As we bid farewell to 2016, we look back on a momentous year for test cricket and ask our readers to nominate their dream #TestTeamOfTheYear. Voting is now open for positions 5, 6 and 7
You voted Alastair Cook, Asad Shafiq, Joe Root & Virat Kohli as your top 4 batsmen. Who makes up the middle order?
Ajinkya Rahane occupies a slightly odd situation in Indian cricket. While even the likes of Kohli aren’t spared of the accusation of fattening their averages at home, Rahane seems to suffer from the opposite problem. He averages just 40 at home over his career, and over 50 abroad. This year, he averaged 121 in the West Indies, and a paltry 41 at home, with a particularly miserable series against England where averaged just 12.6 from three Tests. A finger injury put an early end to a terrible run, and with India continuing to play at home all next year, Rahane would need to find an answer to the one question his brilliant career hasn’t solved yet.
Two unbeaten 100s meant that Faf du Plessis ended up with an average around thirteen runs higher than it could have been, and masked a slightly mixed bag of a year for the South African. Du Plessis made his reputation this year as the captain of a South African side that walloped the Australians, and a fine century in a win meant that his batting credentials were acclaimed by many. He was also in good nick against the visiting Kiwis, and his only fallow series was the one against England, where he averaged in the 30s. Like many other batsmen in the nomination lists, his consistent trouble was capitalising on opportunities. Eleven times in thirteen innings du Plessis went into double figures yet crossed 50 just thrice, with four scores between 32 and 41.
For a while, the name Voges was being spoken in the same breath as Bradman. It was around the time that the batsman was adding a double hundred in New Zealand to his already overflowing runs column since his debut. But that Kiwi tour was the high point. Since then, he’s averaged 16.2 runs from the tour of Sri Lanka and the visit of the South Africans. Scores of 0 and 2 at Hobart against the Proteas led to the axe, and his replacements were immediately part of a winning team, and future plans. His early year exploits meant that his numbers were still comparable to the rest, but his presence on the list speaks a lot about the lack of quality at no. 5 this year. Just over eighteen months after debuting with a century, Adam Voges once again finds himself on the verge of being forgotten.
If this was an award for best beard of the year, Misbah would have won it at a canter. If this was an award for best century celebration this decade, Misbah would still win it for the sheer surprise and delight of his push-ups at Lord’s. If this was an award for Most Hollywood Story of the year, Misbah taking a once spotfixing-ravaged side to world no. 1 would have been a shoo-in. But when it comes to choosing the award for best no. 5 in the world, things get a bit tougher. Each of the nominees for this award had flawed years, but Misbah’s year ended with a series of low scores against Australia. Having had to fly out to attend his father-in-law’s funeral mid-tour certainly can’t have helped. It certainly ended a lucrative run for Misbah, whose duck (after a century) at Lord’s was followed by nine consecutive double-figure scores, including three 50s. Since he flew out and returned to the cricket he’s scored 4; 31; 13; 4; 5 and 11. It’s ruined his numbers a bit, but Misbah won’t mind as long as he’s got his big picture sorted.
Ben Stokes had an odd year, where some of his reputation was enhanced by the times he wasn’t there for his side. His double century in South Africa quickly entered cricketing folklore, setting up his reputation as a fearsome hitter. He then missed out Pakistan’s visit, where several times England’s feeble top order batting made people wonder of his impact had he played. A 100 in India and an 85 in Bangladesh meant that his Asian journey was also quite handy, but there was a persistent feeling that he could’ve gotten on to score more in several innings. He ended the tour becoming another of Ashwin’s bunnies, who dismissed him four times in five matches.
It is a bit of a cliche to contrast Bavuma’s small stature with his huge desire to battle it out, but it exists because its true. Not only has the batsman had to deal with the perceptions of his size but also the hints that he is in the side thanks to South Africa’s quota system. In 2016, Bavuma shred that perception as he stood up when it mattered. A century against England established his resolve, but two 50s in Australia during tough spells underlined his ability to score when it mattered. A string of cheap dismissals however meant he wasn’t quite as formidable as the memories suggested.
The highest averaging batsman in this list, Chandimal hit two 100s from this position, but didn’t cross 50 otherwise, marking another year where a batsman long known for his potential didn’t quite deliver. It hasn’t helped that Sri Lanka’s transition means he’s already a senior member of the side, and doesn’t always have enough support. A century in England and another against the visiting Australians underlined his importance, but his team needed far more from him several times in the year.
The man they call Papa had the strangest of years. On one hand, he became the first Pakistani batsman to pick up two pairs in his career, and he picked both up within a month. On the other hand, he also became one of those rare Asian batsmen to have 100s in Australia, South Africa and England away, with his century at Gabba playing a part in one of the year’s greatest tests. Yet in between those highs was a very inconsistent run of form, and an embarrassing demotion back to six after a brief elevation up the order. There’s a reason his average is well below anyone else on this list.
The remarkable Jonny Bairstow had put up the sort of numbers batting at 6 that would make him a good bet for winning the poll for that position - he averaged almost 30 runs more than Chandimal, the next best no. 6 batsman last year. But he was more regularly destructive at no. 7, which is where we’ve placed him here. Throughout the year, Bairstow was the reason that England’s top order woes were not only arrested but often turned around as rampaging assaults. One of England’s best players of spin and pace, Bairstow entered the elite status in 2016.
Like Bairstow, de Kock showcased the value of having an explosive, proper batsman coming in at five down. Like many South Africans on this list, his greatest moment came in Australia where he continued a golden run of form, playing the decisive innings in both wins. Two hundreds and three fifties against England and Australia left him with an even better record than Bairstow’s, and both of them capped a growing trend to have power-blasting lower orders in Test cricket.
A lesser light in the procession of stars in this poll, Watling was a solid presence in a Kiwi batting lineup that often flatters to deceive. He failed to capitalize on several starts during the year, and his sole hundred came away to Zimbabwe. However, in matches against Australia and Pakistan, he put up crucial lower order runs to hold up the innings. It meant he averaged almost five runs more than Sarfaraz Ahmed, his other contender for a spot on this poll.
Moeen Ali spent most of the year yo-yoing up and down the order, but he was decisive at no. 7. He was in superb form against Pakistan, and was repeatedly the one batsman who was completely at ease facing Yasir Shah. While the others on this list brought their keeping to the table, Moeen brought his bowling which was a mixed bag at best. England’s decision to use him as a front-liner often works at home, but in more helpful conditions his limitations were exposed. It didn’t affect his batting too much, and he was prolific in most positions last year.