Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2007

The Wisden Forty

Lawrence Booth and Rob Smyth

The Wisden Forty, including the Leading Cricketer in the World, have been selected by Wisden as the top 40 cricketers in the game on the basis of their class and form shown in all cricket during the calendar year 2006. The selections were made in consultation with many of the world's most experienced cricket writers and commentators. In the end, though, they were Wisden's choices, guided by the statistics but not governed by them. The selection panel are no more infallible than any other selectors.

The poster boy in an essentially faceless New Zealand side © Getty Images
Shane Bond New Zealand
With Bond, you know the script in advance: once again, his year was a mixture of exasperatingly frequent injury and occasionally thrilling harm to opposition batting line-ups. He managed only four of New Zealand's eight Tests because of a stomach virus and then a long-term knee injury, but won the match award in the two victories he played in: against West Indies at Auckland, when he dismissed Lara with both balls he bowled to him, and Sri Lanka at Christchurch. Bond was the poster boy in an essentially faceless New Zealand side, but fate skimped on the Blu-tack and he kept falling down. On song, he was up there with the world's best fast bowlers: of his 18 Test wickets, five fell for ducks and a further eight in single figures. In an age of flat pitches and capricious bowlers, Bond was one to cherish. It was just a shame sightings were so rare.
4 Tests:
36 runs @ 9.00; 18 wickets @ 26.16
11 ODI: 26 runs @ 13.00; 21 wickets @ 22.04

Stuart Clark Australia
Just as batsmen looked free from a life of torture by tall, forensic, metronomic Australian seamers, Clark pulled them back in. His similarities to McGrath were startling. Without a Test cap at the start of the year, he was a revelation: brainy, immaculate in his appraisal of the correct length to bowl, and seemingly able to move the ball both ways off the pitch at will. Yet perhaps his greatest strength was his consistency: only once in 16 innings did Clark fail to take a wicket, and only thrice did he go at three an over, a remarkable achievement in the modern game. He replaced the absent McGrath in South Africa, where he took nine for 89 on debut and 20 wickets at 15 in the series. To prove that was no fluke, he bowled even better in the Ashes, this time alongside McGrath, and was again the top wicket-taker with 26 at 17. Batsmen were left hoping that he would be afflicted by second-album syndrome. There was little else to cling on to.
8 Tests: 81 runs @ 11.57; 42 wickets @ 17.76
14 ODI: 42 runs @ 14.00; 15 wickets @ 43.13

Michael Clarke Australia
With Australia's geriatricos moving ever closer to retirement, Clarke's time was always going to come again. But it arrived rather sooner than expected when Shane Watson was ruled out of the Ashes, and he took advantage with a maturity and equilibrium of which few thought him capable. Technically he was playing much straighter, and psychologically he was now happy to play the straight man. Even his once-delirious celebrations were restrained. His 124 at Adelaide, when he reined himself to hit just nine fours from 224 balls, seemed as anonymous as any in modern history, until it acquired new meaning on a dramatic final day, and his unbeaten 135 in the next Test at Perth was lost in the wreckage of Gilchrist's onslaught. Where Clarke was a spectacular presence was in the field; his inclusion was a shot of Botox to an ageing unit, and few took liberties against him.
6 Tests: 429 runs @ 71.50; no wicket for 60
28 ODI: 729 runs @ 40.50; 8 wickets @ 35.87

Impossible not to admire Collingwood © Getty Images

Paul Collingwood England
Collingwood had always craved a regular seat at cricket's top table, and in 2006 he finally got it. Nobody played more than his 14 Tests, and only Mohammad Yousuf and Dravid faced more deliveries. But although he averaged over 50, many observers still felt he didn't belong: he reached 50 in only five of his 26 innings, and none came in an England victory, an apt reflection of his fire-fighting role. When he did get in, however, he invariably made it count: there was an accelerating 134 not out at Nagpur, his maiden Test century, a ruthless 186 against Pakistan at Lord's and, most famously of all, 206 at Adelaide. It was no coincidence that it came on Australia's most subcontinental wicket. Collingwood's stiff, bottom-handed technique made him vulnerable on bouncing, seaming pitches, and he struggled badly against Clark in particular. He remained a magnificent fielder, a consummate team man and a rugged scrapper confident enough to pick a series-long fight with Warne (and have a head-to-head average of 151 against him). It was impossible not to admire him.
14 Tests: 1,121 runs @ 50.95; 1 wicket @ 174.00
18 ODI: 520 runs @ 34.66; 8 wickets @ 39.12

