The World Test XI of 2019

Roald Grobler

India finished the year as No. 1 on the ICC Test Championship points table
India finished the year as No. 1 on the ICC Test Championship points table

Test cricket desperately needed an entertaining year to keep the interest in the format going. 2019 certainly delivered on that front and even exceeded the most optimistic fan’s expectations.

From Kusal Perera’s epic 153 in February to Ben Stokes’ swashbuckling 135 to save The Ashes, Test cricket had followers on the edge of their seats throughout the calendar year.

From an individual point of view, numerous players stepped up to the plate and delivered outstanding performances for their respective teams.

On that note, with the year done and dusted, here is the best World Test XI of 2019.

Openers

Mayank Agarwal (Matches - 8, Runs - 754, Average - 68.55, Centuries - 3)

Mayank Agarwal
Mayank Agarwal

Mayank Agarwal, who made his Test debut on Boxing Day 2018, was one of India’s greatest finds last year. Agarwal enjoyed a marvellous first full year in Test cricket, smashing 754 runs at an average of 68.55.

The 28-year-old made a solid start to 2019 with two half-centuries against Australia. But greater things were still to come from the talented Karnataka batsman.

After a break from Test cricket, India started their home season in October. Agarwal flourished in home conditions and notched up a few big scores against South Africa (his highest scores were 215 and 108). He played some sumptuous on-drives in the series and, from a mental point of view, showed patience and the application to play long innings.

Agarwal ended the year on a high note when he smashed 243 against Bangladesh in November.

Tom Latham (Matches - 8, Runs - 601, Average - 50.08, Centuries - 3)

Tom Latham
Tom Latham

The best month of Tom Latham’s career thus far was probably December 2018. First, the classy opener amassed 264 not out while carrying his bat against Sri Lanka and then hit 176 against the same opposition.

After these tall scores, the question was: could he carry his red-hot form into 2019? The answer was an emphatic yes.

Overall, Latham scored 601 runs at an average of 50.08 in 2019. Despite scoring lots of runs, his batting approach was simple. First, he aimed to blunt the new ball by leaving the good deliveries and then, once the ball was older and started to swing less, be more positive, using a combination of classy cover-drives and flicks to advance his score.

Latham’s highest score of 2019 was the 161 he made against Bangladesh in February.

Middle-order

Marnus Labuschagne (Matches - 11, Runs - 1104, Average - 64.94, Centuries - 3)

Marnus Labuschagne drives the ball
Marnus Labuschagne drives the ball

Australian Marnus Labuschagne showed incredible form in the second half of 2019 to surpass his batting peers and end the year as the top run-scorer (with 1104 runs).

Remarkably, Labuschagne was an uncertain starter for Australia in the first half of 2019. But he got the perfect chance to prove his worth when he came on as cricket’s first concussion sub in the second match of The Ashes (for Steve Smith). He scored 59 runs in the second innings and never looked back.

Overall, Labuschagne scored 353 runs at an average of 50 in the Ashes series.

Labuschagne then went from making valuable contributions to dominating bowling attacks. The star batsman smashed three consecutive Test centuries in November (against Pakistan and New Zealand).

Steve Smith (Matches - 8, Runs - 965, Average - 74.23, Centuries - 3)

Steve Smith
Steve Smith

When Steve Smith returned to Test cricket in August 2019, there were fans who doubted that he could become a world-class batsman once more (he was consistently ranked no.1 in the world in 2016 and 2017). Smith amongst other things, had to overcome the added media attention and booing from the members of the crowd who thought that he should have earned a life ban (for his part in the ball-tampering scandal).

But the Australian showed his strong resolve when he hit 774 runs in the Ashes.

He was on song from the start of the series. Smith racked up 144 at Birmingham in an innings that featured 16 fours and two sixes. Although he missed the third Test due to concussion, it did not stop him from carrying on from where he left off at Birmingham.

Smith ended 2019 on a good note when he accumulated 85 against New Zealand. It goes without saying that the batsman restored his reputation this year.

Ajinkya Rahane (Matches - 8, Runs - 642, Average – 71.33, Centuries – 2)

Ajinkya Rahane
Ajinkya Rahane

Ajinkya Rahane was the most consistent batsman at No. 5 in 2019. Rahane, an elegant player through the leg-side and straight down the ground, enjoyed the highest percentage of 50-plus scores among the players competing for his position (63 percent as opposed to Ross Taylor’s 41 and Travis Head’s 35).

After a poor 2018 in Test cricket, Rahane was under pressure to perform. Despite the added attention, he emerged from the test with flying colours.

Rahane scored two centuries in 2019. The first was a well-crafted 102 against West Indies in August and the second score was 115 against South Africa in October. Apart from that, the middle-order batsman also scored a number of valuable half-centuries in 2019 that propelled India to imposing totals.

All rounders and wicket-keeper

Ben Stokes (Matches - 11, Runs - 821, Average - 45.61, Wickets - 22)

Ben Stokes with ball in hand
Ben Stokes with ball in hand

Ben Stokes, with his powerful ball-striking, wicket-taking ability and athletic fielding, showed why he is one of the best all-rounders in 2019.

