Thursday, 30 August 2007

Greatest Test XI

To continue our Greatest Test XI of the last century we pick our number four.

Wally Hammond came to epitomise the ideal of elegant English batsmanship. Had it not been for Bradman, he would now be recognised as the finest middle-order player Test cricket has ever known, possessing supreme talent and aesthetic value, particularly in his cover-drive.

Physically, Hammond was a powerful and imposing sight; this, aided by his masterful timing, meant he could reach the boundary with apparent minimal effort, as he did during his incredible five hour 336* against New Zealand in 1933. His athleticism was such that he was amongst the finest slip fielders of all time; and as a quick bowler, he claimed 732 first-class wickets and could be devastating when conditions offered help. In truth though, he did not maximise his bowling potential because of the importance to the side of his batting.

In 77 Tests until 1940, Hammond averaged 61, with 22 hundreds, numbers that are testament to his quality. He temperament was such that he was exceptional at converting starts, making almost as many centuries as fifties in both his Test and first-class career and an astonishing 36 first-class double hundreds (second only to Bradman, who has 37). Though well capable of accelerating, he was happy to eschew risk and build marathon innings.

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, still the second highest series run aggregate in the history of the game.

Hammond’s Wisden obituary referred to an ‘almost Olympian aloofness’, and he was a famously moody character. Yet nothing can detract from a man whose range of cricketing gifts make him perhaps England’s finest ever player.

The side so far: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Bradman, Hammond

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