The best Test XI of 2021

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Fri, 31/12/2021
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Brisbane (not the Ashes Test), Chattogram, Kingston, Ajaz Patel and Scott Boland – all of it happened in 2021. 

India championed difficult conditions in Australia, England and South Africa (wins at the Gabba, Lord’s, The Oval and Centurion) to end the year as the top-ranked Test team. Meanwhile, 2021 also witnessed the first ever World Test Championship (WTC) final, with New Zealand winning the much-coveted crown.

The oft-used cliché, Test cricket is ultimate, stands accurate. The year witnessed some exhilarating red-ball contests courtesy of unbelievable individual displays. Therefore, picking the year’s ODI XI and T20I XI was comparatively easier.

Here’s CricketNews Test XI for 2021:

Rohit Sharma (India)
M 11 | R 906 | Ave 47.7 | HS 161 | SR 48.2 | 100s 2 | 50s 4

The talent was never a question. The question was when. Rohit had made a mark as an opener at home during the South Africa home series in 2019/20, but what about conquering the red ball overseas? Rohit looked at ease against an exceptional Australian pace battery Down Under and dominated the minefields in India before being the hinge to India’s brilliant show in seaming conditions in England.

Rohit’s 161 against England at Chennai is arguably the finest innings of his career. The 83 on Day 1 at Lord’s set the tone for India’s win, and the 127 at the Oval – his first overseas hundred – set up another win.

He finished the year with second-most runs after Joe Root. In an era difficult for openers, he championed every condition and what’s more commendable is the fact that he is a makeshift in the role. His brilliant show earned him the national vice-captaincy.

Dimuth Karunaratne (Sri Lanka) – Captain 
M 7 | R 902 | Ave 69.4 | HS 47.7 | SR 55.7 | 100s 4 | 50s 3

Karunaratne’s consistency as opener has been the highlight of the Sri Lankan outfit for many years. He remained prolific in 2021. He got a century in Johannesburg and batted over four hours to save a Test match in Antigua.

The gritty overseas show apart, the left-hander remained prolific at home, averaging 101 from four Test matches, slamming three hundreds. For helping rebuild a Sri Lankan side and leading them to two home series wins and an overseas draw, Karunaratne also leads the side.

K.L. Rahul (461 runs at 46.1) missed out on a spot despite brave shows in England and South Africa, where he etched a century each.

Marnus Labuschange (Australia) 
M 5 | R 526 | Ave 65.8 | HS 108 | SR 49.1 | 100s 2 | 50s 4

He may have played all his Test matches at home in the year, but Labuschagne continued to scale in reputation as one in the world. He crossed fifty six times in nine innings, including two centuries (against India at Brisbane and against England in the pink-ball Test at Adelaide). He scaled past Root to end the year as the top-ranked Test batter.

Joe Root (England)

M 15 | R 1,708 | Ave 61 | HS 228 | SR 56.9 | 100s 6 | 50s 4 
W 14 | Ave 30.5 | SR 59.7 | BB 5-8

Root scored more runs in 2021 than the collective total of the next four Englishmen – Rory Burns (530), Jonny Bairstow (391), Ollie Pope (368) and Dom Sibley (356). Without his contribution, England’s batting average for the year was just above 18. He boosts it by 4.5. Even at 22.6, England’s batting average was the worst among all Test teams in 2021.

But this is about Root’s dominance with the willow. In the first three Tests he played in the subcontinent, he scored 228, 186 and 218. England won all three. He got three more hundreds in the home series against an exceptional Indian attack as his other teammates found it difficult to stay afloat. 

Though a Test hundred in Australia remained elusive, Root is the highest run-getter in the ongoing Ashes. He also picked a five-for with the pink ball at Ahmedabad. He is the easiest pick in this team.

Fawad Alam (Pakistan) 
M 9 | Runs: 571 | Ave: 57.1 | HS 140 | SR 49.7 | 100s: 3 | 50s: 2

After an 11-year wait, Fawad’s inspiring comeback story from 2020 continued as he made a habit of piling runs across geographies. He is surely making up for the lost time. He added three centuries to his tally: 109 against South Africa in Karachi, 140 against Zimbabwe in Harare and 124* against West Indies in Kingston. Only Root and Karunaratne got more hundreds this year.

Rishabh Pant (India) – Wicketkeeper 
M 12 | R 748 | Ave 39.4 | HS 101 | SR 67.4 | 100s 1 | 50s 5 | Dismissals 36

Liton Das, Mohammad Rizwan and Niroshan Dickwella managed to average well over 40, but Pant makes the cut purely due to his impact. The numbers do not reflect his contribution to Indian cricket in 2021.

