Despite what you might hear about Test cricket, following England over the last decade has been anything but dull.
Three Ashes triumphs, including a first win in Australia since 1986/87, famous series victories in India, South Africa and Sri Lanka and, of course, rising to No 1 in the Test rankings for the first time.
S Africa vs England
January 3, 2020, 7:30am
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In the last 10 years, England have recorded series wins over every other major Test playing nation but have also suffered series defeats to seven of those eight sides. There are bound to be highs and lows in any decade but this one really feels as though it lurched between the two more frequently than most!
We are here to focus on the positives though and the best England Test XI of the 2010s. If your favourite player has missed out, rest assured it is entirely due to a bias against him, your county and everything they stand for, and not that there are only 11 places to fill and some very tough calls to make…
Andrew Strauss (c)
Captain of the first England side to win the Ashes in Australia for 24 years, in 2010/11 Strauss backed that up by taking the team to No 1 in the world with a demolition of India a few months later. He might only have played for two and a half years of the 2010s and his peak as a batsman arguably came in the last couple of years of the previous decade, but he still managed three hundreds in that time.
Since his retirement, England have had more opening batsmen than there have been UK elections in the past 10 years, which is some going, and shows just how tough it has been to replace a man who will go down as one of England’s great captains and opening batsmen.
Do I really need to explain this one? The man has been given a knighthood, for goodness sake! Twenty-three hundreds from 2010 onwards, five of them doubles, the most Test runs ever by an England batsman, the most runs by an Englishman in an Ashes series since 1929 – and the list goes on. His style was never the most pleasing on the eye but, boy, could he score runs.
As captain, he led from the front with three centuries as England triumphed in India for the first time in 27 years and lifted the Ashes urn twice, the second occasion coming just 18 months after the tumultuous 2013/14 tour of Australia had ended in a 5-0 defeat with no little acrimony. A remarkable career was given a fairytale ending as Cook bowed out of international cricket with an emotional century in his final Test innings at The Oval in 2018.
When people talk about England needing batsmen who truly value their wicket, can dig in and really build an innings with an emphasis on how many runs rather than how quickly, they are talking about Trott. They might not know it, but they are. In a similar way to Cook, there was no concern with style. In fact, in 52 Tests he never hit a six. Trott was all substance, a rock at No 3 for the side that climbed to the top of the world rankings, relentlessly churning out runs while allowing the more free-flowing batsmen in the middle-order to flourish.
Which brings us on to the most glaring omission from this XI: Ian Bell. An incredible, stylish player who offered so much to England over the years. His cover drive alone is arguably worthy of a place in the side but, ultimately, it came down to Trott or Bell – and for all Bell’s undoubted class, it is the grit of Trott that England have most struggled to replace and so he gets the nod.
You have no doubt heard that Root’s form with the bat has suffered since he took over as England captain, that his average has dropped, and so on and so on. The stats back that up. However, the stats also tell you that, despite that drop-off, in the history of Test cricket, only 10 batsmen have ever averaged more for England than Root – and the last of them retired in 1968.
Root is a generational talent and his double century in New Zealand recently showed he might be getting back to somewhere near his best. Some will look at his 17 hundreds and 45 fifties and say he should be converting more of those fifties, I’m sure he agrees, but it also shows remarkable consistency. He scores a half-century in one of every three Test innings – and that is rounding it up. England fans will hope there is plenty more to come from Root in the next decade.
Forget textgate, forget the reintegration process and forget the way it all ended for him, Pietersen is almost indisputably the most entertaining and uniquely brilliant batsman to have played Test cricket for England. Seven of his 23 Test hundreds came in this decade, with a further 18 half-centuries added in for good measure. The numbers only tell a fraction of the story though.
At his best, his entire innings was like watching a highlights reel. He could take bowling attacks apart in the blink of an eye and he did so all around the world in all different conditions with a double hundred in Adelaide, stunning tons in Colombo and Mumbai, and in England, you would go a long way to find a better knock than his staggering 149 against South Africa at Headingley. Like him or loathe him, there is only one KP and he simply has to be in this XI.
