Welcome to another variation on the ‘All Time XIs’ theme. Today I create two teams to do battle for the little urn, but with a twist. The players featured today are players of whom more should have been seen. There is one player of the 22 who did not get to play test cricket, but I believe I can justify his inclusion. At the other end of the scale is a player who eventually played 79 times at the highest level, but who had to wait a long time for the call to come. We start with…
ENGLAND’S UNDERAPPRECIATED XI
- Jack Robertson – the stylish Middlesex opener was selected for 11 test matches, all between 1947 and 1952, and he scored 881 runs in those games, at and average of 46.36, with a highest score of 133. He missed the 1950-1 Ashes, when until Reg Simpson scored 156 not out in the final match only Hutton had contributed serious runs from the top of the order.
- Cyril Walters – another stylist, the Glamorgan and Worcestershire opener was selected for 11 test matches between 1933 and 1939, in which he scored 784 runs at 52.26, including one century and seven fifties.
- David Steele – ‘The Bank Clerk Who Went to War’ – the gritty Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire man played eight tests in 1975 and 1976, against Australia and the West Indies, averaging 42.06 (672 runs in 16 innings, no not outs).
- Clive Radley – the Hertford born Middlesex middle order man of the 1970s who like Steele only got to play eight times at the highest level. He scored 481 runs at 48.10 with a highest of 158, and another century versus Pakistan.
- Eddie Paynter – the Lancashire left hander’s record reads: 20 test matches, 31 innings, 1,540 runs at 59.23, 591 of them at 84.43 in Ashes matches. Among those who have played 20 or more games for England only Yorkshire’s Herbert Sutcliffe (60.73) has recorded a higher test average.
- +Ben Foakes – the Surrey man is the best current English wicket keeper, any doubt about that status being removed by the retirement of the marvellous Sarah Taylor. The measly five test matches he has thus far been given have yielded him 332 runs at 41.50 including a century and also 10 catches and two stumpings. I hope that the selectors will see sense and render him ineligible for selection in future sides of this nature. For the moment, he holds this position as he keeps wicket – summa cum laudae.
- Harold Larwood – The Notts express who was the star of the 1932-3 Ashes, and never picked again after that series through a combination of Aussie whinging and appalling behaviour by the English powers that be. Number 7 may look high in the order for him, but he did score 98 in his last test innings and made many useful contributions for Nottinghamshire with the bat.
- Frank Tyson – The Northanptonshire super fast man 76 wickets at 18.56 in his 18 test matches. He like Larwood was the hero of an Ashes triumph down under – in 1954-5. Many years after his prime he played in a charity game in which he bowled at Keith Fletcher (Essex), then an England regular, and he produced a delivery that Fletcher reckoned to be the quickest he faced that season.
- *Johnny Wardle – 28 test matches, 102 wickets at 20.39 with his left arm spin (he could bowl both orthodox and wrist spin). The Yorkshireman was often passed over in favour of Tony Lock, which rankled in “God’s own county”, especially since Lock’s action in the period in question was rarely as far above suspicion as Caesar’s wife. He fell out with Yorkshire over their appointment of 40 year old amateur Ronnie Burnet as skipper in 1958, and Yorkshire vindictively warned other counties against signing him, which effectively terminated his chances of further international recognition as well. I have done what Yorkshire would not in 1958 and named as captain of this team.
- Sydney Barnes – 27 tests, 189 wickets at 16.43, 77 of them in 13 matches down under. He played in under half of the matches contested by England between his first and last appearances, which irrespective of the fact that he was an awkward blighter (if he were to dispute this assessment it would only be as a matter of principle) and chose to play most of his cricket in the leagues rather than in the county championship is simply absurd. Also, there were various times when people considered him a possible post World War 1, including as late as 1930 when some people believed he was the man to take on Bradman who was running riot (2,960 runs at 98,66 for the tour, 974 of them at 139.14 in the test matches). West Indian legend Learie Constantine who faced Barnes for Nelson vs Rawtenstall in the Lancashire League when Barnes was 59 years old said after that match (in which he made 90) “if you wanted to score off Barnes you had to score off good bowling”.
- Charles ‘Father’ Marriott – (Lancs and Kent) A ‘one cap wonder’. He was selected in the final match of the 1933 series against the West Indies, took 11-96 in the match and that was his international career. He was known to be a liability except when actually bowling (his 711 first class wickets comfortably beating the 574 runs he scored at that level).
This team has a splendid looking top five, a superb glove man well capable of batting at six, and five excellent and well varied bowlers, all of whom save Marriott are capable of making useful contributions with the bat (Barnes was a regular run scorer in the leagues where he generally plied his trade and played one clearly defined match winning innings in a test match, at Melbourne in 1907 when he came in with 73 needed and two wickets standing and was there on 38 not out when the winning run was scored. Now it is time to look at…
AUSTRALIA UNDERUSED XI
- Sidney George Barnes – 13 test matches, in which he averaged 63 with a highest score of 234 (at Sydney in the second match of the 1946-7 Ashes). A combination of World War II (six years of his prime gone), and run-ins with the authorities meant that he played ridiculously little for such a fine batter. I would want ‘Blowers‘ at the mic when Sydney Francis Barnes bowled to Sidney George Barnes – there would surely be some priceless commentary moments!
- Chris Rogers – averaged 42.87 in the 25 matches he played, having amassed over 15,000 first class runs before the call came. He hit his peak at just the wrong time, when Australia had a dominant side that they were understandably reluctant to change.