Rahul Dravid India
For most, an average of 60 would have represented unimaginable treasures; for Dravid, it was merely a means of keeping the stats topped up. He was his usual, rock-solid self, never more than when grinding out 496 runs at 82 to seal India's first series win in the Caribbean for 35 years. Scores of 81 out of 200 and 68 out of 171 in the victory at Kingston represented one of the performances of the decade. But there were moments when the pressures of leading the world's most demanding cricket nation threatened even this monolith. Hundreds in the draws at Lahore and Faisalabad were followed by two single-figure dismissals - for the first time in the same Test for four years - during the doomed decider at Karachi, and he went surprisingly century-less at home to England. The tour of South Africa turned out to be a personal and collective disappointment but, with Tendulkar either injured or below-par, Dravid's wicket was the one most treasured by the opposition. And he remained the most courteous and affable captain on the circuit.
12 Tests: 1,095 runs @ 60.83
27 ODI: 919 runs @ 35.34

Stephen Fleming New Zealand
Perhaps Fleming's outstanding achievement was that he was going strong in his tenth year as New Zealand captain. There was no sign of burnout; indeed, at 33, he was still burning himself in as a leader: he found all the possibilities of field placing, bowling changes and mind games infinitely fascinating. He remained impressively hard-nosed, and didn't suffer fools gladly, which was unfortunate given some of the personnel at his disposal. He became the first New Zealander to play 100 Tests, against South Africa at Centurion, and then slammed a year-defining 262 in the next match at Cape Town. His cover-drive was as pristine as ever, and his slip fielding as reliable; no non-keeper exceeded Fleming's 19 catches. The only black spot was his continued inability to reach fifty in the second innings; by the end of the year, he had not done so in 44 months and 20 attempts.
8 Tests: 570 runs @ 47.50
11 ODI: 390 runs @ 35.45

The year began brilliantly, with the most improbable of wins in Mumbai © Getty Images

Andrew Flintoff England It was the year in which England's superhero was dramatically stripped of his powers: there were no centuries, no five-fors and, most surprisingly, none of the joie de vivre that usually characterises his game. He remained one of the best fast bowlers in the world, but his batting was racked by indecision: his strike-rate of 51 runs per 100 balls was down by 13 from the previous year. Yet when Flintoff, replacing Vaughan as captain in India at the last minute, led an inexperienced side to a victory in Mumbai as improbable and uplifting as any in recent memory, it seemed there was nothing he couldn't do. The first signs of trouble came against Sri Lanka at Lord's, when Flintoff overbowled himself horribly (51 overs in the second innings) in a failed bid for victory. He then missed the Pakistan series for more ankle surgery, before returning as captain in Australia, beating Strauss to the job by a whisker. He led from the front with a truly heroic bowling display in the First Test, but the gyp from a dodgy ankle and an even dodgier team soon began to wear him down, and long before the series was over he had the empty stare of a beaten man. It was hard to escape the conclusion that the captaincy had emasculated him, particularly with the bat: at first it had inspired him to make four consecutive, controlled half-centuries in India but, as the year went on, Flintoff seemed unsure whether to stick or biff, and in the remaining seven Tests he averaged just 20. England were left hoping that the return of Vaughan would lead to the return of the real Flintoff.
10 Tests: 469 runs @ 31.26; 33 wickets @ 33.78
7 ODI: 102 runs @ 14.57; 6 wickets @ 29.33

Chris Gayle West Indies
At his best, Gayle mixed nonchalance and big hitting like no one else in the game. His 37 sixes in all Tests and one-day internationals were more than any other player, and almost two-thirds of his 1,217 one-day runs - only Sangakkara scored more - came in boundaries. Three hundreds at the Champions Trophy made him the indisputable player of the tournament. At his worst, he lacked drive, ruthlessness and, many felt, concentration. In 11 of his 18 Test innings he made between 30 and 93, and a pair in the deciding Fourth Test against India in Jamaica again raised questions about his temperament. His deceptively languid off-spin - slow, slow, quick - made him a genuine all-rounder in the one-day game, and his left-handed brand of stand and deliver were one of the few reasons to keep watching West Indies. If Gayle could only turn cameos into concrete, there would have been even more.
10 Tests: 690 runs @ 38.33; 12 wickets @ 43.41
32 ODI: 1,217 runs @ 41.96; 29 wickets @ 33.44

Adam Gilchrist Australia
It was a case of adapt or die as the world's seamers went round the wicket to harry and stifle Gilchrist, attempting to replicate England's success in stopping him in 2005. And although the deaths were quicker and more frequent than before, he occasionally managed to adapt, with predictably incendiary results. His 86 against South Africa at Sydney was full of characteristic counter-attack, while his 144 at Fatullah spared Australia the indignity of following on against Bangladesh; of course, they went on to win. But the most glorious response came at Perth against England. Had Gilchrist hit his 55th ball for three, he would have beaten Viv Richards's record for the fastest Test century, but he had to settle for a 57-ball hundred instead. In the one-day game, he continued to strike fear at the top of the order, though his keeping fell just short of his own exacting standards. Still, with Australia's bowlers creating so many chances, it hardly mattered.
10 Tests: 459 runs @ 38.25; 35 catches, four stumpings.
22 ODI: 810 runs @ 38.57; 32 catches, four stumpings

