Ranking the world’s top 10 Test cricketers

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    Australian skipper Steve Smith is widely considered to be the best Test cricketer in the world, but if you had to pick a top 10, who would take up the other nine spots and in what order?

    My assessment is based on Test cricket over the past three years, with the stats quoted next to each player corresponding to that period.

    1. Steve Smith (Australia, 28) – 4047 runs at 74, 17 centuries, 36 Tests
    What needs to be explained, really? Smith is dominating the Test format like only a handful of cricketers ever have in more than a century of its existence. What’s most impressive about Smith is the way he flourishes away from home. Over the past three years he has, incredibly, averaged 64 on the road, with eight tons from 18 Tests.

    2. Virat Kohli (India, 29) – 3157 runs at 64, 12 centuries, 33 Tests
    It’s hard to split Kohli and Mitchell Starc. This was an easier choice until Kohli flopped at home against Australia earlier this year, but that failure brought him back to the field. Like Smith, Kohli is brilliant at adapting to foreign conditions, having averaged 55 with the bat away from home the past three years, with five tons from 14 Tests.

    Kohli’s performance in Australia three summers ago was astonishing – 692 runs at an average of 86, including four tons from four Tests. This year’s series against Australia aside, the Indian captain has a knack for scoring runs just when his team most need them. This is a habit he will need to continue over the next year as India take on the frightfully difficult challenge of playing 12 Tests in South Africa, England and Australia.

    3. Mitchell Starc (Australia, 27) – 124 wickets at 25, 667 runs at 21, 26 Tests
    A 197cm left-armer who swings the ball at up to 154kmh, Starc adds invaluable variety to any bowling attack. Starc rarely has a quiet Test, capable of taking wickets in clusters even when he’s not on song. Most importantly, when assessing his overall value, Starc is effective in Australia or on the road, an incredibly rare talent in this age of cricketers who are kings at home and paupers away.

    Over the past three years, Starc has grabbed 57 wickets at 21 across his 12 Tests in England, Sri Lanka, India and the West Indies. Adding to Starc’s value is his generous ability with the blade – he has cracked six half centuries, including three away from home in England and India.

    Mitchell Starc

    (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

    4. Ravi Ashwin (India, 31) – 197 wickets at 24, 1161 runs at 27, 34 Tests
    Based purely on numbers, Ashwin deserves to be positioned above Starc – he’s comfortably scored more runs and taken more wickets at better averages. What raw stats don’t reveal is that Ashwin is far less effective than Starc across a variety of conditions.

    Unbelievably, 92 per cent of Ashwin’s career wickets have been taken in Asia or the Caribbean, where pitches now tend to be similar to Asian decks – dry and spin friendly. Across his career, Ashwin has taken just 24 wickets at an average of 57 from his Tests outside those countries, in Australia, England and South Africa. With 12 Tests in these nations over the next 13 months, Ashwin has a chance to correct that record.

    5. Ben Stokes (England, 26) – 2150 runs at 38, 5 centuries, 73 wickets at 34
    This is probably the most controversial placement on my list. But Stokes’ lofty ranking is reflective of two things – the heavy weighting I give to players who perform well away from home, and the enormous value of a true all-rounder, one who arguably could be picked based on their batting or bowling alone.

    Stokes is now England’s third-best batsman after Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. He’s also England’s third-best quick, clearly a better bowler across all conditions than home-track bully Chris Woakes. Every Test team in the world is scrambling to find someone who can justify a spot in their top six on batting alone while also being an effective bowler. But only two men in world cricket fit this criteria – Stokes and Bangladesh talisman Shakib al-Hasan.

    Away from home over the past three years, Stokes has averaged 37 with the bat and 33 with the ball, with tons in India and South Africa, a five-wicket haul in India, and four-fors in the UAE and South Africa.

    6. Kagiso Rabada (South Africa, 22) – 102 wickets at 23, 22 Tests
    Bowlers win Tests and Rabada is the most natural wicket taker in the format, owning an extraordinary strike rate of 39.8. Among bowlers with at least 100 wickets in the history of Test cricket, only one man has a better figure and that’s Englishman George Lohmann, whose career finished 121 years ago.

