Test

Bangladesh almost pulled off an upset in New Zealand months before notching up their maiden win against Australia. England stayed formidable at home before a Calypso stunner derailed their momentum en route Down Under. Australia went on to regain The Ashes but were forced to concede the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. AB de Villiers returned in whites for South Africa. Sri Lanka continued being whipped till they turned the tables on Pakistan. Pakistan remained Pakistan and Zimbabwe remained Zimbabwe. Afghanistan and Ireland earned their Test status as India continued to dominate, reigning as No. 1.

2017 was a lively year for Tests with Border-Gavaskar Trophy, The Ashes and Basil D’Oliveira Trophy as centrepiece events. Even the ones that were not top billed garnered attention. West Indies won a Test against Pakistan and England. Bangladesh did the same against Sri Lanka and Australia. Pakistan won their first series in West Indies. Sri Lanka beat Pakistan in the otherwise unconquerable UAE. New Zealand and South Africa tussled hard.

2017 saw teams eager to enforce wins, which promoted the first four-day Test in decades. It’s a different story that it lasted only five sessions. The year will be remembered as the last one with only 10 Test-playing nations.

Amidst all this, the two legends of Pakistan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, bid farewell, leaving the side limping in the pristine format.

This piece is about acknowledging the best performers of 2017 and chalking out an XI of them. Suvajit Mustafi selects the 2017 Test XI.

Openers

Dean Elgar (South Africa)
ICC Test Batting Ranking:
13

M 12 | R 1,128 | Ave 53.71 | HS 199 | SR 50.9 | 100s 5 | 50s 4

Elgar is not the most elegant. His style won’t fill stands. However, it seems South Africa have finally found the fill to the Graeme Smith void. Efficient and gritty, Elgar scored 5 hundreds in 2017 (that’s 50 per cent of his career tally) as he elevated to the next level. When teams chalk out plans to tame South Africa, Elgar will be on those strategy sheets.

Dean Elgar slammed 5 centuries in 2017 (Image courtesy: Getty)
Dean Elgar slammed 5 centuries in 2017 (Image courtesy: Getty)

Elgar thrived when chips were down. He was South Africa’s saving grace (140 and 89) at Dunedin. His 80 played a role in South Africa’s win at Trent Bridge. South Africa were set 492 at The Oval and they perished for 252 with Elgar scoring 136 of them.

Fate jested with him later when he was dismissed for 199 against Bangladesh at Potchefstroom. Earlier in that innings he was responsible for running out fellow opener and debutant Aiden Markram on 97.

David Warner (Australia)
ICC Test Batting Ranking:
6

M 11 | R 997 | Ave 49.85 | HS 123 | SR 63.7 | 100s 4 | 50s 4

Warner missed the thousand-mark by 3 runs. He continued to dominate at home and struggled overseas. Hasn’t that been a constant in his career? Warner was tamed in India. He managed to go past fifty only once in 8 innings. Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin toyed with him.

But he did work on his shortcomings. Later in the year when Australia toured Bangladesh, he braved the heat and the Bangladeshi spinners to stroke 2 hundreds. Australia needed 265 to win at Dhaka. Warner led the charge with a brisk 112, the rest surrendered meekly as Australia fell short by 20 runs. His Chittagong hundred aided Australia in drawing level and saving embarrassment. He had earlier rated his Dhaka century as his best Test innings.

David Warner rates his Dhaka hundred as best Test century (Image courtesy: Getty)
David Warner rates his Dhaka hundred as best Test century (Image courtesy: Getty)

Steven Smith stole the show in The Ashes but Warner had his moments in The Ashes (87* at The Gabba, 103 and 86 at MCG) feasting on the Englishmen.

Middle-order

Cheteshwar Pujara (India)
ICC Test Batting Ranking:
3

M 11 | R 1,140 | Ave 67.05 | HS 202 | SR 45.9 | 100s 4 | 50s 5

Like Warner, Pujara is a monster at home. Pujara’s purple patch began in the 2016-17 home season and continued throughout the year.

Pujara’s art was a blend of the concentration of Zen, dead bats used as weapon to nullify the hurler’s rage, nimbleness in footwork complementing the willow that would match Syrio Forel’s and the habit to stand amid the ruins.

The run factory began with twin fifties against Bangladesh. The bigger challenge was Australia. India had lost the first Test at Pune. Australia had dominated a chunk of the Bengaluru Test. Pujara’s 92 in the second innings against a tail-up Australian attack helped India set 187. Ashwin took it from there with 6 wickets. India won by 75 runs to level the series.

