The best of 2012

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With the new year almost upon us, salutes those who made their mark on the last 12 months.

Leader of the year - Alastair Cook

Thrust into the role of England Test captain earlier than many would have anticipated following Andrew Strauss’ surprise retirement in August, Cook responded to the additional responsibility with a sensational display on the tour of India.

Alastair Cook carousel

The left-handed opener was already firmly established among England’s leading batsmen of all time, yet enhanced his reputation further by striking composed centuries in each of the first three five-day encounters at Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Kolkata.

That took his tally to five hundreds in as many Tests at the helm, following two on the 2010 tour of Bangladesh that Strauss sat out, and also promoted Cook to number one in the list of his country’s most prolific centurions in the premier form of the game.

Earlier in the year, he had guided England to the summit of the International Cricket Council one-day international rankings, averaging 47 at the top of the order.

With back-to-back Ashes series to come in 2013, Cook could hardly be in better form.

England innings of the year – Kevin Pietersen (Mumbai, November)

In truth, any one of three Test innings from England’s number four would have been worthy of winning this award.

Kevin Pietersen

Pietersen excelled in April when compiling a majestic innings of 151 in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo.

Then, in July, he took apart South Africa’s much-vaunted pace attack with a breathtaking 149 at Headingley Carnegie.

An even better innings was still to come, however, when England were under the pump in India.

After he and many of his team-mates had found runs hard to come by in the series-opener, Pietersen exhibited his class at Mumbai with a fluent 233-ball 186 on a surface offering sharp turn.

England went on to win and duly completed an historic series triumph.

England bowling performance of the year – Monty Panesar (Mumbai, November)

Monty Panesar & Alastair Cook

Although Pietersen’s spectacular 186 was central to England’s victory in Mumbai, the tourists were also grateful to a fine individual display from Monty Panesar.

The Sussex tweaker has not featured in a home Test since the 2009 Ashes, but excelled this year when called upon for England’s three Asian missions.

After picking up 16 wickets across three Tests in the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka, Panesar stepped up another level at the Wankhede Stadium.

His match return of 11-210 came courtesy of a delightful display of accurate left-arm spin bowling and demonstrated his continued value to England’s five-day team.

Tormentor of the year – Saeed Ajmal

England may have ended 2012 on a huge high with their Test series triumph in India, but things were rather different at the beginning of the year, when Saeed Ajmal led Pakistan to a 3-0 triumph in the UAE.

Saeed Ajmal

The wily off-spinner – surely one of the most likeable characters in the game – returned match figures of 10-97 in the first Test at Dubai and followed up that haul with seven more in each of the next two matches.

His success, together with that of Abdul Rehman, forced England to work harder than ever on their method against spin.

The subsequent triumph over India was particularly sweet as a result.

Having previously represented Worcestershire, Ajmal is set to return to these shores with Hampshire in 2013. Catch him if you can.

Shock of the year – Tino Best (Edgbaston, July)

The third Test between England and West Indies at Edgbaston was largely forgettable, with three full days lost to rain.

Tino Best

Thankfully, the unfortunate spectators in Birmingham were treated to two wonderful moments on the days when play was possible.

Graham Onions’ successful return to the Test arena, following a career-threatening back injury, represented a heart-warming tale.

Yet Onions’ fourth and final wicket of the match only arrived after West Indies’ last man Tino Best had moved within sight of a remarkable century.

The uber-confident Barbadian, who had never previously made more than 27, displayed skill and no shortage of flair in dashing to 95 – the highest score by a Test number 11.

By the time he was dismissed, attempting to hook an Onions short ball, almost everyone in Edgbaston was willing him to reach three figures.

The Sir Donald Bradman award for prolific run-scoring by an Australian - Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke

It is not just England who will head into next year’s two Ashes series with a captain at the peak of his powers.

In his first full year as Australia's Test skipper, Clarke contributed 1,595 runs at a truly magnificent average of 106, with the aid of three double-hundreds and one triple-ton.

He now faces the challenge of succeeding where his predecessor Ricky Ponting failed on two successive occasions, by masterminding a successful Test tour of England.

With Ponting and Mike Hussey having now retired, Clarke’s individual performances will surely be a key factor.

The ‘If at first, you don’t succeed..’ award for persistence being rewarded – Nick Compton

Be honest now, how many of you imagined Nick Compton would be opening the batting on England’s tour of India?

At the start of 2012, the Somerset batsman was probably best known as the grandson of England legend Denis Compton.

Nick Compton

Yet a tally of 1,494 first-class runs during the domestic summer, the majority of which came before the end of May, propelled the 29-year-old into contention for the international call-up he had craved for so long.

The retirement of Strauss saw Compton selected to face India and he rose to the challenge admirably, sharing a succession of healthy stands with Cook at the top of England’s order.

Having spent more than a decade on the county circuit, Compton was not going to waste his big opportunity.

He can be extremely proud of his initial efforts.

Celebration of the year - West Indies

The most joyous cricketing moment of 2012 surely came at Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium in October.

West Indies’ shock victory over host nation Sri Lanka in the final of the World Twenty20 prompted jubilant scenes among Darren Sammy and Co.

Within minutes of the match being completed, the Windies players were showing off their ‘Gangnam Style’ dance moves on the outfield, with the flamboyant Chris Gayle leading the way.

After years of struggle on the world stage, nobody could begrudge West Indies their day of glory and the subsequent celebrations were befitting of such an unlikely triumph.

West Indies

West Indies' triumphant players celebrate in (Gangnam) style after claiming the World Twenty20 crown at Colombo's Premadasa Stadium

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