Test best: our cricket team of 2016

 Voges in, Smith out of ICC Test team of the year
Nanjing Night Net

When it comes to picking Test cricket’s 2016 team of the year, we now know what it’s like to be a national selector. It’s not an easy caper, and there is always someone who is going to be unhappy. In this case, there are several players who could rightfully feel miffed. Josh Hazlewood, Kane Williamson, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali all had strong claims – but ultimately were overlooked. Here is who we have settled on. Azhar Ali (Pakistan)

11 matches, 1198 runs at 63.05, three centuries.

Like many of his countrymen over the years, the Pakistan opener had struggled away from Asia but he has gone some way to correcting that imbalance this year. After a shaky start to the series in England, Azhar made 139 at Edgbaston – his first Test ton away from Asia – and followed up with an unbeaten double ton in Melbourne. Azhar created history by becoming the first player to score a double and triple century in day-night Tests with his 302 not out against the West Indies in Dubai. In a year in which openers have struggled, he could not be overlooked. Alastair Cook (England)

17 matches, 1270 runs at 42.33, two centuries.

His future as England captain is on shaky ground but the left-hander continues to churn out the runs. This was the fifth year, and second on the trot, in which he scored more than 1000 runs. His highlight came at Old Trafford, where he played a key role in victory over Pakistan with a double of 105 and 76 not out. Cook’s year finished on a sour note with a 4-0 hammering in the series in India, during which he came under fire for his conservative captaincy. He’s considered unlikely to be England’s skipper for next summer’s Ashes, and he won’t be leading this team either. Joe Root (England)

17 matches, 1477 runs at 49.23, three centuries.

The England strokemaker with the boyish grin finished the year narrowly ahead of teammate Johnny Bairstow as Test cricket’s leading runscorer. His determination to do well was highlighted ahead of the final Test against India in Chennai when he took to a road inside the stadium for practice, as the net facilities and even a tennis court inside the ground had been storm damaged. In line to be England’s next captain, Root began the year in fine touch in South Africa, had a flat spot at home against Sri Lanka but rebounded against Pakistan, crunching 254 in Manchester. There was only the one half-century in four innings in Bangladesh but he was one of the few consistent performers on a rugged tour of India, starting with 124 in Rajkot. Virat Kohli (India, captain)

12 matches, 1215 runs at 75.93, four centuries.

The super-fit Indian skipper has dropped weight thanks to a protein-rich diet and gruelling training program, while demanding his players also be in mint physical condition. His Test campaign began in July with a double century against the West Indies but a lean spell followed. A double ton against the Black Caps reignited his season, and he would go on to torment England, with 167 in Visakhapatnam and, in Mumbai, his third double century. His aggressive captaincy has also been praised. Steve Smith (Australia)

11 matches, 1079 runs at 71.93, four centuries.

It’s been a tumultuous year for the Australian skipper, who began by dominating the Black Caps in New Zealand (138 in Christchurch) but was unable to land a fatal blow on Sri Lanka in Australia’s opening two Tests there – both heavy defeats. He responded with a century in the final Test in Colombo but, again, his side crumbled. His 0 and 34 in the first Test against South Africa in Perth was symbolic of Australia’s woes but his character was on show when he contributed an unbeaten 48 as his team was torpedoed for 85 by the Proteas in Hobart. Handed a revamped team, he helped engineer victory in Adelaide and his century against Pakistan in Brisbane bankrolled victory. A century in Melbourne would see him notch 1000 Test runs for a third-straight year. Is improving tactically and in how he leads his side. Ben Stokes (England)

12 matches, 904 runs at 45.2, two centuries. 33 wickets at 25.81.

One of the first players picked after a breakout year. Has morphed into the game’s best allrounder, starting the year with a career-high 258 in Cape Town. A calf injury on the final day of the second Test against Pakistan derailed his home campaign but he returned for the Bangladesh tour, scoring 85 in Chittagong. He added 128 in the opening Test against India in Rajkot. His medium-pacers have provided opportune wickets, and he had a five-wicket haul in Mohali. Quinton de Kock (South Africa)

Eight matches, 695 runs at 63.18, two centuries, 33 catches.

The South African is arguably the most contentious selection in the XI. Jonny Bairstow can consider himself unlucky not to get the nod but we’ve gone for de Kock based on his superior glove work. His inclusion will undoubtedly lead to a savaging of Fairfax selectors in the media, more so when it’s revealed the time zone of Bairstow’s games was not compatible with the panel’s lifestyles. What we saw of de Kock in Australia was very impressive – with both bat and gloves. His innings in Perth and Hobart were major factors in South Africa winning the series. Ravi Ashwin (India)

12 matches, 72 wickets at 23.9, eight five-wicket hauls, three 10-wicket hauls. 

Few players have had better all-round years than this Indian spin merchant. Ashwin was instrumental in India finishing 2016 as the clear No.1 Test nation. He won matches with the ball, bamboozling England with his bounce and variations, and scored invaluable runs in the lower order. Ashwin joined the great Kapil Dev as the only Indian players to score 500 runs and take 50 wickets in a year. It’s a feat only five other players have achieved. Mitchell Starc (Australia)

Eight matches, 50 wickets at 22.58, three five-wicket hauls, one 10-wicket haul.

There was a time when Starc was better known for his deeds with the white ball but he is now one of the most feared quicks in world cricket in any format. The left-arm speed demon stood tall in a year when the Australian team unravelled. It does not bear thinking how much worse Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka would have been if not for Starc, who claimed 24 wickets at 15 in a lost cause. Fans have not seen the best of Starc this season after a nasty gash hampered his preparations but the paceman has still made crucial breakthroughs. He takes the new ball in our XI. Stuart Broad (England)

14 matches, 48 wickets at 26.56, one five-wicket haul.

Having committed to playing two spinners and using all-rounder Ben Stokes as the third seamer, selectors deliberated long and hard over who would partner Starc. Broad got the nod, only marginally though, for his ability to both attack and defend. A lot of thought was given to South Africa’s pace sensation Kagiso Rabada but the fact he does not take the new ball for his country counted against him, while Josh Hazlewood finished with a wet sail to come very close to the team.   Kagiso Rabada (South Africa)

Nine matches, 46 wickets at 23.34, four five-wicket hauls, one 10-wicket haul.

With Starc and Stuart Broad the new-ball specialists, Rabada – as he is for the Proteas – is the ideal man at first change, combining genuine speed with swing. After a modest start to his career in late 2015, he announced himself to the world in his fifth Test when he claimed 5-78 against England in Johannesburg in January. He followed this with 13 wickets for the match at Centurion. He played a pivotal role in Australia’s downfall this summer, claiming 5-92 off 31 overs in Perth as injured spearhead Dale Steyn could only look on. Former Proteas skipper Graeme Smith says Rabada is “an icon already in South African cricket”. Rangana Herath (12th man)

Nine matches, 57 wickets at 18.92, five five-wicket hauls, two 10-wicket hauls.

The 38-year-old Sri Lankan enjoyed another superb year, and almost single-handedly destroyed Australia on the mid-year tour of the sub-continent. He may be a left-arm finger spinner but it was his skidding, straight deliveries which tormented the tourists, claiming 28 wickets at a stunning average of 12.75. He also cashed in against Zimbabwe, claiming 19 wickets in two Tests. He would be the perfect partner for the off-spinning Ashwin.

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