Picking the best 11 of the decade would be no walk in the park for any selector. Since 2000, a staggering 578 men have played test match cricket.
Let's start by narrowing that down. Fifty tests should be the minimum amount a player requires to achieve greatness.
By filtering that, we are left with 58 cricketers, which includes the likes of Mohammed Ashraful, Ashley Giles, and Ridley Jacobs.
However, 15 of those cricketers have averaged more than 50 with the bat in this period. Pietersen, Clarke, Langer, and Laxman are not in that 15. Seventeen have more than 200 wickets to their names.
The following is, in my opinion, the best TEAM of the decade. Some players might be better cricketers (there are two notable batsmen missing, for a start), but I have tried to pick the team that I think would be best suited for all occasions (for example, making sure there are two openers in the side) as well as looking at stats and performances from this decade alone.
Matches - 77
Runs - 6342
Average - 50.33
Hundreds - 18
Smith has churned out runs ever since his debut in 2002. Despite his supposed failings, he has still managed to notch up match winning innings with frightening regularity.
He has saved his best for England, with twin double hundreds in 2003 and a magnifent fourth innings hundred in 2008 to seal a series win. However, every country has felt his wrath at some time.
He also gains the captaincy of the side. The likes of Vaughan and Fleming are not good enough players to chalenge him, and Ponting—through no fault of his own—is yet to prove himself without a world class team behind him.
Matches - 96
Runs - 8364
Average - 52.93
Hundreds - 29
Hayden was the rock on which Australia built their side. Capable of demoralising the opposition from the first session of the first day of a test, on his day he was unstoppable.
A murderous 380 against Zimbabwe briefly earnt him the world record, but typically this was used as more proof that he was a "flat track bully."
Undoubtedly, there was nobody better at destroying bowling attacks on a good wicket.
However, the 2000-01 series against India, where he cracked 549 runs in three matches on testing wickets, showed that he was a batsmen for any surface.
Matches - 103
Runs - 9253
Average - 59.31
Hundreds - 32
Nobody scored more runs in the decade, made more hundreds or scored more boundaries. Ponting seemed to spend the whole decade in prime form.
Indeed, any setbacks only seemed to make him come back more determined and more greedy for runs.
No better example of this is his response to losing the Ashes in 2005. From there, he led Australia to 20 wins in 21 tests, culminating in an Ashes win where he himself won player of the series.
When Ponting make it past 20, he generally makes his opposition suffer.
Matches - 100
Runs - 8125
Average - 53.45
Hundreds - 20
No surprise to see an Indian in the middle order. Perhaps a little surprise over which one. While Tendulkar, Sehwag, Ganguly and Laxman laced opponents to all parts, Dravid was the rock behind them.
It is hard to say just how important he is to the rest of the Indian side, but perhaps most telling is that he averaged more overseas than he did at home in the period...unheard of for an Indian batsman.
"The Wall" at one point managed six hundreds in 16 innings. Four of them were doubles. At his best, truly impregnable.
Matches - 67
Runs - 6126
Average - 60.05
Hundreds - 23
Nobody averaged more than Yousuf this decade. Despite this, there is still a sense of unfulfillment; ICL commitments and subsequent bannings mean that there could have been so much more.
For a while in the middle of the decade, nobody could work out how to get him out. In 2006 against India, England and the West Indies, he managed an astonishing nine centuries.
After his hiatus through 2008, he returned to the side against Sri Lanka, and immediately made a hundred and a 90. It seems opposition still haven't quite worked him out.
Matches - 99
Runs - 8428
Average - 58.93
Hundreds - 26
Wickets - 205
Average - 31.77
5WI - 4
Probably the most underappreciated star of the decade. For some reason whenever the phrase "great" comes up, Kallis is rarely mentioned.
Yet his stats as an all rounder compare favourably with the best in history. Defensively, there is nobody better.
Throughout the decade, while South Africa suffered peaks and troughs, Kallis remained ruthlessly efficient. His bowling is perhaps his weaker discipline, he remains the best fourth seamer in the business.
Matches - 91
Runs - 5130
Average - 46.63
Hundreds - 16
Catches - 362
Stumpings - 35
The decade's great innovator. Adam Gilchrist was the man who defined what would be the benchmark for wicketkeepers in generations to come.
He was above average with the gloves, as you would have to be standing up to Shane Warne for most of your career. However, it was with the bat where he changed games.
A viscious hitter of the ball, he was capable of turning it on in all situations. His 204 against South Africa in 2002 and his 57-ball hundred against England were two of the most brutal innings of all time and were the best examples of his incredible ability to make batting look simple.
Matches - 74
Runs - 3695
Average - 32.69
Hundreds - 5
Wickets - 220
Average - 32.38
5WI - 3
With all the genius in this lineup, we can afford one renegade with stardust. Stats will never tell the full story with Flintoff.
Quite simply, at the peak of his powers, nobody in the world has his ability to seize the big occasion.
Flintoff moments are scattered throughout the decade, from his brutal maiden hundred in New Zealand through his golden period in the middle block of the decade to his typically bombastic farewell in 2009. THAT over against Australia, THAT innings against the West Indies, THAT bowling spell at Jacques Kallis.
It is important to remember just how good he was, and not worry about just how good he might have been.
Matches - 65
Wickets - 357
Average - 25.17
5WI - 21
10WM - 6
Warne cemented his place as one of the greatest cricketers of all time in this decade. Not only was he at times unfathomably brilliant, he did it while with the apparent attitude of a club cricketer that everyone could relate to.
With a ball in his hand, Warne was like a lion circling his prey—watching, waiting patiently for the tiniest weakness to emerge, before exploiting that to its fullest.
With Warne in the side, nobody ever felt safe, ever dared to dream of a win until the final run had been ticked off. Even in 2005, when Australia finally surrendered the Ashes, Warne almost single-handedly made sure that the England side had to fight every inch of the way.
That is the mark of a true champion.
Matches - 66
Wickets - 297
Average - 20.53
5WI - 14
10WM - 2
In a career spanning 15 years, nobody worked out how to score runs consistently against Glenn McGrath. He somehow seemed to get more accurate, more miserly, more unplayable every match he played.
His incredible nack of getting the best players out often put his side on their way to a win, and his simple, repeatable action meant that he performed anywhere and everywhere in the world.
Only four other bowlers averaged less than 30 throughout the decade—McGrath almost averaged less than 20.
Matches - 81
Wickets - 556
Average - 20.24
5WI - 49
10WM - 20
Putting a 100 overs bowled minimum limit on our candidates:
- Muttiah Muralitharan had a better bowling average than anybody in the world in the '00s.
- He managed 14 more 10 wicket hauls than anyone else.
- He collected 26 more five-wicket hauls than anyone else.
- His economy rate of 2.42 was only beaten by McGrath and Jayasuriya.
- He got through 1146 maidens. Nobody else managed 830.
- He had a strike rate of 50.1—better than anybody else.
Sometimes, stats do tell the story.
So there we have it—Smith, Hayden, Ponting, Dravid, Yousuf, Kallis, Gilchrist, Flintoff, Warne, McGrath and Muralitharan.
Only New Zealand and the West Indies of the major test playing nations have not been represented, but that is hardly surprising given their statistics this decade.
There are five Australians—again not surprising. I am certain that this will cause debate, but for what it is worth, my second XI would be:
I would have no doubt that this side would give the first XI a good game.
Next time: The ODI XI of the decade. Guaranteed to include more Indians, less Australians, and more than likely one less England player.
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