Cheteshwar Pujara's footwork against spin was fabulous (Image courtesy: AFP)
Cheteshwar Pujara’s footwork against spin was fabulous (Image courtesy: AFP)

His double-hundred at Ranchi after Australia’s first-innings 451 helped India achieve a draw. With a resilient fifty he was among the stars of the Dharamsala Test that India won and in doing so, claimed the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. He would go on to score 3 centuries against Sri Lanka later in the year. He mastered spin like no other.

Steven Smith (Australia)
ICC Test Batting Ranking:
1

M 11 | R 1,305 | Ave 76.76 | HS 239 | SR 50.7 | 100s 6 | 50s 3

Viv Richards bullied fiercely. Brian Lara was all about flair. Sachin Tendulkar was the ultimate batting template. Virender Sehwag brought the smiles and winks to the art of bullying. Virat Kohli is all about runs.

In stark contrast, Steven Smith effect is similar to the Chinese torture: shuffle in general, then shuffle further across off and flick to the ropes, let go of balls others would have nicked, occasional scythes through point, cross-batted slaps and pulls and mind-blowing drives — all executed with a deadpan expression — as Smith marched on to one hundred after another. That has been the order since 2013.

Smith has scored 23 Test hundreds in less than four-and-a-half years. He will pile up runs on grass. He will frustrate spinners on dust-bowls. He will do the same on snow. Make him bat on water, and he will perhaps score even on that. Smith will just score and continue to score. 2017 saw Smith emerge as the undisputed best Test batsman of modern era.

Steven Smith has scored 23 Test hundreds in the last five-and-half years (Image courtesy: Getty)
Steven Smith has scored 23 Test hundreds in the last five-and-half years (Image courtesy: Getty)

At the time of writing this, Smith has achieved 947 points in the ICC retrospective ratings. This is next to only Bradman’s 961. Smith’s career average of 63.55 is next only to Bradman’s 99.94.

He slammed 3 hundreds in India and reserved 3 more for England. By his own admission, 2 of his top 3 hundreds came in 2017. On a dustbowl, in Pune, Smith exhibited a rare quality of batsmanship against Ashwin and Jadeja to help Australia go one up. The next two hundreds came at Ranchi and Dharamsala. Australia couldn’t retain the trophy but Smith finished with 499 runs, Pujara with 405 runs.

Another favourite came at Brisbane. Australia were in a spot of bother in the first innings and Smith decided to grind it out in the middle. His 141* inspired a famous win and the side took on from there. Hallmark of Smith’s captaincy is leading from the front.

Year-ender 2017: ODI XI of the year
Year-ender 2017: ODI XI of the year

He reclaimed the Ashes after winning the Perth Test. He got his career-best 239 in that. At MCG, a defeat loomed over Australia but Smith’s 23rd Test hundred became the roadblock in England’s path of victory.

Virat Kohli (India) — captain
ICC Test Batting Ranking:
2

M 10 | R 1,059 | Ave 75.64 | HS 243 | SR 76.2 | 100s 5 | 50s 1

Kohli would have batted at No. 4 in any side but not in a XI comprising of Smith. Can you imagine Smith and Kohli bat together? The men have had their share of unpleasant moments, but have also set new benchmarks in batting.

Kohli is the captain of the No. 1 ranked Indian side. He has obviously been chosen to lead this side as well.

Kohli started the year with a double-century against Bangladesh. In doing so, he became the only cricketer to have registered a double hundreds in each of four back-to-back series. Till 2016, he had no double hundred in First-Class cricket.

Kohli continued to dominate, a fact well illustrated by his strike rate. He demoralised bowlers with his approach. He mastered the sweep that he refrained from playing early in his career. The outside-off weakness against the away swinging balls is still there, but when those booming drives or punches (in Kohli’s case) came off, they become photo-perfect moments.

Virat Kohli has now scored 6 double-hundreds in the last year-and-half (Image courtesy: AFP)
Virat Kohli has now scored 6 double-hundreds in the last year-and-half (Image courtesy: AFP)

Kohli hit a slump against Australia in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. He wielded his tongue more than bat and failed to collect even 50 runs in the series. Nevertheless India claimed the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

He played his next 6 Tests against Sri Lanka. He got a hundred in Sri Lanka and at home, he hit 3 back-to-back hundreds against them, the last 2 being double hundreds. In less than a-year-and-a-half Kohli has 6 double-hundreds to his name.

His best knock of the year was the unbeaten 104 against Sri Lanka at Kolkata. A possible defeat loomed over India before Kohli turned the tables and brought his side to brink of a win.

Like Smith, Kohli brought up his highest scores in December as well, in Delhi, a match that may well be remembered as the Pollution Test. Sri Lankan team were down with breathing problems but Kohli stood as the rock, unhampered and continued piling more miseries on Sri Lanka.

Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
ICC Test Batting Ranking:
4

M 7 | R 566 | Ave 62.88 | HS 176 | SR 65.9 | 100s 3 | 50s 2

Smith, Kohli and Williamson, three of the finest batsmen in modern cricket, form the middle-order of this side. Of the three Williamson is the most attractive to watch.

Kane Williamson's hundred in the Wellington Test against Bangladesh is one of the finest knocks of 2017 (Image courtesy: Getty)
Kane Williamson’s hundred in the Wellington Test against Bangladesh is one of the finest knocks of 2017 (Image courtesy: Getty)

Williamson continued being brilliant this year but New Zealand did not play a lot. He started 2017 with a 90-ball 104 not out, scripting his side’s win against Bangladesh, who had dominated a chunk of that Test. New Zealand were battling against time for win but the Kiwi captain answered to the call.

He would later go on to score 130 and 176 against a brilliant South African bowling attack. New Zealand fought hard in the series under their resilient skipper, but could not prevent a defeat. Williamson had a quiet series against West Indies managing 98 from 3 innings but led New Zealand to a 2-0 whitewash nevertheless.

Wicketkeeper

Wriddhiman Saha (India) – Wicketkeeper
ICC Test Batting Ranking:
50

M 11 | R 423 | Ave 42.30 | HS 117 | SR 47.3 | 100s 2 | 50s 1 | Dismissals 37

Surprised? You ought to be. Before the alternates plant the argument seeds in your mind, let me clear this. Quinton de Kock scored 619 runs at 36.41, Jonny Bairstow scored 652 at 34.31 and Sarfraz Ahmed got 350 at 35. Thus, let us move from the stars to the more practical options.

Mushfiqur Rahim was the most successful batter amongst all wicketkeepers in 2017. He got 766 runs at 54.71 while Niroshan Dickwella scored 773 at 36.65 and they came at a strike rate of 75.

Why Saha? In a middle-order that consist Pujara, Smith, Kohli and Williamson, do you really need a wicketkeeper-batsman who averages over fifty? The idea was to pick someone who was more than decent with the bat and brilliant behind stumps. Mushfiqur is a reluctant wicketkeeper who has been average behind stumps. Dickwella has been good behind the stumps but Saha has set different standards to this art. He has been marvellous against pace and has successfully kept to the likes of Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav.

Best catch of the year? You decide:

Saha was exceptional in the Colombo Test where he kept for 999 deliveries conceding only 4 byes. The spinners were feasting on the track, often leaving batsmen clueless but not Saha.

Adding to this art, Saha also scored 2 hundreds this year. The first one came against Bangladesh while the second one came against Australia at a critical juncture in the intensely fought Ranchi Test.

Note: Two players have been selected for the following position. They will be rotated as per conditions. Ravindra Jadeja will play as the second spinner whereas Trent Boult will come in as the third pacer in seam-friendly conditions.

Ravindra Jadeja (India)
ICC Test Bowling Ranking: 3 (all-rounder ranking: 2)

M 10 | W 54 | R 1,245 | Ave 23.05 | BBI6-63 | SR 56.5 |Econ R 2.44 | 5w 3
R
328 | Ave 41.00 | HS 70* | SR 67.5 | 50s 4

In August, Jadeja climbed to the No. 1 spot in Bowler’s Rankings. He continued to be exceptional with consistent performances. Ashwin often ran through sides but Jadeja’s strength lied in supporting him with his nagging accuracy and consistently delivered against all sides he played against.

Jadeja was one of the stars of the Bengaluru win against Australia. He got 6 wickets in the first innings and supported Ashwin in the second by giving away just 3 runs off his 8 overs and getting a wicket. He got 9 out of the 25 wickets that fell at Ranchi (and ran a batsman out). He was India’s star in the second innings at Dharamsala Test. He also got vital fifties at Ranchi and Dharamsala.

Ravindra Jadeja had his best batting year. He continued to celebrate his fifties with bat-fencing acts (Image courtesy: AFP)
Ravindra Jadeja had his best batting year. He continued to celebrate his fifties with bat-fencing acts (Image courtesy: AFP)

Jadeja, in 2017, had his best batting year. A complete package, isn’t it?

Or

Trent Boult (New Zealand)
ICC Test Bowling Ranking: 13

M 5 | W 27 | R 669 | Ave 24.77 | BBI 4-64 | SR 47.1 | Econ R 3.15
R
68 | Ave 68.00 | HS 37* | SR 51.9

New Zealand continued to benefit from Trent Boult's brilliance (Image courtesy: Getty Images)
New Zealand continued to benefit from Trent Boult’s brilliance (Image courtesy: Getty Images)

Boult will get the nod ahead of Jadeja in seaming conditions. He had a tough competitor in Morne Morkel for this spot. Boult adds variety with left-arm and possesses the skill to move the ball. Like Jadeja, Boult hasn’t really run through sides in Tests this year but bowled with consistency. He got important 4-wicket hauls against Bangladesh, South Africa and West Indies. The year also saw Boult work on his batting. Like Jadeja, Boult too is amongst the best fielders in the world and that’s a rarity among fast bowlers.

