Monday, 20 August 2007

Greatest Test XI

With the final selection coming ever nearer, I thought it a good idea to clarify the rules of the exercise. Firstly, to be eligible for my side (and shortlist), 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. Secondly, the title is perhaps a little deceptive: it is the greatest XI of the last hundred years, so all players must have made their debuts in 1908 or later, and are judged on performances up to and until the present day.

Candidates are selected on their performances over an extended period of time but certain players' statistics were damaged by poor performances at the beginning or end of their careers, and this must be taken into account. We should assume players operate at their 'peak' - but this must have been not merely a series or two but a significant duration of their careers.

Statistics are obviously hugely significant, but not overly so - there will be no hesitation in selecting, say, a batsman with a lower average than someone else on the list not included. Particularly important is how players fared during the toughest challenges of their Test careers - it is for this reason that Sir Ian Botham, although he averaged 38 with the bat and 23 with the ball during his first 54 Tests, has been omitted: he was consistently poor against the best side of his era, the West Indies, averaging 15 and 31 during this time span and 21 and 35 overall.

The final XI will be a balanced side with the tools to thrive in all conditions so, for instance, the side would not include four swing bowlers even if they were the best four quicks of all time. This notional side will play on an unknown wicket - which means players must have proved themselves in a variety of conditions and, ultimately, those who did best in the trickiest conditions they faced will be in a better position to be selected.

In the meantime, do take a look at my pieces analysing the 28-man shortlist and check out the XIs of Times cricket writer Patrick Kidd and fellow contributor Nick Gammons.

If anyone else wishes to contribute to the debate, with an XI or a particular area of analysis, please email cricketingworld(at)hotmail.com. We will be selecting our Greatest Test XI very shortly.