In the latest issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly, an expert panel of writers and broadcasters selected their men’s Test team of the year based on performances between November 15, 2017 and November 20, 2018.
Words: Phil Walker
1. AIDEN MARKRAM, SOUTH AFRICA
10 Tests, 785 runs at 41.31; 3 hundreds, 2 fifties
152 (216 balls, 17 fours, 1 six)
South Africa v Australia | Fourth Test, Johannesburg, March 2018
A second ton of the series (after a brilliant 143 in the defeat at Durban), and a first chance after the Cape Town palaver to really rub Australian noses in it. By the fourth Test, Markram had evolved his technique, batting more on off-stump, ignoring anything outside his eyeline and creaming the full ones past extra cover.
With the Kallis crouch, the wrist-cocking backlift straight out of the AB playbook and Graeme Smith’s bat sponsor, the look was pretty much complete. “It was the best innings I’ve ever played,” he said.
2. DIMUTH KARUNARATNE, SRI LANKA
9 Tests, 632 runs at 39.50; 1 hundred, 6 fifties
158* (222 balls, 13 fours, 1 six)
Sri Lanka v South Africa | First Test, Galle, July 2018
On day one of the first Test, Karunaratne (actual first name: Frank) accounted for 55 per cent of Sri Lanka’s innings to kickstart a series win and a run of form that reaped 356 runs from four innings.
Previously renowned as a maker of second-innings hundreds – four of his first six Test tons came in the second half of games – here he dominated from the front, carrying on from a 1,000-run 2017 with a definitive knock against the best pace attack in the world, albeit on home soil.
3. VIRAT KOHLI (c), INDIA
13 Tests, 1,673 runs at 76.04, 7 hundreds, 5 fifties
149 (225 balls, 22 fours, 1 six)
England v India | First Test, Edgbaston, August 2018
No one else could get to 30, so Kohli did the lot.
Circumspect to begin with, deferentially cautious, exaggerating his defence to the moving ball, swerving the bumps and riding his luck before suddenly kicking into gear, surging past the three-figure landmark and, with the field scattered, scampering and plotting his way towards and then blazingly past England’s score. A joke shot to bring up his first six, pulling a respectable leg-break over long-on, precedes his final act, one shy of his 150. One of the knocks of the century.
4. STEVE SMITH, AUSTRALIA
8 Tests, 829 runs at 75.36, 3 hundreds, 3 fifties
141* (326 balls, 14 fours)
Australia v England | First Test, Brisbane, November 2017
Forget for a moment what happened next and cast back to last winter, before the sky fell in: when Smith was making three Ashes hundreds in a month, averaging 139 in the series, reclaiming the urn and pretending not to hear those hushed comparisons to Bradman getting louder by the week.
The first hundred had to be the best: a masterpiece of abstinence, of risk-refusal, 141 not out from 512 minutes, by miles his slowest Test ton, hauling his team to a slim first-innings lead and the win to set up the series. Back then, all seemed coherent and impregnable. A year is a long time in cricket.
5. JOE ROOT, ENGLAND
16 Tests, 1,132 runs at 40.42, 2 hundreds, 9 fifties
124 (146 balls, 10 fours, 2 sixes)
Sri Lanka v England | Second Test, Pallekele, November 2018
Preaching expressiveness before the series, the captain practised it to the letter. On a turning track in the crucial third innings Root made just his second hundred of the year, and this one up there with his most creative and bold. The celebrations may have been extravagant, but he was cool underneath, like a “reverse swan”, as he put it.
This is now his team, stamped with his personality. The runs may well start to flood now.
6. JOS BUTTLER (wk), ENGLAND
9 Tests, 680 runs at 45.33, 1 hundred, 5 fifties; 9 catches (1 as keeper)
69 (122 balls, 7 fours)
England v India | Fourth Test, Southampton, August 2018
Decisive 60s and 70s from the engine room has been the story of England’s year, with Buttler and Sam Curran its driving forces. Buttler has pockmarked his return with scores against Pakistan (67, 80*); India (106, 69, 89); and finally against Sri Lanka (63 and, just outside our qualification period, a third Test 64), the last two innings in particular mini-masterpieces of creativity and skill.
But it’s his third-innings 69 at Southampton, an innings which took the match and series away from India in thrusts by turns measured and murderous, that helped set the tone for this team and the personal template for a limitless future.
7. RAVINDRA JADEJA, INDIA
7 Tests, 259 runs at 51.80, 1 hundred, 1 fifty; 30 wickets at 23.00, strike rate 52
86* (156 balls, 11 fours, 1 six) & 4-79
England v India | Fifth Test, The Oval, September 2018
Drafted in for the final Test, a point was emphatically proved. In a series for the support cast, India could have done with Jadeja’s big-match front, and their misstep was rammed home at The Oval, as the lefty had a big say in both first innings.
8. JASON HOLDER, WEST INDIES
7 Tests, 34 wickets at 15.02, 4 five-wicket hauls, 1 ten-wicket match, strike rate 33; 343 runs at 31.18, 2 fifties
52 (92 balls, 6 fours) & 5-56
India v West Indies | Hyderabad, Second Test, October 2018
The late-order runs having become a theme, Holder took the new ball and jangled through 30 overs, taking out Kohli along the way, to keep his team in the scrap. Their third-innings collapse saw to the result, by which time Holder had become the first bowler since 2003 to claim 30 or more wickets in a calendar year with an average under 15.
9. KAGISO RABADA, SOUTH AFRICA
10 Tests, 49 wickets at 19.63, 2 five-wicket hauls, 1 ten-wicket match, strike rate 38
5-96 & 6-54
South Africa v Australia | Port Elizabeth, Second Test, March 2018
A punkish turn by the best around. After sending off Warner in the first innings with a volley that embarrassed the stump mic, he brushes bolshily past Smith, who he’s just nicked off, in the second, on his way to a fourth 10-wicket haul in Tests and, following two offences in the same match, a two-match ban… which is later overturned on appeal.
OK, so it’s not condonable, as he would later say himself, but it’s front-row stuff. The most compelling fast bowler in the world.
10. JAMES ANDERSON, ENGLAND
16 Tests, 59 wickets at 23.47, 2 five-wicket hauls, strike rate 59
5-20 & 4-23
England v India | Lord’s, Second Test, August 2018
India may have been inept at Lord’s and out of luck, with the game a blowout as a result, but Anderson was still unplayable, removing both of their opening batsmen in each innings for a combined total of 18 runs. In the process he went past 100 Test wickets at Lord’s, becoming after Murali just the second man ever to take 100-plus Test wickets at a single venue, records now falling by the week.
11. MOHAMMAD ABBAS, PAKISTAN
6 Tests, 38 wickets at 12.52, 3 five-wicket hauls, 1 ten-wicket match, strike rate 33
5-33 & 5-62
Pakistan v Australia | Abu Dhabi, Second Test, October 2018
We can look at the figures and gawp, but this is what’s possible when a bowler is as accurate as Abbas. Try to process this: of the 76 balls he bowled during his 5-33, over a third (34.6 per cent) would have gone on to hit the stumps. There’s no pace to talk of, little overt athleticism and barely any physical presence, but it doesn’t matter. Precision is everything.
It matters neither where in the world he bowls. He saw off England at Lord’s, and did the same to Australia in the desert. In the process he’s become the second-fastest man to 50 Test wickets.
To read Wisden Cricket Monthly‘s teams of the year in full, pick up a copy of the January 2019 issue