2016 is drawing to a close, and this year has been a memorable one for test cricket. Including smashing performances from English batsmen Joe Root, Alastair Cook and Johnny Bairstow, with a faintly ludicrous 3,787 runs between them, to the emergence of Pakistani Asad Shafiq as a brilliant mainstay for the tail-enders, there are enough noteworthy moments to go around. We are asking our readers who makes it into their dream #TestTeamOfTheYear. Let's get voting!
A decidedly odd year for Alastair Cook, whose high profile ensured that he made every year-end list even when he had a pretty ordinary year by his standards. Much of it was marred by his troubles as captain, as England lost seven tests to three Asian sides, including two to Pakistan at home. More worryingly though, Cook ended up with these numbers without ever looking out of form. Only six of his 32 innings were in single digits, and he crossed 40 no less than 14 times. However, his conversion was not quite where we have come to expect. He was dismissed in the 40s and the 80s twice each, suggesting a tapering off of his general ability to make his scores count. The fact that England’s selectors kept insisting on trying out all sorts of untested players in the top order also increased the pressure on Cook, and perhaps that was why he couldn’t break free.
With the impending retirements of Younis Khan and Misbah ul Haq, there has been an expectation on Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq to now assume the mantle of being the senior batsmen in Pakistan’s side. Both players had been part of the world’s best performing top order in the previous year, and both saw themselves playing at new positions this year. Azhar took to the opener role with aplomb, ending with the highest average of any opener (with at least five innings) in 2016. His triple century in the UAE was his personal best, but where he really distinguished himself was batting abroad. Elevated as opener after the Oval test, he hit a 49 there before striking two more fifties in New Zealand and Australia. The 58 he scored at Hamilton came amidst an almighty collapse, and it highlighted how Azhar had separated himself from the rest of the order. While each of Shafiq, Younis and Misbah endured torrid spells with the bat, Azhar was largely consistent for Pakistan. His partnership with Sami Aslam at the top also hinted at resolving one of Pakistan’s most perennial problems - a shaky opening duo.
The only reason Warner is on this list is because our writers had him in their nominations, and because he plays for a Big Three team. Otherwise, it was a pretty average year for the pocket rocket. Consider the fact that two newbies - KL Rahul and Sami Aslam - matched or bettered his stats this year. It was also Warner’s worst ever year in his career, with his average dipping below 40 for the first time, and coming in almost 18 runs below his 2015 effort. He was well below par on the tours on New Zealand and Sri Lanka, and his only scores above 50 came at home, including his sole 100 made against the West Indies in a dead rubber game. To be fair to him, he put up more of a fight against the South Africans, averaging 45 with four of his five innings crossing 40. But these weren’t the sort of numbers associated with a player of his talent, and given Australia’s general woefulness with the bat, his below par year became an even bigger issue.
It isn’t easy being Kraigg Brathwaite. In 2016, his brother Carlos not only became captain of the T20 side, but his four sixes in the last over of the WT20 final ensured his place in cricket folklore for eternity. In contrast, Kraigg put together a stellar record as the opener of one of the weakest Test sides and still found himself ignored in every year-end list - except this one. For starters, his average was almost 1.5 times what Cook achieved, and was 20 runs more than David Warner’s. Almost all his big scores came away from home too - 85 at Sydney and a run of 67, 142* and 60* in the UAE. The final two innings also led his team to a memorable win over Misbah’s Pakistan. Most significantly, Brathwaite’s assurance at the top meant he and Darren Bravo could provide some stability for the rest of the team to work around. The West Indian team is still some way off before becoming a strong side, but Brathwaite’s emergence as a quality batsman can at least get them to start dreaming.
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