Cricket365's Team of the Year


24 men made the penultimate cut, but there could only be 11 in the end. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting 2011's finest performers – four Englishmen, three Indians, an Australian, West Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan make up the illustrious numbers.

<B>1. Shane Watson (Australia)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Mohammad Hafeez (Pakistan)</I><BR>Test cricket didn't serve his batting stats very well this year, but ODI competition brought him hefty recognition. Few will forget the whirlwind 161 not out he nailed against England in Melbourne, while the Bangladeshis still have nightmares about the entirely blitzkrieg 185 not out off 96 balls, 15 sixes included, he pummeled in April. Goodness knows how large he would've gone were the Aussies chasing more than 230. Currently fourth in the Test all-rounder rankings and third in the ODI stakes, the fitness issues to have hindered Watson's bowling prowess are now largely behind him – his Newlands five-for in less than four overs and many other telling spells attest to this.

<B>2. Alastair Cook (England)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Taufeeq Umar (Pakistan)</I><BR>Under fire for his place in the Test unit at the start of the year, Cook promptly answered his critics with a resounding Ashes series that included 235 not out in Brisbane, 148 in Adelaide and 189 in Sydney. With a prolific end to 2010 and a large start to 2011 promising more, the left-hander obliged against Sri Lanka with two more tons. India at home was somewhat leaner, until, that is, a record-breaking 294 provided a fitting end to a career-defining eight Test matches. The ODI captain also proved his worth in the limited-overs arena, forging 600 runs at 93.16 – a strike-rate fourth only to Virender Sehwag, Shane Watson and Suresh Raina in the year's top 30 ODI run-scorers. His form with the bat now holds firm, though his leadership hand – prematurely forced by the ODI retirement of Andrew Strauss – remains questionable. See India whitewash for example.

<B>3. Jonathan Trott (England)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Darren Bravo (West Indies)</I><BR>Much like Cook, Trott proved that so-called Test match specialists are capable of more than holding their own in the limited-overs arena, though this did come at the expense of his primary role in the five-day game. Blazing a century-lined trail through the Ashes in late 2010, the right-hander delivered only one further Test match ton this year. 203 at Cardiff against Sri Lanka ultimately took a back seat to his exploits in one-day cricket, where he only just missed out to Kohli as the format's leading run-scorer in 2011. Intriguingly enough, Trott and Kohli hit just nine sixes between them across their collective 2696 runs.

<B>4. Virat Kohli (India)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)</I><BR>We had a long, hard think about this one before deciding Kohli had to crack the nod ahead of Sangakkara. While the Sri Lankan scored a multitude of runs across the low and slow conditions across sub-continent and gulf, he was severely exposed in South Africa, where the truest test on pitches primed for swing and seam saw the left-hander falter at every turn. The talented Kohli, meanwhile, churned out the most amount of ODI runs – 1381 – this year at an average of 94.00 to – once and for all – set himself apart from the Rohit Sharmas, Suresh Rainas and Ajinkya Rahanes of India's new crop.

<B>5. Rahul Dravid (India)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Misbah-ul-Haq (Pakistan)</I><BR>1067 Test runs – the most by anyone this year – from 'The Wall' went a long way in bricking up a career that was deemed by many as too patchy for first-choice selection amid India's search for fresh, young talent to take them into the future. The rest of the nation's old guard hardly held a candle to the former captain, who proved a lone rose amid an otherwise thorny order in England. his five centuries were four more than any other team-mate and made India's fall from the helm of the Test rankings slightly consolable.

<B>6. Ian Bell (England)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Michael Clarke (Australia)</I><BR>The third piece that completes England's batting trinity in this XI, Bell was the most complete package of the lot. Unmatched in Tests by Cook and Trott, the Warwickshire star amassed five tons in just 11 knocks. One in Australia, two against Sri Lanka and two more against the Indians, each proved bigger and better than the last, culminating the sterling 235 at The Oval. The world game knows no more classic batsman when in full flow…

<B>7. Mahendra Dhoni (India, captain, wicketkeeper)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Matt Prior (England)</I><BR>The Indian skipper's batting, by his own admission, wasn't up to scratch this year, though he must have forgotten about the four consecutive ODI half-centuries and seven not outs on the trot that he racked up against Cook and company as well as the big ton he fetched against the Windies. Other than that superb run, yes, it was a rather lean year for the right-hander, who remains one of the world's best finishers regardless. Leadership-wise, the highs of World Cup triumph soon plummeted to the depths of the drubbing in England before whitewashing England in India brought balance to a seesaw year. Australia, in Australia, will prove Dhoni's biggest Test.

<B>8. Devendra Bishoo (West Indies)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Graeme Swann (England)</I><BR>True, we could have gone for a third specialist seamer in this hypothetical XI but the weight of the year's conditions demanded two spinners. Pakistan's number-one gun, who you can read about later, proved a shoo-in. The second slow-bowling berth, however, was a tougher pick. In a year that leg-spinners like Imran Tahir, Steven Smith and Seekkuge Prasanna endured the trial and error of Test cricket, the diminutive Bishoo rose head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Often bowling under great pressure to both stem the flow of runs and take wickets – and more often than not the lone ranger in a West Indies unit void of Shane Shillingford and Sulieman Benn – the 26-year-old sported maturity beyond his years. One for the future, provided the fickle selection panel agree, Bishoo clinched 39 Test scalps. With an increasing ODI calendar and a World Twenty20 beckoning, the Windies can't afford to keep him out of their limited-overs plans for much longer.

<B>9. James Anderson (England)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Ravi Rampaul (West Indies)</I><BR>Warming up in Australia, settling into his stride against Sri Lanka and then screaming through India, Anderson was undoubtedly the key to England's bowling success this year. With Stuart Broad sidelined for a lengthy period, Chris Tremlett nursing injury and Tim Bresnan in need of a nurturing wing, Anderson delivered. Second only to India's Ishant among fast bowlers with the most Test scalps for 2011, 2012 promises much for arguably the game's finest exponent of swing. Now the 'hunted' rather than the 'hunters', as the English brains trust like to insist, will need their star right-armer fully fit and firing if they wish to retain their number-one Test mantle for an extended period.

<B>10. Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka)</B><BR><I>Close, but no: Ishant Sharma (India)</I><BR>Malinga's