It is finally time to reveal our Greatest Test XI. We will be revealing - and explaining - our selections over the coming weeks, beginning with the side's first opener.
Splitting the four openers in the final shortlist was a near impossible task – each had an outstanding case for selection; but none were irrefutably worthy of it.
However, based on my criteria – exceptional performances “over an extended period of time” – it would be wrong to ignore the claims of Herbert Sutcliffe, who averaged 70 over his first 40 Tests. His first claim to fame was forming one half of the finest opening partnership in the history of the game, along with Jack Hobbs – in 38 innings, they averaged an astonishing 88 together; they are to the rest what Don Bradman is to every other Test batsman. But the junior partner soon established himself as a phenomenon in his own right.
Sutcliffe’s greatness was not as palpable as that of his opening partner, but his technique and levels of concentration were simply astounding. He was courageous, single-minded and mentally resolute in the archetypal Yorkshire mode, but could never be accused of selfishness; rather, Sutcliffe excelled himself when the side most needed him.
His success in the most testing conditions, such as his brilliant 135 to lead England’s chase of 332 at Melbourne in 1928/29, was testament to his mental and technical fortitude and ability against both pace and spin. But, clearly, a wide range of shots are needed to score Sutcliffe’s sheer volume of runs; when team needs dictated, he was an expansive player, and, on a turning wicket, once hit 10 6s in an innings of 113. He was, without doubt, a less obtrusive run-gatherer than Hobbs. Yet, in terms of his value to the side, especially in the trickiest circumstances, Sutcliffe was at least his equal; his Ashes deeds, including six centuries in Australia, were breathtaking. As so often, Wisden put it best, describing him as “the artist of the dead bat”.
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