- Mike Hussey – what is a man who played 79 tests doing here? He had been playing first class cricket and amassing mountains of runs in that form of the game for over a decade before getting to don the baggy green (‘Mr Cricket’ eschewed the other classic Aussie insignia, the chip on the shoulder). Yes, 79 tests is a fine achievement, as his average in that form of the game, but it could so easily have been 159 test matches, and it is for that reason that I include him.
- Martin Love – his peak coincided with Australia’s most dominant period, with the result that his test record amounts to 233 runs at 46.60 with one century. At almost any other time, or in almost any other country he would be an automatic selection for most of his career.
- Adam Voges – although the one trough of his brief test career (he was in his mid 30s when it began) coincided with the 2015 Ashes he averaged 61.87 in his 20 matches, an output that cannot be ignored.
- *Albert Trott – all rounder and captain (also captain of the ‘what might have been XI’ when I come to present that). His test career was in two parts – for Australia in the 1894-5 Ashes, and then for England against South Africa in 1899. Between them they amounted to five matches in which he scored 228 runs at 38.00 and took 26 wickets at 15.00. It was also in 1899 that he achieved a thus far unrepeated feat – he struck a ball from fellow Aussie Monty Noble that cleared the Lord’s pavilion, hitting a chimney pot and dropping down the back of the building. He was a right arm spin bowler. His test debut in 1895 was remarkable – 38 and 72 not out with the bat and 8-43 in the second England innings.
- +Graham Manou – the most skilled glove man in Australia during his career, but Brad Haddin was generally preferred on ground of his belligerent batting. Manou played in only one test match, unusual for an Australian (there are about 70 English members of this club).
- Eddie Gilbert – right arm fast bowler and the most controversial of my 22 picks today. He never played test cricket, but in his brief domestic career he sometimes caused carnage, including inflicting on Don Bradman “the luckiest duck of my career”. He might have been selected during the 1932-3 Ashes had Australia adopted a ‘fight fire with fire’ approach. He was an aboriginal, which might explain his scurvy treatment by the Australian cricket powers that be – it would be until Jason Gillespie that a player of proven aboriginal ancestry would don the baggy green.
- Laurie Nash – another fast bowler who could have been used as part of the ‘fight fire with fire’ option in 1932-3. He claimed that he could have stopped ‘Bodyline’ in two overs given the chance. His two test caps yielded 10 wickets at 12.60. What might have happened at Australia taken the ‘fight fire with fire’ approach? My reckoning is that there would probably have been one absolute war zone of a test when both teams gave it both barrels, and then the method would have been abandoned, because the English professionals who could not afford to risk their livelihoods would have insisted on it.
- Stuart Clark – a tall fast-medium who took 94 wickets at 23.86 in his 24 test matches. Injury problems and a chap by the name of McGrath kept him from featuring more often than he did.
- Jack Iverson – mystery spinner (subject of Gideon Haigh’s book “Mystery Spinner”) whose test career amounted to the five matches of the 1950-1 Ashes series, in which he took 21 wickets at 15.23. Many reckoned that he would have been even deadlier in England (although he bowled wrist spin he was effectively a very accurate off spinner) – which creates an interesting counter-historical speculation. Had he gone to England in 1953 Australia may well have retained The Ashes, which would almost certainly have meant that the grumblers who had never liked the notion of a professional captaining England would have got their way and Hutton would have been replaced by an amateur, which would almost certainly have also meant no 1954-5 triumph with ‘Typhoon’ Tyson.
This team has a strong looking top five, a potentially match winning all rounder at six, a magnificent keeper at seven and four top quality bowlers.
THOUGHTS ON HOW THIS ASHES CONTEST MIGHT GO
Barring an emerald coloured pitch and/or heavy cloud cover that you are prepared to bet on remaining in place for long enough to cash in on the toss winner would be heavily advised to bat first and get their runs on the board (trying to score runs against Trott and Iverson in the fourth innings does not look like fun, and this is even more the case vis a vis Wardle, Barnes and Marriott). I reckon that Larwood and Tyson are a quicker pair (thought not by much) than Gilbert and Nash. Where England definitely shade it is that irrespective of conditions Barnes is likely to more dangerous than Clark. I would expect it to be close – in a five match, play to a finish series I would back England to win 3-2, while I would expect England’s margin to look a little more comfortable with draws in the equation because I reckon Steele and Radley could each be counted on for at least one match saving rearguard action, while ‘Mr Cricket’ would probably probably save one game for the Aussies, so factoring in draws I make it 2-0 to England. Glenn McGrath would probably utter his reflex “5-0 to Australia’ line!
Given the characters on show we need some good officials in charge. I am going for Bucknor and Dar as on field umpires, Venkataraghavan as TV Replay umpire and Clive Lloyd as match referee. For commentators I have already indicated that ‘Blowers’ has a role to play, and as his colleagues I choose Jim Maxwell (Australia) and Alison Mitchell (who has a foot in both camps) – sorry ‘Aggers‘, no gig for you this series. For expert summarisers I have no strong preferences other than that Boycott is absolutely banned.
A TWITTER THREAD AND PHOTOS
I have set the stage for my Ashes series between two teams of often overlooked players, but there remains one more thing to do before my usual sign off – I have an important twitter thread about Coronavirus to share with you, from Lainey Doyle, please click on screenshot to view the whole thread:
We end with the usual photographic flourish: