Benaud's all-time team opens up a can of worms, but imagine watching them play

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The Independent Online

Richie Benaud chose his all-time fantasy Test cricket XI this week. This was significant because the great man had previously always eschewed the exercise. I know this because more than once he politely declined my own invitation to indulge, leaving me in no doubt that he thought best-ever XIs a frippery with which a good conversation on cricket could happily do without. So what has made the difference? Commerce, I suppose. A DVD, Richie Benaud's Greatest XI, was released on Tuesday by Fremantle Home Entertainment, priced £19.99.

Richie Benaud chose his all-time fantasy Test cricket XI this week. This was significant because the great man had previously always eschewed the exercise. I know this because more than once he politely declined my own invitation to indulge, leaving me in no doubt that he thought best-ever XIs a frippery with which a good conversation on cricket could happily do without. So what has made the difference? Commerce, I suppose. A DVD, Richie Benaud's Greatest XI, was released on Tuesday by Fremantle Home Entertainment, priced £19.99.

I first met Benaud at the 1986 US Masters at the Augusta National. As I recall, England were then playing a series in the Caribbean, and I asked him whether he had heard the latest score. With his gimlet stare he fixed me to the trunk of a Georgia dogwood tree and proceeded to give me a forensic account of the previous day's play. It was one of the more surreal experiences of my sporting life; being treated, one-on-one, to a Benaud monologue while American golf fans waddled obliviously by in all directions.

Anyway, I'm glad that the doyen has finally succumbed to the insatiable appetite that cricket-lovers have for compiling all-time XIs, whittling his team from a shortlist of 33. It is worth noting, however, that a broadcaster of scrupulous fairness, whose nationality would be unclear were you to read a transcript of his commentary during an Ashes Test, has chosen a disproportionately high number of his fellow Australians.

Of Benaud's 33, 14 are Aussies, six West Indian, six English, three Indian and two Pakistani, with one South African and one New Zealander. Of the final XI, five are Aussies (Don Bradman, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Sydney Barnes and Dennis Lillee), two are West Indian (Viv Richards and Gary Sobers) and two are Indian (Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar). England is represented only by Jack Hobbs, Pakistan by Imran Khan. So no Ian Botham, Brian Lara, Wally Hammond, Barry Richards, Jim Laker, Harold Larwood or Michael Holding, no Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Steve Waugh, Glenn McGrath or Rodney Marsh.

Marsh does figure among the three wicket-keepers in the 33, along with Ian Healy. That's three Aussies out of three, perhaps Benaud's most controversial judgement of all, in a position in which Englishmen have excelled. A list of the world's 33 greatest cricketers without an English wickie is like a list of the 33 greatest footballers without an English goalie: if not unthinkable, then certainly provocative. Alan Knott, for instance, made two important centuries against Australia, and six overall in Test matches, and is surely without compare as a technician behind the stumps. Equally, how can Benaud pick Lillee but not Marsh, thus splitting up the Morecambe and Wise, the Tate & Lyle, the Latchford and McKenzie of Test cricket? In fairness, it is impossible to compile such a list without provocation.

That's the whole point. And Benaud's XI is pretty formidable. I would have chosen Botham over Imran Khan, but then Botham was a batting and Imran a bowling all-rounder, and arguably Imran provides better ballast for Sobers, who is undroppable. I would also have found room for a West Indian fast bowler, either Holding or Curtly Ambrose. But only because I don't know too much about old Sydney Barnes.

Whatever, it seems appropriate to introduce an extra dimension: if Benaud's indubitably fine side, captained by Bradman, were playing another team of all-time greats - let's say Len Hutton, Gordon Greenidge, Wally Hammond, Brian Lara, Graeme Pollock, Keith Miller, Ian Botham, Alan Knott, Fred Trueman, Michael Holding and Muttiah Muralitharan, captained by anyone but Lara - who would you want in the commentary box? We'll assume a shortlist of John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Geoff Boycott (who would doubtless rather be playing), Henry Blofeld, Mark Nicholas and Benaud himself, and I think even Benaud would concede that it would have to be Arlott, perhaps with Boycott as a sidekick. Arlott was the supreme wordsmith. His line about Ernie Toshack's batting, that his tentative dabbles outside off-stump evoked an old lady poking at a wasps' nest with her umbrella, is commentary's equivalent of one of Bradman's cover drives: incomparable.

Finally, for this fantasy cricket match, we need a scribe, someone who can write about it with matchless flair. My colleague Angus Fraser will forgive me if I don't include him just yet in the pantheon of all-time greats, although he's well on the way. I suppose the short-list would be led by Neville Cardus, although I like what I have read of "Crusoe" Robertson-Glasgow of the long-defunct Morning Post. And what a cracking by-line.

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