The 97 at Sydney almost changed the momentum of the Test and the 89 not out at Brisbane found a place in cricketing folklore. And then came the counterattacking 91 in Chennai and match-defining 101 in Ahmedabad.

Later in 2021, Pant batted in some testing conditions. Some of his 30s had a significant impact on the proceedings – most recently the run-a-ball 34 in the second innings at Centurion this week.

The year also saw Pant improve his wicketkeeping skills to emerge as a safer bet behind the stumps.

R. Ashwin (India) 
M 9 | W 54 | Ave 16.6 | SR 43 | BB 6-61 | 5w 3 
R 355 | Ave 25.4 | HS 106 | SR 50.9 | 100s: 1 

Ashwin missed out on featuring in three of India’s most remarkable overseas wins (Brisbane, Lord’s and The Oval), and yet finished as the highest wicket-taker of the year to enter this dream team as the primary all-rounder. 

Ashwin remained lethal at home, bagging the Player of the Series award in both series he played. Not picked for the four Test matches in England is something that he will remember with a lot of disappointment.

With bat, he saved India at Sydney. A month later, he scored a hundred at his hometown Chennai to complete an outstanding all-round show.

Ashwin ends the year as the only bowler with over 50 Test wickets.

Axar Patel (India) 
M 5 | W 36 | Ave 11.9 | SR 33.6 | BB 6-38 | 5w 5 
R 179 | Ave 29.8 | HS 52 | SR 49.6 | 50s: 1 

Imagine a debutant’s absence being felt in a Test featuring the world’s best team? That was what happened when Axar was declared unfit for the first Chennai Test against England. India missed him and lost a home Test after five years. 

Axar would debut in the second Test match. He went on to pick 27 wickets from his first three games to guide India to a 3-1 series victory.

Axar played all his five Tests at home. But to create that kind of impact, even in familiar conditions, that too in the first five Tests of one's career, was special. Axar was all about accuracy and intelligence. He now has five five-wicket hauls from as many Tests. Not to forget, he made a few vital batting contributions.

Kyle Jamieson (New Zealand) 
M 5 | W 27 | Ave 17.5 | SR 41.8 | BB 6-48 | 5w 3 
R 105 | Ave 17.5 | HS 30* | SR 51.5 

The New Zealand pace battery already boasted of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry. Then entered the towering figure (literally) of Jamieson, who went on to play a massive role in their WTC triumph.

Jamieson began the year with 11 wickets against Pakistan in Christchurch. He went on to show his prowess with the Dukes in England, claiming a three-for at Lord’s and then crippling the Indian batting in the World Test Championship final at Southampton with a match haul of eight wickets.

We know he can be lethal in helpful conditions. What about the subcontinent? In the Kanpur Test, he picked two three-wicket hauls to keep New Zealand in the game till the final day.

Shaheen Shah Afridi (Pakistan)
M 9 | W 47 | Ave 17.1 | SR 37.3 | BB 6-51 | 5w 3

Pakistan’s factory of fast bowling talent seems unending. The exciting Afridi has the potential to end up as a great. Only 21, he has a smooth action, bowls express pace and has beautiful control over movement.

From Pakistan to Bangladesh to Zimbabwe to West Indies, he championed every surface to emerge as the most successful bowler in 2021.

Afridi’s best show came in the drawn Test series in West Indies, where he picked 18 wickets from two matches.

James Anderson (England) 
M 12 | W 39 | Ave 21.7 | SR 61.5 | BB 6/40 | 5w 2

A tough pick. How do you not pick Hasan Ali, who has been as lethal as Afridi? Then there were Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Ollie Robinson, Pat Cummins, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Kemar Roach and Jason Holder.

We live in a blessed era of fast bowling, and how does one pick just one? You go with the King. He has the ninth-best average among pacers over 20 wickets. His strike rate is not even in the top 10. But Anderson is more than the numbers presented here.

Anderson had a below-par home series against New Zealand at home, but returned strong against India, with 15 wickets at 24.6. He averaged 12 in the four Tests he played in the subcontinent, bowling match-defining spells in wins at Galle and Chennai. In the ongoing Ashes, he averages 14, and has been England’s best hope in the dismal campaign.

Now months short of 40, Anderson still carries the English hopes for the Ashes on his shoulders. His fitness, skillset, versatility and ability to excel against the best (read Virat Kohli and Steven Smith) makes him an inspiration.

Best Test XI of 2021: Rohit Sharma, Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Marnus LabuschagneJoe Root, Fawad AlamRishabh Pant (wk)R. AshwinAxar Patel, Kyle Jamieson, Shaheen Afridi, James Anderson.

12th man: Ravindra Jadeja (India) – Just for that Smith run out at Sydney in the New Year’s Test. Even otherwise, he did decently.