Friday, 24 August 2007

Greatest Test XI

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”.

What are your thoughts on Sutcliffe's selection? Share your views by leaving a comment below.


Arun Vajpey said...

I second that; Sutcliffe was unquestionably one of the greatest opening batsmen ever but unfortunately spent all his career in Hobbs' shadow. In fact, Sutcliffe has saved or helped to win more tests for England than Hobbs. Since 1979 I have read countless books and articles about the "Hobbs & Sutcliffe" phenomenon and a lot of critics are of the opinion that Sutcliffe was unfairly second-judged because of the larger then life character of his senior partner. It was simply the sign of those times; Hobbs was already a batting hero whose career was interrupted by WW1; when cricket restarted after the war, England needed their sporting heroes and Hobbs was there; fair enough, but that should not have been a reason to relegate an equally talented (some, including me, would say even more so) player like Sutcliffe to an 'also ran' - a legacy that should never have been but nevertheless festers even to this day.

Having said all that, I personally chose Len Hutton for the No:1 batting spot in my own all time greatest XI. He seems to combine all the virtues of Hobbs & Sutcliffe in one person.

Tim said...

Cheers arun; its is odd that Hobbs achieved so many votes for the Wisden Five Cricketers of The Century, although he was more than a sportsman.

Anyway, I'll soon reveal whether the second opener is Hobbs, Hutton or Gavaskar.

The Atheist said...

Another make-over? You chaps certainly get bored easily. It's no wonder you like twenty20 so much.

VM said...

ok so call me closed-minded. But nothing you ever say will convince me that Hobbs and Gavaskar should not be considered the 2 supreme opening batsment of the 20th (or 19th, or 21st) century. You hold it against Ponsford that the fact he is not as well-known today as some of his conteporaries must count for something. I do not disagree with that. But then - which name is better-known today, Hobbs or Sutcliffe? As for Gavaskar - shw me the opening batsman in history who you judge would have done better against the greatest era of fast bowling in the history of the game. Remember, there was not just the incomparable West Indies side, but also Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, Dennis Lillee... ah forget it, why am I even wasting my valuable time. Pick who you like - your credibility is shot to pieces anyway, at least in my book!

Tim said...

Fair enough VM. I am not denying it was a very, very tough choice.

All I will say is that, in terms of Hobbs, he has come to be associated with the 'golden age' and also of archetypal English values. Finally, he was more exciting to watch - these do not make him a better play, but they help explain why he has been more talked about.

Regarding Gavaskar, he was another great although his record against the West Indies is slightly deceptive as, in 70/71 and during WSC they were bereft of quality quicks.

Stuart said...

Tim makes a very good point about Gavaskar. He was a great opening batsman, and one of the best of all time. But his record isn't as impressive against the West Indies as it appears, as he rarely played against the full 4-pronged pace attack. That isn't his fault (as he can only play against whoever shows up), but it shouldn't be used to show he was the best player of pace bowling.