Passion still firing on all cylinders © Getty Images

Matthew Hayden Australia
Experience - plus the desire to take revenge on England - dictated Hayden's new-found fastidiousness, forged in the aftermath of the 2005 Ashes and developed as that year ran its course. Now he applied himself as never before, taking five hours over a century at Durban, 273 minutes to compile 72 in the Fatullah run-chase, and 252 to play his way back into form with 92 against England at Perth. His more natural aggression could not always be tempered, and the Ashes did not begin well, but with team-mates reaching the end of their shelf-life - including Langer, his old mucker - Hayden resolved to be around for another Australian summer and help bed in his new opening partner. His one-day career looked to be heading for a quiet conclusion until he was recalled for the Commonwealth Bank Series, and he survived for one more World Cup. Certainly, the competitive fires burned as patriotically as ever.
10 Tests: 789 runs @ 43.83
2 ODI: 103 runs @ 51.50

Matthew Hoggard England
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The sight of Hoggard trudging back to his mark for one more over was one of the reassuring constants of England's up-and-down year: no other bowler came close to his tally of 14 Tests, and the side injury that kept him out at Sydney ended a run of 40 games, a sequence undoubtedly helped by his relatively rare appearances in the one-day side. As usual, he mixed thrift (2.98 an over) with toil while maintaining his habit of silencing those who felt he was less effective outside England: 30.5-13-57-6 at Nagpur, and 42-6-109-7 on a heartbreaker at Adelaide. But it was his sheer consistency that continued to astonish: only three times in 26 Test innings did he go wicketless, and his new-ball inswing to the ever-growing army of left-handed openers remained a captain's delight. By the end of the year he had moved ahead of Andrew Caddick - who had once made the mistake of publicly underestimating Hoggard - into seventh place in England's all-time list. Only his batting regressed: his contributions as night-watchman fell away, and he ended up as No. 11, even for England.
14 Tests: 121 runs @ 6.36; 51 wickets @ 30.58
2 ODI: 7 runs @ 7.00; no wicket for 118

Mike Hussey Australia
So you thought they might work him out, did you? Hussey's second year proved just as productive as his first. If the nickname "Mr Cricket" plumbed new depths of obviousness, it was hard to think of an apter alternative. Underpinned by an irrepressible cover-drive and a decisive leave-alone, his batting oozed dedication and inevitability. Even the only discernible weakness - he was out between 73 and 91 five times - was one most batsmen would crave, and by the end of the Ashes Hussey had made the No. 4 slot his own. His one-day batting continued to astound. Of his eight not-outs in 22 innings, seven came in Australian wins and the other - a century against West Indies in the DLF Cup - took place when Australia batted first. Was this the most unforgiving batsman to bowl at since Bradman? At the end of the year, career averages of nearly 80 in Tests and 77 in one-day internationals suggested it was a reasonable question.
10 Tests: 965 runs @ 80.41; no wicket for 23
27 ODI: 784 runs @ 56.00; 1 wicket @ 63.00

Agitator or national hero? © AFP

Inzamam-ul-Haq Pakistan
As Inzamam approached the twilight, the runs refused to flow as they once did, but then not even a triple-century against India would have overshadowed his role in the Oval fiasco. He was either decried as an agitator or hailed as a national hero for his protest against the penalty imposed for alleged ball-tampering. Almost incidentally, Inzamam's batting was below par. He hit 119 in the Faisalabad bore-draw against India and a pair of fifties at Lord's, but then went nine Test innings without a half-century - his worst sequence for eight years - before making an unbeaten 58 against West Indies at Karachi. It was hard to avoid the conclusion that, at 36, his powers were on the wane.
11 Tests: 563 runs @ 37.53
19 ODI: 450 runs @ 34.61

Sanath Jayasuriya Sri Lanka
Jayasuriya contravened all norms of ageing: at 37, he was more free-spirited than ever. Nobody who scored 300 one-day runs got near his blistering strike-rate of 107, and four of his five centuries came at comfortably more than a run a ball. The highlight was an astonishing 99-ball 152 at Headingley to seal a whitewash of England. But Jayasuriya's hammer was fickle in Tests, where he struggled badly after reversing his decision to retire in April: he made just one fifty in seven Tests, a raucous 73 in the narrow win over South Africa in Colombo.
7 Tests: 211 runs @ 17.58; 4 wickets @ 66.25
26 ODI: 1,153 runs @ 48.04; 16 wickets @ 40.06

