The introduction of the World Test Championship has brought a whiff of fresh air into the five-day format. ODI cricket might have hogged most of the limelight in 2019 but Test cricket managed to hold its own, largely because of the Ashes. India and Australia stood head and shoulders above the rest and that reflects in our Test team of the year. Most of these inclusions were a no brainer, while few of them just managed to leapfrog their opposite numbers on the basis of team balance.
Here is Cricket.com’s Test Team of the Year powered by Criclytics:
Innings 11, Runs 754, Average 68.6, 100s 3, Best 243
Mayank Agarwal was the second-highest run grosser with the second-highest batting average as an opener this year (minimum five innings). Walking into 2019 with the experience of only one Test, he was one of the most solid openers of the year (false-shot percentage of 12, least amongst openers with five innings).
Mayank resisted the Australian bowlers in his first innings of the year scoring 77 in Sydney. Later, he pummeled the visiting sides scoring three hundreds in four Tests - 215 in Visakhapatnam, 108 in Pune against South Africa and 243 against Bangladesh in Indore - cementing his spot in both, India’s Test team and our Test XI of 2019.
Innings 12, Runs 601, Average 50.08, 100s 3, Best 161
Building on his reputation as a dogged batsman, Tom Latham had another solid year opening the innings for New Zealand. His yearly average dipped from 59.8 in 2018 but in a tough year for opening batsmen around the world, he still averaged 50 in 2019.
Latham was in competition with Rory Burns to partner Mayank Agarwal in the Test Team of the Year. Burns, having batted in tougher batting conditions of England where the openers averaged the least this year (20.08), amassed 402 runs at 33.5 runs per dismissal including a hundred against the potent bowling attack of Australia. However, Latham’s 154 in Sri Lanka paved the way for a series-leveling Test win for New Zealand and a place for him in Cricket.com’s Test XI of the Year.
Innings 17, Runs 1,104, Average 64.5, 100s 3, Best 185
Having started this year ranked 98 in ICC’s Test rankings for batsmen, Marnus Labuschagne leaped up to the number four spot by the end of it. In a year when the batting average was below 30 only for the second time since 2001 (29.8), he was the only batsman to amass over 1,000 runs in the calendar year.
Also, he is the best concussion substitute till date in the history of Test cricket. Replacing Steve Smith in the Lord’s Test, he scored a gutsy 59 following which, his next three scores read 74, 80 and 67. Although, there were no hundreds for him on a breakthrough Ashes tour, he made up for it on his return home hammering three hundreds in a row - 185 in Brisbane and 162 in Adelaide against Pakistan succeeded by 143 against New Zealand in Perth. Not to forget, he is also a handy leg-spinner who has picked five Test wickets this year.
Innings 13, Runs 965, Average 74.2, 100s 3, Best 211
The year 2019 marks great relevance in Steve Smith’s career. Not only did he return to international cricket but also helped Australia retain the Ashes almost single-handedly with the bat.
He piled up 671 runs in his first five innings of the year which were enough to ensure that Australia don’t concede the Ashes. The tally of runs included twin hundreds in his comeback Test in Birmingham, first of which came when Australia were reeling at 122 for eight, and a double hundred in the fourth Test in Manchester. 774 runs in total is the highest number of runs scored in a series in the 21st century.
Smith averaged only 31.8 in the last six innings of the year but such was his impact in the 2019 Ashes, that he reclaimed the number one spot in the ICC Test rankings and further re-ignited comparisons with Sir Don Bradman.
Virat Kohli (c)
Innings 11, Runs 612, Average 68, 100s 2, Best 254*
A sublime year for the Indian openers meant Virat Kohli did not have to do a lot with the bat, yet the Indian captain’s numbers this year were astonishing once again, largely by virtue of a punishing 254* against South Africa in Pune.
Kohli pipped his deputy, Ajinkya Rahane, who is marginally ahead of him in terms of batting average 71.3, has a better away average (70.6 as compared to Kohli’s 31.8) and is more accustomed to bat at five. However, the search for a captain gives Kohli the first preference in our XI considering that India won seven out of their eight Tests under his leadership this year.
Matches 11, Runs 821, Batting Average 45.6, Wickets 22, Bowling Average 35.5
It was Ben Stokes’ year in international cricket and it reflected in Test cricket as well. After leaving his imprint in England’s victorious World Cup campaign, he kept the Ashes alive with a staggering knock of 135* in Leeds. Stokes’ Herculean effort was unofficially deemed as the ‘Innings of the Year’ despite a challenge from Kusal Perera’s 153* in Durban.
In the preceding Test at Lord’s, he had scored 115* on the final day turning the tables on Australia. An year which had started with a duck ended with Stokes registering two of the most iconic hundreds of his Test career.
