In a curtailed international calendar, competition for spots in Wisden’s Test Team of the Year was still as fierce as you’d expect.
23 Tests took place during the qualification period, giving our protagonists enough time to stake their claims for this XI.
Here are eight players who might feel unluckier than most about not making the final XI:
580 runs @ 52.72
One hundred; HS: 257
A breakthrough year in Test cricket for the young top-order batsman from Kent. After starting the year as an unfancied injury replacement for Rory Burns with no substantial first-class record behind him, Crawley ends it as the golden boy of English cricket. Encouraging half-centuries against the South African quicks in Johannesburg and against West Indies at home were followed by a monumental double-hundred at home against Pakistan. Crawley is just edged out of the side by a combination of middle-order titans but his time will surely come.
398 runs @ 57.50
Two hundreds; HS: 174
Another who has taken to Test cricket like a duck to water. Abid displayed an insatiable appetite for run-scoring in his maiden Test series, racking up two tons in an as many Tests against Sri Lanka. He then acquitted himself well in a testing tour of England but didn’t contribute the kind of match-defining total that would have earned him a spot in our XI.
531 runs @ 35.40
One hundred; HS: 152
After battling, largely unsuccessfully, for form against South Africa at the start of the year and to a lesser extent against West Indies in July, the knives were out as Buttler was seemingly fighting to save his Test career. He then recovered emphatically to play a pivotal part in England’s series win over Pakistan. On the brink of what would ultimately have been a defeat that decided the series at Manchester, Buttler combined spectacularly with Chris Woakes to take England home. A 152 in Southampton where he played second fiddle to a possessed Crawley capped off an impressive summer. A more consistent year would have seen him in our XI.
427 runs @ 42.70
One hundred; HS: 104
Like Buttler, Blackwood may be another whose Test career turned a corner in 2020. Previously unreliable, Blackwood showed that he had the grit to match his flamboyance this year, most notably in his steely, match-winning 95 against England at Southampton. Blackwood later registered a second career Test hundred in vain in West Indies’ opening Test defeat in New Zealand in December. Often a rare shining light in a flaky West Indian top seven.
317 runs @ 35.22
One hundred; HS: 121
One of the features of the New Zealand side that is within touching distance of the number one Test ranking is how quickly new members of the side make the step up to Test cricket. Kyle Jamieson, Daryl Mitchell, Will Young and Tom Blundell have all, to varying degrees, looked at home in Test cricket almost instantly in recent times. Blundell’s century in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG was one of the few bright sparks in an otherwise disappointing tour across the Tasman for the Blackcaps. Blundell’s starts of 30, 2*, 30 and 55 at the top of the order in a low-scoring series against India were an under-appreciated factor in their 2-0 win, too.
176 runs @ 29.33
No hundreds; HS: 84*
20 wickets @ 21.65
One five-for; BBI: 5-50
A quietly excellent year for Woakes who is showing signs of becoming a more penetrative bowler away from home. Just as his batting form seemed to be falling off a cliff, his 84* at Manchester was one of the innings of the year. He continues to hold his own in an England attack that’s becoming increasingly difficult to get into.
25 wickets @ 23.48
Two five-fors; BBI: 5-40
At 38 years old and 18 years after he first stepped foot in international cricket, Anderson continues to produce the goods for England. And although a slight, momentary dip in form prompted whisperings about an imminent retirement announcement, Anderson still enjoyed a very fruitful 2020. His five-fors at Cape Town and in the last Test of the summer at Southampton were vintage Anderson performances, exhibiting freakish control of a cricket ball.
28 wickets @ 21.96
No five-fors; BBI: 4-66
Almost certainly the unluckiest member of this list to miss out on a spot in our XI. The left-arm quick is so often the point of difference in the New Zealand attack, none more so than during their disappointing tour of Australia where Wagner was a constant thorn in the hosts’ side, finishing the series with 17 wickets at 22.76. At this best, the South African-born battering ram is one of the most exhilarating bowlers to watch in the game. He only misses out on our XI on account of the brilliance of a couple of his teammates.