies)

Touted as the next Brian Lara, Darren Bravo has fallen by the wayside with Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul occupying the limelight in 2012. An incredibly gifted batsman with the talent to emulate the greatest West Indian cricketers, Bravo simply needs opportunities to thrive in a West Indian cricketing context that hinders the successful cultivation and development of talent. A ‘hot and cold’ player just like Lara himself, Bravo has played in 8 Test match series’ in his short career averaging above 65 on four occasions and below 40 on the other four. Hosting Zimbabwe in March however provides him with a perfect platform from which a potentially sensational 2013 can begin.

West Indies – Current 2013 Test Schedule (2 Test Matches)

Test Series

Details

Zimbabwe in West Indies 2 Test Matches

 

Michael Clarke (Captain) (Australia)

Relishing his leadership position in a similar manner to Alastair Cook, Clarke is the first batsman selected in this side. Confident at the crease, mentally superb in adversity and a tremendously positive captain, the Australian skipper is primed for the biggest year of his Test career. Whilst replicating the statistics of 2012 is a near impossibility, two Ashes series in the space of six months will form the lasting legacy of Michael Clarke. Returning to India, where he scored a century on debut, and facing an English outfit against which he has typically struggled, consistency is the key for Clarke as he looks to cement his place as one of Australia’s great cricketers.

Australia – Current 2013 Test Schedule (15 Test Matches)

Test Series

Details

Sri Lanka in Australia 3 Test Matches (1 played in 2013, 2 played in 2012)
Australia in India 4 Test Matches
Australia in England 5 Test Matches
England in Australia 5 Test Matches (4 played in 2013, 1 in 2014)

 

Faf du Plessis (South Africa)

Bursting onto the scene late in 2012 with several superb performances in South Africa’s 1-0 series win against Australia, little is known about Faf du Plessis. Entering the Test arena in a similar manner to J.P. Duminy in 2008, you could be forgiven for dubbing this initial success ‘begginers luck’. Du Plessis however has a far superior talent to his predecessor as shown in his stubborn and unbeaten 110 off an incredible 376 deliveries to save the Adelaide Test on debut. Occupying a position in South Africa’s experienced and near unbeatable batting outfit sets the mature debutant up for a Hussey-esque career, a career which only got better with age.

Matt Prior (Wicket-Keeper) (England)

Having averaged over 40 with the bat for every year of his Test career except 2012, Prior is due an impressive showing in 2013. Named in Cricinfo’s Test team of 2012 regardless, the adopted Englishman is now widely considered the best glove man in the world following Mark Boucher’s retirement. For a keeper to be so skilled with the bat is a testament to Prior’s talents but his selection is also thanks to a Gilchrist-inspired trend of selecting a batsman who can catch over a specialist. Nevertheless, facing an intense 12 months of Test cricket, Prior has more than enough opportunities to surpass his record 36 dismissals in a calendar year.

Graeme Swann (England)

After a 2012 in which his dominance on the Test scene was challenged by Rangana Herath Saeed Ajmal and Monty Panesar’s recall during the England’s tour of India, Graeme Swann’s selection comes against a host of other viable candidates. The larrikin spinner has no right to assume success in 2013, having struggled against Australia previously and having repeatedly failed to replicate his form in the sub-continent back in England. Nevertheless, an English schedule dominated by Ashes fixtures pits Swann against a series of Australian batsmen who struggle against spinners. The potential for Swann to enter 2014 as a complete spinner, having performed on every surface and against every opponent is very much a possibility.

Dale Steyn (South Africa)

No one can deny that Dale Steyn is the premier fast bowler of this generation. Under the watch of Allan Donald, South Africa now boast one of the greatest fast bowling attacks ever assembled, taking the pressure off the 29-year-old and allowing him to both excel and prolong his playing career. As with Cook, the greatest threat to Steyn is the success of his side with Morkel, Philander and now Petersen all competent at dismantling an opposition batting line-up. His phenomenal career record speaks and having taken 172 Test wickets in South Africa at just 21.45, all signs point to another successful upcoming series against Pakistan.

Vernon Philander (South Africa)

Whilst Dale Steyn is the master, Vernon Philander is anything but an apprentice. Having earned his stripes in domestic cricket, the mature-bodied South African managed to confirm in 2012 what we saw a glimpse of in 2011, that he is a very special talent. Commanding accuracy, swing and seam as opposed to the pace and aggression of Steyn and the bounce of Morkel, who himself is unfortunate not to make this side; Philander has his own, very specialized niche. With a disappointing tour of Australia behind him following a destructive performance in Cape Town against New Zealand, injury is the only thing standing between Vernon and another statistically mind-blowing year.

Jackson Bird (Australia)

The final bowling position is an incredibly difficult one to call with multiple fast-bowling talents emerging all over the world. I’ve gone for Australia’s Jackson Bird in undoubtedly the most controversial selection in this Test XI. The closest thing Australia has to Vernon Philander, Bird is not only one of the most durable Australian fast bowlers, but his ability to swing the ball yet provide more variety than Ben Hilfenhaus highlights him as a potential sensation in England later this year. Despite taking 22 wickets at 27.45 in Australia’s unsuccessful 2009 Ashes campaign, Hilfenhaus is unlikely to regain a place in Australia’s attack, leaving the door open for a bowler possessing a different skill set to Starc, Johnson, Siddle and Cummins. The only threat to his success is Australia’s rotation policy and the injury plague cursing Australia’s young fast bowlers. Whilst he may struggle in India, if for some reason his performances against Sri Lanka don’t earn Bird a plane ticket to England, expect James Pattinson to step up in his place.

Test Batting Statistics – 2012

Tests Runs Average High Score 100s/50s
Alastair Cook 15 1249 48.03 190 v IND 4/3
Cheteshwar Pujara 6 654 81.75 206* v ENG 3/0
Hashim Amla 10 1064 70.93 311* v ENG 4/2
Darren Bravo 8 482 37.07 127 v BAN 1/2
Michael Clarke 11 1595 106.33 329* v IND 5/3
Faf du Plessis 2 293 146.50 110* v AUS 1/2
Matt Prior 15 777 38.85 91 v IND 0/6
Graeme Swann 14 376 23.50 56 v IND 0/1
Vernon Philander 9 236 26.22 61 v END 0/1
Dale Steyn 10 77 6.41 26 v ENG 0/0
Jackson Bird 2 6 6 6* v SL 0/0

 

 

Test Bowling Statistics – 2012

Tests Wickets Strike Rate Average Best Bowling
Michael Clarke 11 7 64.20 33.71 5/86 v WI
Graeme Swann 14 59 64.50 29.93 6/82 v SL
Vernon Philander 9 43 45.80 21.11 6/44 v NZ
Dale Steyn 10 39 58.50 29.71 5/56 v ENG
Jackson Bird 2 11 34.30 16.18 4/41 v SL

 

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On twitter @rombarbera. Australian sports by day, international sports by night. Co-founder of Blindside Sport. Fantasy sport addict.

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