The Test Team of the 10s
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
The Wrong ‘Un committee have gathered together and their word is final. Who has made the prestigious Wrong ‘Un Team of the Tens?
With the Pontings, Warnes, Gilchrists, Muralis & Tendulkars of this world now firmly settled into the plush commentary boxes of subscription TV, it is a new generation of players who comprise the decade's ultimate team. Some areas of the team are overwhelmingly stacked with quality, whilst others are a little more sparse. This XI may prompt some quizzical looks and questions from you, our readership, but unfortunately you’d be wrong. Combining longevity, game-changing ability, and sheer weight of statistics, this perfectly balanced side, at once devastating and gritty, is the finest that can be put together from this decade.
A decade relatively lacking in truly world-class openers, there are only two contenders. No player who has played north of 20 Tests when opening has averaged above 50. It’s safe to say it’s not easy to open. Our choices are the only two near such an average, and combine both impressive consistency and Test batting knowhow.
1) Sir Alastair Cook
England’s all-time leading run scorer, and a true Test player. With over a hundred consecutive Tests and nearly 9000 runs this decade, at an average of 46.15, few players have opened like Cook. A man blessed with an innate ability to dig-in, plying his trade with a Roger Federer-esque lack of sweat.
His 768 runs Down Under in the 2010/11 Ashes series were the result of his astonishing display of stickability at the crease, and will undoubtedly garner most of the attention when looking back at his career. However, his talents went much further than this series alone, personified by his three tons in 2012 that were instrumental in helping England become the only team to conquer Fortress India this decade.
A truly unflappable and consistent accumulator, not to mention he was outstanding in the slips. The lynchpin of an England side which has chewed up waves of contenders in its batting line up, England’s top-order failings only became truly apparent with his departure.
2) David Warner
Poms will mock. ‘Flat track bully’ they’ll crow, but when in the groove, he is a classy, devastating player.
Batting at nearly four-and-a-half runs an over, his ability to flay bowling attacks makes him the perfect foil for Cook’s steadfast approach. He is also one of only five men in history with a hundred before lunch on day one, further highlighting how he can take the game away from the opposition in a matter of hours.
The numbers speak for themselves: so far this decade, he has racked up just shy of 7000 runs and 23 centuries, at an average of 49. Sorry England fans, nobody other than Sir Alastair comes close.
If this was a decade defined by any position, it would be the middle order. Amidst a relative dearth of top class openers, we’ve been flooded with once-in-a-generation top and middle order batsmen. Players who define their teams and have the side built around them. With such an embarrassment of riches, the casualties who fail to make the cut are numerous.
3) Kumar Sangakkara
Prior to blessing us with his lilting tones as cricket's next best commentator, he blessed us with a cover drive that made millions prostrate themselves before it.
Sanga wasn't a bad player himself; in fact, he was legendary. An insatiable run-gatherer with incredible consistency, he was as brutal on the cut and pull as he was elegant on the front foot.
Even though he only played until 2015, his final 46 Tests in the first half of the decade were amongst his finest, with 17 hundreds at a remarkable 61.4. One of Sri Lanka's golden generation, their batting department has been severely lacking since his retirement.
4) Steve Smith
Smith is, quite possibly, the greatest Test batsman since Bradman. Which is extraordinary considering he was initially brought into Australia's team as a leggie who could bat a bit.
The antithesis of Sanga with his fastidious, twitchy, unorthodox rhythm and technique, Smith can sometimes be tedious to watch (especially if you're an opposition fan), but this only contributes to his ability to grind bowling attacks to dust. He is so good off his legs that bowlers have at times ceased to even bowl at him on the stumps.
Since the 2013/14 Ashes, he has been a run-scoring phenomenon, with particular standouts being the pummelling he gave India during the 'Summer of Steve' in 2014/15, and when he was one concussion short of breaking Bradman’s series record this summer in what should be known as Smith’s Ashes.
His leg-spinning start aside, he’s averaged a barely comprehensible 71.77 since 2014. The fact that his scores have been even more formidable since his lengthy ban following the teary sandpapergate has given us a true measure of his mental fortitude.
5) Virat Kohli (C)
If Sanga's batting exudes the timeless elegance of royalty, Kohli's has all the shameless, strut-your-stuff swagger of a catwalk supermodel...and then some. He is magnificent to watch, and boy does he know it.
