Many say test match cricket is languishing in the doldrums at this moment in time. There’s all sorts of plans being chucked around to try and heave it up by its coat tails. Such one sided demolitions as the England Sri Lanka series only add weight to the naysayers cause and the half empty (or should that be full?!) stands at Chester Le Street don’t exactly help matters.
As always the answer to turn things around isn’t straight forward. We’re all searching for that silver bullet or miracle cure to guarantee packed stadia but the only thing that is clear is that there is no simple answer.
One thing is for certain – cricket is in the entertainment business and so needs to, well, entertain. Two tests in and England Sri Lanka has not entertained. There’s supposed to be sport in sport – shooting fish in a barrel doesn’t draw the punters in. I can’t see people rushing to snap up tickets for the third and final test at Lords.
Of course it’s not only teams who get the bums on seats. Individual players have the ability to light up an entire stadium and even, at times, an entire nation. I once turned up at Headingly to see England against the West Indies but was there five minutes late (thanks to the Great British trains) only to hear as we ambled past security that a wicket had fallen already. Sure enough it was the man I really wanted to see – none other than Kevin Pietersen – and although England still scored a hatful of runs, ultimately I was left disappointed.
Alistair Cook’s recent achievement of being the youngest ever player to hit 10,000 test runs and the first Englishman to achieve the feat is right up there (and well done) but personally speaking I wouldn’t shell out money just to see him soldier on and anchor an innings together. He’s the bread to allow the tasty preserves to be spread on top. Without the bread the preserves just taste weird but without the preserves the bread just tastes a little dry and boring.
So I was thinking recently what would be the most exciting XI ever? A side of eleven stout yeoman who would grace any slice of Hovis (enough bread metaphors already!!) and have them dancing in the aisles. This isn’t the same as a best ever list. Best ever lists are almost impossible to put together anyway – different eras and different pitches make comparisons sketchy at best. In putting together this list I’ve tried to reach out across the cricketing divide and include different nationalities where possible. Personality also comes into the calculations and it must be remembered I’ve only been watching cricket since the mid to late 80s. Sorry W.G. Grace but you’re back in the pavilion. This will be a band of renegades to tour the world and showcase the best cricket has to offer – even if many of them are rather long in the tooth.
So see what you think to the below. I’ve gone with the modern day formula of five front line batsmen, an all-rounder, stumper and then four front line bowlers – one of whom is a spinner. I must admit to cheating just a little – I’ve selected a group of five batsmen rather than two openers, a number three and so on so forth.
My five hitters:
Mr IVA Richards (Sir Viv) has to be on any list. The man mountain was simply immense and could rip a bowling attack to shreds with his aggression and style. When in the groove (most of the time) he was impossible to bowl at or set a field to. When faced with difficult pitches his response was simply: “You got a bat man, defend yourself.” If he was playing today he would average well into the 60s
Sachin Tendulkar. OK, so this isn’t really about records but the Little Master is the best part of 2,500 runs ahead of the next best in terms of runs accumulated over a test career (Ricky Ponting). He is also feted as almost God like by 1.2billion Indians – that should shift a few seats in the stadium. On top of it all though he was simply immense even if he did suffer from being part of an Indian side who hated touring – English eyes rarely saw the best of him.
Kevin Pietersen. Ok, so the guy carries with him a suitcase full of baggage but boy, the man could (and still can) bat. There’s very few who can shift through the gears as quickly as he can. Great entertainment value. I did consider Chris Gayle and he came close to nicking the spot. But KP just sneaks in ahead of him.
Steve Waugh. If there is one cricketer I would want on my side to help out when the chips are down then that man is Steve Waugh. The man is as solid as they come and would be my captain. His brother Mark was the more flashy of the twins but flashy doesn’t always mean entertaining. He would be the glue that binds this unit of renegades together. Useful back up bowler too (he was only a few short of the magical 100 wickets to complement the many thousands of runs).
