In another working life, I used to have the annual New Year’s Eve task of naming the best Test team of the year.
Like most team selections, the majority were easy to pick and the only heartache came from trying to identify which fringe champions would fill the last one or two or three spots.
The best half dozen, or more, candidates always chose themselves – Ponting, Gilchrist, Warne, Flintoff, Tendulkar, Lara, etc.
Peter Roebuck, the late, great cricket writer whose intriguing company I shared in Australian press boxes for more than a decade, for five seasons in adjoining seats, added a degree of difficulty to his annual selection.
Roebuck explained that he was picking a World XI to play away against a Mars XI which meant team make-up was subject to the most unusual conditions.
“Mars has a 687-day year and because the pitch would be therefore somewhat dry and worn, I always pick an extra spinner,” he would say.
That would make Indian duo Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja walk-up starts in a Roebuck team of today but neither gets a gig in my team.
Nathan Lyon is the most important Test cricketer on the planet today which is why his name goes onto my team list before any other player. Lyon’s calf-shredding moment at Lord’s was the single most important incident of the Test year; his absence for the second half of the Ashes series prevented Australia winning in England for the first time in 22 years. Yet his recovery against Pakistan at the end of the year bookended his impact in the early months when his ability to spell Australia’s pace battery was a critical strategic element in his team’s success. Lyon is one of six Australians in the XI though it is a sign of the turbulent times that several others were barely first-choice players at various times of the year.
Test cricket changed fundamentally this year with runs being scores at 58.68 per 100 balls – the fastest in the game’s history – to put a premium on batsmen able to maintain the Bazball tempo and bowlers capable of curbing it.
Test cricket might have its challenges but providing a compelling product is not one of them.
Here’s my team of 2023 with the only requirement that it includes six specialist batsmen, an orthodox keeper, one spinner and three quicks.
It is going to play a home series against Mars but without the ground being booked or conditions being known yet, it is important to start with a balanced team capable of playing positive cricket.
1 Usman Khawaja Aus 13 Tests 1210 runs @ 52.61 HS 195* 3 x 100 6 x 50
The only batsman to reach 1000 runs in 2023, the left-hander was a pillar in Australia’s seven wins. The end may not be far away but the reborn veteran is hitting the finish line hard.
2 Zak Crawley Eng 8 Tests 606 runs @ 43.29 HS 189 1 x 100 3 x 50
The epitome of Bazball started the Ashes with a thrashed cover drive to the fence. Returned almost identical stats to his opening partner Ben Duckett but has a better top gear.
3 Kane Williamson NZ 7 Tests 695 runs @ 57.92 HS 215 4 x 100
The classy New Zealander may be his country’s best ever batsman. His comeback from an ACL rupture was flawless.
4 Joe Root Eng 8 Tests 787 runs @ 65.58 HS 153* 2 x 100 5 x 50
Released to play with greater freedom, the former captain changed innings and matches. Once the junior member of the world’s big four batsmen alongside Williamson, Virat Kohli and Steve Smith, he could become the most senior of them this year.
5 Harry Brook Eng 8 Tests 701 runs @ 53.92 HS 186 1 x 100 6 x 50
An extraordinary strike rate of 91 was the standout feature of the player who lived Bazball to its fullest.
6 Mitch Marsh Aus 5 Tests 540 runs @ 67.50 HS 118 1 x 100 4 x 50 4 wkts
The best comeback story in Test cricket. Mature, humble and inspiring, Marsh’s timely batting and occasional breakthroughs with the ball make him a key part of the world’s best team.
7 Alex Carey Aus 13 Tests 461 runs @ 24.26 HS 66* 3 x 50 44c/10st
The best wicketkeeper in Test ranks after helping Australia take a 2-0 Ashes lead, Carey’s game disintegrated in the fallout of the Lord’s affair before he finished the year strongly. No other keeper made a compelling case for selection.
8 Pat Cummins Aus 11 Tests 42 wkts @ 27.50 BB 6-91 3 x 5w
A deluxe strike bowler who has grown into the role as captain. No Test bowler delivers more wicket-taking balls.
9 Mitchell Starc Aus 9 Tests 38 wkts @ 29.63 BB 5-78 1 x 5w
An unusual year in which his economy rate (74) was the worst of his career while his strike rate (39) was nearly the best. Within sight of Dennis Lillee’s 355 wickets.
10 Nathan Lyon Aus 10 Tests 47 wkts @ 25.04 BB 8-64 2 x 5w
Leading wicket-taker despite missing most of the Ashes. Passed 500 wickets this month and at the peak of his powers as the world’s most versatile and effective spinner.
11 Stuart Broad Eng 8 Tests 38 wkts @ 26.29 BB 5-51 1 x 5w
A brilliant career finished on a high note with a six from his last ball faced and Ashes-squaring wicket with the last ball delivered.
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