Thursday, 12 July 2007

Who will join Bradman?

The battle for a middle-order spot is exceptionally fierce, with the likes of Tendulkar, Chappell, Compton, Border, Waugh and Walcott not having reached the final 28-man shortlist. Essentially, the question is effectively which two middle-order players will join Don Bradman (at three) and Garfield Sobers (probably at six) who are fundamentally must-picks; their places in the pantheon was illustrated by them receiving 100 and 90 of the 100 votes for Wisden’s Five Cricketers of The Century. No one else received more than 30 votes.

George Headley was often referred to as the ‘Black Bradman’, having played in the same era as The Don, but, crucially, in a much weaker side. He scored 10 Tests in just 22 Tests for his country; during this time, there were just five other 100s scored by Caribbean players. Renowned for playing the ball extremely late, technical excellence and astonishing on-side play, Headley’s pre-war statistics mark him out as perhaps the second best batsman in the game: 9,532 runs in first-class cricket with an average of 72.21; and an average of 67 from his first 19 Test matches. Though he played relatively few Tests, because of the era he played in, these figures were sustained over a decade, proof of his enduring excellence. Out of desperation as much as anything, critics often point to his average of 37 in Australia as evidence of his limitations; but, after failing in his first four innings, Headley, aged just 21, scored two hundreds in the last three Tests and over 1000 runs on tour in all.

Two other modern West Indian batting giants made the shortlist. Viv Richards was as terrifying for the opposition as their plethora of brilliant fast bowlers; with his swagger, arrogance and contempt for ‘playing every ball on its merits’ he could drive bowlers to despair. The Antiguan scored 24 Test hundreds, the most memorable perhaps a superlative 291 at The Oval in 1976, and came to embody the Windies’ relentless dominance of the world game with his sheer power. However, it is worth noting that, out of five nations, he only averaged over 50 against England.

Brian Lara, more or less, followed Richards in the side, which gradually became weaker. Like Headley, he should gain credit for bearing an extra burden, though his average of 53, with 34 hundreds, more than speaks for itself. An enigma until the end, Lara thrilled millions with his flashing blade and ability to take on the world’s best bowlers; yet he also had a Bradmanesque ability to amass gargantuan scores, as his 375, 400* and 501* (the latter for Warwickshire) illustrate. Two series, above all, stand as testament to his greatness: the ‘98/99 one against Australia, when Lara scored three hundreds, including Wisden's second greatest Test innings of all time (see below), 153*, to secure a one-wicket win chasing over 300; and, in ‘01/02, when he scored 688 runs at 114 in Murali’s backyard. Oddly, though, he averaged only 35 against India, though 14 of his 17 Tests against them were at home.

Ricky Ponting was a slightly controversial selection on the shortlist but his 33 hundreds and, especially, an average of 72 in his last 58 Tests, made him impossible to ignore. At only 32, Ponting could yet become an automatic selection in a side such as this; but, his meagre average of 12 in eight Tests in India means there is a slight question mark over his ability against top-class spin in testing conditions. Nonetheless, no one can doubt his relentless scoring of runs, his qualities all round the wicket and his single-minded determination. An innings of 156 at Old Trafford in 2005, made against top-class fast-bowling when Australia were entirely dependent on him, perhaps stands as his finest.

Graeme Pollock
, owing to South Africa’s ban from Test cricket, only played 23 Tests, but still accomplished enough to be a true great of the game. Moreover, his average of 61 is even more impressive when it is considered that his Test career ended when, barely in his 27th year, he was not yet in his prime. Elegant, classical and seemingly unstoppable, Pollock was considered by Bradman to be the best left-hander in cricketing history – above even Sobers – and scored seven Test tons, including a phenomenal 274 against Australia; but, alas, he only played in two more Tests.

Wally Hammond is the sole Englishman in the list. In 77 Tests until 1940, Hammond averaged 61, with 22 hundreds. Of course, he had an excellent technique; but he also had the rare ability to adapt his game it to different conditions. On his first tour to Australia, in 1928/29, for instance, Hammond decided he would be best served scoring primarily in the ‘V’; and was stunningly vindicated with 905 runs at 113. He also had a temperament well-suited to scoring long innings, as his astonishing haul of 36 first-class doublehundreds, six in Tests, is testament to. Hammond was a tremendously powerful player, to supplement his other qualities, a brilliant fielder and an under-rated bowler. The only slight caveat is an average of 35 against the West Indies.