He is by no means just style without substance; at the time of writing, he is the third-highest run-scorer this decade, and leading century-maker with 27 tons. It is his penchant for daddy hundreds that sets him apart, having scored 7 double-centuries since July 2016. And it is a direct result of his supreme physical and mental strength.
Yes, he is of course blessed with ridiculous natural ability, but after a horror series in England in 2014, things were not looking rosy for Kohli the Test batsman. His transformation from precocious, but unfulfilled, talent to relentless run-scoring machine coincided with a change in attitude and work ethic.
As captain and leader, he has set the example in this respect, and has been single-handedly responsible for driving up the standards of the Indian cricket team in terms of fitness and professionalism. It is for this reason more than any other that India have become such a dominant Test force, and may well ultimately define his legacy more so than his contributions with the bat.
*Our B-team (yeah, you read that right) would consist of Younis Khan, Hashim Amla, Joe Root and Kane Williamson. Honourable mentions to these gentlemen.
This team has to make compromises somewhere. Ideally, someone who is a wicketkeeper first with useful batting skills should take this spot. BJ Watling has been the most consistent pure wicketkeeper, both with the bat and behind the stumps, and Matt Prior, a crucial part of England’s No.1 side at the start of the decade, both miss out. We’ve largely attempted to avoid crowbarring players into the team, but there are some exceptions that need to be made. It would be foolish to skimp on your keeper, but it would be equally foolish to leave out the man who occupies our number six spot.
6) AB de Villiers
Maybe our opening did him a slight disservice - AB is a very able wicketkeeper. But the most talented cricketer of his generation, bar none, doesn't just do 'able'.
As if redefining limited-overs batting wasn't enough for him, he had to show the world that he was an utterly imperious Test batsmen to boot. He's got every shot in the book, as well as every shot the purists won't let anywhere near the book. Most importantly though, he had the requisite temperament for Test cricket, and his ability to play both the dig-your-team-from-their-grave and the put-the-opposition-in-theirs innings makes him the perfect man to come in at number six.
His three ICC One Day Player of the Year Awards show his versatility, but this has never been to the detriment of his longer format game. His numbers are staggering: over 5000 runs this decade at 57.48, but as a wicketkeeper he averages nearly 60, and his 7 tons are second to only Watling, from just 22 Tests.
He was replaced by de Kock with the gloves in 2015, and some may gripe that he doesn't have the longevity, but his achievements this decade meant that he simply had to feature.
A proper all-rounder can make the difference between a great Test side and world-class one. You only win Test matches by taking twenty wickets, but you play a dangerous game if you sacrifice batting depth. Hence, the all-rounder can be the silver bullet.
This decade has largely been lacking in great all-rounders, especially as Jacques Kallis' bowling days were largely behind him by 2010, so the most consistent all rounder of the noughties doesn’t make the grade. It was a toss-up between Shakib and Ben Stokes, but in the end, the desire to have four seamers came to the fore.
(Disclaimer: a certain someone in the committee is very unhappy with this inclusion.)
7) Ben Stokes
An inconsistent and, at times, frustrating cricketer whose numbers reflect that. An average of 36 with the bat and 34 with the ball are not figures that set Test cricket alight. Yet, he has been a flexible cricketer for his country in a variety of situations.
When in the mood, he can be powerful with fireworks aplenty, but he has also recently added a more level-headed dimension to his game, particularly when accompanying the tail. He's no world-beater, but he is more than useful as a bowler. A man his captain can turn to when he needs something to happen, he very rarely leaves the game without making an impact.
Incredible athlete, whippet in the field, and ultimate team player, he is a man for the big moment (Headingley, anyone?). And, sometimes, you simply have to find a place for someone who brings that aura to a team.
There are three prime candidates for this role - Lyon, Ashwin & Herath. Three top spinners all in the respective shadows of their compatriots from a previous generation, Warne, Kumble and Muralitharan. Our choice just about edged the other two.
8) Ravi Ashwin
Like David Warner, Ashwin initially built his reputation in T20 cricket. But for a man who made a name for himself bowling four overs an innings, he often takes a surprisingly long time to take his first wicket in a Test innings.
