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The year in review: XI of the best test performers

By Thaleel Bhai
December 28 2004

1. Virender Sehwag
Perhaps the easiest choice on here to make. Virender Sehwag's had a golden year in 2004, reaching new heights as a test opener, and passing a number of landmarks on the way. Sadly for most bowlers, his poor ODI form didn't translate into whites, as Sehwag began the year first with a couple of good aggressive knocks in Sydney, and then followed them with an innings that will keep him in the Indian cricket history books for a while. His 309 was a glorious display of attacking batsmanship at its best, as Sehwag tormented the Pakistani bowlers to no end, before moving on to treat the Australian and South African bowlers with the same contempt. At a time when the entire batting lineup entered a collective batting form slump, Sehwag kept firing, smashing a glorious hundred at Chennai, a defiant half century in a losing cause in Nagpur, and then following with a pair of destructive innings against South Africa. If he can replicate this year's form in 2005, bowlers might soon be begging for respite.

2. Andrew Strauss
More than just shots, Strauss has shown a superb temperament as an opener that's made quite a few wonder whether he has blocks of ice in his veins. After a dream start to his career with a hundred on debut at Lord's, things seemed as if they could only go down - but instead, the England opener has shown both a class and steel that might very see him listed as one of the world's best in the near future. More than just an average in the high 50's and three major hundreds, Strauss has shown a calm and positivity at the crease that means that those worrying about a good opening combination for England can relax - and even if the average goes down in the future, it's very likely that with the gutsy mindset he's shown this year, Strauss will be moving on to even bigger and better feats in the future.

3. Justin Langer
After a period where he's been considered as an inferior to Matthew Hayden in the opening combination, Langer's moved into a golden run of form here - and he's made most of his innings count. While rarely looking good at the crease, he's come up with runs in crunch matches or pressure situations - be it against an Indian total of over 700, or with five of the top six having been dismissed cheaply by Pakistan - and with just under 1500 test runs this year, he's been one of Australia's top performers. Five hundreds and three fifties are just an example of his application - and furthermore, he's converted a number of them into massive scores (with only one of those tons being under 150). One thing's for certain - if the form he's in continues, he will not be looked at as the "weaker link" in Australia's opening combo much longer.

4. Jacques Kallis
With South Africa still in a rebuilding phase following the retirements of players like Gary Kirsten, Jonty Rhodes and the like, Jacques Kallis has taken up the mantle of being one of the senior players and has raised his performance level to match. An average of just under 80 in whites this year shows just what a vital cog in the South African lineup Kallis has become, with a number of consistent scores that have had bowlers worrying about him. In 19 innings, he's passed 50 on 11 occasions and gone on to make hundreds in four games, and with a major series against England in progress, South Africa will no doubt be hoping he can continue this form through the rest of the series.

5. Damien Martyn
Much like Langer, Martyn's another batsman who's often been ignored in the Australian lineup and overshadowed by more illustrious counterparts. And much like Langer, he's outshone most of them this year. Martyn's form in the subcontinent in particular, in two major away series, has been key in Australia's series wins there - two fantastic second innings hundreds at Galle and Kandy, when Australia had been fighting against first innings deficits, were followed by some superb knocks in India to earn him a Man of the Series award there. 5 hundreds and 5 fifties are a good indication of his application - and with him finally having added steel to the style in his batting, he's filled part of the void in the Australian middle order left by Steve Waugh.

6. Kumar Sangakkara
Statistics can be deceiving - Sangakkara's average of 55.70 this year, with a double hundred against a bottom-of-the-barrel Zimbabwe lineup may overstate his batting form this year, but it also detracts from his glovework. Not to detract from Sangakkara's batting - he's nevertheless been a major cog in the Sri Lankan middle order with his aggressive strokeplay, and has come up with valuable runs more often than not when his team's needed them. To add to it, he's continued to prove himself as one of the top wicketkeeper-batsmen in the world today, with some impressive glovework at home in particular. Keeping to Muralitharan has never been easy, especially on home pitches where he's often turned the ball almost square - and with his new doosra, Sangakkara's done a superb job ensuring catches and stumping opportunities have rarely been missed.

7. Andrew Flintoff
Flintoff's been one of the most vital components of the England side that has dominated all opposition over this past year. Coming in at 6 for the Poms, he's often played some crucial knocks to tilt the game in his side's favor from a deadlocked position, or some brutally destructive innings to demoralize an already exhausted opposition even further. While his big hitting still has drawn in crowds, "Freddie" has also shown a good degree of application in a lot more of his innings, a reason for his impressive batting average of almost 56 this calendar year. He's also been a key member of the bowling attack with his hit-the-deck pace and bounce which has only earned one five for in a game - but has broken a number of key partnerships and taken big wickets when his captain's needed them. Brian Lara fell to him four times, while Shiv Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Stephen Fleming - all big players with the willow - were scalped thrice.

8. Jason Gillespie
Twice this year, with a gritty 47 at Sydney and a painfully slow 26 at Chennai, Gillespie's blunted an opposition attack long enough to ensure that Australia have staved off what seemed like certain defeat - and countless more times this year, he's won games for Australia with the ball. In 8 of the 13 games this year that he's been in, he's taken 4 or more wickets in a game, despite only ending up with one five-for, thanks to some of his more illustrious colleagues. Nevertheless, Gillespe's racked up 50 wickets this year at a more-than-impressive average and strike rate, and has been a major reason as to why Australia have only lost one game so far this year.

9. Anil Kumble
The bulwark of India's bowling attack. Whether he's had a flat track, a greentop or a raging turner to bowl upon, Indian fans have always been able to rely on Kumble running in persistently, trying his hardest and more often than not this year, delivering the goods. After starting the year with a superb 8 wicket haul in the first innings at Sydney, Kumble followed up by ripping out a good portion of Pakistan's batting at Multan, before then moving on to the touring Australians and South Africans. Few bowlers have ripped through an entire Australian lineup in a day, but an inspired seven wicket haul tore the Aussie batting apart at Chennai in the first innings - and even with such feats behind him, Kumble continued to perform non stop, turning his arm over without wilting and removing one batsman after another - 74 in total for the year. By far one of the top bowlers this year.

10. Steve Harmison
Harmison began the year in stunning fashion, taking 7 for 12 and almost single handedly ripping out the West Indian batting lineup for 47, evoking comparisons to Curtly Ambrose. Since then, he's been the most reliable wicket-taker for England, with a strike rate of 46 balls per wicket and a number of four or five wicket hauls in most conditions. With his pace and bounce, he's been next to unplayable at times - and England fans will be praying for this form to continue if they are to challenge for the Ashes next summer.

11. Muttiah Muralitharan
Yet another witch-hunt and an injury to his shoulder wrecked the year for him, but it was yet another successful year on the field for Murali, despite issues off it. He began with the much anticipated battle against the Aussies, where with his doosra, he ran riot to take 28 wickets in the series. An understrength Zimbabwe followed as he overtook Courtney Walsh's world record, but right when it seemed as if Murali would take the record even further, he was forced to pull out of the second test against South Africa with a shoulder injury, and missed the tests against Pakistan, on tracks where he might have added even further to that tally of 47 wickets in the year.

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