2008 was an interesting sporting year in that not too many previously unknown competitors made their mark. There have, however, still been some outstanding performances and recognition has to be given to the best rookies of 2008.
So, moving away from the Nadals, the Hamiltons, the Woods', the Phelps', the Bolts and the Jean de Villiers' of this world, iafrica.com's Barend Prins takes a closer look at some of the nominees for Rookie of the Year.
An off-spinner who is willing to flight the ball, Jason Krejza was selected in the Australian cricket team to tour India from relative obscurity. Australia persisted with the part-time spin of Michael Clarke and Cameron White for the first three Tests, but desperately needed a win in the final Test to square the series and Krejza finally got his chance (at the expense of Stuart Clarke). He didn't disappoint, taking eight wickets in the first innings and 12 in the match in total. His match figures of 12/358 are the fourth-best ever bowling figures for a Test-match debutant. It will be interesting to see how the Proteas fare against him later this month...
Not a rookie as such ? having already turned professional in 2005 ? but Argentinean tennis player Juan Martin del Potro put himself on the map during the latter stages of 2008. After winning his first career ATP tour title in Stuttgart, Del Potro proceeded to win the Austrian Open, the Countrywide Classic and the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, becoming the first player in ATP history to win his first four career titles consecutively. His winning streak of 23 unbeaten matches is the second longest by a teenager in the Open era (after Rafael Nadal). He was also part of the Argentinean Davis Cup team that reached the final of the tournament.
Hull City's meteoric rise from the bottom of Division Three (effectively the fourth division in English football) as recently as 2002, to playing Premier League football this season, has been nothing short of astounding. After winning promotion to the Premiership at the end of the 2007/08 season ? the first time in their history they have been promoted to the top tier of English football ? many tipped them for relegation straight away, possibly even beating Derby County's record as the poorest ever Premiership club. The Tigers have surprised quite a few teams thus far this season with their enterprising brand of football, amassing 26 points from 16 games thus far, putting them in 6th position on the table.
Better known as 'The Beast', Sharks flanker-turned-prop Tendai Mtawarira has quickly risen from a bit-part player for the Durban-based side in 2007 to one of the first names on the Springbok teamsheet by the end of 2008. He quickly became one of the fans' favourites and roars of 'Beeeeaaaaasttttt!!!' have echoed through stadiums around the world whenever he has been near the action. Still only 23 years old, there is surely much more to come from the dynamic Zimbabwean-born player.
But those fine sportspeople aside, our overall Rookie of the Year Award goes to Sri Lankan spin-sensation Ajantha Mendis.
Mendis made his debut against the West Indies in April and burst onto the international scene during the Asian Cup in June. His 6/13 in the final ? against Indian players that have played spin their whole careers ? was remarkable, with Indian captain MS Dhoni stating in the post-match press conference that even a team with 11 batsman would not have been able to play him on the day.
Mendis' 17 wickets during the tournament won him the Man of the Series Award and soon afterwards he got a call-up to the Sri Lankan Test side to play India in a three-match series. His combination of googlies, off-breaks, top-spinners, flippers and leg-breaks bamboozled the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up, taking 26 wickets during the series (a record for a Test debutant in a three-match series). But what made his feat even more remarkable were the means of dismissing his victims ? at times the likes of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar had been made to look like (inebriated!) pub players.
To date, the 23-year old has played 18 One-Day Internationals and taken 48 wickets at a remarkable 10.12 runs per wicket and a strike rate of 16.9! Another two wickets in his next four ODIs ? a feat which looks likely ? and he will have become the quickest player to 50 wickets in terms of matches played.
Do you agree with Barend's selection? Did he miss anybody out? Have you seen Mendis bowl ? is he better than Murali? Leave your comments below!