    As another measure of just how good Rabada is at this early stage of his career, consider that Australian legend Glenn McGrath after 22 Tests had nine less wickets and averaged 25.8 versus Rabada’s 22.7.

    Not to mention that Rabada is only 22 years old, four years younger than McGrath was at that same stage. It’s truly frightening to think just how good Rabada can become.

    New Zealand's Kane Williamson plays a shot

    (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

    7. Kane Williamson (New Zealand, 27) – 2576 runs at 66, 9 centuries, 26 Tests
    The Kiwi skipper has the major disadvantage of representing a team which doesn’t get to play anywhere near as many Tests as the likes of Australia, England and India. Over the past three years, Williamson’s only been afforded 26 Tests, compared to English skipper Joe Root’s tally of 41 matches.

    But Williamson has made the most of his limited opportunities, averaging 68 at home and 64 away in that period. With four tons from 11 Tests on the road in that time he’s underscored his ability to prosper in foreign conditions.

    8. Joe Root (England, 26) – 3767 runs at 53, 8 centuries, 41 Tests
    Root’s inability to convert half centuries into tons is well publicised, and is a key reason why he isn’t higher up this list. He is, however, an extremely consistent batsman, with his current struggles in the Ashes being a rare bad series for the Englishman.

    Root has had generous success outside of England over the past three years, averaging 50 on the road, including 55 in Sout Africa, 57 in the UAE, and 49 in India.

    9. Shakib al Hasan (Bangladesh, 30) – 1065 runs at 46, 2 centuries, plus 48 wickets at 35, 14 Tests
    A freakishly talented cricketer, the Bangladeshi all-rounder gets to play a minuscule amount of Test cricket compared to players from the more powerful teams. The fact he’s only played 14 Tests in the past three years is unfortunate, and also makes it harder to judge him against his contemporaries.

    Shakib was hugely impressive against Australia in two Tests in Bangladesh earlier this year, taking 12 wickets at 22, as well as making a very important 84 as the Tigers won the first match. He is a genuine top six batsman who looks equally comfortable whether trying to blunt an attack or demolish it. With the ball, Shakib is precise and crafty.

    10. Jonny Bairstow (England, 28) – 2472 runs at 45, 4 centuries, 34 Tests
    Bairstow has been the seventh-highest runscorer in Test cricket over the past three years while becoming a tidy keeper. He is now clearly England’s second-best batsman after Root due to his ability to make runs both away from home and against the world’s three best bowling attacks – Australia, South Africa and India.

    Bairstow made 359 runs at 72 in South Africa two years ago, 352 runs at 44 in India last year and has been a shining light for England in this current Ashes, with 241 runs at 40. In terms of Test wicketkeepers, Bairstow is ever so marginally ahead of Sout Africa’s Quentin de Kock and New Zealand’s vastly underrated BJ Watling.

    Honourable mentions: Quentin de Kock (South Africa), Josh Hazlewood (Australia), Vernon Philander (South Africa), James Anderson (England), and Dale Steyn (South Africa).

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (79)

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 7:48am
      Peeko said | December 22nd 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Stokes takes his wickets at 34 and scores at 38. Both averages won’t get you into a decent side as a specialist

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 8:58am
        spruce moose said | December 22nd 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

        Averages that are superior than Mitch Marsh’s…and yet Marsh is in a stellar side.

        What do you say to that?

        • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:31am
          Pedro The Fisherman said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

          There is great debate as to whether Mitch Marsh should even be in the Australian side, let alone be compared to someone in the Top 10 list. Stokes stats are poor and his status is merely talked up by the media and is based on one performance in South Africa on a postage stamp oval. Apart from that Stokes does not seem to have the correct “temperament: to make a top side.

        • December 22nd 2017 @ 10:16am
          Don Freo said | December 22nd 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

          Because Marsh is in a superior side, he doesn’t get to bowl. Hard to get wickets in 2 and 3 over spells.

          Nevertheless, the expectation of all rounders to be able to hold a position on batting ability or bowling ability alone is unreasonable. That’s why they are called all rounders. It’s why you could rank Al Hasan higher. You’d pick Stokes, not on stats; you’d pick him on performance with bat or ball…sometimes with bat and ball.

        • December 22nd 2017 @ 11:39am
          spruce moose said | December 22nd 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

          I’ve no objection to what you say Don.

