Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Daniel Cure Greatest XI

With the cricket season already in progress, I was musing on several articles and came across the Richie Benaud Greatest XI. Whilst most of the faces are certainly worthy of inclusion, I couldn’t help but feel inclined to tweak accordingly. In short, there were a few specific selections that seemed either biased towards his home country, or blinkered via simple stats.

So…here’s my effort...

Opening batsmen

Of all the leading candidates, I have to agree with Richie that Sir John Berry Hobbs must be the first name on the list. Having had his career interrupted by World War One, his average of 56.94 from 61 Test Matches belies the fact that he was a record breaking batsman having to open the batting without adequate body protection on uncovered pitches against some tremendously dangerous bowlers. The late playwright Ben Travers was once asked what the greatest innings he ever witnessed was and he replied that it took place in the final days of 1928 in Melbourne. The wicket was uncovered and had been subject to a monumental tropical rainstorm, followed by a day’s baking in the blistering Australian sun. Having inspected the surface, Hobbs returned to the dressing room and proclaimed to the rest of the team that they would be bowled out within a session. By the tea interval, he and Sutcliffe were unbeaten and Hobbs had 49 to his name. “That 49,” Travers stated, “must have been the greatest innings ever played. I walked out to the middle at the end of the days play and the pitch was like concrete, with broken lumps sticking out and huge cracks you could put your fist in – it must have been totally impossible to bat on.”

To partner Jack Hobbs, I have to be controversial and disagree with Benaud. Whilst Gavaskar bears all the stats to suggest that he is the choice, I can’t help but feel that he was not an extraordinary player. This is the greatest eleven ever, so we must look beyond mere accumulators and to the true greats. I could mention Herbert Sutchcliffe (who partnered Hobbs for many years) owing to his test average of over 60, or the likes of Boycott, Hutton, Greenidge or Hayden. However, I am going for a man who only played 4 Tests owing to the apartheid ban on South Africa and yet who averaged 72.57 in the process. Barry Richards was regarded as a phenomenal talent to all those who watched him play and one of the greats of the game. He could and did open the batting and what a great partner to Hobbs at the top of the order.

The middle order

Here is where I do agree with Benaud in terms of the selection, but not the order.

Play your players in the positions to which they are accustomed, I say, and to that end I would have the masterblaster at 3, where he did his damage for the Windies, the Don at 4 (always have your best batsman at 4 in Test Matches) and Tendulkar at 5, where he has been comfortable for much of his career.

Again, a combination of stats and gut-feel influences my

selection here, for after the man who smashed England for a 56 ball ton in 1986 is followed by a man who average 99 in Tests and a man who has broken almost

every batting record in an international careers running into its fourth decade…

The all-rounder
Assuming that a bowling attack was able to prise out four batsmen, they would be greeted by the sight of Sir Garfield Sobers, a man whose status as the greatest all rounder of all time could never be in doubt.

Not only did he finish with a Test average of 57.78 from 93 Tests, but he took 235 wickets – extraordinarily via a combination of orthodox left arm spin, fast new ball bowling and medium pace seam. In the famous tied test in Brisbane, he hit a six during his celebrated hundred that hit the mid-on fielder on the shoulder before clearing the stands. Commenting upon

Sobers' six sixes in an over against his team in 1968, Glamorgan captain Tony Lewis said: "It was not sheer slogging through strength, but scientific hitting with every movement working in harmony". For those of you who are interested, he was also an outstanding ground fielder, but then this team would be beyond fielding…

The wicket keeper

I’m agreeing quite a bit with Benaud here – worrying isn’t it! As much as I’d like to go for the “best” keeper, I’m not sure that we have sufficient information on this as athleticism has developed hugely throughout the course of the past twenty years and one has to consider the bowlers to which a keeper has faced. Knott was great but can’t have had the ferocious challenge of Dujon, whilst Dujon never had spin to contend with.

As such, I cannot help feel that spin has to be considered and if one is to combine this with the fact that he was the ultimate “keeper-batsman”, then Adam Gilchrist must be number one.

The bowlers

Here’s where I go off on a tangent to Benaud. With Sobers already in place as a first change left-armer and possible back-up spinner (as well as Richards with his tweakers” and Tendulkar with his session-breaking medium dobblers). We have the opportunity here to bring in four destroyers. We are not interested in just “stats men” here, or line and length merchants. I want some nasty-bastard men in to wipe out a line up in a session. I want to launch the four horsemen of the apocalypse and unleash hell upon our opponents. I want the four most lethal bowlers of all time.

So, my spinner, has to be Shane Warne. It was only ever going to be between him and Muralitharan, but if I wanted a man to take wicket with one ball – a life-or-death ball, it would be Warne, as he could live with the pressure. It also helps that he took over 700 Test wickets, at an average of 25 and could turn the ball square on glass.

We also have the legendary Sydney Barnes. There are few meticulous accounts of his bowling style, but this is a case where stats simply force a man’s inclusion. His bowling average was an amazing 16.43, delivered via the use of devastating medium pace leg-cutters along with other variants. On almost any pitch, this offered something else and when one thinks of the flatbeds delivered by groundsmen these days, his inclusion would be vital.

