The men's Test XI of the last 25 years
No Dravid, Ambrose or Cook. Who makes the cut then?
No Dravid, Ambrose or Cook. Who makes the cut then?
Welcome to the first of ESPNcricinfo's dream teams for the last 25 years: magnificent teams of magnificent players whose careers overlap with the life of this website.
Twenty-five years is about the length of a generation, and the riches of this one are revealed not just by the players selected but those left out. In the Test XI below, for example, no Sangakkara or Dravid, no KP or ABD, no Cook or either of the Smiths, no Ambrose or Donald or Pollock or Steyn or Kumble - and we already have something like a full squad although we are only just getting started.
But what there is is amazing. This is a team that can stand tall against a fantasy XI from any other era in history. A batting line-up that can take you on from the top and never let go. A bowling attack that, other than by raw pace, can take you apart in every way conceivable. It is a team that can be as breathtakingly watchable as it can be ruthlessly efficient.
The selection was surprisingly unanimous. As many as five from the XI were picked by all five selectors; another four received four votes each. There was just the one tie: for Virender Sehwag's opening partner, where Matthew Hayden muscled out Alastair Cook. [see sidebar for jury and method]
Five Australians figure in the XI, as befits the champion team of the era, and they are joined by two Indians, a West Indian, a South African, a Pakistani and a Sri Lankan. Captaining this hypothetical team is a man who never led his country in a Test match.
Big fella, big heart, big shots, big scores. Hayden's very physique intimidated opponents, and when he came down the track to a fast bowler it was the first sign of Australia exerting their domination. When Hayden scored a century, Australia rarely lost.
Did you know? Only one batsman has more Test hundreds when opening the batting than Hayden's 30: Sunil Gavaskar, with 33.
An unreal strike rate even by modern standards - 82! - and seven runs short of becoming the only man in Test history to three triple-hundreds. Not only did Sehwag's batting create space for results in Test matches, it provided a new language for openers. Quite simply a phenomenon.
Did you know? Sehwag is the record-holder for the fastest triple-hundred in terms of balls faced (278). He also features three times in the list of six fastest double-hundreds.
As captain Ponting led Australia to more Test victories than anyone else; as batsman he was forever setting the agenda from No. 3. He was flair and grit in equal measure, with a pull shot to watch on loop. On the hard, fast tracks of Australia and South Africa especially, few batsmen have been as relentless.
Did you know? Ponting is the only batsman to score hundreds in each innings of his 100th Test.
The iconic cricketer of his generation was also its most prolific. Almost from the time he debuted at 16 (well before Cricinfo) until he retired at 40, India looked to Tendulkar for inspiration. The master rewarded them with an unprecedented number of runs and centuries scored in all conceivable conditions around the planet.
Did you know? Tendulkar is the only batsman to score 10,000-plus Test runs from No. 4: he made 13,492 runs at an average of 54.40.
5. Brian Lara
Opponents confess to tearing their hair out in frustration and simultaneously smiling with pleasure as Lara took them apart. He was 24 when he broke the world record for the highest Test score. A decade later he did it again. Some of Lara's most stirring innings came in West Indian defeat; others, magically, took them to victory against all odds.
Did you know? Lara is one of only four batsmen to pass 300 twice in Tests; unlike him, none of the others - Bradman, Sehwag and Gayle - got to 400.
Kallis crafted mountains of runs using a combination of indestructible technique and indestructible temperament, prised out near to 300 wickets with brisk seam and outswing, and pouched a phenomenal 200 catches, the majority of them in the slips. If there has ever been a more complete cricketer, his name must have been Sobers.
Did you know? Kallis won 23 Man-of-the-Match awards, the most by any player in Test history; Muttiah Muralitharan is next with 19.
Test line-ups were never the same after Gilchrist. To keep wicket like him - superbly safe to wristspin, frequently acrobatic to the fast bowlers - was admirable. To bat like him - with thrilling freedom, at a strike rate topping 80 - was incredible. To do both was insane.
Did you know? Gilchrist scored 13 Test hundreds when batting at No. 7 or lower; the next best at these positions is Kapil Dev, with seven.
8. Wasim Akram
He made the ball swing, seam, sing, slither and scheme: rare is the batsman who has faced Akram and doesn't think that is the best he has ever faced. Although only about half of Akram's career fell in the period under consideration, there is little arguing his game-changing instincts and his sheer magic.
Did you know? Akram is one of only four bowlers to take two Test hat-tricks; Hugh Trumble, TJ Matthews and Stuart Broad are the others.
Bowling: 237 wickets at 23.49 (strike rate 53.4) from 59 Tests; Best: 7 for 119; 13 five-fors, 3 ten-fors
Batting: 1885 runs at 23.86 (strike rate 52.18); Best: 257 not out; 2 hundreds, 3 fifties
9. Shane Warne (captain)
Nobody spun the ball from leg to off quite like Warne, and few tangled batsmen's brains like him. He was also perhaps the most competitive cricketer of his era, with a nose for big moments and the killer instinct of a shark. Never appointed captain of Australia, here he takes charge of the world.
Did you know? Warne's 96 Test wickets in 2005 are the most by any bowler in a calendar year; Murali is next, with 90 in 2006.
10. Glenn McGrath
With his acute control, steep bounce and lethal incutter, McGrath hounded and harrowed his way to more wickets than any other pace bowler in Test history. Full of sound principles and subtle adjustments, he was as much at home in India or England as in Australia. When McGrath bowled a bad ball - well, he didn't really.
Did you know? McGrath averaged less than 28 against every opponent - his poorest average was 27.33 against South Africa.
When Murali began his Test career, the record for the most wickets was 431. Using his wickedly gargantuan offbreaks, and latterly a doosra that could put most legbreaks to shame, he himself signed off with an astonishing 800. To bowl more deliveries than anyone else in Test cricket was one thing; to do so with the constant and cruel scrutiny on his bowling action quite another.
Did you know? Murali took 67 five-fors and 22 ten-fors in Tests. The next best in these categories are 37 and ten, by Warne.
All statistics are for the period March 1, 1993 to December 31, 2017
Click here for our men's ODI XI of the past 25 years