With Test cricket in its 145th year, we take a look at the highest-rated players in the ICC best-ever rankings, building an all-time world Test XI.
As was the case when picking other Wisden XIs based on ICC Rankings, we will stick to a few rules to ensure the team is somewhat balanced, particularly the bowling line-up. In this all-time Test XI, we’ve picked the top five batsmen in the batting rankings, the top batter who is also a keeper, the top all-rounder and the top four bowlers, ensuring there is at least one spinner and at least three seamers.
The all-time world Test XI, as per the ICC rankings
All-time batting ranking: 3rd (945 points)
79 Tests, 6,971 runs, 56.67 average, 19 centuries
A cricketer who played both before and after World War II, Len Hutton is considered to be one of the greatest openers of all time. His 364 against Australia stood as the highest individual score in Test cricket for over 20 years. He averaged 45 or more against every team apart from Pakistan, whom he faced just twice in his 18-year long career. As an opener, Hutton scored 6,236 runs at 57.74, registering 16 centuries and 30 fifties in 69 Tests. His overall first-class record is even more astonishing – 40,140 runs, 55.51 average, 129 centuries.
All-time batting ranking: 4th equal (942 points)
64 Tests, 5,410 runs, 56.94 average, 15 centuries
Talking about extraordinary first-class numbers – Jack Hobbs remains the only batsman to surpass the 60,000-run mark in red-ball cricket. His 61,760 runs and 199 centuries in first-class cricket are incredible records and might never be broken. The first professional cricketer to be knighted, Hobbs displayed astounding sustainability at the highest level, playing for England for 22 years. He retired in his 50s, having scored his last international century at 46 – a record for the oldest player to reach the milestone. Hobbs averaged more than 60 in seven different years of his career, including three years with a 72-plus average, while he averaged less than 40 just twice.
Don Bradman (c)
All-time batting ranking: 1st (961 points)
52 Tests, 6,996 runs, 99.94 average, 29 centuries
No all-time Test XI can be complete without the Don. Considered by many to be the greatest Test batsman of all time, Don Bradman’s incredible average of 99.94 remains a formidable wall no player has come close to breaching. A player who defied the success-failure paradigm in the sport, Bradman raised the bar so high that his record transcendeds cricket. In the 1930 Ashes, he accumulated a staggering 974 runs at an average of 139.14. Bradman later led the side to a 4-0 win in the 1948 Ashes, as they completed the tour unbeaten and earned the ‘Invincibles’ tag. His legacy remains untouched to this day.
All-time batting ranking: 4th equal (942 points)
168 Tests, 13,378 runs, 51.85 average, 41 hundreds
Ricky Ponting sits near the top of several all-time batting lists, with the second-most Test runs, the third most hundreds, and the most Test wins. He averages 44 or more against every Test team, and his overall record, good as it is, is slightly diminished by the period towards the end of his career, when Australia were left without a true successor to Punter. In his 107th Test, just before his second innings dismissal for 49, Ponting’s average had nudged above 60.
All-time batting ranking: 2nd (947 points)
77 Tests, 7,540 runs, 61.80 average, 27 centuries
While no batsman has managed to breach Bradman’s remarkable average, Steve Smith is the only modern cricketer to come remotely close to the legend’s sustained excellence. His Test average of 61.80 is second to only Bradman (minimum 40 innings), and he recently became the fastest batsman to 7,000 runs in the format. With his quirky technique, phenomenal hand-eye coordination and insatiable hunger for runs, Smith is modern cricket’s best shot at replicating Bradman’s dominance. The most exciting aspect of Smith’s career is that it’s far from over. He’s the only active cricketer in this XI, which means there’s a very real chance of him growing into an even bigger legend in the next few years.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) January 8, 2021
Kumar Sangakarra (wk)
All-time batting ranking: 8th (938 points)
134 Tests, 12,400 runs, 57.40 average, 38 centuries
One of four 21st-century cricketers in this list, Kumar Sangakarra was a mainstay of the Sri Lankan batting order for over 15 years. A classy left-hander with a deft touch, Sangakarra piled on heaps of runs everywhere he went, while also keeping the wickets across 35 per cent of his Test career. This means he just edges out Clyde Walcott, who has the exact same best-ever rating, but only kept in 34 per cent of his Tests.
