Welcome to another variation on the ‘All Time XIs‘ theme. Today I present two XIs, one made of players noted for blocking with both bat and ball, and to take them on a much more explosive combination. We start with…
THE BLOCKERS XI
- Gary Kirsten – left handed opening batter. He once scored 275 in 14 hours at the crease v England. After a distinguished career for South Africa he became a coach, in which role he has also enjoyed considerable success.
- Hanif Mohammad – right handed opening bat, holder of the record for the longest test innings ever played, a 970 minute marathon in which he accrued 337, at the time of its compilation the third highest ever test score behind Sobers and Hutton.
- Rahul Dravid – right handed bat. He was referred to as ‘The Wall’ in his playing days, a moniker that explains his inclusion.
- Shivnarine Chanderpaul – left handed bat, occasional leg spinner. Holder of various records for longest periods of time between dismissals – four times in his test career he went more than 1,000 minutes between dismissals. He is also, with due respect to Graeme Smith of South Africa, exhibit A in the case against the proposition that left handed batters are naturally more elegant than their right handed counterparts.
- Jimmy Adams – left handed bat, occasional slow left arm orthodox, occasional wicket keeper. His approach to batting got him dubbed ‘Jimmy Padams’.
- Trevor Bailey – right handed bat, right arm fast medium. Famous for saving the Lord’s test match of 1953 in company with Willie Watson, his 71 in four hours on that occasion was comparatively sprightly next to his effort in the second innings at The Gabba in 1958. He took 357 minutes to reach the slowest fifty in the history of first class cricket, ultimately scoring 68 in 458 minutes at the crease. Jack Fingleton in his book about that Ashes tour, “Four Chukkas to Australia”, notes that of the 428 deliveries Bailey faced in this blockathon no fewer than 388 were dots. Bailey’s innings was cast into even grimmer light by the performance of Aussie debutant Norman O’Neill who in the final innings of that match scored 71 not out in under two and a half hours to carry his team to victory. Jimmy Burke in that Aussie chase was unbeaten on 28 from 252 minutes at the crease, but as again noted by Fingleton, he was playing for his partners, giving them the strike whenever possible, whereas Bailey hogged the bowling, reducing his team mates, who numbered Graveney and Cowdrey among others to the same level of strokeless impotence as himself.
- +Jack Russell – wicket keeper, left handed bat. He played second fiddle to Mike Atherton in a famous escape act at Johannesburg, being 29 not out after over four hours at the end of it. He performed other notable acts of batting defiance, including a determined century against Australia at Old Trafford which dragged England back from 59-6 and a gallant effort to save a match in the Caribbean, in which he batted most of the final day for 55
- Bapu Nadkarni – slow left arm orthodox bowler, left hand bat. He conceded just 1.67 runs per over through his career, and against Pakistan once had 0-23 from 32 overs. His greatest blocking spell came against England when he had figures of 0-5 from 32 overs!
- Joel Garner – right arm fast bowler, right handed bat. A notoriously parsimonious bowler, though in fairness he did take over 250 wickets in his 59 test matches as well.
- *Alfred Shaw – right arm medium pace, right hand bat. The man who bowled more overs (albeit four ball overs in his day) than he conceded runs in his first class career. He once took 7-7 in 41 overs.
- Hugh Tayfield – off spinner, right hand bat, once bowled 137 successive dot balls, including 16 successive eight-ball maidens. He was also South Africa’s leading test wicket taker from their first period as a test nation.
The Blockers XI is a well balanced side, with Garner, Shaw and Bailey to bowl seam, contrasting spin options in Tayfield and Nadkarni, good batting depth and even a respectable mix of left and right handers. It is now time to meet…
THE HITTERS XI
- Sanath Jayasuriya – left handed opening bat, slow left arm orthodox bowler. A scorer of a test match triple century among other fine innings at that level, he was also the star of the 1996 World Cup, which his country, Sri Lanka, won. In the quarter final of that tournament, against an England side who had only made it that far because they had two non test-playing countries in their group he made an insufficient total of 235-7 look positively puny by slamming 82 off 44 balls.
- Victor Trumper – right handed opening bat. The first ever to score 100 before lunch on the opening day of a test match (at Old Trafford in 1902, facing an England side who had set themselves to “keep Victor quiet before lunch”, reckoning that once the run up area dried sufficiently for him to use that Bill Lockwood would be deadly). He averaged over 40 runs per hour through his career, and in the course of that 1902 tour he amassed 11 centuries in all. Ashley Mallett, the former test match off spinner, is the author of a biography of him, and account of the 1902 tour titled “Victor Trumper and the 1902 Australians” by Lionel H Brown is also well worth a read.