Brian Lara. What a brilliant player. When he’s around, records tumble. He broke the world record for the most runs scored in a test innings not once but twice. He even hit 500 in one innings. Every time he walked to the wicket you felt something momentous might happen. Quite incredible.
Rather spoilt for choice here but it was Adam Gilchrist who invented the modern day knack of wicket keepers being able to flay the willow. His keeping could have been better but as part of a great Aussie side of which he was the beating heart, it was rarely exposed. His batting on the other hand was simply awesome, even if Freddy Flintoff got his mark towards the end of his career. He was a big game player too and would be a dependable option should my other stars fail.
Again, plenty of choice here. The all rounder is so often the beating heart of a great team so it’s vital to get this one right. The winning man needs to be able to bat and bowl (obviously) but also carry the team forward. That’s why I’ve gone for Ian Botham. Brilliant bowler and very good batsman, ‘Both’ would also be in charge of choosing the wine list. Both’s drinking exploits are as legendary as his on-field achievements and he will make sure the team has some ‘rosy cheeks’ before and after a match.
There are only two possible options from the modern day era – or arguably any era. Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitheran slug this one out. It’s a very close call – the Sri Lankan retired with 800 wickets to his name and Warne wasn’t far behind him – but I want an umbrella of nations to be represented in this side to attract viewers from across the globe and Murali is the only Sri Lankan to get close. Warne, who has the bigger the personality of the two, can carry the drinks as 12th man and be a second spinner should the pitch suit.
Dennis Lillee – brilliant bowler and fearsome / fearless Aussie patter. That ‘tache alone would scare me.
Allan Donald – If Lillee doesn’t get the heart rate skipping a beat then this man will. Brilliant bowler who scared many of his victims to surrender their wicket. The white war paint on the face only added to allure. My one South African representative.
Malcolm Marshall – If a pace tri of Messrs Botham, Donald and Lillee doesn’t get you then surely the late, great Marshall will finish you off. Out of a terrifying pace attack in the 70s and 80s Marshall is widely regarded as the best of the lot although old ‘Whispering Death’ Michael Holding comes close.
So there you have it. A completely un-scientific stab at a test side worth the admission price. The top seven have over 66,000 runs between them and the bowlers a combined 2,200 wickets. Worth a watch?
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Fortunately cricket is a game of 2 teams, so how about this opposition, with a top 7 scoring just under 69,000 runs and the attack having 2590 wickets…
Gavaskar — Possibly the greatest opener of all time, with an unmatched ability to handle top pace bowling. Second only to Boycott in his second innings average.
Ponting — Second highest run scorer of all time. And amusingly bad tempered when losing his wicket to substitute fielders.
Sehwag — over 8,000 runs with a hefty strike rate
Sobers — greatest all rounder ever? 8000 runs and 235 wickets is quite a record.
Kallis — another brilliant all rounder with aggressive style
Sangakkara — another of the 10,000+ club AND a host of wicket keeping records — I’d say he’s the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman of all time.
Warne — More of an on-field character than Murali, and he could throw the bat a bit too. Got to be the spinner.
Ambrose — 6ft7 he’s the man for fast and bouncing deliveries. Over 400 wickets.
McGrath — a metronomic deliverer of the ball into the “corridor of uncertainty” with just the right amount of traditional swing.
Holding — Terrifyingly fast on any pitch. Nicknamed whispering death for good reason.
Waqar — Perfected the art of reverse swing, and knocked over 373 wickets in the process
I’m just sorry I couldn’t get any New Zealanders (or England players) into the line-up. You picked out the best of “English” with Pieterson and Botham, and whilst several NZers were considered, they couldn’t quite top the above for entertainment.
Sobers was ommited from my side due to him being of a slightly older vintage. Other than that, it’s a fine looking line up. I’m still going into bat for Gilchrist as keeper. Ok, the stats don’t lie when he lines up against Sangakkara, and he didn’t have to face his contemporaries — i.e. Warne and McGrath — but he was such a character in such a brilliant side his overall presence sealed his spot for me