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The Decade's Greatest Test Cricketers


A study through Impact Index of the last ten years

In a recent exercise by Cricinfo, Ricky Ponting was voted as the ‘Player of the Decade’ across all formats by a panel of cricketers and cricket writers. While there can be endless debates, rejoinders, arguments and counter-arguments to that verdict, it cannot be denied that assessing the most impactful (and therefore, the greatest) player of this decade under any format is an exercise that deserves a reading that is more detailed and more comprehensive than what an overall impressionistic viewing offers.

Here, then, is an exercise to rate the most impactful Test cricketers of the last ten years. Tests because it is the highest form of the game, and deserves independent analysis uncluttered by other variations. The most accurate rating of a player's impact can come only when each and every performance is seen in its right context, in terms of what circumstances it came under and how it helped the team. Several seemingly immeasurable cricketing achievements - playing a big innings when your team is on the brink of a collapse or is chasing a mammoth fourth innings target or is facing a tough opponent in their own backyard, delivering a devastating bowling spell which swings the run of play, navigating a treacherous pitch - achievements that truly distinguish the good from the great, need to be specifically accounted for, and they can only be done when you use Impact Index.

(For the uninitiated, Impact Index is a unique device that evaluates player performances within the context of team dynamics and match (and series) situations, in a much more comprehensive way than the only other alternative - averages - currently do. Click here to know more about it.)

In July 2009, we compiled a study for the ICC Centenary Conference held in Oxford which ranked the fifty most impactful cricketers of all time. Derived from that, with some new information, is this ranking of the twelve most impactful cricketers of this decade.*

12) Inzamam Ul Haq, II 3.26
(in 62 Tests)

In a decade that hasn’t given Pakistan too much to cheer about in the Test arena, Inzamam has been one of the country’s few shining lights. As the country’s cricket and cricketers staggered in a sea of controversy, turbulence of all descriptions and inconsistency, Inzamam actually raised his game from where it was in the previous decade, and delivered for his team some important draws and series wins. He also bore the burden of Pakistan’s captaincy for a while (but then, who hasn’t done that?)
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: Not in the top 50)

11) Brian Lara, II 3.32 (in 66 Tests)

Although his best years came in the 90s, Lara has still had enough to offer in this decade to figure in the top 10. His near single-handed propping-up of the West Indies in its worst phase ever weighs in heavily. It is interesting to note that in this decade, Lara has had more hundreds than fifties, showcasing a remarkable ability to make the most of a good start and not throw it away.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 16)

10) Steve Waugh, II 3.57 (in 44 Tests)

In a short span of 44 matches, Steve Waugh has had two performances that have defined the series' they came in, including one in his final appearance in Test cricket. This, in part, makes up for an indifferent patch he had with the bat between 2001 and 2003, a pattern that he has maintained throughout his career. Waugh's phenomenal record as captain adds heavily to his Impact Index (his II without captaincy is 2.28). In this decade, he has lost only one out of the 13 series' in which he has marshalled the Australian troops, winning 10 of them.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 28)

9) Andrew Flintoff, II 3.58 (in 74 Tests)

The 2005 Ashes was his greatest phase of the decade, but Flintoff has been a high-impact player for England from well before that. Like most great all-rounders, constant contributions with the bat and the ball has seen him rise to these levels. Like Sehwag, he has also put up several momentum shifting performances – brief (or not so brief) blitzes that have turned the run of play on its head.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 32)

8) Daniel Vettori, II 3.74 (in 69 Tests)

A hugely under-rated cricketer, Daniel Vettori has done something of a Richard Hadlee here for New Zealand, particularly in the second half of this decade. His high rating comes on account of stellar, often solo, contributions in a wide array of roles ranging from all the four innings of the match to his contributions as captain. The fact that he (and two more cricketers who will be listed shortly) doesn't even
come remotely close to the top 10 list compiled by the jury in the above-mentioned Cricinfo's 'Player of the Decade' exercise suggests that there have been some oversights, especially when you consider the fact that his ODI performances have not been of such a lower grade as to reduce his overall impact by such a degree.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: Not in the top 50)