Mahela Jayawardene Sri Lanka
Small, slight, and softly spoken, Jayawardene might have been the least likely assassin in world cricket, but this was a triumphant year, both as a batsman and a captain. Although there were eight single-figure scores in 20 innings, including four ducks, it was the high points that made the headlines. First, he helped save the Lord's Test with elegant innings of 61 and 119. Then he took two sparkling hundreds off England's ailing one-day attack. But the zenith came with his chanceless 374 - the fourth-highest individual Test score - against South Africa at Colombo's SSC, where he added 624 with Kumar Sangakkara, a world record for any wicket in first-class cricket. It went beyond the realms of career-defining and confirmed his status as one of the three best batsmen in Sri Lanka's history, along with Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva. His one-day aggregate was bettered only by Sangakkara and Gayle, while his captaincy stocks rose too, thanks to unlikely series draws in England and New Zealand, plus a home win against South Africa. Jayawardene's success story was one of the most popular in world cricket.
11 Tests: 983 runs @ 51.73
36 ODI: 1,185 runs @ 40.86; no wicket for 15

Kallis, only the second player to achieve the Test double © Getty Images

Jacques Kallis South Africa
Run-gathering and milestone-passing had long been a fact of life, but so too had the feeling that Kallis's fortunes were not always bound up with that of his team. Some of his gutsiest batting came during the hammerings by Australia, but his statistically eye-catching return of 111 and 50 not out at Sydney was tempered by the fact that he took three hours over his second innings at a time when quick runs were required. Elbow surgery ruled him out of the ill-fated trip to Sri Lanka, but personal ambition and team success did coincide against New Zealand, when Kallis became the second player, after Garfield Sobers, to achieve the Test double of 8,000 runs and 200 wickets. His bowling was steady - he averaged 12 overs per Test innings - but good enough for him to stay top of the ICC's all-rounder rankings, and he briefly took over the captaincy twice. As usual, though, you wondered whether fourth gear would ever be located.
8 Tests: 620 runs @ 44.28; 15 wickets @ 32.73
14 ODI: 373 runs @ 31.08; 17 wickets @ 23.58

Kamran Akmal Pakistan
He was not the first keeper to look bad on his maiden tour of England, but it seemed fairer to discern Akmal's real worth in his performances at home to India at the start of the year. He began with an 81-ball century at Lahore, at the time the fastest by a wicketkeeper in Tests, then made 78 after being drafted in as an emergency opener at Faisalabad. But his all-wicket potential was displayed most thrillingly in the decider, when he made 113 from No. 8 after Pakistan had slid to 39 for six on an atypically green firstmorning pitch at Karachi. They ended up winning too, with Akmal holding on to six catches. He moved up and down the one-day order without finding a home, but that was a sign of Pakistan's desire to accommodate him as much as anything.
12 Tests: 606 runs @ 40.40; 37 catches, 5 stumpings
23 ODI: 340 runs @ 20.00; 22 catches, 3 stumpings

Anil Kumble India
More than ever, Kumble's unyieldingly accurate top-spinners and leg-breaks stood four-square with Dravid's batting as the foundations of an erratic Indian team. Only Muralitharan and Ntini took more Test wickets, and no one came close to his 633 overs. At 35, he could still be relied upon to exploit favourable conditions: nine wickets at Mohali saw off England, and his six-for in Jamaica inspired India's historic win over West Indies. In the first of those games, he became the fifth bowler to pass 500 Test wickets; in the second, he inched past 2,000 runs. It was a double previously achieved only by Warne. Kumble's innate modesty somehow precluded fanfare, but he was still bowling with the guile of an all-time great.
12 Tests: 306 runs @ 19.12; 57 wickets @ 33.50
3 ODI: 3 runs @ 1.00; 2 wickets @ 49.50

5,316 runs in defeat for Lara, whose appetite remained insatiable © AFP

Brian Lara West Indies
For much of a year in which West Indies failed to win a single Test, Lara could not even sugar the pill with his customary bouts of personal glory. He averaged 18 in New Zealand, 26 at home to India - lower than any of West Indies' recognised batsmen in that series - and even threatened to cut short his third stint as captain on the grounds that he was not getting the team he wanted. But 122 at Lahore and 216 at Multan, leading to a series average of nearly 90, restored the status quo, and, at 37, Lara finished the year only 47 runs shy of 12,000 in Tests. His appetite was all the more remarkable for the fact that he had now lost 63 Tests (out of 131), comfortably a world record, and had scored 5,316 runs in defeat, more than 2,000 clear of the next man, his team-mate Chanderpaul. During the Indian series he complained that his reputation as captain was being "dragged down". As a batsman, it was still sometimes a different matter.
10 Tests: 749 runs @ 41.61
28 ODI: 660 runs @ 31.42