Kagiso Rabada (South Africa)
ICC Test Bowling Ranking: 2

M 11 | W 57 | R 1,156 | Ave 20.28 | BBI 6-55| SR 37.8| Econ R 3.15 | 5w 3 | 10w 2

2017 was Rabada’s best year as a bowler. He started by dismantling Sri Lanka with a 10-wicket haul at Cape Town. The New Zealand tour wasn’t really productive but managed a 4-for at Hamilton. He got 16 wickets from 3 Tests in England but couldn’t stop his side’s defeat. He got his second 10-wicket haul of the year against Bangladesh at Potchefstroom. He also became the fourth fastest in the history to 100 Test wickets.

James Anderson (England)
ICC Test Bowling Ranking: 8

M 11 | W 55 | R 967 | Ave 17.58 | BBI 7-42 | SR 46.4 | Econ R 2.26 | 5w 4

Anderson, now 35, had one of his finest years in Tests. Not only did he march to the 500-wicket club, he also went past Courtney Walsh’s tally of 519 Test wickets and occupies the fifth time on the all-time wickets tally. He ticked off South Africa and West Indies with consistent shows and impressive spells. He lived to his reputation of home bully. However, Anderson proved his mettle Down Under too. 

England gave up The Ashes courtesy some dismal shows but Anderson remained the hope. He bowled tight lines, got a 5-for in the day-night Test at Adelaide and followed it with a 4-for at the flattest of Perth tracks.

Anderson’s brilliance was deftly countered by the ubiquitous Smith. The ageing Anderson has acquired properties of the finest wine. Glenn McGrath’s 563 isn’t too far. By the end of 2018, Anderson may comfortably be the game’s most successful pacer.

Spinner

Nathan Lyon (Australia)
ICC Test Bowling Ranking: 8

M 11 | W 63 | R 1,484 | Ave 23.55 | BBI 8-50 | SR 52.2 | Econ R 2.70 | 5w 5 | 10w 1         

You ought to be special if you are picked as the specialist spinner ahead of the likes of Ashwin, Jadeja, Yasir Shah, Rangana Herath and the in-form Keshav Maharaj. Lyon is special. He keeps crowd on the toes. He can impart those revolutions on the ball to trouble the best, pluck catches out of thin air, and deliver those freak run outs, but this is about Lyon the bowler.

2017 marked the rise of Lyon. Already tagged as Australia’s best spinner since Shane Warne, Lyon has been useful in the pace-dominated bowling line-up. Lyon’s average 2016 saw murmurs floating about his future. He wasn’t taking wickets as desired and that hurt Australia in Sri Lanka. The India tour was beginning to mark the transition.

Lyon outshone Ashwin in India. Australia competed hard but had to surrender the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. He, however, continued to be exceptional in the subcontinent, this time scalping 22 wickets at 14.31 from 2 Tests in Bangladesh.

The rise continued at home too. In unfavourable wickets for spin, during The Ashes, Lyon claimed 17 wickets at over 27. He proved to be a serious threat to the left-handers, especially Moeen Ali and Alastair Cook. Lyon was used in short spells and more often got the desired wickets before the pacers unleashed themselves.

Lyon’s 8 for 50 on Day One at Bengaluru is regarded as one of the finest spells in India.

12th man: Faf du Plessis (South Africa)

Du Plessis had a very good year with the bat, as did Ross Taylor, but the South African skipper’s acrobatics wins him this place.

Test XI of 2017 (in batting order): Dean Elgar, David Warner, Cheteshwar Pujara, Steven Smith, Virat Kohli (c), Kane Williamson, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja/Trent Boult, Kagiso Rabada, Nathan Lyon, James Anderson

12th man: Faf du Plessis (South Africa)

Unlucky misses:

Batsmen: Murali Vijay (India), Joe Root (England), Faf du Plessis (South Africa), Ross Taylor (New Zealand), Misbah-ul-Haq (Pakistan)

Wicketkeeper: Mushfiqur Rahim (Bangladesh), Niroshan Dickwella (Sri Lanka)

All-rounders: Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh), Ben Stokes (England), Hardik Pandya (India)

Bowlers: Ravichandran Ashwin (India), Rangana Herath (Sri Lanka), Keshav Maharaj (South Africa), Yasir Shah (Pakistan), Morne Morkel (South Africa), Neil Wagner (New Zealand), Vernon Philander (South Africa)