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Wisden’s ‘The best years of our lives’ XI

by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

While 2021 turned out to be an annus horribilis for England’s men’s Test side, their skipper Joe Root still managed to churn out century after century.

Root finished with 1,708 runs at an average of 61, making it one of the finest calendar years enjoyed by a Test batter. That’s led to us coming up with this side, one that celebrates players who went to a whole other level for a 12-month period.

Believe it or not, Root actually misses the cut…


Graeme Smith – 2008 (c)

1,656 runs @ 72, six hundreds

The former South Africa captain holds the record for the most Test runs scored in a calendar year by an opening batter, and 2008 was a special one for both him and his side; Smith’s runs helped the Proteas draw in India before securing series wins in England and Australia.

Viv Richards – 1976

1,708 runs @ 90, seven hundreds

While Richards spent most of his astonishing 1976 batting at three, he opened in two Tests against Australia at the start of the year, celebrating a century in one of them at Adelaide and scores of 50 and 98 in the other at Melbourne. The runs flowed against India at home but he went to another level when the West Indies visited England in the summer – seven innings returned a remarkable tally of 829 runs.

Ricky Ponting – 2003

1,503 runs @ 100.2, six hundreds

While Ponting made more runs in 2005, his 2003 – the same year he first captained Australia to a World Cup title – was more ruthless, demonstrated by his Bradmanesque average. Two double centuries against India in December was quite a way to round off the year.

Mohammad Yousuf – 2006

1,788 runs @ 99.33, nine hundreds

No one has made more Test runs or centuries in a calendar year. Nine of Yousuf’s 24 Test centuries were hit in 2006, with all nineteen of his innings in the year coming at No.4. He kicked off the year with a century against India at Lahore and signed it off with three on the bounce against West Indies.

Sachin Tendulkar – 2010

1,562 runs @ 78.10, seven hundreds

The Little Master’s finest calendar year came as his career was beginning to wind down. Bangladesh, South Africa (home and away), Sri Lanka and Australia were all at the end of Tendulkar tons as Test cricket’s most prolific run-scorer ran riot. In December he hit 111* at the Centurion to become the first person to 50 Test hundreds.

Michael Clarke – 2012

1,595 runs @ 106.33, five hundreds

The year of Clarke’s doubles. When the Australia captain reached three figures in 2012, he usually turned it into a big one: he reached 200 on four occasions and finished unbeaten on 329 against India at the SCG in January.

Jonny Bairstow – 2016 (wk)

1,470 runs @ 58.8, three hundreds

Bairstow holds the record for the most runs hit by a wicketkeeper in a calendar year. His 2016 began with a maiden Test hundred against South Africa and he remained a consistent run-getter in a busy year for England, who played 17 Tests in 12 months.

Shane Warne – 2005

96 wickets @ 22.02, six five-wicket hauls

The great Australian leg-spinner holds the record for the most wickets taken in a calendar year, with his 2005 leaving him just four short of a century of scalps. He was at his best in a 2-1 Ashes series defeat in England, taking 40 wickets in five Tests.

Dennis Lillee – 1981

85 wickets @ 20.95, five five-wicket hauls

Lillee couldn’t stop Ian Botham from taking the urn home, but he still managed to finish the Ashes series of 1981 with a match haul of 11-159 at The Oval. Lillee’s haul of 85 wickets remains the record for the most by a quick in a calendar year.

Allan Donald – 1998

80 wickets @ 19.73, seven five-wicket hauls

White Lightning was in his pomp in ’98, tearing it up against Pakistan, Sri Lanka, England and the West Indies. In England, where he enjoyed a famous battle with Michael Atherton, he finished on the losing side but still managed to take 33 wickets in five Tests.

Muttiah Muralitharan – 2006

90 wickets @ 16.90, nine five-wicket hauls

After his spin-bowling rival led the way in 2005, Muralitharan put up his best year in 2006, when he took 10 wickets in a match five (!) times – twice in England, twice in Sri Lanka and once in New Zealand.

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