Brett Lee Australia
It was a typical Lee year: at times he bowled beautifully, at times he went round the park, and the chips fell, as they always do, on an average just the wrong side of 30. Often that felt like an inevitable consequence of his specific role - shock bowlers will always have the occasional shocker - but at other times there was frustration that he had not made significant progress. Or indeed any: his Test average for the year was just 0.01 greater than in 2005, but the finer points suggested a different, more cautious bowler. Lee's strike-rate worsened, but his economy-rate improved. He still had the appetite for destruction, however, and spreadeagled South Africa's lower order at Durban. Then, after taking a while to rev up in the Ashes, he took 12 wickets in the final two Tests and looked devastating. It was hard to believe that, with his cherubic features and insatiable enthusiasm, Lee was now the wrong side of 30 himself.
10 Tests: 209 runs @ 26.12; 37 wickets @ 32.37
26 ODI: 170 runs @ 18.88; 44 wickets @ 24.88

Darren Lehmann South Australia and Yorkshire
A beer, a fag and a century were all Lehmann usually needed to keep happy, and they were in regular supply in 2006. Even in his dotage he was one of the surest things around, averaging 48.82 in the Pura Cup at either end of the year and 77.54 in the Championship for Yorkshire in between. In his final innings for the county he made the highest-ever score at Headingley, 339, and was two short of Yorkshire's all-time record. With his protruding belly and naive behaviour - he got into trouble for comments after South Australia's ING Cup final defeat and for gestures to Lancashire fans - Lehmann felt like the last of a dying breed. But his time wasn't up just yet.

Not as potent, but still pretty good © Getty Images

Glenn McGrath Australia
McGrath's final year as a Test cricketer was dominated by the break he took to be with his wife, Jane, who was recovering from her third bout of cancer, and by the Ashes, where he was below his best but still good enough to take eight more wickets than the best Englishman, Hoggard. His decision to miss the tours of South Africa and Bangladesh meant he approached Australia's one-day missions in Malaysia and at the Champions Trophy with renewed vigour, and he was as unhittable as ever. His one-day economy rate of 3.38 was bettered among regulars only by Pollock, and his Champions Trophy semi-final spell against New Zealand (10-2-22-3) was a reminder of past glories. He laughed off the Dad's Army jibes with a six-for at Brisbane, but concerns over his sore ankle resurfaced when he took none for 107, his worst-ever Test analysis, in the first innings at Adelaide. After that, it was a question of marshalling his resources: he failed to run through England again, but never went for more than 2.66 an over, and he finished his Test career congratulating himself on 563 wickets and - at last - a spot on prediction of a whitewash. The World Cup would be his last hurrah.
5 Tests: 11 runs @ 3.66; 18 wickets @ 29.05
14 ODI: 7 runs @ 7.00; 15 wickets @ 25.93

Mohammad Asif Pakistan
A failed drug test, for which he was controversially acquitted, overshadowed a year of thrilling achievement. Mohammad Asif was not a typical Pakistan fast bowler - he relied on sharp seam movement and accuracy (12 of his 30 Test wickets were bowled) rather than reverse swing - but, in an age of strapping seamers, he threatened to overshadow them all: he was Harmison with brain, McGrath with nip, Clark with attitude. He bowled Pakistan to a series victory over India with seven wickets at Karachi, and then blew Sri Lanka away at Kandy with startling match figures of 11 for 71. Then, after missing much of the series in England, he returned to win the battle of the egos against Pietersen with contemptuous, knowing ease. When Asif returned to the team to begin 2007 with a flurry of wickets in South Africa, it was possible to see him as a very special talent.
5 Tests: 6 runs @ 1.20; 30 wickets @ 18.23
16 ODI: 13 runs @ 6.50; 17 wickets @ 32.23

Mohammad Yousuf Pakistan
Down to the first two figures of Mohammad Yousuf's batting average, this was a Bradmanesque performance. His Test aggregate of 1,788 was a record in a calendar year, beating Viv Richards's 30-year-old mark of 1,710, while his nine hundreds - five of them 173 or more - beat the previous best of seven. Aside from a blip in his one Test in Sri Lanka, no one could stop him. He averaged 92 against India, 90 in England, and 133 against West Indies, where he hit four centuries in five innings. With a bit more care, he might even have reached 2,000: he was run out or stumped on five occasions. But he worked hard to improve against the short ball and was far more responsible. He was modest with it, complaining after his 192 against West Indies at Lahore that the flatness of pitches around the world had made "batsmen too dominant". Bowlers everywhere were inclined to agree.
11 Tests: 1,788 runs @ 99.33
21 ODI: 627 runs @ 39.18