7) Jacques Kallis, II 3.84 (in 101 Tests)

A heavyweight cricketer whose hallmark has been consistency and stability, Kallis has been a steady anchor in South Africa's rise to the top. He is the second-most important reason why South Africa is amongst the top two Test teams of the decade, and that lends tremendous value to his already significant numbers.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 22)

6) Kumar Sangakkara, II 3.92 (in 88 Tests)

Sangakkara is one of the biggest match-winners to have emerged (and duly overlooked) in this decade. He has been to Sri Lanka with the bat what Murali is to them with the ball - and that is saying a lot. He has conjured up numerous knocks under pressure, and has often done it single-handedly. Averages alone may be insufficient information, but in some cases they act as useful evidence to support facts. Sanga's average in winning matches is 76, and in matches they have won chasing is 96! He has doubled up as wicket-keeper, and now as captain, so his stock should rise even more in the future.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 12)

5) Ricky Ponting, II 3.95
(in 107 Tests)

Ponting has been a phenomenally consistent batting machine, carrying his bat  through the golden era of Waugh's invincibles to the lean phase of the Ashes, India and South Africa losses, to the current re-rise in strength. His contribution as a batsman - with 24 hundreds in winning causes - to Australia's reign at the top is undisputed. His captaincy may not have many fans, and he may or may not be as iconic a leader as Waugh, but there is no questioning his winning record, which is what it boils down to at the end of the day.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 21)

4) Rahul Dravid, II 4.17 (in 103 Tests)

Dravid has been India's all-weather man, their bedrock for (nearly) every crisis. Pick out any of India's most significant victories in the last decade and you'll find Dravid lurking around somewhere in the Roll of Honours. He has won India more series' than anyone else with defining performances in matches that decided the eventual outcome of the contest.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 17)

3) Graeme Smith, II 4.25
(in 80 Tests)

Very rarely has so gigantic a figure been hidden so well in the mist of misguided hype. He is the best run-chaser of this decade (perhaps, of all time) which means that a significant chunk of his runs have come under serious pressure. He has been the architect of many of South Africa's big wins this year, and as captain, has presided over their run from the rubbles of 2003 to the top of the Test cricket pile.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 7)

2) Shane Warne, II 4.94 (in 65 Tests)

The scary thing about Warne is that in all likelihood, he would finish as the most impactful player of the 1990s as well. To be the foremost match-winner of a line up that included McGrath, Ponting, Hayden, Gilchrist, Langer, Martyn and co. is a phenomenal achievement. The fact that even within this pantheon of greats he has been the fulcrum of more series wins than anyone else explains why he is so high.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 6)

1) Muttiah Muralitharan, II 5.40
(in 84 Tests)

Murali is easily Sri Lanka's most influential cricketer of all time. He peaked in this decade, and it is no co-incidence that Sri Lanka played their best, most triumphant cricket at around the same time. That he consumes most of the wickets Sri Lanka takes means, by default, that he captures pretty much all the important ones, and at all the important times. All this put together leaves little doubt that he is the most impactful cricketer of the last ten years.
(All-time rank as per our Oxford study: 5)

Here are the Impact Index figures of some of the other celebrated names to have played Test cricket in this decade (listed in descending order, but not ranked – those missing from this list should not be assumed to be ranked lower than those mentioned here).


Impact Index in 2000s

Virender Sehwag

Adam Gilchrist

Andrew Strauss

Mohammad Yousuf

Glenn McGrath

Sachin Tendulkar

Younis Khan

Shivnarine Chanderpaul

Anil Kumble


Shaun Pollock

Michael Vaughan

Stephen Fleming

Kevin Pietersen

Mahela Jayawardene

Brett Lee

Matthew Hayden


















*Based on Impact Index calculated for matches played by the players in this decade, and includes points for captaincy and wicket-keeping. The study includes only players who have played 40 or more matches in this decade, since a smaller sample size may skew the rating thanks to flash-in-the-pan performances.

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