Guns, runs, wickets & tons: Our Test XI of the decade
Cricket.com.au has studied the numbers and considered the finest performances to nail down a best Test side of the 2010s, with some honourable mentions as well
1) Alastair Cook (England)
M: 111 | Runs: 8,818 | 100s: 23 | 50s: 37 | Ave: 46.41 | HS: 294
You can forget the 'Big Four' – England's old-fashioned and perhaps unfashionable opener was the batting giant of the 2010s, sitting more than a thousand runs clear of the next most prolific scorer. The left-hander's 111 Tests during the decade came consecutively, and throughout he rode the fate of form like few others, cashing in with some monster efforts (he scored five double hundreds) during his purple patches and forever finding a way out of the leaner streaks. More impressively still, his finest hours came away from home, most notably in Australia and India, where his averages of 48.94 and 51.45 respectively exceeded his career mark.
Best performance: Cook was brilliant with three centuries on England's landmark 2012 triumph in India, but his countrymen will likely recall his 2010-11 Ashes tour with the most fondness; in five Tests he stroked 766 runs, including three masterful hundreds, as England retained the urn with their first series win in Australia since 1986-87.
Honourable mention: Graeme Smith (South Africa). Smith only played 38 of his 117 Tests this decade but scored nine hundreds. He, Cook and Warner were the only three openers to post 2,000 runs at an average exceeding 45.
2) David Warner (Australia)
M: 82 | Runs: 7,009 | 100s: 23 | 50s: 30 | Ave: 48.33 | HS: 335no
Luckily for Warner, Stuart Broad is in this team, so he doesn’t have to worry about him. But his 2019 Ashes blip aside, the Australian has established a remarkable record across the decade, second only among openers to Cook. The story of T20-sensation-turned-Test-superstar is now a familiar one but it is instructive in the sense that Warner is a match-winner; the left-hander strikes at 73.30, hit a century before lunch on day one of a Test match, and owns the second-fastest fifty in Tests. He also swiped a 69-ball hundred against India and hammered 244 in a single day against New Zealand. Then there's the other side to Warner: the one with the temperament that allowed him to carry his bat (and almost Australia to victory) in just his second Test; that has given him the focus to hit twin hundreds in Tests on three occasions; that allowed him to conquer his subcontinental demons in Bangladesh. And while controversy – particularly the ball-tampering scandal – has tarnished his reputation, and there remain statistics on his record he will want to amend (he averages in the mid-20s in England, India and Sri Lanka), there is no disputing the fact Warner is a sheer force of nature on the faster tracks of Australia and South Africa, and few would bet against him to further prove his credentials abroad before his time is up.
Best performance: His lone century on the subcontinent against Bangladesh while guiding Australia to a fourth-innings target of 265 is up there, but the spectacular double against South Africa in Cape Town in 2014 is perhaps his finest hour; in a match where most batsmen found the going tough, he peeled off 135 and 145, striking around 90 and was in complete command against a top-class pace attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.
Honourable mention: Dean Elgar (South Africa). The gritty South African is the only opening batsman of the decade to score Test hundreds away against England, Australia and India.
3) Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
M: 77 | Runs: 6,370 | 100s: 21 | 50s: 31 | Ave: 52.21 | HS: 242no
The man destined to retire as New Zealand's greatest Test batsman scored more runs than anyone from the pivotal No.3 spot this decade, and did it at an average of 55.53. Williamson made 131 in his first Test innings – against India in Ahmedabad – and from that moment it was clear he was destined for a special career. Another 20 Test tons have followed as the Black Caps' walking textbook has quietly gone about accumulating a record that puts him among the game's best. In 2016, the unassuming, quietly-spoken right-hander was asked to take on the captaincy, and both he and New Zealand have only been on an upward trajectory since; he averages 58.32 as captain and his 55.17 per cent winning record is the best of any NZ skipper.
Best performance: The 166 against Australia at the Gabba in 2015 was picture-perfect, full of flowing drives and delicate glides played from under his nose. In terms of greater context though, it is difficult to go past last year's classic in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan. New Zealand were four down in their second innings and still trailing by 12 runs when the skipper peeled off what was ultimately a match-winning 139.
Honourable mention: Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka). The Sri Lankan legend retired in 2015 but almost 5,000 runs at an average topping 60 is impossible to ignore.
