2019 was the year Test cricket finally got its due context with the introduction of the World Test Championship, albeit the tournament’s format has attracted questions over its efficacy. From India’s historic series win in Australia to Pakistan’s emotional Test homecoming, the year was not short of drama in the longest format. Several remarkable individual feats were accomplished in the past 12 months leaving us the laborious task of choosing the best possible eleven.
The southpaw continued to feast on bowling attacks with supreme elegance and poise mirroring his extremely successful run in 2018. Latham’s admirable balance at the crease and exquisite strokeplay allowed him to amass a grand total of 601 runs across eight games at an impressive average of 50.08. He reestablished his credentials as one of the best players of spin in the New Zealand side with a phenomenal 154 at Colombo’s P. Sara Oval to hand his team a series-leveling victory in Sri Lanka.
The 28-year-old opener from Karnataka entered 2019 with just a single Test appearance to his name. His prolific run-spree thereon saw him end up as India’s leading run-getter this year with 754 runs in eight matches at 68.54. The incredible aspect of Agarwal’s dream start to international cricket is the fact that two of his three tons have been double centuries, demonstrating his hunger to go big.
Mayank Agarwal raises his bat after reaching his century ©Associated Press
India’s hegemonic standing in Test cricket was bolstered by an unbeaten run throughout the year under the leadership of Virat Kohli. They extended their home dominance with massive wins over South Africa and Bangladesh - becoming the first team to win four successive Tests by an innings margin. While Kohli flawlessly captained an invincible Indian side, his batsmanship shone superbly in 2019. He racked up 612 runs at 68 including a career-best 254 not out against South Africa.
Smith rose from being the antagonist in the ignominious ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town last year to become the chief architect of Australia’s Ashes-retaining victory in England. His astonishing comeback to the Test arena was marked by ‘Bradman-esque’ levels of domination as he averaged in excess of 110 during the five-match series against England. Smith’s stunning form tapered off towards the end of 2019 but he regained his class with a sublime 85 against New Zealand in the Boxing Day Test. The champion batsman finished with 965 runs in eight matches at 74.23.
It would have seemed almost ridiculous to predict that someone like Labuschagne would end up being the highest run-scorer in Tests in 2019. After spending time on the fringes of the Australian Test team, the compact right-handed batsman returned to playing action as cricket’s first concussion substitute for Steve Smith during the Ashes. Thereafter, he began his merry run that has seen him storm into the top 5 of the ICC Test rankings for batsmen. Three centuries (in consecutive innings), seven fifties and an average of 64.94 gives the 25-year-old an automatic spot in the team of the year, sadly at the expense of star player Babar Azam.
Marnus Labuschagne soaks in the applause ©AFP
Stokes’ importance to the struggling England Test unit cannot be understated one bit. Channelling his inner ‘Botham’, the premier all-rounder’s lionhearted performances on the field were a testament to his fiercely determined character. Probably the biggest moment of his career arrived in the Ashes when he blasted an unbeaten 135 to lead England to a famous miracle win at Headingley. In addition to his healthy batting average of 45.61, Stokes picked 22 wickets at 35.45.
Watling spearheaded New Zealand’s batting charge on several occasions with his dogged displays in tough conditions. Often overlooked owing to a lack of an ostentatious set of strokes up his sleeve, the keeper-batsman recorded 559 runs at a towering average of 55.90. He produced a memorable century alongside Latham in New Zealand’s win over Sri Lanka and batted 667 minutes for an epic double ton against England later in the year.
The top-ranked Test bowler was once again at the peak of his abilities as he topped the bowling charts by a significant margin. Cummins ended the year with 59 wickets at an average of 20.13 - 14 scalps more than the second-best - and managed two five-wicket hauls across his fruitful stint. The 26-year-old’s sizzling spells of bowling typified by threatening lengths have already afforded him a special place in Australia’s rich fast bowling legacy.
The 31-year-old’s bowling speeds may have dropped in recent years but he continues to be one of the most prized assets in the West Indies Test lineup. Roach routinely demolished the English batting in the Caribbean with his impeccable consistency to pitch the ball in the so-called ‘corridor of uncertainty’. He reaped rewards for his skillful swing bowling by ending as the highest wicket-taker in his side’s series win over England and followed it up with flashes of brilliance against India. Roach finished with 27 wickets from six games at an exceptional average of 18.07.
Kemar Roach celebrates a wicket ©Associated Press
Lyon makes it into the team merely due to the sheer magnitude of his numbers. The veteran off-spinner took 44 wickets at 33.26 in a quiet year for spinners and claimed two five-wicket hauls. His simple approach to attacking the stumps helped him thrive in Australia’s international summer with a couple of menacing spells against Pakistan and New Zealand.
Wagner’s steady stream of a bumper barrage has been the undoing of many batsmen throughout 2019. His workmanlike consistency has not gone unnoticed and his astounding numbers do justice to his immense potential. Wagner boasts an average of 17.81 having snared 43 wickets in six matches. He has been the sole silver lining in New Zealand’s humiliating defeats to Australia, picking 14 wickets in the two games including the dismissal of Smith on four occasions.