This is actually testament to his outstanding cricketing intelligence - his approach of experimenting with variations and lines and lengths to work out the pitch and work over the batsmen is nothing short of scientific, and is also highly creative. At his best, it is reminiscent of Shane Warne; he doesn't need magic deliveries to remove the batsman, he just needs to out-think them. Tie the batsman up in riddles, and a well-executed delivery will take care of the rest.
Having collected seven Player of the Series awards along the way, Ashwin has been instrumental in India's rise to the top of the Test pile, and has been one of the main reasons his side have been nigh-on impossible to beat at home. Coupled with the batting depth he provides - 4 Test centuries and 11 fifties, to add to his 362 wickets - he is a real asset for any side to have.
The past decade hasn't been short on pace-bowling quality - South Africa could easily populate this part of the team themselves, for example. But for us, there were two absolute shoo-ins, and a number of strong contenders for the third seamer spot. In the end, it was a marginal decision, and there are a fair few who can count themselves unlucky to miss out.
9) Vernon Philander
Philander is not a particularly quick bowler; in fact, he looks military medium when compared to his compatriots, Steyn and Rabada. He wasn't one to make batsmen tremble with the prospect of steepling bounce and threatening chin music, like Morkel. Nor was he ever one to move the ball prodigiously, either through the air or off the seam, as someone like Jimmy Anderson was able to do.
But all of that's what the point is not. Because the point is that he never needed those things to instil in batsmen their greatest fear: walking back to the shed. What he did have was the ability to metronomically hit a nagging line and length, over after over, match after match, year after year. He had the ability to move the ball both ways just enough to trouble the batsmen on both sides of the bat. And, perhaps most importantly, he had impeccable control which, crucially, meant that the batsmen did not.
In his 60 Test matches, he hasn't just taken 216 wickets at a paltry 22.16, he's also nursed his country's fast-bowling department through a period of transition where great players and prospects have been lost to injury, retirement, or the perennial Kolpak problem.
The perfect third seamer to accompany two all-time greats, he will hopefully receive the acclaim some of his flashier compatriots have obtained, once he retires after the England series this winter.
10) Dale Steyn
Watching a pumped up Dale Steyn on a cricket field is a bit like watching a horror movie. There's primal fear writ large across faces of people under relentless attack, and a deranged maniac hoping to cause untold carnage, expertly using his weapon of choice. And that's before he's even brought out his chainsaw to celebrate the havoc he's wreaked. It's both frightening and magnetic; as a viewer, you can't take your eyes off it.
It sounds cliché, but he had everything a spearhead quick could dream of - serious pace, vicious movement, surgical precision, and the capacity to beat the opposition before the match had even started. It's reflected in his statistics this decade: 267 wickets at just over 22, with a wicket every 44 balls. But his record in Asia, and in particular his ability to be a threat in India where other great fast bowlers have struggled, sets him apart from the rest.
All of that is in spite of the numerous injuries he's suffered in the past ten years. There's no doubt he walks into this team, not just on ability to play cricket but also on ability to entertain. If he's not the GOAT, then he is at least grazing alongside whoever is.
11) James Anderson
A career which began with so many fits and starts has since matured like a fine Burnley claret, and has made Anderson the leading seamer of all time in the wickets charts. The eminent swing bowler of his generation, he was able to coax the ball around corners which others simply could not. Adept at swinging it both ways, disciplined, reliable, devastating. 575 Test wickets don’t lie. He was even a sharper fielder than most bowlers.
With a sub-24 bowling average past his thirtieth birthday, Anderson has blossomed into a magnificent bowler, quelling the temperamental and inconsistent nature which quicks so often fall victim to. To throw himself down the track and contort his body for so long as a fast bowler is a monumental feat, and he is set to become only the ninth player in history to reach 150 Tests. At 37, he remains England’s best bowler, and their Test recovery may yet still rely so much on his ancient knees.
All in all, a phenomenally talented side that would be stiff competition for ultimate teams from decades past. Not a team to cower when the going gets tough, but also capable of ruthlessly killing off the opposition. Congratulations to those who made the team, and commiserations to the many world-class players who didn't.
Bertie Moores, Sach Aggarwal, Ollie Godden, and Max Parry