It's that time of the year for Cricinfo to pick the Test team of the year and so, while the world celebrated the festive season, our staffers burned the midnight oil coming up with their nominations. Those nominations were then tallied and the 11 players with the most votes fitted into a batting order/bowling attack. The choices were largely based on performances through the calendar year - but we strongly suspect some instances of rank personal favouritism.
The openers' debate was most hotly contested. In the end it came down to the age-old dilemma - do you go for team flexibility and pick non-specialists or stick to conventional wisdom? All but one chose Michael Hussey as an opener - he bats in the middle order for Australia but has vast first-class experience at the top. There was a tie for picking his partners - Alastair Cook (four hundreds and three fifties) and Rahul Dravid (three hundreds and seven fifties) received an equal number of votes but the fact that one was a "specialist" and the other a "makeshift" resolved the tie.
Ricky Ponting (averaging 88.86 in 2006), Mohammad Yousuf (99.33) and Kumar Sangakkara (69) made it to every list, as expected. Sangakkara, who kept in eight of the nine Tests that Sri Lanka played, was the near-unanimous choice as the wicketkeeper (Gilchrist got one vote). Kevin Pietersen, the second-highest run-scorer in the calendar year (1343 at 53.72), completed a formidable middle order.
Muttiah Muralitharan, with a staggering 90 wickets in 11 Tests, was statistically light years ahead of the rest (Makhaya Ntini was a distant second with 58 victims) and duly made the list (then again, which list won't he make?). Shane Warne, who tormented England in the Ashes and waved goodbye to a magnificent career, joined him in the spin department - he, too, was in everyone's team.
Makhaya Ntini, the fast bowler with the most wickets this year, leads the fast-bowling department. Partnering him is Stuart Clark (42 wickets at a superb 17.76), who began the year with a Man-of-the-Series performance in South Africa and ended it with an impressive Ashes. Mohammad Asif, with 30 wickets in five games, was the third most popular fast bowler but picking him would have meant having five bowlers in the side. One vote behind him was Andrew Flintoff and the jury decided to have him in the side for his bowling prowess, batting ability and sheer size of his heart.
AB de Villiers was the most popular 12th man, owing largely to his outstanding catching and ground fielding throughout the year. That leaves us with the final question - who will captain? No Dravid, no Mahela Jayawardene, no Brian Lara. One respondent went for Shane Warne. That left Ponting and Flintoff and you don't need to be Einstein to work out the overwhelming winner.
Cricinfo's Test team for 2006
1 Alastair Cook, 2 Michael Hussey, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Kevin Pietersen, 6 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Shane Warne, 9 Stuart Clark, 10 Makhaya Ntini, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan, 12 AB de Villiers.
If you think you can pick an alternative XI or feel strongly about this selection, Send us your comments