Muttiah Muralitharan Sri Lanka - Wisden's Leading Cricketer in the World, 2006

South Africa's beacon © Getty Images

Makhaya Ntini South Africa
Ntini was indefatigable as ever, and it was a good job too. While he took 58 Test wickets - second only to Muralitharan - the 14 other South Africans who bowled in 2006 managed a total of 111. As often as not, it was a oneman show. He took successive ten-wicket hauls, in defeat to Australia at Johannesburg and victory over New Zealand at Centurion, and his relentlessly exacting use of the new ball did much to bring about a captain's-dream strike-rate of 37. His one-day form was not far behind, and his analysis of six for 22 to skittle Australia for 93 at Cape Town was one of the limited overs performances of the year. Ntini's fitness and enthusiasm were South Africa's shining beacon.
10 Tests: 117 runs @ 9.75; 58 wickets @ 21.60
15 ODI: 4 runs @ 4.00; 28 wickets @ 19.71

Monty Panesar England
It was a measure of Panesar's instant impact on the public that he was celebrated as much for not being selected at Brisbane and Adelaide as he had already become for shackling some of the best players of spin in world cricket. Observers drew easy parallels with his idol Bishan Bedi, another Sikh who bowled left-arm spin for Northamptonshire, and it was true that Panesar was similarly engrossed by his craft. But he is a less adventurous bowler, and the name Derek Underwood cropped up too: not since his retirement in 1982 had England produced such a genuine spin-bowling article. The wicket of Tendulkar on debut at Nagpur provided the first example of his trademark child-in-a-sweetshop celebrations, and five-fors against Sri Lanka and Pakistan led Duncan Fletcher to say there was no better finger-spinner in the world. Reservations about his batting and fielding remained, but there was widespread outrage when Ashley Giles replaced him for the start of the Ashes. Two games later, Panesar was back in, taking five wickets on a heady opening day at Perth, and even earning a promotion to No. 10 on the back of a stroke-filled 16, followed by the role of night-watchman at Sydney. A mauling at the hands of Adam Gilchrist in the second innings at Perth was a reality check, even if it was the first time any batsman had successfully got after him, but a giddy year ended with selection for England's one-day squad in Australia.
12 Tests: 86 runs @ 10.75; 40 wickets @ 33.15

Kevin Pietersen England
There were moments in 2006 when it felt as if the only player who could hold Pietersen back was Pietersen himself. At times, he made even the best look ordinary. A left-handed sweep for six off Muralitharan at Birmingham made him cricket's answer to snooker's Ronnie O'Sullivan - cocksure and ambidextrous - while Warne's decision to bowl wide of leg stump for two hours during his 158 at Adelaide was an admission that the Australians did not know how else to stem the runs. By now Pietersen, singled out ahead of the Ashes by Ponting as the game's next great phenomenon, had become the thread by which England's fate hung. It was stellar stuff, and the only frustration was that the stars did not align more often. His slog to get out after making 135 against Pakistan at Leeds, as well as a doomed attempt to take a single to Ponting at Adelaide, perhaps reflected the dangers of hubris. His unfettered unorthodoxy made him a hit yet again in the one-day arena, and his catching - a liability during the 2005 Ashes - moved into the realms of dependability. But the feeling that he had more to give, heightened by the bizarre decision to bat him at No. 5 for the first seven innings in Australia, never went away, and accusations of selfishness could not be dismissed with complete conviction. It could be lonely, Pietersen discovered Down Under, being a genius.
14 Tests: 1,343 runs @ 53.72; 1 wicket @ 201.00
16 ODI: 612 runs @ 43.71; 1 wicket @ 69.00

Virtually unhittable, in one-dayers © AFP

Shaun Pollock South Africa
Pollock had always been a model of consistency, but in 2006 his fortunes fluctuated wildly. The year began badly, when he took one for 164 at Sydney at more than four an over. He was manhandled in the return series, too, but once Australia were out of the way he rediscovered the joys of frugality. In four Tests at home to New Zealand and India, facing Pollock was like being buried alive while moisture dripped on your forehead: he took 13 wickets at an average of 17 and was almost unhittable. And his form in one-day cricket - 32 wickets at 17 with an astonishing economy rate of 2.98 - was peerless.
14 Tests:8 Tests: 391 runs @ 35.54; 19 wickets @ 40.10
21 ODI:379 runs @ 29.15; 32 wickets @ 17.34

