From conquering the Gabbatoir to breaching the Centurion fortress, circa 2021 had been India’s annus mirabilis in Test cricket. The only comparison could be 1971, when India had won Test series in the West Indies and England for the first time. Beyond India, New Zealand won the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC). Australia got a new captain in Pat Cummins and England skipper Joe Root was resplendent in his consistency. Here’s the 2021 men’s Test XI…
Rohit Sharma (India): He has been a revelation ever since he decided to open the innings in Test cricket three seasons ago. After making important contributions in Australia, he raised his game to a higher level in England. Even in the home series against England, his batting was a major difference between the two sides. A promotion to Test vice-captaincy has been thoroughly deserved. He will also be the vice-captain of this team. A tally of 906 runs at 47.68 in 11 Tests, including two hundreds, in 2021 makes Rohit the first name on the team sheet.
Dimuth Karunaratne (Sri Lanka): Captaincy has augured well for Karunaratne, who enjoyed his best year in Test cricket. Centuries against South Africa and the West Indies spoke volumes for his quality as a batsman. A tally of 902 runs at 69.38 in seven Tests, including four hundreds, easily makes him Rohit’s opening partner.
Kane Williamson (New Zealand): He led the Kiwis to the WTC crown on the heels of a series win in England. As always, Williamson led his team with class and dignity. Overcoming a dodgy elbow, the New Zealand skipper scored 395 runs at 65.83 in four Tests, including a hundred. Williamson is an automatic choice to lead the combined XI.
Joe Root (England): The one-man army in the England batting line-up, Root batted like a prince in different conditions. He scored double hundreds in Sri Lanka and India, played a lone ranger in the home series against India and Root is now offering the sole batting resistance for his team in the Ashes Down Under. A tally of 1,708 runs at 61 in 15 Tests, including six hundreds, had been Bradmanesque. Root also claimed 14 wickets, including a fifer against India, in 2021.
Marnus Labuschagne (Australia): He will bat out of position at No. 5 instead of his customary one-drop. But the best batsman in the ICC Test rankings deserves a place in the Test team of the year. With 526 runs at 65.75 in five Tests, and two centuries, the 27-year-old has become the bedrock of Australia’s batting. A batsman of his calibre should be able to bat in any position.
Rishabh Pant (India): His reverse-lap against James Anderson at Motera was Test cricket’s joie de vivre in 2021. His chirping from behind the stumps was uplifting; remember, “thoda sa aage, Milkha Singh Bhage, pyara Axar jaage”… His match-winning 89 not out against Australia at the Gabba takes pride of place. Despite his batting travails in swinging conditions in England, the wicketkeeper-batsman scored 748 runs at 39.36, including a hundred, in 12 Tests last year. Pant also effected 39 dismissals – 33 catches and six stumpings.
Kyle Jamieson (New Zealand): The tall Kiwi bowling all-rounder took wickets irrespective of conditions. Contributed with the bat in pressure situations as well. In five Tests last year, the 27-year-old took 27 wickets at 17.51, including three fifers. He extracted life out of a dead Green Park pitch. In the WTC final at Southampton, his 16-ball 21 in tough batting conditions proved to be vital.
Pat Cummins (Australia): He has taken to Australia’s Test captaincy like a duck to water. The over he bowled to England’s Zak Crawley in the second innings at the MCG was torturous, the only throwback probably being a Glenn McGrath over to Devang Gandhi at the Adelaide Oval in 1999-2000. In the ongoing Ashes, the fast bowler has already bagged 10 scalps in two Tests. Last year, in four Tests, Cummins took 21 wickets at 18.76, including a fifer.
Ravichandran Ashwin (India): The off-spinner took 54 wickets at 16.64 in nine Tests despite not getting a game in England. Ashwin also scored 355 runs at 25.35, including a hundred. He improves a team with his world-class ability.
Jasprit Bumrah (India): The break-back to Ollie Pope at the Oval in the summer. Then, another worldie to Rassie van der Dussen at Centurion in the winter… Rarely has Indian cricket seen a match-winner like Bumrah. As former India fast bowler Javagal Srinath told The Indian Express: “Of all the Indian pacers I have seen and played with, I would put him on top of the pack. Definitely, ahead of me. Top class bowler in world cricket, he has done enough to be in any Hall of Fame. Inswingers, straighteners, leg cutters, bouncers, yorkers, slower cutters — you name it, he has it.” Bumrah finished 2021 with 30 wickets at 26.53 from nine Tests, including a fifer.
James Anderson (England): In India, he made his reverse swing talk. In England, he brought out the wobble ball. Very recently at the MCG, Anderson gave another bowling masterclass. In 12 Tests last year, he took 39 wickets at 21.74, including two fifers. The 39-year-old is aging like a fine wine.
2021 Test XI: Rohit Sharma, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kane Williamson (captain), Joe Root, Marnus Labuschagne, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), Kyle Jamieson, Ravichandran Ashwin, Pat Cummins, Jasprit Bumrah, James Anderson