Best XI: Cricket.com.au's Test team of the year
From run machines to match-winners with the ball, there was no shortage of players to pick from in this combined side from 2021. Here's where we landed...
31 December 2021, 02:21 PM AEST
1. Rohit Sharma (India)
M: 11 | Inns: 21 | Runs: 906 | Ave: 47.68 | 100s: 2 | 50s: 4 | HS: 161
Having dominated white-ball cricket and his home conditions for years, Rohit Sharma conquered his final frontier this year by showing he can score big Test runs outside of Asia. And a strong 2021 that saw him finish behind only Joe Root for most runs could have been even better if the classy right-hander had translated multiple strong starts into big hundreds. He reached 20 or more in 14 of his 19 completed innings but posted two centuries – 161 in a total of 329 to set up a win in Chennai and a patient 127 at The Oval, his maiden Test hundred away from home.
2. Dimuth Karunaratne (Sri Lanka) (c)
M: 7 | Inns: 13 | Runs: 902 | Ave: 69.38 | 100s: 4 | 50s: 3 | HS: 244
No opening batter has scored more Test runs in the past seven years than Karunaratne and the left-hander enjoyed another prolific year at the top of the order having taken over the captaincy. Having started 2021 with a rear-guard 103 out of 211 against South Africa in Johannesburg, Sri Lanka's skipper produced a match-saving four-hour knock in Antigua before a prolific campaign at home, highlighted by a score of 244 against Bangladesh, as he led his side to series wins over the Tigers and the Windies.
3. Marnus Labuschagne (Australia)
M: 5 | Inns: 9 | Runs: 526 | Ave: 65.75 | 100s: 2 | 50s: 4 | HS: 108
It's a measure of just how good Marnus Labuschagne was this year that he wins a spot in this side despite Australia playing just five Tests in 2021. The right-hander passed 50 in six of his nine innings, highlighted by hundreds against India in Brisbane and England in Adelaide, as he surged to top spot in the ICC's Test batting rankings. While Labuschagne's run of scores immediately after he returned to the Test side two-and-a-half years ago could have been passed off as simply a purple patch, an average of 70 from 16 Tests since his recall cannot. He's undisputedly one of the best batters in the world and appears to be only getting better.
4. Joe Root (England)
M: 15 | Inns: 29 | Runs: 1708 | Ave: 61.00 | 100s: 6 | 50s: 4 | HS: 228 | Wkts: 14 | Ave: 30.50 | BBI: 5-8
For a moment, let's forget about England's annus horribilis and reflect only on one of the great years ever produced by a batter in Test cricket. Joe Root's 2021 began with an extraordinary streak of 228, 186 and 218 in consecutive Tests on the subcontinent before he enjoyed another run of centuries in back-to-back-to-back games against India in the middle of the year. A hundred in Australia remains frustratingly out of reach, but Root is the leading run-scorer after three Ashes Tests, and he finished the year with the third-best tally of any batter in Test history. And he did all this with little or no support from his batting teammates.
5. Fawad Alam (Pakistan)
M: 9 | Inns: 13 | Runs: 571 | Ave: 57.10 | 100s: 3 | 50s: 2 | HS: 140
One of the great comeback stories continued in 2021 as Fawad Alam established himself as a consistent source of runs more than a decade after making a century on his Test debut. After celebrating the end of his 11-year Test exile with a hundred in New Zealand in late 2020, the unorthodox left-hander showed he's a man for all conditions by adding hundreds in Karachi, Harare and Kingston to finish the year as one of only three men to score three or more centuries.
6. Rishabh Pant (India) (wk)
M: 12 | Inns: 21 | Runs: 748 | Ave: 39.36 | 100s: 1 | 50s: 5 | HS: 101 | Ct: 30 | St: 6
One century and an average below 40 completely undersells Rishabh Pant's impact this year, especially in the first three months of 2021. The dynamic left-hander's numbers would look considerably better if he'd been able to turn scores of 97 (in Sydney), 89no (in Brisbane) and 91 (in Chennai) into hundreds but, as ever with a player as destructive as Pant, the numbers only tell half the story anyway. The way he dismantled Australia and England at the start of the year rightfully earned him comparisons with the great Adam Gilchrist and while his tour of England was one he'd rather forget, 2021 may one day be viewed as the year a modern great truly arrived on the world stage.
