Over the coming months, Third Umpire will be engaging in the seemingly impossible task of picking the greatest Test side from all players who made their Test debuts in the last hundred years. It will, we hope, spark great debate, even if picking a side everyone agrees on will no doubt prove impossible.
Statistics will be used to some degree, but they will be far from the overriding criteria - emphasis will be placed on those who changed the game beyond the length of their career. Of great significance will be players' records against the best side of their era (or, if they played in it, the second best side). Records in other first-class cricket will be taken into account, as they can reveal much of a player's enduring quality, particularly when it comes to those South Africans who had their Test careers cut short by apartheid. However, I have decided all candidates must have played a minimum of 20 Tests so there is substantial evidence of a player's durability in Tests, rather than conjecture based on excellence in first-class cricket.
To begin with, I have long-listed 56 players who have a case for being selected in this side, although this list is by no means definitive:
Opening batsmen (6):
Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, Sunil Gavaskar, Geoff Boycott, Len Hutton, Arthur Morris
Middle-order batsmen (21):
Everton Weekes, George Headley, Brian Lara, Viv Richards, Gary Sobers, Frank Worrell, Rohan Kanhai, Javed Miandad, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Don Bradman, Steve Waugh, Allan Border, Stan McCabe, Greg Chappell, Neil Harvey, Wally Hammond, Ken Barrington, Denis Compton, Ricky Ponting, Graeme Pollock
Clyde Walcott, Andy Flower, Adam Gilchrist, Les Ames
Imran Khan, Keith Miller, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Shaun Pollock
For the purposes of this exercise, 'allrounder' is someone who can bat at seven or above and be one of only four bowlers, which is why Sobers, Hadlee and Akram just miss out and appear elsewhere instead.
Shane Warne, Bill O’Reilly, Muttiah Muralitharan, Abdul Qadir, Derek Underwood, Jim Laker
Fast bowlers (14):
Dennis Lillee, Ray Lindwall, Malcolm Marshall, Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Allan Donald, Glenn McGrath, Fred Trueman, Harold Larwood, Joel Garner, Alan Davidson, Richard Hadlee
NB: Sydney Barnes is not eligible
If you can, I recommend you have a look at the profiles on Cricinfo.
Picking XIs such as these are, perhaps, an exercise in futility - but we hope it'll be entertaining. Do leave your comments below - we'd love to hear if any players should be in this list, but aren't, and, especially, who of these brilliant players do not deserve to make the final shortlist.