Who makes the Champions Trophy tournament XI?
Australia retained their trophy and unquestionably were the best team. New Zealand again exceeded expectations in an international limited overs tournament. In contrast, South Africa and India both failed to deliver again despite being the pre-tournament favourites and top two sides in the ICC rankings. Sri Lanka faded dramatically after their stunning opening victory over the hosts. The West Indies Cricket Board XI showed some fight and were not as uncompetitive as most feared. And there were signs of a brighter 50 over future for England and especially Pakistan with their talented youngsters.
Perhaps more importantly, the tournament was well-organised and breathed new life into the 50 over game. The pitches gave a good balance between bat and ball enabling the best exponents of both to shine. The format of the competition was praised by players and observers alike and should be replicated in future World Cups. Why not four groups of four with the top two in each group going through to a knockout quarter final? The super six/eight concept should end now. Each game in the tournament was meaningful – something the ICC and individual cricket authorities worldwide could learn from when sanctioning seven match series’ between two sides. “The less is more” approach is definitely the way forward for 50 over international cricket.
In terms of selecting a tournament XI, doubtless there will be much debate and conjecture, but for what it is worth here is my XI:
1. Graeme Smith
Unlike most of his team mates, the South African skipper did not appear to be undercooked going into the tournament. His brave but ultimately futile 141 against England was one of the great limited overs innings.
2. Shane Watson
Although it pains me to leave Tillakaratne Dilshan out of the side after his sparkling century against South Africa, it is impossible to leave Watson out of the side. Despite starting the tournament with two ducks, his two consecutive unbeaten centuries in the semi-final and final showed that Watson is a man for the big occasion. He repaid the faith that his captain and selectors have shown in him in spades. As a bonus, his bowling wasn’t too bad either.
3. Ricky Ponting (Captain)
The top batsman of his generation and arguably the best Australian batsman since Bradman again showed that he is a man for the big occasion. The leading run scorer in the tournament with 288 runs, Ponting was again head and shoulders above the rest. As a captain he marshaled his bowlers well and had no hesitation in setting attacking fields when the opportunity arose.
4. Paul Collingwood
A man reborn with a new found aggressive style that helped drive England to those two stunning victories over Sri Lanka and South Africa. Collingwood left his nudge and nurdle style back in the North East, scoring 202 runs at a tick over 50 and hitting more sixes (eight) than anyone else bar Watson.
5. Mahela Jayawardene
The choice of the second middle order batsman was a difficult one. Pakistan trio Shoaib Malik, Muhammad Yousuf and Umar Akmal, as well as Mike Hussey and Martin Guptill were all considered, but it is Jayawardene who makes the cut with 163 runs at a strike rate of over 100. His 77 against the hosts complemented Dilshan’s century and effectively made the game safe for his team. And his brave half century against New Zealand looked at one point that it might rescue his side from an impossible situation.
6. Brendan McCullum
No wicketkeeper-batsman truly shined during the tournament. Kamran Akmal, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara did not perform to their usual high standards with the bat. Nor did Mark Boucher; and Matt Prior only played in one game due to illness. So it is a straight choice between McCullum and Tim Paine and the Black Caps keeper just shades it, even if he again failed to deliver in the big match that was the Final.
7. Daniel Vettori
The inspirational Kiwi skipper again marshaled his troops to a better than expected performance and it was some feat to lift his men from their dismal defeat in their opening match against South Africa. Vettori’s own performances were also exceptional – averaging 50 with the bat and 17.71 with the ball – and he was deservedly man of the match in the semi-final win over Pakistan. It was cruel that he was ruled out of the Final.
8. Mitchell Johnson
He may have only taken four wickets in the tournament but he bowled better than that with Watson the grateful recipient of the wickets that Johnson helped cause by the pressure he exerted. A fit Flintoff apart, who else in World cricket can bowl 90 miles per hour and get consistent runs with the bat? His 75 against the WICB XI dug his side out of a potentially embarrassing situation.
9. Brett Lee
Is there a better one day bowler in the World than him? Lee has it all – pace, speed, accuracy, fire and an unerring ability to bowl fast, inswinging yorkers, and he was the spearhead of the best attack in the competition. How different would the Ashes have been if Lee had been fit? As an England supporter, thankfully we will never know.
10. Kyle Mills
The underrated Mills is actually one of the top bowlers in the ICC rankings. He took nine wickets in the competition, with telling contributions in the crucial victory over England and a brilliant performance in the Final, which at one point threatened to wrestle the holders crown.
11. Mohammad Aamer
Aamer is just seventeen years old, but looks a phenomenal prospect and whisper it quietly but maybe the new Wasim Akram. Just as in the World T20 in June, Aamer was not phased by playing in a big tournament. As one of two left arm quicks in the tournament XI, he makes the side ahead of the competition’s leading wicket taker Wayne Parnell and Ashish Nehra.
If you were to go for two spinners then there would be a spot for Saeed Ajmal.
12. Saeed Ajmal
The second spinner in the side is the Pakistan off break bowler who nearly helped inspire an amazing turnaround against Australia, which could have knocked the eventual winners out in the group stage. Ajmal just pips Nathan Hauritz, who also bowled well throughout the tournament.
A strong selection I reckon heavy on bowling firepower with good back up in Watson and Collingwood and batting down to number ten. Who would everyone else pick?
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