Waugh challenges greatness of Invincibles

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The Independent Online

History has it that Don Bradman's 1948 team to tour England, The Invincibles as they have become known, are the best Australia has produced. But has the time come for a touch of iconoclastic, revisionist thinking?

It is never, perhaps, wholly fair to compare sides as far apart in years as Bradman's last and Steve Waugh's present lot. The way the game is played has changed irrevocably. Perhaps the most direct comparison can be made between two extremely astute captains. On the second day of this present match, Waugh played an innings which revealed a clinical, calculating mind-set that surely was the centrepiece of Bradman's own armoury, which took him to a hundred every third visit to the wicket.

In conditions significantly in favour of the seam bowlers, Waugh arrived after the fall of an early wicket. Assisted by some admittedly wayward bowling, he wasted no time in fulfilling his main objective, which was not just to defend but to take control and seize back the psychological advantage. Bradman himself could not have done it with much greater efficiency.

Of course, in 1948 the aim was to field a balanced side. Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller were as dangerous a pair of new-ball bowlers as one could wish for. They were backed up by Bill Johnston, fast-medium left-arm over, who took more wickets in the series than either Lindwall or Miller.

The off-spinner Ian Johnson played in four of the five Tests and took 27 wickets, while Doug Ring, the leg-spinner, took his place in the last Test at The Oval, when England were bowled out for 52 in their first innings. Then there was slow left-armer Ernie Toshack, who also played in four Tests.

It was a brilliantly varied and shrewdly handled attack which accounted for England, a capable batting side, by four matches to nil. But did the faster bowlers have quite the metronomic control and persistent hostility of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee, and did the others add up to the sum total of Shane Warne, at present the proud possessor of 381 Test wickets, and the greatest wrist-spinner ever?

When it comes to the batting, how is it possible to decide if Michael Slater and Matthew Hayden measure up to, or even surpass, Sydney Barnes and Arthur Morris? For all his potential, it would be patently absurd to try and compare Ricky Ponting to Don Bradman himself at No 3. Lindsay Hassett, Keith Miller and Neil Harvey, a formidable trio, came next, but their positions are contested by Steve and Mark Waugh, who must come first as the second- and fifth-heaviest scorers for Australia in Test cricket.

It seems sacrilegious to demote Hassett and Harvey, just as it was to make an implied criticism of Lindwall, but Miller must remain the supreme all-rounder. Don Tallon was a better keeper than Adam Gilchrist, but in the 21st century keepers must be all-rounders.

One could argue the respective merits of these two sides forever without coming to a conclusion. Yet, does the singleness of purpose and focus which Steve Waugh has brought to his side given them the sharper cutting edge? My instincts are to go for Waugh's present side, although I am not sure who would get Bradman out twice if they had ever played against each other. It may be also that I'm too young to fully appreciate that 1948 side.

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