It will come as no surprise that every player in this XI is an Ashes winner. In fact, 10 of them have won the urn at least twice. The other is Stokes. Yet he is the one whose contribution to an Ashes Test match will most be remembered. That innings, his innings at Headingley in August, wrote his name into Ashes folklore. It is quite possibly the best in a Test between England and Australia. It might even be the best in a Test, full stop.
That undoubtedly sits top of the list when it comes to his match-winning, awe-inspiring performances for England in red-ball cricket but it is some list. That list would not include his 258 at Cape Town in 2016 as the game ended in a draw but it demonstrated once more the extraordinary talent he is. With bat, ball and in the field, Stokes is capable of winning for England and the worrying thing for opposition sides is that he only seems to be getting better.
The man behind the stumps when England were at their best in this decade and a superb, aggressive batsman coming in at No 7. He was helped by the quality of the six ahead of him often putting the side in such a strong position and giving him the freedom to attack but on the occasions that they didn’t, Prior showed his worth.
A defiant century to save a draw in Auckland in 2013 springs to mind while he also boasted a Test average of over 40. Behind the scenes, Prior was a key figure in the dressing room, playing the role of motivator and ensuring standards were upheld. Jonny Bairstow has to make do with a squad place.
For years, England had been searching for a truly world-class spinner and they found one in Swann. He was well established in the side by the start of the decade and from the start of 2010 to his retirement midway through the 2013/14 Ashes, he took 193 wickets, taking his overall tally to 255. Although he was more than capable of holding up an end when required, Swann was at his best when he was hunting for wickets, with his ability to get the ball to dip late and turn sharply regularly deceiving batsmen. Alongside his Ashes triumphs, perhaps the off-spinner’s greatest contribution came in the historic series win over India in 2012 where he took 20 wickets at 24.75.
Moeen Ali is perhaps unfortunate to miss out given his 181 Test wickets in the decade but he will be there to step in for one of the seamers on particularly dry surfaces and tours to the subcontinent.
Since 2010, Broad has taken 403 Test match wickets. Only one bowler has taken more in that time – and we’ll get to him shortly! The seamer is renowned for his ability to produce a game-changing spell. He has done it time and time again for England; those knees start pumping and the wickets start tumbling.
There are plenty that England fans will remember but, of course, there is one they will cherish more than any other. August 6, Trent Bridge. Broad with scarcely believable figures of 8-15 and Australia bowled out for 60 – it even spawned the ‘oh-my-Broad!’ celebration, reprised by the England man every so often. It is hard to think of how he could top that but spending a summer sending David Warner packing in the first over ran it close!
Given he has spent the last 10 years ticking over milestones and breaking records, it is little surprise that Anderson has taken more Test wickets, 429, than anyone else in that time. First, he brought up 200 wickets; that soon became 300; he went past Ian Botham to become England’s leading wicket-taker of all-time not long after; and then eased past 400. His 500th came at Lord’s in 2017; and the following summer he went past Glenn McGrath, making him the most prolific fast bowler in Test history. Now he is approaching 600.
If Broad is more of a streaky bowler, taking his wickets in bursts, Anderson is Mr Consistent. That might seem like damning him with faint praise, but it is meant as the utmost compliment. Anderson is consistently brilliant – the skill and control he shows spell after spell, match after match, series after series is astonishing. Even at 37, he is keen to carry on but he can’t go on forever so England fans should enjoy watching the ‘swing king’ while they still can.
The excellence of Broad and Anderson means they have dominated when it comes to England seamers over the past decade, making this final selection the trickiest. In home conditions, Chris Woakes has been superb – if the game was being played at Lord’s, he’d be a shoo-in – and would also add depth to the batting, while Tim Bresnan made a valuable contribution early in the decade both at home and abroad, most notably in that 2010/11 Ashes success.
However, the final spot goes to Finn. Firstly, based on the numbers – 125 wickets in just 36 Tests is an impressive record. He was the leading wicket-taker after three Tests of England’s victorious tour Down Under before he was dropped, somewhat harshly, and added another 12 wickets at 22.50 in the 2015 Ashes, again despite only playing three matches.