2Earth Cricket BallEntertaining the masses — a side to please everyone, perhaps?

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.
Wick­et keeper
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.
All round­er
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.
Pace attack
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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JSJon Scaife

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.

MWMatthew Woodward

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