While he averaged above 35 in all the SENA countries – 35.75 in South Africa, 41.04 in England, 61 in New Zealand and 60.33 in Australia – his home form was extraordinary. Sangakarra accumulated 6,830 runs at 60.44 in Sri Lanka, registering 22 centuries. He is the fastest player to every 1,000 Test run milestone from 8,000 to 12,000, while he also holds the record for the highest partnership in the history of the format – 624 with Mahela Jayawardene.
All-time all-rounder ranking: 1st (669 points)
93 Tests, 8,032 runs, 57.78 average, 26 centuries, 235 wickets, 34.03 average
Hutton’s aforementioned record for the highest individual Test score, which stood for 20 years, was ultimately broken by Garry Sobers with his incredible 365* against Pakistan in 1958. He is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest all-rounders in the history of the sport. A master of all trades, Sobers was a destructive middle-order batsman, a skilful bowler who could bowl both pace and spin and an excellent fielder. In fact, he is one of only two players to have achieved the combination of 8,000 runs and 200 wickets in Test cricket, and was the first to do so. Sobers also took 109 catches in Tests and led West Indies in 39 games. A true all-rounder.
All-time bowling ranking: 3rd (922 points)
88 Tests, 3,807 runs, 37.69 average, 6 centuries, 362 wickets, 22.81 average
While Imran Khan makes this XI based on his all-time bowling rank, it’s worth noting that he is No.6 in ICC’s all-time all-rounder rankings too. A generational leader and one of the greatest players to ever grace the sport, Imran Khan took Pakistan cricket to new heights in both formats of the game. A game-changer with both bat and ball, he picked up eight Player of the Series awards in his Test career – the joint third-highest tally. He also remains one of just four players to register 100 runs and pick up 10 wickets in the same Test. At the time of his retirement, he was Pakistan’s highest wicket-taker in the format, and fifth-highest overall. His overall numbers are excellent, but as captain they are incredible. He averaged 52 with the bat and 20 with the ball in 48 Tests as Pakistan skipper.
All-time bowling ranking: 2nd (931 points)
18 Tests, 112 wickets, 10.75 average
Lohmann might hae just played 18 Tests, but his extraordinary bowling figures from those games catapulted him to the near top of the ICC all-time rankings. His average of 10.75 is the best in the history of the format, while his strike rate of 34.1 is also on the top of the all-time list. The Englishman was an accurate medium pacer, an excellent slip fielder and could hold his own with the bat. Despite the phenomenal start to his international career, Lohmann had to retire prematurely after he contracted tuberculosis. However, while his career wasn’t long, it was impactful and unforgettable to his contemporaries.
All-time bowling ranking: 1st (932 points)
27 Tests, 189 wickets, 16.43 average
One of the greatest seam bowlers to grace the game, Sydney Barnes, too, did not play a lot of international cricket, but built an incredible legacy nonetheless. He was able to register 24 five-fors and seven 10-wicket hauls in just 27 Tests, becoming the fastest bowler to 150 Test wickets. Barnes picked up 49 wickets in just four Tests in the 1913 Ashes, which remains the record for most scalps claimed by a bowler in a Test series. A few months later, he returned figures of 14-144 against South Africa at the age of 40 years and 301 days, becoming the oldest player to pick up a 10-wicket haul at the time.
All-time bowling ranking: 4th (920 points)
133 Tests, 800 wickets, 22.72 average
Naturally, the most prolific bowler in the history of Test cricket had to make it to this XI. Muttiah Muralitharan, a part of Sri Lanka’s golden generation, revolutionised spin bowling in the longest format. He set the bar incredibly high, breaking and making records consistently throughout his extraordinary career. Such was his genius that from 350 wickets onwards, Muralitharan was the fastest bowler to every 50-wicket milestone up until 800 scalps, a landmark only he has achieved so far in the sport.
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