It is that time of the year where everyone picks their World Test XI of the year. This is the last bastion of test cricket requiring special attention as an identity on its own so for that alone it deserves merit.
The Guardian went in for the selection via camel approach. That’s fine, and it meant their XI is probably the best, but there’s a lot of cop out about it; for example S Smith batting at 6. The ICC’s team, picked across a random time period, was predictably ridiculous.
The rules around the selection of this team are way more anal. If you don’t bat in a certain position then you can’t be part of this side. That is really good news for those batting at number 5.
It also adds sentiment to selection. After all, if averages alone were to pick the side then the four best batsmen would include Nair, Handscombe and Gunaratne (he’s from Sri Lanka)
There are a couple of things you notice when compiling a team like this. First of all, it really highlights the disparity in the number of tests teams play. It also reinforces the fact that Statsguru is the best piece of software ever invented.
In a year when openers struggled; the Guardian even considered Tom Latham, surely a spot must go to Kraigg Braithwaite largely for his extraordinary test in Sharjah. Throw this test in the face of anyone who says batsmen can’t win test matches. 417 unbeaten deliveries, and a rare test win for a side playing in another continent.
He averaged 55.72 over the year too, which was the top average by an opener.
It’s a lot tighter for the other opener’s slot. Alistair Cook (42.33) just edges Azhar Ali (52.77) because the latter’s stats were a bit skewed by one innings of 302*whereas Cook got his runs home and away. Strangely, given how dominant he was in ODIs, Warner averaged just 35.
Steve Smith, with an average of over 60, and no cushy tests, especially a three test series in Sri Lanka owns the Number three spot.
And let’s be honest, Kane Williamson did not have a great year by his standards; averaging around 35 when you take out the Zimbabwe tests. Hashim Amla averaged just over 50.
Kohli wins the number 4 slot without a lot of real competition. 1215 runs at over 75. Sure, most of those runs were at home but it’s pretty irrefutable.
The interesting spot is at number 5, given the strict rules here. The world’s best batsman have never played at number 5. Nair has a year average in that slot of 316, which is pretty handy but we’re not falling for that.
It comes down to a two battle between Rahane and Du Plessis, both averaging just over 50. The mint chewer did his business mainly abroad so he wins a tight race.
After a pretty lean time of it regarding top quality al-rounders since the retirement of Jacques Kallis (Angelo Mathews made this slot in the past) 2016 produced a bit of a revival.
The good thing here is that Ashwin makes it on both fronts. 612 runs at 43.71/72 wickets at 23.9. 72 wickets in a calendar year is quite something. That’s reasonably impressive. He makes it on his own as leading spinner, but the batting opens things up.
Then there is New Zealand’s Ben Stokes. While some thought his final over in the T20 World Cup was good for a laugh, he had a very good test year. 904 runs at 45.2 / 33 wickets at 25.8. Remember those runs included a knock of 258 in South Africa which was the innings of the year.
While both the Guardian and ICC went for Bairstow the case of Quintin de Kock is a powerful one. 589 runs at 65.4 is a superior average to Bairstow, is great to watch and, like his captain, stepped up as a leader in Australia.
Mitchell Starc 45 wickets at 21.51. When you consider almost half of those tests were in Sri Lanka, where he dominated, there’s no real choice.
Kagiso Rabada 42 wickets at 22.23. There’s something about Rabada. A mooth action offering some genuine menace, and possibly the way he stepped up once Steyn got injured in Perth. And then there’s the clipped Oxbridge accent.
Neil Wagner. 41 wickets at 21.04. That’s right; everyone’s favourite lion-hearted short pitched bowling expert has to be the third seamer. Only Herath out of front line bowlers had a better average. And to think he played only 8 of the 11 tests during the year.
Rangana Herath took 28 wickets at 13 v Australia at home, and should always be lauded for that. His calendar year average was 17.5.
But a bowler who can do it home and away is a bit more laudable. Pakistan’s Yasir Shah would appear to be the most classical spin bowler going around but a 2016 average of 36.6 is more than twice that of Herath so that’s who gets to carry the drinks.