No Root, no Babar: The marginal decisions in Wisden’s World Test Championship XI, explained
Yesterday, we released our World Test Championship XI, celebrating the best performers from the 2021-2023 cycle.
The XI was picked by a cast of Wisden.com and Wisden India writers and numerous factor more than just raw numbers were considered. Several star names such as Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, Babar Azam, Joe Root, James Anderson and Ravichandran Ashwin missed out on selection, prompting consternation in our social media replies.
A reminder of our XI: Usman Khawaja, Dimuth Karunaratne, Marnus Labuschagne, Dinesh Chandimal, Jonny Bairstow, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Pat Cummins, Kagiso Rabada, Nathan Lyon, Jasprit Bumrah
Let’s run through some of the biggest calls and explain why we made them:
No Babar, Root, Williamson or Mitchell in the middle order
This was the hardest part of selection. We felt that No. 3 is too specialised a position to fudge, so we insisted on picking someone who has predominantly batted there in the 2021-2023 cycle. This essentially left a shootout between Williamson and Labuschagne for the spot at three; Williamson averaged 80 from only seven Tests while Labuschagne averaged 56 with five hundreds from 18 Tests for an Australia side that qualified for the final at The Oval. Williamson’s numbers are clearly outstanding but his impact on the overall cycle was not particularly significant. He only played seven of New Zealand’s 13 Tests and all three of his hundreds came with the Black Caps practically already knocked out of the competition, with his first hundred in the cycle coming as recently as the drawn Karachi Test on Boxing Day 2022. Labuschagne wasn’t quite as prolific as he was in the 2019-2021 cycle, but he still contributed five hundreds and was pivotal in Australia finishing top of the standings.
Our next decision was to include Ravindra Jadeja as the side’s all-rounder to complement four specialist bowlers and a wicketkeeper, leaving just two more slots in the middle order. Jadeja’s overall numbers – averaging 37.38 with the bat and 23.23 with the ball – were too good to ignore. This essentially left us with needing to choose two from the following: Bairstow, Chandimal, Babar, Smith, Root and Mitchell, all of whom had stellar campaigns.
Bairstow was an unanimous inclusion. He scored six hundreds in the cycle despite missing seven of England’s 22 Tests and his impact on individual games was unparalleled. The twin hundreds he scored at Edgbaston in 2022 could easily have prevented India’s passage to the final had results gone differently elsewhere, while his interventions at Trent Bridge and Headingley in the same summer almost single-handedly catapulted England to a pair of unlikely victories. Bairstow also scored a two hundreds in 2022 prior to Ben Stokes’ elevation to the England captaincy, one at Sydney and the other at Antigua.
Then it became somewhat of a process of elimination. Babar averaged over 60 but eight of his 14 Tests were in extremely batting-friendly conditions at home in Pakistan, while his excursions away from home were Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Indies, none of which really count among the toughest trips in the game for modern batters. Pakistan also finished seventh in the standings and were never really in with a shout of qualifying for the final.
Smith averaged 50 which was actually on the low side among those vying for a spot at either four or five. Only one of his centuries in this cycle – a double hundred at home to West Indies – contributed to a victory; he did not demand selection. Daryl Mitchell scored four hundreds, three in a 3-0 series defeat to England, but aside from his performance in the Christchurch Test against Sri Lanka, those were really his only significant contributions across the cycle.
Joe Root, meanwhile, finished as the cycle’s leading run-scorer but endured several quiet series. Most notably, Root did not score a hundred as England lost 4-0 in the 2021/22 Ashes, while he only scored one fifty across England’s final six Tests in the cycle. It was acknowledged that Root was imperious in the home series against India and New Zealand.
That left Dinesh Chandimal who averaged just below 70 across the cycle. The 33-year-old was pivotal for Sri Lanka as they came close to usurping India to the second spot in the final – his 204* in victory over Australia at Galle was arguably the innings of the tournament, while his 76 and 94* nearly led Sri Lanka to another important home victory against Pakistan until an Abdullah Shafique epic got his side’s way. Chandimal also averaged more than 100 in a series victory over Bangladesh, scored heavily in Sri Lanka’s series-levelling victory against Pakistan and did well in defeat against New Zealand in New Zealand.
Lyon over Ashwin
Ashwin averaged less than 20 with the ball across the cycle but only took 10 wickets in away Tests and couldn’t land a spot in the India XI for the entirety of India’s five-match series away to England. Lyon, meanwhile, was the leading wicket-taker across the cycle, taking wickets wherever he went finishing with five five-wicket hauls. It was felt that for balance, the team should have an additional finger spinner who spun the ball in the opposite direction to Jadeja to cover all bases in all conditions.
No Anderson, Robinson or Jansen
There was very little to separate Anderson, Robinson, Jansen, Cummins, Rabada and Bumrah. All averaged between 19 and 22. Bumrah missed a fair bit of action but he was brilliant in India’s series in England – winning two Tests away to England was crucial to them eventually qualifying for the final. Cummins was similarly exceptional across the cycle, only really experiencing quiet Tests in Sri Lanka and India where spin dominated. Rabada was the spearhead of the South Africa attack that ended up third in the standings; he averaged less than 24 with the ball in all but one series across the cycle.
All of Anderson, Robinson and Jansen were unlucky to miss out in reality. All of them had excellent records but probably didn’t quite have the same impact over the course of the cycle as the three selected fast bowlers.