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Wisden’s under-23 all-time Test XI

U22 World Test XI
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 5 minute read

Presenting an XI of top-class performers in Test cricket, all of whom made waves and shattered records in their early twenties.

It’s a side that has been picked based on players’ performances before they had turned 23.

Stats are those of the player before they turned 23

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Graeme Smith (c)

21 Tests, 1,881 runs @ 58.78, 6 100s, HS: 277

It really didn’t take much time for Smith to firmly embed himself into the South African set-up, with the captaincy handed to him when he was just 22 years old. The rousing start to his career was built upon the back of mammoth scores: by his fourth Test, he had a double-hundred and, a couple of months later, a 150 against Pakistan. The 2003 tour of England – where he put up scores of 277, 85 and 259 in his first three innings – truly signalled the emergence of a future great.

Alastair Cook

24 Tests, 1,936 runs @ 45.02, 7 100s, HS: 127

On his debut Test, Cook showed what a well-equipped run-machine he was, hitting 60 in his first innings at Nagpur in 2006 before racking up an unbeaten century in his second. Two centuries against Pakistan made headlines at home later that summer, and he ended his first calendar year in Test cricket with four hundreds, his last a fourth-innings 116 at Perth against a phenomenal Australia attack. In his last Test innings before turning 23, Cook hit 118 at Galle after England were made to follow on.

Don Bradman

14 Tests, 1,889 runs @ 94.45, 8 100s, HS: 334

Look at Bradman’s career from any angle, and you’ll only find a ridiculous amount of runs. He made quite an early impression, stroking scores of 79 and 112 in just his second Test, batting at No.6. But No.3 was where he spent most of his career, and where, at the age of 21, he hit his Test-best of 334 against England at Headingley. That knock took his average to an astonishing 103 after nine Tests.

Sachin Tendulkar

38 Tests, 2,483 runs @ 51.72, 8 100s, HS: 179

Debuting at the age of 16, Tendulkar was already an experienced operator by his 23rd birthday, turning himself into the crown prince in the changing landscape of Indian cricket. After a shaky start in Pakistan, Tendulkar settled into a rhythm rarely seen among teenagers, cracking Test tons in England, Australia, South Africa, and India before his 20th birthday. The rich run-making continued at the same rate for two more decades.

Javed Miandad

30 Tests, 2,433 runs @ 62.38, 7 100s, HS: 206

Miandad’s career was spread across three different decades and he took to Test cricket quickly, beginning with a stellar 163 against New Zealand on debut in 1976. Three matches into his career, he was a Test double centurion – he remains the youngest to have achieved the feat.

Garry Sobers

27 Tests, 2,213 runs @ 56.74, 6 100s, HS: 365*;  31 wickets @ 46.58, BBI: 4-26

Sobers needed some time to get going, taking 10 innings to get to his first fifty. His first triple-digit score only came in his 29th innings, but what a knock that was: an unbeaten 365 at Sabina Park, aged 21, broke the record for the highest Test score. Having truly announced that he belonged here, Sobers reeled off twin tons at Georgetown in his next Test before conquering India with three centuries on his first tour of the country. His skills with the ball would come to the fore more when he was older.

Rishabh Pant (wk)

13 Tests, 814 runs @ 38.76, 2 100s, HS: 159*; 59 catches, 2 stumpings

Has any wicketkeeper-batter created such an impression at such a young age? Pant is an anomaly in every possible way, marking his own unique path in Test cricket. In his first Test series, he smashed a fourth-innings century in England at The Oval, following it with a pair of 92s at home against the West Indies. A few months later, he turned heads with a brilliant, unbeaten 159 at Perth, becoming the first Indian wicketkeeper to score two centuries outside Asia. His glovework, too, improved along the way.

Ian Botham

11 Tests, 500 runs @ 41.66, 3 100s, HS: 108; 64 wickets @ 16.54, 8 five-fors, BBI: 8-34

Botham made a resounding impact in his first few years at Test level. In only his fourth Test, his 103 from No.7 against New Zealand was a sign of things to come with the bat, and he was simply immense with the ball, taking eight five-fors in 11 Tests, including his career-best of 8-34 against Pakistan at Lord’s.

Waqar Younis

33 Tests, 190 wickets @ 19.15, 19 five-fors, BBI: 7-76

Debuting in the same match as Tendulkar, Waqar was venomous from the get-go, bowling full, fast and flat. He tore open visiting New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka sides at home in 1990 and 1991, and excelled abroad too to finish with close to 200 Test scalps before his 23rd birthday.

Kagiso Rabada

30 Tests, 143 wickets @ 21.59, 9 five-fors, BBI: 7-112

Given the line-up of quicks who starred for South Africa in the first decade-and-a-half of the 21st century, it didn’t look like there was space to squeeze in more greatness, but along came Rabada. Before turning 23, Rabada had already climbed to the top of the Test bowling rankings and secured three 10-wicket match hauls.

Saqlain Mushtaq

24 Tests, 107 wickets @ 29.14, 9 five-fors, BBI: 6-46

The lone  spinner in the line-up, Saqlain was an early starter, landing his first Test delivery at the age of 18. Among notable spells were five-fors against visiting South Africa and West Indies outfits, while he turned into a different beast during the 1999 tour of India, snaring 10-wicket match hauls in consecutive Tests at Chennai and Delhi. Given how things started, it’s still surprising to realise that Saqlain played his last Test at 27.

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