Which leaves us, readers, with the opening attack (as I lick my lips with relish). For me, Dennis Lillee was a great bowler, but not a man to send shivers down your spine. The man I am choosing to open the attack is a man capable of swinging a cricket ball at any length on any wicket at 95mph and whose scud missile bouncer was as close to unplayable as can be. In a nucleur quartet of pace that, for two decades destroyed the finest batsmen in the world, he stood out above all others with his ability to out-think a batsman on any surface. At 5 feet 11 inches in height, he dwarfed by Garner, Croft, Walsh, Bishop and Ambrose and yet Malcolm Marshall ended his Test career with 376 wickets at a staggering 20.94 – staggering none the less as from 1975 through to 1995 the great Windies bowlers usually had to share the spoils.

He never lost a Test series. He succeeded in every challenge on every pitch – including Asia. His bouncer skidded and regularly skulled batsmen as Andy Lloyd and Mike Gatting would testify. He routed England in 1984 with one arm in plaster. Here, I insert a clip from Cricinfo:

“… he broke Mike Gatting's nose as he plunged gamely forwards with a helmet but no grille in the one-day international at Kingston in 1985-86. The Test which followed at Sabina was Apocalypse Now: a broken pitch, and Marshall stirred by the introduction of Patrick Patterson to prove himself the fastest bowler alive. You would not believe the barrage which was put up by the pair of them from the George Headley Stand end, and unfortunately there is no television film to prove it. Gower squirted a semi-voluntary six over the slips; it was cricket at its most red-meat raw. … determined to break England's spirit for the rest of their tour, and successfully so.”

The man was the greatest fast bowler of all – of that there can be no doubts – and we were prematurely deprived of his presence so tragically in 1999.

To partner Marshall, I leave my hardest decision until last. My second opening bowler. Now again, I am going to be honest and state categorically that I want blood and guts here. I want the opposition to back away to leg before the run up has began, and for that reason I exclude McGrath, Ambrose, Lillee, Hadlee, Trueman, Lindwell and others, as they don’t have that out-and-out pace. I have considered many players here. Frank Tyson was supposedly lethally quick. Larwood was perhaps even faster. In the modern era, we have experienced a young Ian Bishop, Waquar Younis, Wasim Akram, Brett Lee and Shoab Akhtar. But, they have been inconsistent and perhaps never really became greats, other than Wasim (though we already have a left arm all-rounder, so unfortunately I have to turn him down). I want a nasty, nasty bowler with serious pace and so two that sprung to mind were Colin Croft (a man who hit batsmen for fun) and Patrick Patterson (whose spell at Sabina Park in 1986 is thought to be the fastest anywhere, ever – perhaps consistently over 100mph). But they, too, enjoyed very brief careers and can I really include them in a greatest-ever eleven? No, I think the choice must be Whispering Death.

I take you back to The Kensington Oval, Bridgetown in 1981 with Boycott and Gooch marching out to bat on an uneven pitch in response to the West Indies modest first innings total. I quote Cricino..
“Holding's first ball was a three-quarter-pace loosener which nevertheless rapped Boycott on the gloves and dropped just short of the slips. Each succeeding ball after that was quicker than the previous one. The second beat Boycott outside the off stump, and the third cut back and struck him on the inside of his right thigh. The fourth and fifth both hurried Boycott, but he just about managed to keep them out. "He middled none," wrote Gladstone Holder in The Nation, "but any lesser mortal would have been out." And Ian Botham recalled that Boycott was "jumping about like a jack-in-the-box".

Then came the final ball, the coup de grace, delivered at a fearsome pace ("It went like a rocket," Boycott recalled), which was pitched up and sent his off stump cartwheeling almost 20 yards as he desperately and belatedly brought his bat down. "The hateful half-dozen had been orchestrated into one gigantic crescendo," wrote Frank Keating. After a momentary silence, the crowd erupted. "Boycott looked round," observed Keating, "then as the din assailed his ears, his mouth gaped and he tottered as if he'd seen the Devil himself. Then slowly he walked away, erect and brave and beaten."

The greatest over cannot be bowled by an average bowler and for that reason, Michael Hodling makes the final slot in my team.

* * *

So, two Englishmen, a South African, an Indian, three Australians and four West Indians. No Pakistanis, no New Zealanders and No Sri Lankans. However, based upon their averages, this side would score over 500 (most batting line ups of the modern age would struggle to top 350 and that is with averages at their height with flat pitches, big bats and fast outfields) each time.

Jack Hobbs (England)
Barry Richards (South Africa)
Don Bradman (Australia)
Viv Richards (West Indies)
Sachin Tendulkar (India)
Gary Sobers (West Indies)
Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
Malcolm Marshall (West Indies)
Shane Warne (Australia)
Michael Holding (West Indies)
Sydney Barnes (England)

Captain – take it in turns
Coach – me (I doubt this lot would need coaching so I could just sit back in the stands and enjoy)

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