9 Tests: 615 runs at 47.3 (2 centuries)
The 25-year-old, with a thirst for long innings, earns his first team-of-the-year call up. Having debuted in late 2019, the Warwickshire right-hander enjoyed a strong campaign. There was a maiden, unbeaten century against a South African attack featuring Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander which helped his side to victory in Cape Town in only his fourth Test. In England’s home summer held in a bio-secure bubble, he followed up with a century against the West Indies at Manchester which set the tone for a strong victory. There were three good starts against Pakistan which at least helped to blunt the new ball, with England hoping he can have a key role in Australia next summer.
DAVID WARNER (Australia)
1 Test: 156 runs at 156 (1 century)
After a 2019 Ashes shocker, the robust Australian regains selection largely through a lack of serious options. It seems like a life-time ago, considering what the world has endured this year, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that in his only Test in 2020 Warner crunched 45 and an unbeaten 111 against New Zealand in a 279-run win in the third and final Test at the SCG. Pakistani opener Shan Masood was another opening option with centuries against Bangladesh and England, while England’s Zac Crawley, now at No.3, could have been elevated into a position he has filled before. But Warner’s experience and ability to turn a contest in a blink of an eye means he must be selected.
MARNUS LABUSCHAGNE (Australia)
3 Tests: 403 at 67.16 (1 century)
Australia may have played only three Tests this year but the Queenslander, like Warner, left an imprint on the Black Caps with his 215-run vigil at the SCG. That capped off a majestic summer for Labuschagne, who has yet to recapture that form this season but still helped to hold an innings together in Adelaide and Melbourne. The emerging Crawley was also a challenger for this role, having thumped 267 in his last innings, against Pakistan, but Labuschagne’s handy leg-spin helps to give him the nod.
KANE WILLIAMSON (New Zealand) (c)
4 Tests: 498 runs at 83 (2 centuries)
The majestic New Zealand strokemaker didn’t quite deliver against India in February. His top score was 89 but it didn’t matter for the home side won the series 2-0. However, his form in recent weeks has been superb. There was a 251 against the West Indies in Hamilton and a majestic 129 – the 23rd century of his Test career – in a dramatic 101-run win over Pakistan that has the Black Caps in contention to make the inaugural Test Championship final.
BABAR AZAM (Pakistan)
4 Tests: 338 runs at 67.6 (1 century)
Stand-in Indian skipper Ajinkya Rahane and England captain Joe Root were under consideration but Babar, the emerging Pakistani captain, got the nod. The slick strokemaker feasted on Bangladesh in Rawalpindi in February with 143 and had scores of 69, 47 and 63 not out against a challenging English attack. However, his year ended a sour note with a broken thumb. At 26, he isn’t yet in his prime but that time is fast approaching.
BEN STOKES (England)
7 Tests: 641 runs at 58.27 (2 centuries); 19 wickets at 18.73
The English allrounder is arguably cricket’s most valuable asset. As he can turn a contest with either bat or ball, his share-price is always going to remain high. And that was on full display again in 2020 when he finished as the leading run-scorer in the red-ball format while also being among the top-10 wicket-takers. There was his sublime 120 alongside fellow centurion Ollie Pope in Port Elizabeth where the tourists prevailed by an innings and 53 runs, and another ton, a man-of-the-match performance, against the West Indies in Manchester. With the ball, his ability to break partnerships was shown in that the 11 innings he bowled, only twice was he wicketless. That he stood in for skipper Joe Root in the opening Test against the West Indies reinforced how much he has matured on and off the field. Bring on the Ashes.
JOS BUTTLER (England) (w/k)
9 Tests: 497 runs at 38.23 (1 century)
It was tempting to insert Tim Paine here, particularly after his match-winning knock and performance with the gloves against India in Adelaide. But Buttler did deliver a 75 and 152 against Pakistan although he did not pass 29 in six innings against South Africa in January-February. He has usurped Jonny Bairstow as England’s preferred red-ball ‘keeper – he is considered a better gloveman – but faces a challenge to hold on to that role ahead of the Ashes tour next summer.
STUART BROAD (England)
8 Tests: 38 wickets at 14.76 (1 5-for, 1 10-for)
The 34-year-old England spearhead left no one in doubt how he felt when he was overlooked for the northern summer opener against the West Indies, declaring he was “frustrated, angry and gutted”. He later revealed he had even considered retirement. However, if anyone thought his career was done, Broad responded in style. He became the seventh player in history to take 500 Test wickets, in the third Test against the West Indies, claiming 16 wickets in his two matches of that series. Then came 13 in three against Pakistan. No wonder the 143-Test veteran said he was bowling as well as ever.
PAT CUMMINS (Australia)
3 Tests: 14 wickets at 17.42
The pin-up boy of world cricket, Cummins has emerged as a superstar – although teammate Josh Hazlewood and even James Anderson also had claims to a spot in the XI. Cummins has become a smarter bowler in recent years but can still ramp up the speed when required. His ability to use a wobbly seam has befuddled many a batsman. And his exhilarating spell alongside Hazlewood in Adelaide, when Cummins lured Virat Kohli into a false drive, was a pivotal moment in an unforgettable Australian victory.
TIM SOUTHEE (New Zealand)
5 Tests: 30 wickets at 17.3 (2 5-fors)
One of the more unheralded stars of world cricket, the New Zealand swing king has enjoyed a superb year, capped by becoming only the third Black Cap to celebrate 300 Test wickets. It’s easy to forget he claimed 14 wickets at 13.14 against India earlier this year, including 11 wickets in Wellington, and another five-wicket haul in Christchurch, as the Black Caps secured a prized series victory. He and Trent Boult are a destructive and indefatigable force, particularly in home conditions, and have joined Broad and Anderson as the only two men to have lined up together 100 or more times as the leaders of an attack. His good form continued in two Tests against the West Indies, when he claimed 12 wickets. In a batting statistical quirk, CricViz reported that 12.2 per cent of the deliveries Southee faces in Test cricket find the boundary. Only two men in Test history have a higher boundary percentage: Shahid Afridi (13.4 per cent), and Virender Sehwag (12.5).
RAVI ASHWIN (India)
3 Tests: 13 wickets at 21.23
The Indian off-spinner had a terrible record in Australia heading into the blue-chip series but emerged as a major threat in Adelaide and Melbourne. His ability to deceive with dip has improved, he has added a leg-spinning variation, and he has been attentive to plans, including twice dismissing Steve Smith. He and Nathan Lyon have vied the front-line spinning role in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s team of the year for several years, and this year Australia’s lack of matches has hurt the man set to become only the third Australian to 400 Test wickets.
12th Man: JAMES ANDERSON (England)
6 Tests: 23 wickets at 20.47 (2 5-fors)
The veteran England spearhead showed at 38 his verve and accuracy are as good as ever – and he hopes for one final Ashes shot next next summer.
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.