Additional information
The Wisden 100 greatest innings of all time
Regarding the point of playing in weaker sides, it is interesting to note that, as a percentage of team runs, the leading batsmen are Don Bradman (23%), George Headley (21%) and Brian Lara (20%)

Sobers will be analysed amongst the other all-rounders on the shortlist.

Who do you think should join Bradman in the middle-order for the Greatest Test XI of the last century? Leave a comment below.

8 comments:

Mark said...

The story so far: -

Hobbs
Gavaskar
Bradman
Viv Richards
Tendulkar
Sobers

Richard Lake said...

Graeme Pollock has to be one of the choices. But for Apartheid, he could have been talked about in the same breath as Bradman. Both Richie Benaud and the Don rate him as the best left hander of all time and that's good enough for me.

I'd discount Ponting and Richards, probably totally unfairly, on the basis of the opening partnership that they usually followed. They were not normally under great pressure and the bowlers had typically been put to the sword by the time they got tho the crease.

I will also discount Lara as I don't rate him as highly as Punter.

That leaves Headley and Hammond. Given the stats, and the team he was playing in, Headley just edges it.

My team so far then

Gavaskar
Hutton
Bradman
Pollock
Headley
Sobers

Cricket Guru said...

Let me first put my India cap on. If this team had been selected 5 years ago, Tendulkar’s place would have been as certain as Sir Don and Sir Gary. And there would be only one spot left to fight for – the number five. Had he maintained his form and fitness, he could have been the greatest batsman to play the game (after Sir Don, ofcourse)

Unfortunately he has been far too inconsistent in last few years and it is only appropriate that he does not make it to the short list.

The list makes up for a great middle order, no matter who you opt for.

I will hold my judgement on Ricky Ponting. He is on the threshold of being an all time great batsman. But not quite there, yet.

George Haedley can walk into any team, as his figures suggest, but I would prefer his West Indian mate Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards.

Having read their exploits against Australia, it would be cruel to leave either of Walter Hammond or Graeme Pollock out of the final XI. I choose Pollock only because he is a left handed bat and offers more variety to the line up.

Gavaskar
Hobbs
Sir Don
Viv Richards
Pollock
Sir Gary

Can there be a better batting line up? I doubt.

Great discussion. I am looking forward to the wicket keeper and four bowlers’ list

Tim said...

I don't think Tendulkar would necessarily have been an 'automatic' five years ago...even then people were writing articles doubting his ability to play truly match-winning knocks (certainly this was seen as the difference between him and Lara). Anyway, he was very, very close to being picked above Ponting in this list.

Thanks for the kind words cricket guru - I have all-rounders, wicket-keepers, spinners and quicks still to do.

Anyway, interesting you all picked Gavaskar as an opener.

Nick Gammons said...

I would have had Tendulkar in the short list ahead of Ponting, without any doubt. Ponting may have plundered countless runs in recent years, but apart from rare instances when the Australian team were in trouble he has done so under relatively little pressure and against weaker bowling. It is not his fault that he never played against the best bowling attack of his era (the Australians) but he cannot be considered great and has no place with the other players on this list.

Headley and Pollock, great players that both of them were, did not play enough Test cricket to be judged upon. Out of the list provided Hammond stands head and shoulders above the rest and would be first choice.

Richards is a personal favourite of mine and he played in an era filled with top fast bowlers and on pitches that were often not the best. However, it must count against him that he never had to face his own, top class bowlers. Nonetheless, from the list provided he would be my second choice.

If I had compiled the list, however, Tendulkar would have been on it and he would have been in at number five.

The line-up so far would be:

Hobbs
Gavaskar
Bradman
Hammond
Tendulkar
Sobers

Tim said...

Regarding Tendulkar, it is highly interesting that he does not feature in the Wisden 100 top innings (although I can think of a few that do deserve to be there). Even now, it is often said that Dravid has played many more truly decisive innings.

I would not dispute Tendulkar's greatness, only, compared to the guys in the shortlist, the number of decisive knocks he has played in the context of the match result.

Samir Chopra said...

Tim,

Thanks for the comment on my blog; I've been browsing through your blog and find it very interesting. I've linked to you, and plan to come back here soon to check out this Greatest XI debate and hopefully, say something sensible! (Picking Greatest XIs, now thats a topic that'll never go away!).

Cheers,
Samir

Sportsnob said...

my 11 so far:

hobbs, Gavaskar, Bradman, Richards, Waugh and Sobers.