With the completion of the second Sri Lanka-Bangladesh Test in Pallekele, the league round of the inaugural World Test Championship cycle also came to its end.
In the nine-team league competition impacted severally by the COVID-19 pandemic, India and New Zealand emerged as the two World Test Championship finalists. The two countries are set to face each other in the ultimate clash in Southampton in June this English summer.
But before getting there, we looked at the finest performers of the first-ever World Test Championship and came up with an XI for the tournament.
World Test Championship XI
1. Rohit Sharma
One of the most exciting aspects of the first World Test Championship was viewing Rohit Sharma’s successful transition as a Test opener for India.
Rohit has scored 1,030 runs from his 17 innings in the tournament so far at an average of 64.37.
His consistent performances, featuring as many as 4 centuries, were influential to India reaching the marquee final against New Zealand.
2. Mayank Agarwal
It would be quite unfair to deny Mayank Agarwal the second opener’s role in an overall World Test Championship XI because of one poor series in Australia.
The aggressive right-hand batsman helped India dominate the initial part of their league campaign in the West Indies and at home versus South Africa, Bangladesh. He also batted decently on the tour of New Zealand.
Mayank has made 857 runs in the competition at an average of 42.85 from his 12 Tests, including 2 centuries and 5 half-centuries.
3. Marnus Labuschagne
The biggest positive to emerge out of the first World Test Championship for global Test match batsmanship, Marnus Labuschagne, is an obvious pick at No.3 here.
Labuschagne entered the competition in accidental circumstances as he had to fill in for a badly hit Steve Smith at Lord’s – Test cricket’s first concussion substitute – and ended it at the top of the run-charts.
Labuschagne made 1,675 runs from his 23 innings in the first cycle at an average of 72.82 while making 5 centuries and 9 fifties.
4. Steve Smith
A modern-day batting legend, Steve Smith, started the World Test Championship with a bang, piling on multiple centuries against arch-rivals England in the 2019 Ashes in the UK. And though he didn’t retain that level of form thereafter, Smith still ended the competition with a great record next to his name.
Smith scored 1,341 runs from 22 innings in the tournament with an average of 63.85. He made 4 hundreds and 7 fifties through the first cycle and finished at third in the run-charts.
5. Babar Azam
Pakistan couldn’t make it through to the final from their difficult initiation in the World Test Championship, but their Test skipper Babar Azam held his own as far as batting is concerned.
Despite having to travel to tough terrains such as Australia, England and New Zealand in the last two years, Babar made 932 runs in his 17 innings in the tournament at an average of 66,57. His competition tally included 4 centuries and 5 half-centuries.
While Kane Williamson made more impact through his performances for a more robust New Zealand side, Babar scored the tougher runs for the perennially mercurial Pakistan team in more difficult circumstances. Hence he pipped his Kiwi counterpart to earn the No.5 spot in this XI.
6. Ben Stokes
Premier all-rounder Ben Stokes retained his impactful ways for England throughout the first World Test Championship cycle. The flamboyant left-hand batsman and aggressive right-arm pacer was three lion’s stand-out performer in either department.
Stokes scored 1,334 runs from his 32 innings from the competition at an average of 46.00, making 6 fifties and 4 centuries, including the famous one in Headingley that kept England’s 2019 Ashes hopes alive. Stokes also took 34 wickets at 26.26 per piece, with the best of 4/49.
7. Rishabh Pant
For the majority of India’s campaign, Rishabh Pant faced question marks over his form and fitness. He was left out of his team’s playing XI despite his undoubted talent and promise with the bat and the gloves. But in a remarkable turnaround towards the end, Pant played a decisive role in India winning their two most important series – away in Australia and at home versus England.
Pant has shown fantastic consistency as a batter and competence behind the stumps since coming back into the Indian team in December last year. He is the deserving wicketkeeper-batsman in a World Test Championship XI, having scored 662 runs at an average of 41.37 and improving the safety of his gloveman remarkably.
8. Ravichandran Ashwin
India’s premier off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is the only tweaker to make our World Test Championship XI. Like Pant, Ashwin also started the cycle with question marks over his place in the team but ended the league round as one of his team’s heroes.
The highlight of Ashwin’s campaign so far has been out-performing Nathan Lyon on what was a challenging tour of Australia in December-January. He is currently the third highest wicket-taker of the tournament, having made 67 scalps at an average of 20.88, including 4 five-wicket hauls.
9. Pat Cummins
Pat Cummins finished the World Test Championship as his team’s brightest performer and the most dangerous threat for the opposition. The tall right-arm quick ended at the top of the wicket-taking chart with 70 wickets from 14 Tests at an average of 21.02.
Cummins was outstanding in the 2019 Ashes, where he helped Australia retain the urn in the UK for the first time in 18 years. He was also spectacular with the ball in the home series versus India and looked like taking a wicket every time he turned up for a spell.
10. Kyle Jamieson
Test cricket is richer for the emergence of New Zealand’s right-arm tall paceman, Kyle Jamieson, through the first-ever World Test Championship cycle.
Most batsmen have found it extremely difficult to counter Jamieson so far, with his height and express pace making it tough for them to pick the length early and hit him through the off-side.
Jamieson has taken 36 wickets from his 6 Tests for New Zealand in the cycle at an astonishing average of just 13.27 and is a deserving entrant in this XI.
11. James Anderson
It’s incredible for how long James Anderson has retained his potency with the ball. England’s master swing bowler remains a major threat for the opposition batting units and is an obvious pick for a collective World Test Championship XI.
Anderson took 39 wickets from 20 innings in the first cycle while averaging just 19.51 per piece. Anderson’s success wasn’t limited to just the familiar conditions in the UK as he also found a way to be relevant on unsuited surfaces in Sri Lanka and India.
His robustness and greater flexibility is the reason Anderson leapfrogged his longstanding new-ball partner Stuart Broad to make the cut for our XI. Anderson would compliment Cummins, Jamieson and Ashwin beautifully.