@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read
Ben Gardner picks out an all-time world Test XI based not on a player’s overall career record, but on their best hot streak in the format.
The concept of form is an endlessly fascinating one. It can come and go in an instant, a well-timed shot reviving it, or a few plays and misses removing it. Mike Brearley has written a whole book on the subject.
The exercise of picking an all-time Test XI based on form is a tricky one, and there’s a few things to take into account. There’s the question of how long or short a period of time to consider – one good innings does not equate to being in form. We’ll keep ourselves to 20 innings for batters, and 10 matches for bowlers.
We also ideally don’t want the team to be dominated by greats of the game. Don Bradman’s career was effectively one long hot streak. Picking the peak of those is somewhat unsatisfying; ideally we want to pick players who significantly outperformed their overall output for a short time.
Thus, we’ll follow the following methodology. We’ll take the top 40 hot streaks, in terms of runs scored and wickets taken, across a 20-innings or 10-match period. And we’ll then pick players based on the ratio of their average in the given period to their overall career average, ensuring there is a balanced team with two openers and both pace and spin options.
Wisden’s all-time hot-streak world Test XI – the picks
Graham Gooch – England
Hot streak: Innings 138-157, 1,672 runs at 88.00, 6 100s
At the turn of the 90s, Graham Gooch entered beast mode. Up until that decade, he had averaged a respectable 36.90 in 73 Tests. Soon, that average began rising, with his streak including him making 456 in one game alone, against India at Lord’s, a world record that still stands today. The streak ended with Gooch’s 154* against West Indies at Headingley, a knock considered by many to be the finest in Test history; against an attack of Marshall, Patterson, Ambrose and Walsh, Gooch carried his bat to set up victory, with no other Englishman making 30.
Gautam Gambhir – India
Hot streak: Innings 32-51, 1,708 runs at 89.89, 8 100s
Only five batters have made more runs than Gautam Gambhir in a 20-innings stretch, and everyone else in the top 20 can claim to be among the finest their country has produced. For Gambhir, this was the high watermark. Remove the 20-innings run from his record, and his average drops to just above 30, with the period containing all but one of his hundreds. Gambhir’s average rose from 36 to 57 during the streak, with a famous, match-saving 137 at Napier the highlight.
Ian Bell – England
Hot streak: Innings 97-116, 1,486 runs at 99.07, 7 100s
For a 12-month period between the ends of the 2010 and 2011 English seasons, England were a team enjoying a collective hot streak. Australia were dispatched 3-1 in Australia, each victory achieved by an innings, and India, having come into the 2011 series as the world’s No.1 ranked side, were beaten 4-0. Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook, two other members of that side, were both close to making this team. But it’s the Duke who takes top spot. While he was only peripherally required in Australia, against India he was supreme. Moving up to No.3 in the absence of the injured Trott, his 159 in the second Test was the innings which truly established England’s dominance, while his 235 in the fourth put the seal on the whitewash.
Aravinda de Silva – Sri Lanka
Hot streak: Innings 101-120, 1,551 runs at 103.40, 8 100s
Aravinda de Silva was already 13 years into his Test career by the time he hit his hottest streak, which included him hitting three consecutive hundreds twice – against Pakistan and India, and all at Colombo – and culminated in an unbeaten 143* to ace a chase of 326 against Zimbabwe, despite four of the top six falling in single figures.
Mohammad Yousuf – Pakistan
Hot streak: Innings 103-122, 2,011 runs at 105.84, 10 100s
This streak is essentially Mohammad Yousuf’s annus mirabilis with his 223 against England at the end of 2005 tacked onto the front. 2006 saw Yousuf break the record for the most Test runs a calendar year, with nine hundreds, four of which crossed 190.
Andy Flower – Zimbabwe
Hot streak: Innings 80-99, 1,621 runs at 115.79, 5 100s
There were only five hundreds in Andy Flower’s hot streak, which just highlights his consistency. He was only dismissed twice for less than 40, and never under 20. Against South Africa, he supplied one of the all-time great lone-hand Test efforts. After Zimbabwe conceded 600-3 (byes: 0), Flower was last out for 142 in the first innings, before coming back out to bat 13 overs into the follow-on with his side already three down. Unperturbed, Flower cracked out 199*, contributing more than half of his team’s runs in the game. South Africa won by nine wickets, but Flower was Player of the Match.
Vinoo Mankad – India
Hot streak: Matches 14-23, 64 wickets at 18.94, 5 5WIs
Vinoo Mankad, and India, went two and a half years without playing a Test between February 1949 and November 1951. Mankad came back with a bang, playing a key role in three huge moments in India’s Test history. He claimed 12 wickets in India’s first-ever Test win, against England, and added 21 more in two Test wins against Pakistan, results which clinched India’s maiden series triumph.
Imran Khan – Pakistan
Hot streak: Matches 37-46, 73 wickets at 13.75, 7 5WIs
Another annus mirabilis from another Pakistan titan. Imran Khan’s stats as Test captain are legendary – an average of 52 with the bat and 20 with the ball – and 1982 stood out as his best year with the ball. Imran was Player of the Series against England, despite a 2-1 defeat, and helped Pakistan to a series win in Australia.
Mitchell Johnson – Australia
Hot streak: Matches 52-61, 65 wickets at 16.55, 5 5WIs
A phenomenal hot streak from a bowler who, on his day, was up there with the most devastating quicks there have ever been. The stretch starts against England, taking in his five-Test evisceration of Cook’s side, and includes a 2-1 win in South Africa which took Australia to No.1 in the world. With his slingy left arm targeting your stumps at high pace, it was only ever a matter of time. In those eight Tests against England and South Africa, Johnson claimed a wicket every 32 balls. Which is absurd.
Alec Bedser – England
Hot streak: Matches 36-45, 68 wickets at 14.51, 8 5WIs
Alec Bedser’s hot streak came towards the end of his career – he played 51 Tests in total – but there was no sign of his powers waning. He maintained his consistency – only once did he take fewer than two wickets in an innings – while at the end of the run he claimed six five-fors in seven innings.
Muttiah Muralidaran – Sri Lanka
Hot streak: Matches 104-113, 89 wickets at 14.92, 9 5WIs
With one slot left to round out this XI, we could have gone several different ways. The next batter on the list was Michael Clarke, who made three doubles and a triple in 2012, while the next quick was Australia’s Brett Lee. But there’s no looking past Murali, whose 89 wickets are the most taken by any bowler in a 10-Test stretch. Sri Lanka’s strike-bowler and container all in one, he often had to do it all himself. He took a frankly laughable six 10-wicket match hauls in the period, with his 8-70 against England at Trent Bridge rated as one of Test cricket’s finest spells.
Wisden’s all-time hot-streak world Test XI – the lineup
1. Graham Gooch
2. Gautam Gambhir
3. Ian Bell
4. Aravinda de Silva
5. Mohammad Yousuf
6. Andy Flower (wk)
7. Vinoo Mankad
8. Imran Khan
9. Mitchell Johnson
10. Alec Bedser
11. Muttiah Muralidaran