The competition amongst the openers to feature in this notional side was immensely tough; so tough that I have decided to leave out one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of The Century. Sir Jack Hobbs is, of course, incredibly unfortunate not to have been selected, and his non-selection perhaps rather arbitrary. However, for all he has been eulogized, a large part of this was due to the manner in which he came to personify a golden age of cricket. Despite Hobbs' phenomenal tally of 197 first-class centuries, and the style in which he made them, I have opted to select Herbert Sutcliffe – perhaps the opener one would most like to have bat for one's life – and the brilliant Sir Len Hutton.
The circumstances of Hutton’s career are remarkable. Like Hobbs's, his career was fragmented by a World War, to which he lost many of the best years of his career – from 23 (just after his then world-record 364) to 30. Yet the raw facts of his career, without taking this into account, are still astonishing. He averaged 62 over his first 70 Tests, playing in a manner that combined the elegance and aesthetic appeal of Denis Compton with the levels of concentration and technical faultlessness of Sutcliffe.
Above all, Hutton had complete mastery of he art of batting, and a temperament able to adapt to his side’s needs; he was adept at both eschewing risk and seizing the initiative, depending on his side’s needs. Crowds were wowed with the sheer elegance of his batting; but, Hutton often lifted himself in adversity. His dexterity against spin was illustrated by an outstanding 202*, out of 344, against the West Indians Ramadhin and Valentine; and the Ashes series of ‘50/51, when England fell to a 4-1 defeat against Miller, Lindwall et al, but he averaged 88, was testament to his quality in the trickiest circumstances. To top it all of, Hutton was a superb captain, of immense value to the side even when his batting declined, as when he regained the Ashes in ‘54/55.
Bill O’Reilly, writing on Len Hutton in 1950, encapsulated his virtues: “His footwork is as light and sure and confident as Bradman's ever was…He is the finished player now…his control of the game is masterful”.
Am I wrong to leave out the legendary Hobbs and Sunil Gavaskar, who was so outstanding against the West Indies? Or have I, perhaps, made the best of an impossible situation? Share your views by leaving a comment below.