Ricky Ponting Australia
The superlatives ran dry, for this was near perfection. With the bat, Ponting was almost matchless, scoring seven hundreds in his first 14 innings of the year and pulling like a demi-god. As a captain, he rated ten out of ten, which happened to be Australia's Test record. As an individual, he righted what he perceived as the wrong of 2005: Ponting would no longer be remembered as the first Australian captain to lose the Ashes for 18 years, but as the first to preside over an Ashes whitewash for 86. The personal pressure of having to beat England made his relentlessness with the bat all the more astonishing. Twice he took a pair of hundreds in a Test against South Africa, and his exacting standards were reflected in a slow trudge to the Brisbane dressing-room after he had fallen for 196 in the Ashes opener. After his 142 in the next game at Adelaide, his career average topped a vertiginous 60, which was the sign of an all-time great. Steve Waugh called him Australia's best behind Bradman, and few argued. After all, not one Test bowler managed to hit his stumps all year. So it was most unAustralian that his 164 off 105 balls in the manic Johannesburg one-dayer should not produce a win. But for Ponting, 2006 was all about regaining the Ashes. With the blunders of 2005 behind him, his reputation emerged enhanced. Icing on the cake did not come any sweeter.
10 Tests: 1,333 runs @ 88.86; no wicket for seven
23 ODI: 798 runs @ 36.27

Ashwell Prince South Africa
To sum up Prince's 2006 as the year in which he became South Africa's first non-white captain is to give his batting less credit than it deserved. While the captaincy was undoubtedly an honour and a hugely symbolic moment in the country's ongoing battle with its past, it was Prince's elevation to the ranks of middle-order bulwark - he averaged three more than Kallis - that really caught the eye. Warne made life uncomfortable early on, but 119 at Sydney and 93 at Johannesburg, both against Australia, hinted at his gutsy, left-handed application, and after that he hardly failed: a hundred in the victory over India at Durban was the highlight. He was captain, as a stand-in for the injured Smith, for the two-Test trip to Sri Lanka, where - with Kallis missing too - it was an uphill task, despite his own pair of half-centuries. Prince was rarely thrilling to watch but, after a faltering introduction to international cricket in 2002, the feeling this time was that he was here to stay.
11 Tests: 905 runs @ 47.63; 1 wicket @ 9.00
9 ODI: 160 runs @ 26.66

The world's best wicketkeeper-batsman? © AFP

Kumar Sangakkara Sri Lanka
With Gilchrist on the wane, Sangakkara was arguably the world's premier batsman-wicketkeeper. He was irrefutably the most consistent. Nobody scored more than his 2,609 runs in all internationals, or reached 50 as often (21 times in 55 innings). The highlight, inevitably, was a career-best 287 against South Africa in Colombo, when he and Jayawardene added a worldrecord 624. But arguably two innings in New Zealand at the end of the year were better: an unbeaten 100 out of 170 at Christchurch, and a staggeringly accomplished 156 not out in a total of 268 at Wellington a week later to set up a series-levelling win.
11 Tests: 1,242 runs @ 69.00; 18 catches as keeper, 2 stumpings
36 ODI: 1,333 runs @ 44.43; 37 catches, 12 stumpings

Sreesanth India
Competition for places in the Indian fast-bowling pantheon has never been particularly fierce, but Sreesanth showed enough promise to suggest that, one day, he might take a seat alongside Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath. In his first year as a Test player his control, interrogatory seam movement and chippy attitude troubled many a good batsman: he inflicted a pair on Chris Gayle in the series decider in Jamaica, and then took eight for 99 during an even more improbable victory, over South Africa at Johannesburg. India had the bad cop of their new bowling pair; if they found a good cop to go with him they could be really dangerous.
7 Tests: 119 runs @ 17.00; 35 wickets @ 24.37
18 ODI: 6 runs @ 1.50; 25 wickets @ 32.08

Andrew Strauss England
With both Vaughan and, for much of the time, Trescothick absent, Strauss became the elder statesman of England's batting line-up. Yet, though he passed 1,000 Test runs for the first time, it was not an especially successful year. The high point came against Pakistan, when Strauss captained England to a forfeit-assisted 3-0 victory and scored 444 runs at 63, but in ten other Tests he averaged just 31. He lost the captaincy to the fit-again Flintoff for the Ashes, and then endured a lost series: Strauss's top score in five Tests was just 50, even though he looked in excellent nick throughout. Three umpiring howlers didn't help, but nor did a penchant for absent-mindedness that had surfaced in India earlier in the year. He redeemed that series with an outstanding 128 in the last-Test victory at Mumbai, but overall Strauss was dismissed between 11 and 48 in 17 of his 26 innings. It was a frustrating blot on an otherwise immaculate copybook.
14 Tests: 1,031 runs @ 39.65
20 ODI: 592 runs @ 31.15