4) Steve Smith (Australia)
M: 71 | Runs: 7,072 | 100s: 26 | 50s: 27 | Ave: 63.14 | HS: 239
Since breaking through for his maiden Test century more than six years ago, Steve Smith has been like a runaway train, scoring runs by the thousand year-in and year-out. Central to the Smith legend is his insatiable appetite for batting (he doesn't sleep for thinking about it), which has resulted in a number of record-breaking run-scoring efforts; his average of 63.14 is head and shoulders above his contemporaries while he and Brian Lara are the only two players to twice score 700 runs in a Test series in the past 40 years. A year out of the game due to the ball-tampering scandal has been about the only thing capable of stopping the fidgety right-hander, whose elaborate flourishes of the bat and exaggerated pre- and post-movements have taken on a life of their own. When he returned from his suspension, he appeared better than ever, much to the detriment of England, who ran out of ideas when it came to dismissing him during another record-breaking Ashes campaign.
Best performance: There is no shortage of options here (26 hundreds have been evenly split home and away) but Smith's double of 144 and 142 to take Australia to victory in this year's Ashes opener must top the lot. Absent from Test cricket for 14 months, he returned as if desperate to make up for lost time, carrying Australia in the first innings and then setting up the match with Matthew Wade in the second.
Honourable mentions: Hashim Amla (South Africa). Proteas star Amla had produced classics in India, England and Australia before 2012 was complete, and almost 7,000 runs at 49.96 speaks to his consistency. Joe Root (England). Ditto for Root, the decade's second leading run-scorer. The only blights on the England captain's record are a disappointing conversion rate and the absence of a century in Australia (where he nonetheless averages 42.28).
5) Virat Kohli (India) (c)
M: 84 | Runs: 7,202 | 100s: 27 | 50s: 22 | Ave: 54.97 | HS: 254no
India began the decade worshipping Sachin Tendulkar and ended it with Kohli having assumed the mantle as the cricket-mad country's demigod, and it is little wonder; through the 2010s, the India skipper topped the Test centuries tally with 27, seven of which were doubles. Be it via his wonderfully-timed cover drives or his wristy whips through mid-wicket, Kohli has dominated spin and pace of all kinds in all conditions. He has multiple hundreds against all the Test nations he has faced, while like Williamson, he and his country have gone to new heights since he became captain in 2014; he averages 63.80 in charge and his win percentage of 62.26 is the best of any India skipper. The once self-described brat has also evolved into one of the game's most respected figures, recently speaking out about mental health and ushering in a new standard of fitness within his country's cricket ranks.
Best performance: Kohli went toe-to-toe with Steve Smith during the 2014-15 summer in Australia, peeling off four hundreds in four Tests and passing 700 runs for the series. It was a coming-of-age performance from the new India captain but he has arguably bettered it since; the apogee of a breathtaking career to date could well be his imperious century against England at Edgbaston in 2018. In an innings that blended patience, technique and sheer bloody-mindedness, Kohli defied the critics who called out his record in England to score 149 out of his side's 274.
Honourable mention: Younis Khan (Pakistan). The Pakistan legend made almost 5,000 runs at better than 54, with hundreds in Sri Lanka, England, South Africa and Australia – and not a single one of his 55 Tests was played on home soil.
6) AB de Villiers (South Africa) (wk)
M: 60 | Runs: 5,059 | 100s: 13 | 50s: 27 | Ave: 57.48 | HS: 278no | Dis: 84
De Villiers takes the gloves in this match because, well, he can (he kept in 22 Tests in the 2010s) and while there were more prolific run-scorers through the decade, there is perhaps no player an opposing captain would less like to see charging through the gate at the fall of the fourth wicket. The South African superstar had established himself by the time 2010 rolled around but better was to come, as his epic 10-hour 278no against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi forewarned. Thereafter, de Villiers built a reputation as someone who could do things other batsmen couldn't, be it making a tricky wicket seem flat, or a hostile paceman appear placid. His exquisite timing was second only to his unmatched array of shots; against Australia in Perth in 2012, he brought up a hundred with three consecutive reverse swept boundaries off the bowling of Nathan Lyon. And so it went for de Villiers, the kid who excelled in every sport and kindly gifted cricket with his presence. While his final years in Test cricket were dampened somewhat by injuries and the demands of the T20 calendar, he certainly made his exit in style …
Best performance: De Villiers' final Test century came three years after his previous, but it was worth waiting for. With South Africa 1-0 down in the four-Test series against Australia in March 2018, the right-hander turned a likely first-innings deficit into a match-winning lead. From 7-227, his breathtaking counter-punching 126no (146 balls) took the Proteas to 382. A high-quality Australian attack (Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon) had no answer to his brilliance. It proved a series-turning knock and one de Villiers later labelled "one of my best ever".
