This is the start of a new series which will appear on this blog periodically in between posts about other things. I will pick two squads in each of these posts – one restricted to players whose performances I have witnessed live and one true all-time squad, using my considerable knowledge of cricket history. I will also be including a few other things after the main body of the post. We will being the main part of the post with…
ENGLAND SQUAD FROM PLAYERS I HAVE WITNESSED LIVE
To begin with we need an opening pair. I refuse to consider those who went on the two English rebel tours to South Africa. The serious contenders left are:
- Mike Atherton – 7,.728 runs at 37.69 from 115 test matches. A fine record, though that average was reduced by his encounters with Glenn McGrath who seriously had the wood on him.
- Alec Stewart – 8,463 test runs at 39.54 from 133 test matches. These already impressive figures conceal the fact that Stewart the specialist batter (the role in which I would be using him) averaged 47, while Stewart the keeper averaged 34.
- Marcus Trescothick – 76 test matches produced 5,825 runs at 43.79. An attack-minded left hander, Trescothick hit the ground running at Test level with 66 against the West Indies on debut, and until mental health issues caused his premature retirement from international cricket he went from strength to strength.
- Andrew Strauss – 100 test matches, 7,037 runs at 40.91. An consistent opener who did even better as captain than he did in the ranks.
- Alastair Cook – England’s all time leading test run scorer, with 12,472 at 45.35, he started his test career with a fifty and a century against India and ended it 12 years later with a fifty and a century against India.
Of these five I can accommodate three in my squad (an opening pair and a reserve opener), and my choice, with due respect to Messrs Atherton and Trescothick is to go for Alastair Cook and Alec Stewart (mainly defensive left hander and more attacking right hander) as my first choice opening pair and Strauss as the reserve opener. It is a close call between Strauss and Trescothick, but Strauss’ captaincy experience gives him an edge.
My designated number three bat and captain is Michael Vaughan. Number three has traditonally been a problem position for England, but Vaughan was magnificent there – his only rival in my lifetime is Jonathan Trott, but since I want Vaughan as captain he gets the nod. When it comes to picking three middle-order batters there is an embarrassment of riches to choose from. There are two left-handers, David Gower and Graham Thorpe and a phalanx of right-handers including Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Joe Root and Paul Collingwood who all did fine things at test level. I can only select three, two to be in the first XI and one as cover, and my choices are Joe Root, David Gower and Kevin Pietersen.
With all due respect to Andrew Flintoff and Ben Stokes who have both had great achievements at the highest level there is only one candidate for the allrounders role in my view and that is Ian Botham.
There are four potential candidates for the wicketkeepers slot, of whom I need to select two since I do not intend using Stewart in that role. My four candidates are:
- Jack Russell – a magnificent keeper, but his test batting average of 27.10 was a little on the low side.
- Matt Prior – there was never a question about his batting skills, but his keeping took a while to develop, though he became very good indeed.
- Jonny Bairstow – A fine attacking batter and a good keeper, but rarely able to combine the two at test level
- Ben Foakes – A magnificent keeper and averaging over 40 in his brief test career so far.
It will be considered controversial in some circles to give the nod to someone still in the early stages of their career, but my choices are Ben Foakes as first choice keeper and Matt Prior as reserve.
I have now selected a total of ten players, and a regulation squad would be 16, so I have six places available to fill the squad. For quick bowlers I go for James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Simon Jones and Steve Harmison. Phil Tufnell was too inconsistent and Ashley Giles not really good enough, so my choices for the spinners slots are Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann.
Thus my squad of sixteen is:
Andrew Strauss (reserve opener)
The likely first XI, assuming a pitch that does not favour any particular type of bowling would be: Stewart, Cook, *Vaughan, Root, Gower, +Foakes, Botham, Swann, Broad, Anderson and Harmison, with Kevin Pietersen just missing the final cut in favour of Root (Gower’s lefthandedness works to his advantage).
THE ALL TIME SQUAD
For this one I start with the greatest of all opening pairs, Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. In addition to being one half of the greatest of all opening pairs Herbert Sutcliffe’s averages suggest, as does everything ever written about him, a big match temperament par excellence – 52.02 in first class cricket, 60.73 in all test cricket and in the cauldron of The Ashes, 66.85. As reserve opener I select W G Grace, reckoning that his test batting average (32.29) was reduced both by the pitches he played on and the fact that he was already 32 when he played his first test match in 1880, and his career at that level lasted until within a couple of months of his 51st birthday. My remaining choices for batting slots are Joe Root (captain), Denis Compton, Walter Hammond and Frank Woolley (the latter two more than handy bowlers as well as great fielders, and Woolley a left-hander). For the wicketkeepers I opt for Les Ames as first choice and Ben Foakes as reserve. Ian Botham retains his place as designated all-rounder. For the bowlers I retain Anderson, and augment his presence with Fred Trueman, Syd Barnes (189 wickets at 16.43 from just 27 matches) and George Lohmann (112 wickets in 18 test matches at an eye-popping 10.75). My two players selected as spinners are Hedley Verity (slow-left arm) and Jim Laker (off-spin).
Thus my squad list reads:
W G Grace (reserve opener)
The first XI in batting order, assuming the pitch does not justify either two specialist spinners or an all-seam attack is: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Compton, *Root, Woolley, +Ames, Botham, Lohmann, Laker, Trueman and Barnes. I select Laker ahead of Verity as the lone specialist spinner because Woolley was a good enough slow-left armer to have taken 10 wickets in a test match and Compton could bowl slow left-arm wrist spin.
A BIT OF NEWS
Today as part of my continuing recovery from cancer I attended a physio session at Tapping House, and it went very well. I handled all four of the exercises I did today reasonably well, and my breathing behaved itself. It is a nice small group, and the setting is good.
My usual sign off…