Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The new stars of 2008

The cricketing year ended with Australia in disarray, South Africa and India on the up and everyone else failing to move significantly, especially Pakistan, who didn’t play a single Test match.

New Year is the perfect opportunity for sporting lists, and here are my selections of players who have made notable breakthroughs in 2008:

Hashim Amla (South Africa)

Dale Steyn has been the star with the ball and Graeme Smith the biggest influence through his runs and captaincy, but the biggest strides have been by Amla, who finished the year as fourth-highest Test runscorer.

He hinted at what was to come at the end of 2007 but this year found true consistency, scoring notable hundreds in India and England. An elegant player, he, along with AB de Villiers, adds the panache that compliments the resoluteness of Smith, Neil McKenzie, Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince – the most productive batting line-up in the world.

Mitchell Johnson (Australia)

A rare individual highlight in what turned out to be a disappointing year for Australia. Johnson made an immediate impact for the Baggy Greens, taking 11 wickets in his first three Tests at the end of 2007 and has not looked back since. Only Steyn took more Test wickets this year.

Injuries to Brett Lee and Stuart Clark have left him as leader of the attack and he will be one of the first names on the team sheet as Australia contemplate their rebuilding job.

Gautam Gambhir (India)

Gambhir endured a stop-start career between 2004 and 2007 but has been a revelation since returning to the top of the order against Sri Lanka in July. He scored 1,134 Test runs in 16 Test innings in 2008, finishing off with three tons and three fifties in his last eight knocks.

His opening partnership with Virender Sehwag is the most exciting in any form of cricket and the reliable platforms the pair set will be a key component of India’s assault on the number one ranking.

Ajantha Mendis (Sri Lanka)

The most exciting spinner since Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan broke onto the scene in the mid-1990s. His array of offspinners, googlies and flippers delivered at medium pace are nearly impossible to read, as 26 wickets in three Tests and 48 in 18 ODIs testifies.

Choosing breakthrough players for Pakistan and England is difficult due to their respective inactivity and closed shop selection policy, so honourable mentions go to Sohail Tanvir and Stuart Broad for maintaining the promise they showed in 2007.

West Indies have relied so heavily on Wisden Cricketer of the Year Shivnarine Chanderpaul that other contributions have been minimal, but Brendan Nash’s successful debut bodes well for the continuation of Windies’ recovery next year.

Jesse Ryder made an impression in the wrong way after making a fine start to his international career in February. His subsequent rehabilitation has been uplifting for those who enjoy watching a chubby sportsman compete at the highest level, although his appearance and occasional destructive strokeplay belies a vastly talented and elegant batsman.

Bangladesh have endured another terrible year and look set to finish with eight Test defeats and one draw. Their solitary ray of hope has been left arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan, who produced enough runs and wickets against New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka to suggest the Tigers have a genuine all-round talent in their midst.

Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.

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