7. Ravichandran Ashwin (India)
M: 9 | Wkts: 54 | Ave: 16.64 | SR: 43.0 | BBI: 6-61 | BBM: 9-207 | 5W: 3 | 10W: 0 | Runs: 355 | Ave: 25.35 | 100s: 1 | HS: 106
It's a measure of just how prolific Ravichandran Ashwin has become that another sensational year, when he took more Test wickets than anyone else, would be tinged with some disappointment. Dominant as ever at home (where he took 46 of his 54 wickets), the off-spinner missed India's series-sealing win in Brisbane due to injury and was then surprisingly overlooked for their series in England as selectors preferred the extra batting punch provided by Ravindra Jadeja. But another year of 50-plus wickets is certainly worth celebrating, as is a fifth Test hundred and the crucial cameo he made with the bat in India's famous draw at the SCG.
8. Kyle Jamieson (New Zealand)
M: 5 | Wkts: 27 | Ave: 17.51 | SR: 41.8 | BBI: 6-48 | BBM: 11-117 | 5W: 3 | 10W: 1
Just when you thought New Zealand's pace-bowling stocks couldn't look any better, along comes Kyle Jamieson. Having burst onto the scene in 2020, the towering right-armer impressed again this year despite playing just five Tests, culminating in a match-winning seven-wicket haul in the World Test Championship final against India. He then took six wickets against India in Kanpur, showing he can thrive in the subcontinent as well, and he looks set to be a constant source of wickets for the Kiwis for many years to come.
9. Axar Patel (India)
M: 5 | Wkts: 36 | Ave: 11.86 | SR: 33.6 | BBI: 6-38 | BBM: 11-70 | 5W: 5 | 10W: 1
Bowling in favourable conditions is one thing but exploiting them to maximum effect – in your first year of Test cricket, no less – is another thing altogether. The fact Axar Patel wasn't selected for India's series opener against England in February was made all the more baffling by the carnage that followed as the left-armer bagged 27 wickets in just three Tests in one of the more memorable debut series in history. A combination of pinpoint accuracy and clever variations (the bulk of his wickets against England came from balls that didn't spin) made him a constant threat and he's another destructive spin option for India to call on for future campaigns.
10. Hasan Ali (Pakistan)
M: 8 | Wkts: 41 | Ave: 16.07 | SR: 31.0 | BBI: 5-27 | BBM: 10-94 | 5W: 5 | 10W: 1
The third seamer's spot was the most hotly contested in this side, but Pakistan's Hasan Ali gets in ahead of India's Jasprit Bumrah and England pair Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson after a triumphant return to the Test arena in 2021. While 14 of his 41 wickets came against a struggling Zimbabwe side, the right-armer's numbers are hard to argue with and his 10-wicket haul in a famous win over South Africa in Rawalpindi – his first Test campaign in two years – will live long in the memory. His strike rate of 31.0, meaning he took a wicket roughly every five overs, is the best of any Test bowler in 2021.
11. Shaheen Shah Afridi (Pakistan)
M: 9 | Wkts: 47 | Ave: 17.06 | SR: 37.3 | BBI: 6-51 | BBM: 10-94 | 5W: 3 | 10W: 1
One of the most exciting talents in world cricket, Shaheen Shah Afridi delivered on his enormous potential in 2021 to finish the year as the second-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket. With blistering pace, beautiful shape and an action to die for, the left-armer led the Pakistan attack in five Test campaigns (four of them away from home), the high point being his 18 wickets in two Tests against the West Indies in Jamaica. Still just 21, Afridi went wicketless only twice in 17 innings this year, adding impressive consistency to his undoubted potency.