Australia's biffer © Getty Images

Andrew Symonds Australia
The wild thing of Australian cricket finally found deliverance. Nobody seemed convinced that Symonds could cut it at Test level, least of all the man himself. But against England at Melbourne, he changed the habit of a lifetime and started exercising shot selection, moving from a maiden Test century to a relatively sober 156. There had been no such doubts about Symonds's worth at one-day level. He was the complete package: a devastating biffer - who hit an epic 151 in the VB Series against Sri Lanka - a versatile and underestimated bowler, and a fielder of frightening athleticism and intensity.
6 Tests: 297 runs @ 37.12; 4 wickets @ 59.00
24 ODI: 761 runs @ 42.27; 20 wickets @ 36.80

Jerome Taylor West Indies
West Indies had been holding out for a fast-bowling hero throughout this millennium, and Taylor, returning after more than two years' absence, became the man most likely. Unlike his peers, he seemed more interested in swing than bling, and his diligent adherence to the basics, as well as the ability to hoop the ball at the last moment, set him apart. There was a famous hat-trick against Australia in the Champions Trophy, where he was the top wicket-taker, nine wickets against India on a dicey Sabina Park pitch and, most admirably of all, some sustained excellence during a highscoring series in Pakistan.
7 Tests: 87 runs @ 8.70; 28 wickets @ 28.67
24 ODI: 25 runs @ 6.25; 39 wickets @ 24.51

Sachin Tendulkar India
Tendulkar's mortality was not so much intimated as screamed. Whether it was because of age or rust after a succession of injuries was a moot point; that he was not the player of old was irrefutable. He made just one halfcentury in eight Tests, and was booed by the crowd during an Indian-record 132nd Test appearance, against England at his home ground, Mumbai. He could still work the hairs on the back of the neck like nobody else, but those moments were few and further between. Even so, nobody in their right mind looked forward to bowling to him.
8 Tests: 267 runs @ 24.27; no wicket for 67
16 ODI: 628 runs @ 44.85; 3 wickets @ 72.00

700 and out © Getty Images

Shane Warne Australia
It was no great surprise that Warne ended his Test career in magnificent fashion, with an Ashes whitewash and a 700th Test wicket in front of his home crowd at the MCG. With his powers waning ever so slightly, Warne had spent much of the year in the mode of rogue psychiatrist - inviting opponents on to his couch and persecuting them, encouraging them to torture themselves with imaginary demons. Even besieged umpires, who had to contend with incessant appeals of wildly varying credibility, could not escape his spell. Overall, his wickets cost more than 30 each for the first time since 2001 but, as always, Warne won the really big points: his legendary lastday performance at Adelaide, when his presence numbed England into a fatal strokelessness, turned a tight Ashes series into a walkover. His six for 86 on the final day at Durban, when he took Australia to a thrilling againstthe- clock victory, was almost as good. The coup de grâce came on the first day of his beloved Boxing Day Test, when he ran through England with five for 39, including his 700th wicket (Strauss). A week later, he walked into retirement, putting a lump in the throats of even those Englishmen whose dreams he had wrecked for a decade and a half. Cricket would never see his like again.
10 Tests: 218 runs @ 21.80; 49 wickets @ 30.20

Daniel Vettori New Zealand
If finger-spin was a dying art, then Vettori was pretty good at mouth-to-mouth. And wicket-to-wicket. His accurate, unrelenting left-arm spin was a real threat on wearing pitches: his strike-rate for the year halved to 49 in the second innings, and he took the second seven-for of his Test career against Sri Lanka at Wellington. He was also the highest-ranked spinner in the ICC's one-day rankings. That was not all he was good for: there was no more reliable lower-order batsman around, and Vettori stood and delivered four fifties in 11 Test innings. In a mixed year for New Zealand, he was a reassuring constant.
8 Tests: 387 runs @ 35.18; 21 wickets @ 28.57
13 ODI: 221 runs @ 31.57; 12 wickets @ 41.66

Younis Khan Pakistan
The achievements of the run-machine Mohammad Yousuf dwarfed allcomers, but Younis Khan too was robotically productive: he averaged over 50 in Tests for the third year in a row. He began the year explosively, with 199 and 194 against India - he now averaged 106 against them in Tests - before leading Pakistan to a famous series victory over them in the final Test. A glorious 173 at Leeds confirmed his all-weather credentials, and his success at No. 3 was even more impressive given the fragility of Pakistan's ever-changing opening partnership. The only blemish came off the field, when Younis accepted the captaincy, resigned and then took it again in a farcical build-up to the Champions Trophy. On the field, there was no such indecision.
11 Tests: 1,179 runs @ 65.50; no wicket for five
20 ODI: 615 runs @ 38.43; no wicket for two

© Wisden Cricketer's Almanack