Friday, March 26, 2010

The best Test team of the 2000s

We’ve tackled the batsmen and bowlers who dominated the first decade of the new Millennium, but what about the teams? Statistically, Australia owned the period, but which line-up of players comprised their best-ever line-up and how do the South African and Indian powerhouses stack up in comparison? Using the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings we can try to discover which the finest team was in the time period by analysing the total points each team had acquired.

Unsurprisingly, the ICC World XI which was assembled for the one-off Test against Australia in October 2005 possessed the highest total of Ratings points with 10422 – the only time a team has managed to break the ten-thousand point barrier. 6774 of those were for batting and 3648 for bowling. Looking at that line-up it is easy to see why no individual team has managed to better that mark – Graeme Smith, Sehwag, Dravid, Lara, Kallis, Inzamam, Flintoff, Boucher, Vettori, Harmison and Muralitharan. It didn’t help them of course, as they went down to a 210-run defeat.

After this representative team, Australians fill the next fifteen slots topped by the eleven who took the field against South Africa at Johannesburg in February 2002. That line-up totalled 9769 points between them and racked up 652-7 declared thanks to centuries from Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn and an unbeaten double-century from Adam Gilchrist. The Proteas folded for just 159 and 133 in reply and succumbed to the heaviest defeat in their Test history. Let’s have a look at that Australian team in detail:

All of the top seven featured in the world’s top twenty Test batsman, headed by Matthew Hayden (872) in third place and Gilchrist (864) in fourth. Just behind them were Damien Martyn in fifth, Steve Waugh seventh and Justin Langer ninth – so Australians filled more than half of the top nine. Rounding up the batsmen was Ricky Ponting – at the start of his ascent to greatness – with 657 points down in twentieth place. To illustrate how strong a batting line-up this was, no country in Test history has ever bettered the total of 6322 points this Australian team managed on this occasion – even Glenn McGrath contributed 109 batting points to the total.

With the ball, Glenn McGrath led the way with 907 points, just behind Muttiah Muralitatharan, and Shane Warne was surprisingly as low as seventh at the time. Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee also featured in the top sixteen in the world, and the two Waugh brothers both chipped in with a couple of hundred points each.

Australia dominated the team Ratings with only a turn-of-the-century South African team getting a look-in among the top 25 Rated countries taking the field over the course of the decade. You have to go down to 56th place to find the first non-Australian or South African team in the list, and surprisingly it is the New Zealand team who played England - and lost - at Lord’s - in 2004. Strength in depth was the key to the over-achieving Kiwi teams of the decade and this one was no different. Their highest-rated batsman was tenth-placed Mark Richardson but they had seven batsmen with Ratings over 500. It was a similar story with the bowlers with 12th placed Chris Martin leading the way. He was well supported by Daryl Tuffey, Chris Cairns, Daniel Vettori and Jacob Oram who were all above the 400-point mark. The highest-rated Indian team is down in 79th place with a total of 8319 points.

The Australians may have had the highest-rated overall team and batting line-up over the decade but they cannot claim the highest-rated bowling attack over the same period of time. That honour goes to the Proteas who even managed to out-point the ICC World XI with one of their bowling line-ups.

In March 2001 South Africa faced off against the West Indies at Bridgetown with the highest-rated Test bowling line-up since a Lillee and Thomson-inspired Australian attack in 1975. Shaun Pollock with 869 and Allan Donald with 830 were second and third in the world, and Jacques Kallis 17th. Nicky Boje and Makhaya Ntini – who had only taken 39 of his career total of 390 Test wickets at the time – were both in the top thirty and Lance Klusener not that far behind them.

However, on that occasion they couldn’t quite force a victory, with the West Indies ending on 88-7 chasing an improbable 265 for victory. It was the lower ranked Kallis and Boje who did most of the damage with Kallis taking six wickets in the West Indies first innings and Boje 4-17 in sixteen overs in the second. The South African bowlers made up for it the following week at Antigua when they helped the visitors to an 82-run victory but it was the batting that let them down in the final Test at Sabina Park when Courtney Walsh and Mervyn Dillon gave the home team a consolation win.