Honourable mentions: Michael Clarke (Australia). The former Australia skipper's career was virtually an even split between two decades, but even half his career makes impressive reading: almost 5,000 runs at 48.62 with 16 hundreds. The stylish right-hander also put together the most prolific calendar year of the decade, when in 2012 he hit a Bradmanesque 1,595 runs at 106.33, including three double hundreds and his famous 329no. BJ Watling (New Zealand). It would also be remiss not to mention the exceptional record established by the Black Caps gloveman, who had the most dismissals (224) and runs (3195) for any 'keeper this decade.
7) Ben Stokes (England)
M: 59 | Runs: 3,738 | 100s: 8 | 50s: 20 | Ave: 35.94 | HS: 258 | Wkts: 137 | 5wi: 4 | 10wm: 0 | Ave: 33.45 | SR: 59.9 | BBI: 6-22 | BBM: 8-161
England's enviable tradition of unearthing brilliant allrounders continued this decade with the discovery of Stokes, a New Zealand-born aggressor who bats, bowls and fields with ferocious intent. A century and a six-wicket haul in his debut series were perhaps England's only bright spots during the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash, and despite a serious controversy away from the game, the flame-haired allrounder was perhaps rivalled only by Shakib Al Hasan as the decade's standout allrounder. The left-hand bat, right-arm medium-fast came of age in the English summer of 2015, when he hit a match-winning run-a-ball double of 92 and 101 against New Zealand, then claimed a largely forgotten 6-36 to roll Australia at Trent Bridge. Against the Proteas at Cape Town in 2016, he smashed a mind-blowing 258 from 198 balls (the fastest 250 ever), but remarkably, there has been better since …
Best performance: With Australia one wicket away from retaining the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001, Stokes produced perhaps the innings of the decade. The previous evening, he had gone to stumps at Headingley with two runs to his name from 50 balls. As England were reduced to 9-286 – still 73 runs adrift of their target – Stokes came into his own. The rest is a tale well told; in a blaze of match-winning glory, England's talisman thrashed a remarkable 74 runs from 43 balls to secure one of Test cricket's most famous wins.
Honourable mention: Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh). The only player to score 3,000 runs and take 150 wickets in the 2010s, arguably only opportunity prevented Shakib from making this team; 29 of his 42 Tests were played in Bangladesh, while the left-arm spinner and left-hand batsman is still to play Test cricket in Australia, South Africa or the UAE/Pakistan. Sadly, his recent ICC anti-corruption charge and subsequent one-year ban from the game has sullied his name and, to some extent, the exceptional record he has built.
8) Dale Steyn (South Africa)
M: 59 | Wkts: 267 | 5wi: 15 | 10wm: 2 | Ave: 22.29 | SR: 43.9 | BBI: 7-51 | BBM: 11-60
Almost two-thirds of Steyn's legendary career came in the 2010s, a period during which only James Anderson and Stuart Broad took more wickets among fast bowlers, and the South African claimed his victims at a strike-rate and average superior to both. Steyn's pace allied with his devastating outswinger and a lethal inswinger – particularly with the old ball – made him a handful for even the world's best batsmen, and a captain's dream. Tellingly, he boasts the best average and strike-rate away from home of any bowler this decade. A genuine match-winner, he retired last August with his name firmly in the 'best fast bowler ever' conversation.
Best performance: His 7-51 against India in Nagpur in February 2010 was a masterclass of swing bowling, both conventional and reverse, but it is tough to go past his match figures of 11-60 against Pakistan in Johannesburg three years later, which included a first-innings return of 6-8 as the visitors were rolled for 49.
