Top 100 of the 21st century: 30-21
The countdown of the world's best Test cricketers since 2000 enters the top 30
19 June 2015, 04:36 PM AEST
30. Harbhajan Singh (Ind)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 94 matches, 395 wickets at 31.99
Utterly bewitching and seemingly ageless, Harbhajan Singh has spent the past decade-and-a-half making insomniacs out of some of the world's best batsmen. One of the century's more combative cricketers, Harbhajan seemed to raise his game for his greatest opponents, particularly the Australians, whom he has perplexed and infuriated in equal measure. Quick through the air and with the ability to bowl the 'other one', Harbhajan's sharp bounce and turn has been imperative to his success. His international career has prospered beyond controversies and lapses in form, and despite never again reaching the heights he did as a 20-year-old in 2001, he is the century's second-most prolific spinner behind only Sri Lanka legend Murali.
Best Performance: Harbhajan's 2001 series against Australia was his apogee. In three Tests, he became the first Indian to take a Test hat-trick, took a staggering 32 wickets, played an integral role in ending the tourists' 16-match world record winning streak and made a bunny out of the great Ricky Ponting.
29. Alastair Cook (Eng)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 114 matches, 9,000 runs at 46.87
Despite his recent dip in form, there's no denying Cook is one of the greatest batsmen England has produced. The tall left-hander owns a host of batting records including the most Test centuries for England (27) and is the youngest player to 9,000 Test runs, edging out Sachin Tendulkar by 94 days. An efficient, thoughtful stroke-maker, Cook punishes any bowler who strays too close to his pads, and became a thorn in Australia's side early in his career with a double-century for county side Essex against the Ashes tourists in 2005. Cook's 2010-11 Ashes campaign is the stuff of legend, scoring three centuries and 766 runs to help England win the Ashes for the first time on Australian soil in 24 years.
Best Performance: Chasing a mammoth 557 to win in 2006, Cook faced 290 balls to score his maiden Ashes century of 116 in Perth against McGrath, Warne and Lee. They lost the match, but a legend was born.
28. Graeme Smith (SA)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 117 matches, 9,265 runs at 48.25
Whoever made the call to elevate a 22-year-old Graeme Smith to the captaincy in just his ninth Test is responsible for arguably the most influential leadership decision in cricket this century. As South Africa's leader, Smith was as uncompromising as he was successful during a remarkable career at the top level. His 109 Tests as captain broke Allan Border's record (93), while his 53 wins passed Ricky Ponting's mark (48), and included a career-defining series success in Australia – South Africa's first in the post-Apartheid era. As a batsman, Smith was a powerful and prolific left-handed opener who flayed consecutive double centuries in England to announce himself on the international stage, and added another 25 hundreds over the next decade.
Best Performance: An enduring image of Smith is of the batsman walking out to the middle of the SCG to face Mitchell Johnson and co with a broken hand, but it was earlier in the series that his aggressive final-day 108 laid the platform for the highest run chase ever achieved in Australia and put South Africa on the path to an historic series win.
27. Mahela Jayawardene (SL)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 134 matches, 10,881 runs at 50.37
The pint-sized pocket rocket from Colombo was a goliath at the crease and a mountain when batting on home soil. Jayawardene's pendulum-like bat-swing found the boundary on 1,273 occasions in all manner of match scenarios, conditions and against all opponents. Six double centuries failed to satisfy his hunger for Test runs, and he was never more ravenous than at his home ground of the Sinhalese Sports Club where he dined out on opposition attacks to produce 10 centuries and a career-best 374 against South Africa in 2006 as part of a world-record partnership of 624 with Kumar Sangakkara. While his record was less impressive away from home in seaming conditions, Jayawardene is the 21st century's other 'Little Master'.
Best Performance: Only two men have scored more in one Test innings than Jayawardene, so his 374 in 2006 is a no-brainer.
26. Daniel Vettori (NZ)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 85 matches, 271 wickets at 34.24; 3,928 runs at 33.86
Undervalued outside his homeland, Daniel Vettori's phenomenal effort and output for his country puts him second only to Sir Richard Hadlee among the greatest cricketers New Zealand has produced. A left-arm orthodox spinner capable of attacking or choking the scoring rate, Vettori entered the 21st century as a 20-year-old with almost 100 Test wickets to his name, and celebrated the new millennium with a dozen wickets in a match against Australia. Over the years he refined his game to one of immaculate control with the ball and increasing class with the bat, to the point that he has six hundreds beside his name and has scored more runs than anyone from No.8.
Best Performance: New Zealand may have lost the match but Vettori's 12 against Australia in March 2000 remains his most dominant performance against high-quality Test opposition – and confirmed the arrival of the Black Caps' finest-ever spinner.