Stokes was crucial with the ball as well plucking out 22 wickets. His bowling returns included a laborious 24.2-over spell in the same Headingley Test. A batting average of 45.6 coupled with a bowling average of 35.5 established him as the successor to Sir Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff in the England side.
BJ Watling (wk)
Innings 11, Runs 559, Average 55.9, 100s 2, Best 205, Efficiency 80.6 percent
This might be the year where BJ Watling finally emerges out of the shadows of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in New Zealand’s Test batting line-up. His 105* helped New Zealand level the series in Sri Lanka. In his very next Test, three months later, he notched up his first double ton - 205 against England in Mount Maunganui - which deflated England’s bowling attack. Combining those two innings, Watling stayed unbeaten for 699 balls and 973 minutes which roughly translates to 16 hours of batting. He is also the only wicketkeeping-batsman this year to face more than 1,000 deliveries. Fair to say, the dogged wicketkeeper has done a lot of work behind and in front of the stumps.
Watling faced tough competition from Quinton de Kock for the wicket-keeper’s spot. De Kock’s average might have been lower (47.5) but he pushed his case with a man-of-the-match-award winning performance in South Africa’s victory over England in the Boxing Day Test.
On the wicketkeeping front, there is again very little to separate the two. Watling marginally pips de Kock with his efficiency behind the stumps (percentage of chances converted into a dismissal) by 3.3 percent.
Matches: 12, Wickets: 59, Bowling Average: 33.3, Bowling Strike-Rate: 68.7, Best Figures: 6/49
The leading wicket-taker of the year, Cummins has been all over of the headlines in the last 12 months and rightly so. The fast bowler returned 59 wickets in 23 innings this year at a strike-rate of 44.7. No other pace bowler sent down more overs than Cummins in Test cricket this year (440). He is the only pacer to play each of the 12 Tests for Australia this year even when their management had employed the rotation policy for fast bowlers. This underlines Cummins’ importance to the team. Everytime Australia needed a wicket, he delivered more often than not.
Matches: 12, Wickets: 45, Bowling Average: 33.3, Bowling Strike-Rate: 68.7, Best Figures: 6/49
In a year meant for pacers, Nathan Lyon stands above any other spinner in world cricket. He scalped 45 wickets in the calendar year when the next best on the list is Ravi Ashwin and Rashid Khan - 21 wickets each. Lyon’s bowling average lags behind the aforementioned spinners but while Ashwin and Rashid played all of their games in the Indian subcontinent, Lyon played the perfect supporting hand to his pacers on the seamer-friendly tracks of Australia and England.
His six for 49 on the last day of the Birmingham Test, in fact, eased the workload for the pacers.
Matches: 8, Wickets: 33, Bowling Average 16.7, Bowling Strike-rate: 35.3
The 29-year-old might have ended 2019 as the highest wicket-taker in ODIs but it was in Test cricket where Shami emerged as India's most impactful bowler. The right-arm paceman featured in all the eight Tests India played in 2019 and delivered most of the times when Virat Kohli threw the ball at him. Shami has worked a lot on his fitness and that reflected in his performance as he was willing to bowl long spells with the same intensity. While he contributed in almost every single match, his best performance came against South Africa in the second innings of Visakhapatnam Test where he picked up a five-wicket haul.
The 'second-innings' Shami was once again at his best in 2019 but an average of 21.1 suggests that he was also phenomenal in the first innings too. Indian fast bowling unit has come a long way in the last few years and Shami has played a huge role in that.
Matches: 6, Wickets: 43, Bowling Average: 17.8, Bowling Strike-Rate: 37.7, Best Figures: 5/44
The fact that Neil Wagner finished 2019 as the second ranked bowler in the ICC Test rankings without any hype around him is a testimony to the hard work he puts in on the field. During the recently concluded Boxing Day Test, he became only the fifth bowler to complete 40 Test wickets this year, although, at a better bowling average than anyone else (17.8).
A workhorse, he can take pride in decoding Steve Smith, whom he has dismissed four times in four innings of the ongoing Trans-Tasman Test series peppering him with relentless short balls.
On account of his better numbers - bowling average and wickets per innings (3.9) - Wagner leapfrogs Mitchell Starc for the left-arm seamer’s role in our Test XI.
Ajinkya Rahane: Innings 11, Runs 642, Average 71.3, 100s 2, Best 115
Quinton de Kock: Innings 15, Runs 713, Average 47.5, 100s 2, Best 129, Efficiency 77.7 percent
Jason Holder: Matches 5, Runs 344, Batting Average 49.1, Wickets 20, Bowling Average 17.3
Mitchell Starc: Matches: 8, Wickets: 42, Bowling Average: 20.7, Bowling Strike-Rate: 36.7, Best Figures: 6/66