One of Stokes’ most admirable traits is his ability to turn a match on its head in the blink of an eye.

For instance, in the third Ashes Test he took three wickets at crucial stages to restrict Australia to an achievable target. And who can forget his one-handed stunner to dismiss Andile Phelukwayo at the World Cup?

But, undoubtedly, the best example was his epic 135 to win the Ashes Test at Headingly.

In the match, England had slumped to 286-9 (needing another 73 runs to win) and it seemed to be a hopeless situation. In a last-bid effort to manufacture a special victory, Stokes and Jack Leach (1 off 17) joined each other at the crease.

Stokes, being the better batsman of the two, purposely faced the most deliveries. He decided to be positive and, as a result, hit eight sixes in his innings. Capitalising on some luck, Stokes and Leach reached the unlikely score with their wicket intact.

When Stokes realised what he had just pulled off, he let out a huge roar of triumph.

BJ Watling (wk) (Matches - 8, Runs - 559, Average - 55.90, Centuries - 2)

B. J. Watling goes on the sweep
B. J. Watling goes on the sweep

BJ Watling, the wicket-keeper batsman in this XI, enjoyed a productive year in Test cricket. Watling, whose first names are Bradley-John, scored 537 runs at an average of 59. 67 in 2019 and also took several catches behind the stumps.

The highlight of the year was his double century in November. In the Test, he forged a 261-run partnership with Mitchell Santner, which was instrumental in New Zealand posting an imposing 615-9 declared and eventually winning the match.

Watling will be eager to carry his red-hot form into 2020.

Bowlers

Pat Cummins (Matches - 12, Wickets - 59, Average - 19.34, Five-wicket hauls - 2)

Pat Cummins
Pat Cummins

Shortly after he enjoyed a sensational Test debut against South Africa in November 2011, Pat Cummins suffered the first of many injuries. These injuries kept the young tearaway pacer out of Test cricket for more than five years. During his time away from the game, Cummins worked hard on becoming more robust and stronger.

Since he made his comeback in March 2017, Cummins has been injury-free and is reaping the rewards of it. The Australian captured 29 wickets in 2017 and 44 in 2018.

But 2019 was even better. Cummins troubled a lot of batsmen with his extra bounce, express pace and subtle movement off the pitch. Some of the highlights in the first half of the year were a ten-wicket haul against Sri Lanka and gaining the No.1 ranking in March.

In the second half of the year Cummins enjoyed a splendid Ashes series (29 wickets at an average of 19.62).

Mitchell Starc (Matches - 8, Runs - 42, Average – 20.71, Five-wicket hauls – 4)

Mitchell Starc
Mitchell Starc

Mitchell Starc possesses all the skills a fast bowler needs to pick up wickets aplenty in Test cricket. They are listed, in no particular order: a smart cricketing brain, express pace, a good bouncer and good control (Starc’s control is now much better because he recently refined his bowling action).

When Starc is able to use these skills in tandem, he is very destructive.

This is precisely what happened in 2019 - the fast bowler captured 42 wickets at 20.71. He established his place in Australia’s four-prong pace attack (they were rotated in 2019 so that everyone got chances) and destroyed the Sri Lankan, Pakistan and New Zealand batting line-ups. Impressively, Starc registered four five-wicket hauls in 2019 (the joint-most with Neil Wagner).

Neil Wagner (Matches - 6, Wickets - 42, Average - 17.98, Five-wicket hauls - 4)

Neil Wagner celebrates yet another wicket
Neil Wagner celebrates yet another wicket

Neil Wagner does not use the same skills as his fast bowling peers to get wickets. He does not possess the express pace of Archer, does not swing the ball like Southee or extract prodigious movement off the pitch like Philander.

But, by using his own effective method, Wagner captures wickets at a lightning speed (he’s taken 133 wickets in the last four years).

If one watches a highlights reel of Wagner’s bowling, it is obvious that the short ball is his wicket-taking delivery. The Kiwi bowls nearly half of his deliveries short of a length. If those were waist-high deliveries they would be easy pickings for the opposition batsmen, but Wagner ensures that they are directed at the rib-cage. He bowls those deliveries with remarkable accuracy and waits until the batsman makes a mistake.

Wagner took 42 wickets at 17.98 in 2019.

Nathan Lyon (Matches - 12, Wickets - 45, Average - 33.26, Five-wicket hauls - 2)

Australia v New Zealand - 2nd Test: Day 4
Australia v New Zealand - 2nd Test: Day 4

Nathan Lyon was one of Australia’s unsung heroes of 2019. Because Australia’s pace attack dominated the headlines (Cummins, Starc and Josh Hazlewood with 33 wickets all performed excellently), Lyon operated mostly in the background.

But Australia’s ace spinner enjoyed a good year nonetheless. He took 45 Test wickets in 2019, the second-most of any bowler. His best performance came during the first Ashes Test at Birmingham, where he returned match-figures of 9-161.