          I just thought Peeko’s comment was ridiculous and possibly just too one-eyed.

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:16am
        BurgyGreen said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        But they will get you into England’s side.

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 10:37am
        Cantab said | December 22nd 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

        Yeah I can’t get excited about any ‘bits and pieces’ all-rounders, but largely agree with the rest of the list.

        • December 23rd 2017 @ 9:05am
          Mitcher said | December 23rd 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

          They are not even close to bits and pieces figures for an all rounder.

      • December 23rd 2017 @ 11:36am
        Griffo said | December 23rd 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

        Lucky he’s allrounder then.

    • Roar Guru

      December 22nd 2017 @ 8:04am
      Dutski said | December 22nd 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Thanks Ronan. No doubt there will be plenty of views on this. I agree with most of your list until Bairstow. While he is no doubt important to his team, I couldn’t put him anywhere near a top 10.
      If you would ask the general public who is a better batter, there’s would be a long list including David Warner.
      If you ask who is a better cricketer, Dale Steyn surely makes that list.
      And don’t even start me on the recently announced ICC player of the year Ellyse Perry.
      All of whom leave Bairstow in the shade.

      • Roar Guru

        December 22nd 2017 @ 9:22am
        JamesH said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        I’m genuinely stunned that de Kock is not ahead of Bairstow on this list. de Kock had a poor tour – his first – of England but aside from that he has been excellent. He was far more impressive in Australia than Bairstow has been, given that Jonny has scored half of his runs in one knock in the best batting conditions of the tour so far. de Kock is more explosive, gets bowled a lot less and is a better keeper.

      • Columnist

        December 22nd 2017 @ 12:20pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | December 22nd 2017 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

        Hi Dutski,

        Steyn ….. is easily the best Test bowler of the past decade, and an all-time great, but he’s missed a massive amount of cricket the past 3 years and only taken 28 Test wickets in that time, which is why I didn’t have him in my Top 10.

        Bairstow v de Kock ……. I rate de Kock extremely highly, in fact I think he can become one of the top 3 most valuable cricketers in the world across all formats.

        But over the past 3 years, the period I was concentrating on, Bairstow has scored twice as many runs as de Kock at an equally good batting average, and I think his keeping is as good as QDK’s (neither are great gloveman, but adequate). That got Bairstow the nod … just.

        The other thing I was swayed by is that QDK is yet to have any success in Asia – only 3 matches, granted, for an average of 24 in India, whereas Bairstow’s averaged 33 in Asia (very good for a keeper) and had a fantastic tour of India last year, averaging 40. Small differences, but these were tie breakers in the end.

        • December 23rd 2017 @ 9:09am
          Mitcher said | December 23rd 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

          100% agree on Steyn. He’s in the conversation for all time XIs.

          If the easily peddled argument that modern batsmen have a 10-odd run avg boost based on flat wickets and supposedly rubbish attacks is accepted wisdom, how do you rate a guy with Steyn’s record. Before anyone throws the fact he plays on juicy home wickets, have a look at his record on the subcontinent. He’s a freak of nature.

          But yes, within the parameters of this article, comical to put him in the mix.

    • Roar Rookie

      December 22nd 2017 @ 8:19am
      savage said | December 22nd 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      Sorry Ronan you missed a very important and seriously underrated test player.I also think you are overrating Kohli.

      Pujara should’ve been in top 10.His home performance has been better than Root.While his away performance has been mediocre but it is still on par with Root’s away performance.The difference between them is probably one great away knock.

      I’ve just realised that you are only considering last 3 year performance.In that case,he should’ve been ranked even much higher.He didn’t failed in any series.His performance gets better when india were in trouble and he was also india’s best batsmen on difficult batting pitches.

      I also think Hazlewood should’ve been ahead of bairstow.

      One last question,on what basis R ashwin is ranked so much higher than Jadeja.On Flat Sub continent pitches,Jadeja has bowled much better than Ashwin.

      Apart from this,You’re list is very good.Ranking of stokes,rabada and shakib is spot on.

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:35am
        James Jackson said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        Pujara the monk has been masterful in the past few years, I totally agree.