Honourable mention: Kagiso Rabada (South Africa). Steyn rates his young countryman as a better bowler than he was and perhaps that's all we need to say, but we'll add this as well; Rabada was ranked the world's No.1 Test bowler barely two years after his debut, while in July 2018 the right-arm quick became the youngest man to reach 150 Test wickets. Still only 24, the 2020s could truly be his decade.
9) Stuart Broad (England)
M: 110 | Wkts: 398 | 5wi: 14 | 10wm: 2 | Ave: 27.75 | SR: 56.9 | BBI: 8-15 | BBM: 11-121
Broad was second only to Anderson in terms of wickets taken through the 2010s and the versatile, relentless Englishman seemed to improve as a performer almost as each year wore on. Capable of steepling bounce and excellent pace, the right-armer is a master of subtle swing and seam movement and has been England's workhorse in unfavourable conditions. Perhaps best for England fans, he has also exhibited a knack for taking wickets in batches, resulting in some of the most scintillating spells of the decade.
Best performance: 9.3 overs, 5 maidens, 8 wickets, 15 runs. Say no more.
Honourable mention: Mitchell Johnson (Australia). Johnson's golden stretch of 59 wickets in eight Tests during the 2013-14 summer earns him a nod here. At no other stage through the decade did express pace look so intimidating, so exhilarating, and so effective.
10) Nathan Lyon (Australia)
M: 94 | Wkts: 376 | 5wi: 16 | 10wm: 2 | Ave: 32.14 | SR: 64 | BBI: 8-50 | BBM: 13-154
It took five years for Australia to find a regular replacement for Shane Warne but incredibly, off-spinner Nathan Lyon ends the decade with only Warne and Glenn McGrath ahead of him on the list of Australia's greatest wicket-takers. There have been more devastating spinners this decade, more who have thrived on surfaces that suit, but none have matched the consistency of Lyon, nor the versatility; he is the only spin bowler this decade to have taken five-wicket hauls in Australia, England, India and South Africa, while he has also collected them in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and West Indies. Those statistics reflect his evolution as an intelligent bowler who has learned to develop an effective skillset in most, if not all, Test conditions.
Best performance: In Adelaide in 2014, Lyon produced a match-winning 12-wicket haul against India, but queries remained about his ability to make an impact in the subcontinent. On day one of the second Test in Bengaluru in 2017, he put those doubts to bed, running through the hosts with an astonishing haul of 8-50. India recovered to win the match, but Lyon's all-round quality has not been questioned since. Later that same year, he took 22 wickets in two Tests in Bangladesh, the lessons learned in India paying dividends across the border.
Honourable mention: Ravichandran Ashwin (India). While Lyon took more wickets away than at home, Ashwin has been simply devastating on his home patch, claiming 254 wickets at 22.80 with 21 five-wicket hauls. His disappointing returns in Australia, England and South Africa however – where he has never managed a five-wicket haul – keep him out of this side.
11) Jimmy Anderson (England)
M: 105 | Wkts: 427 | 5wi: 20 | 10wm: 3 | Ave: 24.19 | SR: 54.7 | BBI: 7-42 | BBM: 11-71
The most prolific bowler of the decade and one of the all-time great exponents of swing bowling, Anderson evolved from a home-track bully last decade to genuine legend in the 2010s. His success remained built around his devastating impact with the swinging ball but his bowling smarts meant he remained a threat even when conditions didn't suit (he took 163 wickets at 29 away from home this decade). There were five-wicket hauls in Bridgetown (two), Adelaide, Cape Town and Galle, but like David Warner, there is no denying the fact his performances at home (286 wickets at 21.14) elevate him to the next level. Perhaps his most underrated feature is his durability; at 37, and having bowled more balls than any quick this decade, he is gearing up for a return to Test cricket against South Africa in the coming days.
Best performance: Trent Bridge, 2013. In one of the most exhilarating Ashes Tests of the decade, it was Anderson who proved to be the difference. The right-armer took five first-innings wickets but saved his finest efforts for the final day, when he took the final four wickets to hand England a 14-run win. He finished with 10-158 from a marathon 55.5 overs.
Honourable mention: Vernon Philander (South Africa). The South African boasts the best average (22.16) of the decade, and despite limited pace, there has been no-one more dangerous on tracks offering seam assistance.
*Statistics from Jan 1, 2010 through to Dec 23, 2019