Sunday, 17 June 2007

The Best of the Rest

The 56-man shortlist for the greatest Test XI of the last hundred years will, inevitably, contain many notable omissions. Here is a ‘best of the rest’ XI selected form those who didn’t quite make the grade.

Bill Ponsford
Ponsford averaged 48 in Tests in the decade between 1924 and '34, while his first-class average is an outstanding 65. He is the only batsman in history to have hit two first-class 400s, and was a fine player of spin, yet there is a feeling he could have been even better. As Cricinfo comments, "In his first and last series, those of 1924-25 and 1934 against England, he made nearly half of his total of Test runs for an average of 64.81, whereas in his other six series he made his runs at under 40." Ultimately, it was this that counted against him.

Graham Gooch
Only averaged 42 in Tests but played his best Test cricket after the age of 35, and succeeded against some of the best pace attacks of all time. A courageous batsman who could counter-attack to great effect, his brilliant 154* against the West Indies at Headingley in 1991 is officially rated the finest Test innings of all time, while he holds the record for most runs ever in a Test match (456 against India in 1990).

Peter May (captain)
May was a hugely graceful stroke-player, and an outstanding captain, winning 20 of his 41 Tests in charge, who symbolised ideals of both elegant batsmanship and sportsmanship. However, his terrible record in his sole series in South Africa (average 15) prevented his selection for the final shortlist.

Rohan Kanhai
An unorthodox and exhilarating batsman, Sunil Gavaskar once wrote “To say that he is the greatest batsman I have ever seen so far is to put it mildly.” Kanhai scored 15 Test hundreds and, after a slow start (he took 13 Tests to register his first century) established himself as a formidable batsman. He was selected in the original list but was edged out by the plethora of terrific middle-order batsmen.

Stan McCabe
Like Kanhai, McCabe was selected in the original shortlist and missed out by the narrowest of margins. He averaged 48 for Australia – although remember this was during the Ashes run gluts of the 1930s – but his fearlessness and thrilling strokeplay was best highlighted by a pulsating 187* at Sydney in 1932. It was, by far, the finest innings played against Bodyline – and one of the best of all time – and it was a great shame that his last Test cricket was played at just 28.

Kumar Sangakkara (wicket-keeper)
Sangakkara is a tremendously elegant batsman who, at 29, still has time to force his way up the pantheon of greats. He has struck 12 Test hundreds, each of them compiled in thrilling style, and shown his qualities as a wicket-keeper through keeping successfully to Muralitharan over an extended period of time.

Andrew Flintoff
Like Ian Botham, only even more so, Flintoff’s spell at the top looks like it will prove disappointingly short. But, over a 30-Test spell period from the start of 2004 to the start of the summer of 2006, Flintoff was perhaps the world’s finest player, averaging 41 with the bat and 25 with the ball; his exploits in the 2005 Ashes, against easily the best side of his generation, were phenomenal. When his confidence was high, Flintoff was a very fine batsman capable of both mature and counter-attackings knocks; and, as anyone who saw that over to Messrs Langer and Ponting at Edgbaston would testify, his consistency, pace, aggression and bounce made him a superb quick.

Shaun Pollock
Pollock’s record over more than 100 Tests, averaging 32 with the bat and 23 with the ball, is phenomenal. Incredibly, he averages less than 24 against all Test opposition, bar one – but against Australia he fares much worse, averaging 37. His sustained excellence is undoubted and few can rival his ability to extract help from a seaming wicket, and Pollock, included in the original list, misses out by the narrowest of margins.

Wes Hall
Hall was a tall, muscular fast bowler who, aged just 21, showed sufficient adaptability and willpower to take 46 wickets at 17 in eight sub-continental Tests. However, it was his terrific exploits against England and Australia during the memorable contests of the early 1960s that secured his reputation, including 9/203 during the unforgettable tied Test. Though his decline began earlier than he’d have wished, he was the first truly great West Indian fast bowler.

Jeff Thomson
For a few years, Thomson, along with Dennis Lillee, was the world’s fiercest and most deadly fast bowler. On quick, bouncy surfaces, he was a partisan home crowd’s dream – but, in the era just before helmets, a truly terrifying sight for batsmen. Injuries took their toll, and Thomson had to adapt, nullifying his effectiveness – but one only had to look at the West Indies’ fearsome pace quartets for proof of his impact.

Bishan Bedi
Bedi was a masterful exponent of the classical art of left-arm spin and watching a duel between him and a fine batsman was invariably intriguing, made all the more so by Bedi’s habit of clapping 4s; it was as if that, in doing so, the opposition were merely being sucked further into the Indian’s web. However, a strike rate of 80 – and an average of almost 40 in 12 Tests in England – is higher than one would wish.

Twelfth man: Jacques Kallis
On raw statistics – an average of 55 with the bat and 31 with the ball – Kallis rivals Gary Sobers as the finest all-rounder of all time. Yet, like Matthew Hayden, amongst others, he is the beneficiary of serial gorging against the world’s weakest attacks, averaging 114 in 26 Tests against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and West Indies, and only 44 against other nations. Nonetheless, he is a fine, albeit largely colourless, batsman and a fast-medium seamer whose quality was illustrated by a match-winning 6-54 in England in 2003.


Richard Lake said...

Interesting selection, Tim, in that you've got a lot more current players in the best of the rest rather than the original selection. This probably says more about the way we view players now as opposed to looking back to the glory days.

Apart from May, I can't see a case for any of these getting into the main squad and it's a nice balance.

Tim said...

Amazing that there's still no room for Martin Crowe, Eddie Barlow, Andy Roberts and Anil Kumble in this side. Just shows how hard such a selection as this is.

May was extremely close to selection for the main squad but, for the reason I gave in the piece, he was just edged out.