        • December 22nd 2017 @ 11:40am
          spruce moose said | December 22nd 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

          In India, yes. He’s been ordinary outside it.

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 12:19pm
        DaveJ said | December 22nd 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

        Jadeja has sometimes outbowled Ashwin at times but the Indian pitches are hardly flat. They always turn and often they are doctored to turn a mile from day one. Worst example was when Sth Africa toured a couple of years ago, and the first test of the Australian series this year.

      • Columnist

        December 22nd 2017 @ 12:24pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | December 22nd 2017 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

        Savage the reason I marked down Pujara is the same reason I marked down Warner – both struggle badly in certain conditions. Warner struggles in Asia, whereas Pujara struggles outside Asia.

        Pujara only averages 29 with the bat in his 17 matches outside Asia – that is awful, even worse than Warner’s average of 35 in Asia.

        • January 1st 2018 @ 11:25pm
          John Erichsen said | January 1st 2018 @ 11:25pm | ! Report

          Luckily for Pujara, India have barely played a test the subcontinent in the past three years. A single series in West Indies is all, I believe, since they last toured here. Works pretty well for Ashwin too. You might notice that he hasn’t played against Pakistan, who would be considered one of the best teams against spin. He is a great bowler but most Indian players must have question marks over their performances, given such a favourable test schedule in recent years. The next twelve months will be very telling and I expect some of their big name players to make a big statement, with bat and ball, in preparation for the upcoming Test Championship.

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 8:21am
      James Jackson said | December 22nd 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      I feel like Pujara and de Kock should be here somewhere, but I don’t have the stats to back that up.

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 8:35am
      Jeffrey Dun said | December 22nd 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      “Kohli’s performance in Australia three summers ago was astonishing – 692 runs at an average of 86…”.

      Agreed, although it must be said that the pitches prepared for that series were consistently the worst I have seen. Roads all of them. While Kholi was scoring 692 runs Smith was scoring 769 runs at 128.17.

      In fact, the pitches were so flat, and so many runs scored in that series, that it devalued the accomplishment of scoring a century. For the most part, the bowlers were utterly defeated.

      The only exception was the last day at Adelaide, where Lyon had it turning square. Kholi’s century in his second dig at Adelaide, was one of the best I have ever seen.

      I hope to never see another series like that again. For me, Kholi’s Adelaide century is the only highlight for the series.

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 10:38pm
        Jarryd said | December 22nd 2017 @ 10:38pm | ! Report

        That really was a snooze fest of a series. India prep us dustbowls surely we should return the favour with same pace and bounce.

        • December 23rd 2017 @ 1:20pm
          Jacko said | December 23rd 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

          Do you believe India COULD produce fast bouncy pitches??? This fabrication of “They dr pitches to suit them” claims are just rediculas…..Aus Pitches are fast and bouncy…..such is life…India pitches are slow and low…such is life…its been that way all my life and I dont see it changing soon

          • January 3rd 2018 @ 10:11pm
            John Erichsen said | January 3rd 2018 @ 10:11pm | ! Report

            India have an abundance of test playing venues at their disposal. Strangely enough, they were able to find a grassy pitch for the Australian team’s lone warm up game prior to the test series. The first test pitch was rated as “poor” by the ICC. Unlike, the recent MCG pitch, it wasn’t because it was too flat, but rather because it resembled a day eight pitch. Australia never scheduled a WACA test for the most recent Indian tour, which seems quite generous given that it supposedly the fastest and bounciest pitch, which be the most difficult for touring sides to adjust to. Or at least it used to be. Our pitches are losing their traditional characteristics in recent summers, which is detrimental to test cricket in this country.Perhaps, the new ICC pitch rating process, commencing January 1st, will have more teeth and fix the issue of substandard pitches in test cricket. A poor rating will result in a three point penalty. If a pitch incurs five penalty points over a five year period, that ground is suspended from the test roster for 12 months. I suggest the MCG curator pull his finger out because two of the last three MCG test pitches have been rubbish.
            I believe there is also a lesser rating which incurs a five point penalty and immediate suspension from test rosters.

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:00am
      spruce moose said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      Great list Ronan…no two people will have the same list, but that is a great and well evidenced one.

      I’d probably have the same top 10, but tweak the order a little bit here and there. My top 3 would be identical.

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