The 2010s end, like they began, with India top of the world rankings and in between 598 players, from Varun Aaron to Zulqarnain Haider, have played 431 Tests in 171 series. Here is our Test team of the decade, picked by a panel of 10 Guardian journalists: Vic Marks, Ali Martin, Rob Smyth, Tim de Lisle, Emma John, Tanya Aldred, Geoff Lemon, Adam Collins, Jonathan Liew and Andy Bull.
England’s rock. Cook played more innings, faced more balls and scored more runs in Test cricket than anyone this decade. If you sat down to watch every last little bit of his batting it would take 18 days of 24/7 viewing. But even more than that, in an era when teams found it harder than ever to win away from home, Cook was the key player in England’s greatest series victories, in Australia 2010‑11, when he made 766 runs, and in India 2012-13, when he made 562. By then, inevitably, he had been made England captain, a job that taxed his bottomless reserves of strength, stamina and endurance.
The Oscar Madison of our odd couple of openers. If Cook was one of the last of the old breed of Test match batsmen, Warner was one of the first of the new. He had hardly played 10 first-class games but more than 100 T20 matches when he made his Test debut. It didn’t matter. He carried his bat for 123 in his second Test. Since then, well … it has been complicated. Some of the judges explicitly ruled him out on the grounds that they still hadn’t forgiven him for his role in the ball-tampering scandal at Cape Town, but more reckoned the ups outnumbered the downs.
Runners-up: Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum.
Our captain, on the grounds that he has managed to wring so much out of such modest resources (he has taken his team to second in the world rankings this year) and for the way he and his side carried themselves in the minutes after the World Cup final. He began the decade by scoring a century on debut, against India in Ahmedabad. Before long people were saying he might become New Zealand’s greatest batsman, and before long he had. Williamson has scored hundreds against every team, in all sorts of conditions, on every continent, in every country except one, and he has done it without sending so much as a single tweet.
The very model of a modern cricketer and the most influential player in the world. A man of boundless ambition, he doesn’t just lead India by example, but epitome. Before Kohli, India had four great Test batsmen and it sometimes feels as though he stole the best and brightest bits of each of them – Sourav Ganguly’s fire, Sachin Tendulkar’s dedication, Virender Sehwag’s swagger, VVS Laxman’s grace – and bound them all together into something stronger, fiercer, less forgiving. Under Kohli, India have become one of the fittest, sharpest and most hostile sides around. So long as they have him, India will never be underdogs again. The cricketer of the decade.
It is an old story, but worth repeating. Like Williamson, Smith made his Test debut back in 2010, only he was batting No 9 in the second innings, and bowling his pug-ugly leg-spin. Ten years later he has transformed himself into the greatest Test batsman of his age, a man who, at his best, people will readily compare to Don Bradman without blushing. By the tail-end of the decade, old bowlers around the world were still telling themselves, and everyone else, that they knew how to get around his Heath Robinson technique. His contemporaries had given up kidding themselves.
Runners-up: Kumar Sangakkara, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq.
AB de Villiers
In the 16 years he has been playing he has shown he can do pretty much anything he turns his mind to. Here he is in as wicketkeeper, a job he did, on and off, in the first half of the decade. He gave it up because he said it was all too much, but, curiously, he was a better batsman when he was doubling up. His batting average as a wicketkeeper this decade is just under 60, which (ridiculously) is half as good again as anyone else. He seems to be so gifted that his own boredom with it all is the only thing that can get the better of him.
Runner-up: Mushfiqur Rahim.
The old measure of what makes an all-rounder, stacking up averages, doesn’t really work for Stokes, you do not measure him in numbers but moments, matches and memories. He is a human highlights reel, from his defiant 120 at the Waca, England’s one century in a whitewash, through his rollocking 258 at Cape Town, to that 135 at Headingley, from his miraculous diving catch to dismiss Adam Voges at Trent Bridge to his marathon spells, the swing, the short balls. This team could really do with a second spinner in this position, but no one is going to begrudge his inclusion.
Runner-up: Shakib Al Hasan.
A tricky pick this one between Ashwin, Nathan Lyon and Rangana Herath. Ashwin’s wickets have come a little cheaper, and more frequently, than either of his rivals and if he has struggled to figure out how to bowl in Australia and South Africa, his wickets have been one of the key factors in India’s remarkable run at home, where they have lost one series out of 19. Ashwin has pushed spin bowling on too, has developed his own style which isn’t exactly orthodox, but doesn’t depend on the doosra, either. Which is why, unlike his rivals, he has succeeded in all three formats.
Runner-up: Nathan Lyon.
The one wide-open spot in the XI, Johnson won it because of the number of traumatised England fans among the selectors. Much as they would like to try and forget it, Johnson will always be remembered for 37 wickets he took in the 2013-14 Ashes, when he single-handedly dismantled a team who were sure they had what it took to win there. It was one of the most unremittingly hostile performances by any fast bowler, too quick and too sharp for some of the best batsmen of the era. By the time he was done with them, England were in disarray.
The finest fast bowler of his generation. It is strange to remember, now, that around the beginning of the decade everyone was worried about the decline of fast bowling. Steyn was the exception all along, the one man who, all through those barren years, stood comparison with greatest quicks of the 1980s and 1990s. Steyn has ripped through every team at one time or another and he has taken five cheap wickets in an innings against every side he has played against. It was only at the end of the decade, when injuries finally began to catch up with him, that his form fell away.
The only player in the XI who was playing Test cricket before the decade started and will still be playing it after it is finished. Anderson has done it by transforming himself from a real daisy of an English swinger (some days he does, some days he doesn’t) into a man who has the tricks and skills, knowledge and understanding to succeed everywhere he plays. He has taken his wickets in Australia, India, Sri Lanka and in England, where batsmen grope after him like little kids trying to find the lady under the cups. He is as good as unplayable.
Runners-up: Vernon Philander, Mitchell Starc, Kagiso Rabada.
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