25. Hashim Amla (SA)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 82 matches, 6,757 runs at 52.78
Armed with pistol precision and a lasso backswing, Amla's extensive armoury has seen the graceful right-hander become one of South Africa's batting giants. In 2004, he debuted as the first player of Indian descent to represent the Proteas, quickly making his mark with 149 in his fourth Test against the touring Black Caps. Calm and consistent, Amla saved his best for his ancestors, posting scores of 253no, 114 and 123no in the two-Test away series against India in 2010. That year produced five centuries, but more milestones would follow when the elegant right-hander scored his country's first triple-century – 311no at The Oval in 2012. A devout Muslim, Amla was handed the Test captaincy following Graeme Smith's retirement in 2013, accepting the new role with 139no against Sri Lanka in his first series at the helm and 208 versus the Windies last December.
Best Performance: The triple-ton is a given but his 196 in Perth in 2012 won South Africa the series in a battle for the No.1 Test team ranking.
24. Kevin Pietersen (Eng)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 104 matches, 8,181 runs at 47.28
From the moment he burst onto the scene at Lord's with a pair of Ashes fifties, Kevin Pietersen's Test career was a foot-to-the-floor, no-holds barred explosion of entertainment. Regularly punctuating the headline-grabbing drama and self-destruction were innings of breathtaking quality, as Pietersen launched England's revival as a world force. A one-man batting blitzkrieg, the South Africa-born right-hander took it upon himself to dictate opposition bowling attacks, and regularly did exactly that via a repertoire of shots the equal of anyone. Regardless of the conditions, against spin or pace, Pietersen was an opposing captain's nightmare, and is the only player in Test history to average 40-plus in his first eight years of Test cricket (min six innings).
Best Performance: 'KP' scored 23 hundreds in his career but it's hard to split two for top billing. First came his unforgettable 158 on the final day of the 2005 Ashes, when he took on Brett Lee's thunderbolts and won, sealing his country's first triumph over Australia in 18 years. In 2012, he scored a jaw-dropping 186 against India's three-pronged spin attack on a turning Mumbai deck to pave the way for a rare England series win on the subcontinent.
23. Mohammad Yousuf (Pak)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 75 matches, 6,633 runs at 56.21
Pakistan’s run juggernaut of the 21st century, Yousuf will be remembered for his quiet demeanour, water-tight technique and outrageous 2006. That year the belligerent batsman scored the most runs ever in a calendar year, tallying 1,788 in 11 Tests with nine centuries. The year started off with 173 against India in Lahore and ended with scores of 192, 8, 128, 192, 56, 191, 102 and 124. In amongst the run glut was a double-ton at Lord’s in the series that saw Pakistan forfeit The Oval Test. Outside that magical year, Yousuf dominated the West Indies (1,214 runs in eight Tests) and England (1,499 runs in 14 Tests), while he battled against Murali and Sri Lanka (623 runs at 28.31).
Best Performance: A career-high 223 helped Pakistan crush England by an innings and 100 runs to seal the series 2-0 in 2005.
22. Mitchell Johnson (Aus)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 66 matches, 291 wickets at 27.58
Twice the ICC Cricketer of the Year (2009, 2014), few players have experienced highs and lows to the extremes that Mitchell Johnson has through his eight years on the international stage. Such is the enigma of Johnson, the most successful left-arm quick in his country's rich history and the most feared since Wasim Akram stalked batsmen the world over. A Test debutant in the same year Glenn McGrath played his final Test, Johnson wasn't an immediate spearhead, nor remotely a like-for-like replacement, but armed with searing pace and a slingy action, he could run through sides with a minimum of fuss. As such, his rate of man-of-the-match gongs (nine in 66 Tests) is equal to just about anyone's – a statistic enhanced by his devastating return to the international scene in late 2013 following injury and confidence crises. Fifty-nine wickets in eight Tests followed as he destroyed England and South Africa to re-establish himself as the world's most devastating bowler.
Best Performance: Five matches, five wins, 37 wickets at 13.97. Johnson was simply lethal – at times unplayable – through the 2013-14 Ashes, ripping through England with one of Test cricket's most memorable individual series.
21. Mark Boucher (SA)
Key numbers (from Jan 1, 2000): 123 matches, 454 dismissals (433ct, 21st); 4,671 runs at 29.94
More than just a good wicketkeeper who could bat a bit, Boucher was a gloveman of the highest order and a lower-order hitter capable of tearing attacks apart on his day. His numbers behind the stumps speak for themselves, keeping to some of the finest and ferocious fast bowlers the game has witnessed. Built low to the ground, Boucher overcame a shaky start to pounce on any opportunity that entered his proximity. He became the first player to capture 500 Test dismissals before a freak eye injury ended his career on the eve of the 2012 England tour.
Best Performance: Nine dismissals and a patient 34 helped South Africa take a 1-0 series led over England with a comprehensive 10-wicket win at Headingley.
Counting down the Top 100