As a cricketing nation, England haven't had a bad last 12 months. After losing three consecutive series (and three consecutive captains) in the previous summer - summer window, not much was predicted for a team low on confidence, ability or form. 12 months later, all has changed, with an Ashes urn and World T20 trophy safely in the Lord's Trophy Room. And as it's awards season (with Graeme Swann picking up player of the year last night), I've decided to look at who would make England's across-all-formats best eleven of the last year.
1) Andrew Strauss (captain)
Man of the series in the Ashes win, Strauss led England to victory against Australia, and an unlikely draw in South Africa. Also returned as a one-day force, being the only English batsman to come out of the Australia ODI series in any credit, as well as a strong Champions Trophy. But for missing out on runs in South Africa (and literally missing out in Bangladesh) would have run Swann close for Player of the Year.
2) Alastair Cook
While 2009/10 was not his best year in an England shirt, Cook answered his critics with a gutsy knock in Durban after calls for him to be dropped after an indifferent Ashes. However, doubters should not forget his classy 95 in a winning cause at Lord's. Also made two hundreds in the away Bangladesh series.
3) Ian Bell
While I will never be Bell's biggest fan, and have called for him to be dropped as much as any, it's impossible to not pick Bell in the team of the year. Bell has the annoying knack of always doing enough to justify being in the team, and three hundreds on the tour of South Africa and Bangladesh do enough to get him into the middle order. Bell's class does shine through his lack of mental fortitude, and his gritty 80-odd at the Oval is often overlooked, but was vital in England bringing the Ashes home. Begrudging applause from the Short Third Man.
4) Paul Collingwood
Gritty. Nuggety. Determined. Defiant. Stubborn. Generic northern cliche. But for Paul Collingwood, England would have lost three tests which they drew (Cardiff, Centurion and Cape Town), meaning England would not have won the Ashes, and would have lost 3-1 in South Africa. This, if nothing else, shows Collingwood's importance to the team. Collingwood is the bedrock of the England team, with dramatic diving catches, dibbly-dobbly seamers and defiant defence firmly planting him into the team of the year. Firmly part of all three codes, Collingwood is England's highest ever ODI appearance maker (and he took a century on the day he broke the record). And he's the only man to captain England to an ICC event win. Which can't be bad.
5) Eoin Morgan
Morgan completes England's ginger middle order twosome, and is the only player in the team of the year to not have played test cricket. However, by being far and away England's one day player of the year, he will undoubtably have played a bit of test cricket by this time on Thursday. Morgan has been used in a variety of roles in the limited over middle-order, as a master-blasting "finisher", a middle-over "anchor", and a run-rate "accelerator". Morgan has fulfilled all of these roles with aplomb over the past 12 months (don't forget; this time last year he'd only ever played internationally for Ireland), with an unbeated T20 85 against South Africa, and his first international century against Bangladesh being further highlights. Morgan was also one of many English heroes who won the World T20, and fully deserves his place in the team of the year.
6) Matt Prior (wicket-keeper)
England have used four wicket-keepers this past year, but only one has been able to firmly grab hold and keep his place in the team. Matt Prior. Prior's much-maligned keeping has improved no end, being able to take some real blinders in the Ashes win. While he did not flourish with the bat, he was often on hand for some useful quick runs (Lord's being a prime example) throughout the 12 months. While he may be sweating over the emergence of Craig Kieswetter, Prior knows that for the moment, the gloves are in his court.
7) Andrew Flintoff
Can you really make England's team of the year on the back of one completed series? And on the back of (ultimately) one good bowling performance? While Flintoff's stats and averages will not support it, as someone who was at Lord's on that Monday morning where he blew Australia away, something special was happening. The God and after-God that is Andrew Flintoff was superb, and his prescence, even if it wasn't him scoring the runs or taking the wickets like it was in 2005, the fact that he was there whipped the crowd and team into such a fervour that England had to win. It's no coincidence that the one game he missed, England were crucified. It's also no coincidence that as the crowd were beginning to lower their volume, he produced an outstanding pick-up and throw to run out Ricky Ponting in the fifth test. Flintoff's personal performances were not as outstanding, but simply having him in the team would give it an unprecedented aura. While we may not see Flintoff in an England shirt again, he makes it into the English team of the year.
8) Tim Bresnan
Tim Bresnan started last year as a bit-part one day player who hadn't made the previous few squads. He starts this as a one-day new-ball bowler, and an important part of the team for all three codes. Forcing his way back into the test team after being ousted for the Ashes, Bresnan has proven with his high level of one day performance that he is a capable international player. Bresnan has also showed a comittment to his fitness by trimming down, and while he is not the most athletic, he can swing the ball and score useful lower order runs, which should see him on the plane to Australia this winter. And it also sees it into my team of the year.
9) Graeme Swann Player of the Year
Quite simply England's best player over the past 12 months. Swann took crucial wickets, scored crucial runs and told not-as-crucial jokes in interviews. After getting the West Indies out for fun, Swann turned his attention to the Australians, and was as important player as any in the Ashes win. His "ball-of-the-century 2" to Ponting at Edgbaston was "one for the grandkids", as, no doubt, was taking the final Ashes winning wicket. South Africa was next, and his 85 runs and 5 first innings wickets kept England in the game in Centurion. He then took an unprecedented 9 wickets in Durban as England closed the decade with arguably their best away performance of the noughties. While the series in South Africa ended on a sour note, Swann took a maiden ten-wicket haul in the first Bangladeshi test as England took an easy series win. Away from tests, Swann was England's tightest ODI bowler, and took a maiden fivefer in the most important ODI against Australia (the '1' in the 6-1). His guile was crucial in the Caribbean, alongside Michael Yardy, as he bowled England to a World T20 victory. Overall, Swann was clearly England's best player of the past 12 months, and clearly deserves his place in the team of the year.
10) Stuart Broad
Broad's spell in the final Ashes test won the urn, but he has contributed more than that. He's the only fast bowler to have consistently appeared in all formats of the game, and has been England's best ODI bowler. Offering swing, seam and bounce, as well as sometimes crucial late-order runs, Broad has again improved through the last 12 months, and hopes to move on further over the next year.
11) Jimmy Anderson
At times the only bowler who scared Australia, Anderson has developed an ability to threaten even when the ball is not swinging. Unlucky to have missed out as England won the World T20, Anderson is still England's flagship test fast bowler, and will continue to fulfil that role over the next 12 months.
So - that's my team of the last year, what do you all make of it? No Pietersen, Trott or Onions...