The all-time Ashes XI: Yes to Botham and Gilchrist but no to Grace and Miller
Sunday 17 July 2005
Hard choices lead to glaring omissions. No Warwick Armstrong, who was no less mean in his determination to win than Douglas Jardine, but the team is chosen on the Australian principle that you pick your best XI, then the captain. There is no Keith Miller, no Glenn McGrath, no Richie Benaud, no Bill O'Reilly, no Denis Compton, no Herbert Sutcliffe. Does this suggest a faint English bias? Quite probably.
1: Jack Hobbs
Between 1911 and 1929, scored 12 of his 197 hundreds against Australia. One of 12 children of the groundsman at Jesus College, Cambridge, Hobbs was a run machine capable of playing crucial innings in difficult conditions. "He was perfect in the execution of every stroke. His footwork was a model for all and his style was irreproachable" (Jack Fingleton).
2: Len Hutton
England's top scorer at The Oval in 1938 (364) and 10 years later (30 out of 52), Hutton experienced the broadest range of exhilaration (1953) and despair (1948) in Ashes series. An uncompromising Yorkshireman, Hutton's cover drive is locked in the memory of anyone who saw it. "His bat was part of his nervous system" (Harold Pinter).
3: Don Bradman
His average against England was 10 runs lower than his legendary career Test average of 99.94, but he did average more than 100 in England. More a relentless accumulator than a stylist, Bradman was the greatest "run-stealer flickering to and fro". Disliked by many colleagues, he is, none the less, the obvious choice as captain.
4: Wally Hammond
Bradman's contemporary and rival - and the more rounded cricketer. "He would make a hundred or two against Australia, then bowl down their first three wickets, and make with ease a slip catch others would not merely miss but would not have rated a miss" (R C Robertson-Glasgow).
5: Victor Trumper
The streets of Sydney were blocked when he was carried to his grave, aged 37, in 1915, because of the dashing way he batted rather than the runs he scored. Average in 40 Ashes matches, 32.79. Plum Warner asked George Hirst where he wanted the field placed to him: "It doesn't much matter, sir. Victor will do as he likes."
6: Ian Botham
To be chosen ahead of Keith Miller is one the greatest compliments ever paid to Botham. Lacking Miller's elegance and charm, Botham's special ability was to conjure a win in matches that seemed quite beyond England (1981 and 1986-87). A force of nature, Botham's averages are less good than Miller's, but he took almost twice as many wickets.
7: Adam Gilchrist
There have been better wicketkeepers but no better keeper-batsman. Gilchrist's batting average against England is 61.18 in 10 games (compare Alan Knott's 32.98). He also has 47 dismissals. There has been no greater heart-breaker of bowlers since Gilbert Jessop 100 years ago.
8: S F Barnes
An off-spinner who could bowl leg-breaks and move the ball in the air and off the pitch; 106 wickets in 20 Tests. One spell in Melbourne in 1901-02 was 11-7-6-5. "The finest piece of bowling in Test cricket" (Fingleton). He bowled Trumper with a ball that "was fast on leg stump, but just before it pitched it swung to the off. Then it pitched, broke back and took his leg stump" (Charlie Macartney).
9: Shane Warne
No leg-spinner who has played more than 25 Ashes Tests can approach Warne's 132 wickets at 23.03, although Bill O'Reilly comes close. No leg-spinner has bowled a ball that has become as fixed in the memory as Warne's to dismiss Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993. As his skill diminished, he then frightened respectable batsmen into submission.
10: Dennis Lillee
The statistics tell only part of the story. Lillee has taken more wickets in Ashes Tests than any other bowler (167 in 29 Tests at 21.00) as much by force of personality as skill and speed. "[Lillee's] 'verbal aggression' has been something else in its spirit of near hatred" (David Frith). However, a lovable nature is not a requirement for selection.
11: Ray Lindwall or
The case for Larwood is that his bowling won an Ashes series in 1932-33 in improbable circumstances. The case against is the method - Bodyline. Ray Lindwall's flowing action was the most stylish of all fast bowlers. He took 114 wickets at 22.44, compared to Larwood in Australia - 51 at 26.82. If forced, the reluctant choice is Lindwall.
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