- *Donald Bradman – right handed batter. The finest batter the world had ever seen. At Leeds in 1930 he had 100 on the board by lunch, 220 by tea and then slowed down a little in the final session to end the day 309 not out, going on to 334 on the second morning. His 452 not out for NSW vs Queensland, at the time the highest score in first class history and still the highest ever made in a team’s second innings, came in just 415 minutes. His record score for his second state, South Australia, 369 against Tasmania, came in just four and half hours.
- Graeme Pollock – left handed bat noted for extremely fast scoring.
- Viv Richards – right handed bat, occasional off spinner. The ‘Master Blaster’ scored what was then the fastest ever test century in terms of balls received, 56, and remains no 2 on that list at his home ground at St Johns, Antigua in 1986. England were the victims, as they had been of his 138 in the 1979 world cup final, his two double centuries in the 1976 test series and his then ODI record score of 189 not out in 1984. His highest first class score, a then Somerset record 322, came in less than a full day’s play against Warwickshire (RH Moore for Hampshire, Eddie Paynter for Lancashire and ‘Duleep’ for Sussex are others to have managed this in a County Championship match.
- +Adam Gilchrist – wicket keeper and left handed bat. The fastest Ashes century ever in terms of balls received, 57, at the WACA in 2006. Among his many other blistering efforts was a 149 in a World Cup Final innings reduced by the weather to 38 overs.
- Gilbert Jessop – right handed bat, right arm fast bowler. The fastest scorer in the history of the game, with no fewer than 11 of his 53 first class centuries taking less than an hour to complete. He holds joint second and fourth place in the list of fastest first class double hundreds, 120 and 130 minutes respectively, and his 191 in 90 minutes at Hastings would have been at least 213 under post 1910 rules (for most of his career a ball had to go out of the ground to count six, not just to clear the ropes before bouncing as now). His 40 minute century against Yorkshire remains the second quickest ever in first class cricket in non-contrived circumstances (efforts when the bowling side are deliberately giving away runs to set up a declaration are nowadays quite rightly reduced to footnotes). I recommend “The Croucher”, a biography of him by Gerald Brodribb.
- Wasim Akram – left arm fast bowler, left handed batter. His highest test score, and the highest ever by a number eight, 257, included 11 sixes, and that was not out of keeping with his approach to batting. His left arm pace bowling netted 414 test wickets at 23.62.
- Shane Warne – leg spinner, right hand bat. More test runs than any other non-centurion, with 3,154 of them, and his inclination was very much to attack, as it was with his bowling, and of course it is his708 test wickets at 25.41 that get him into this team.
- Michael Holding – right arm fast bowler, right handed batter. He once played an innings of 59 against England that included five maximums, but it is of course as ‘Whispering Death’, taker of 249 test wickets at 23.68 in his 60 test matches that he is included.
- Muttiah Muralitharan – off spinner and right handed batter. He scored his test runs at 72 per hundred balls, and 174 of his 1,261 test career runs came in sixes, but it is of course his 800 test wickets at 22.72 in 133 appearances that earn him his place.
This team boasts a magnificent top five, the greatest keeper/batter the game has ever seen, the ideal number 7 in Jessop and four guys selected primarily as bowlers who are as varied as they are formidable. Wasim Akram and Michael Holding look every inch a deadly new ball pair, with Jessop a more than handy third pace option, while an aggregate of 1,508 wickets from 278 matches suggests that my selected spin twins can do the job. Additionally, with Wasim bowling left arm and Holding right arm the pace attack has an extra level of variation. Finally, Jayasuriya’s left arm spin is not an entirely negligible quantity.
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE CONTEST AND HONOURABLE MENTIONS
Obviously the matches would have to be timeless to prevent the blockers from being able to settle for a draw. For my on field umpires I choose Ray Julian to restrict the output of Jimmy ‘Padams’ and Kumar Dharmasena with his two World Cup finals worth of experience. The TV Replay umpire can be Aleem Dar. The hitters will probably have to bowl a lot of overs, but they have the wherewithal to do so, and they are not going to be short of runs. In a five match series, with all games to be played out I would expect the hitters to emerge comfortable winners, estimated margin 4-1.
For the hitters, among the many contenders to miss out were:
Left handed openers: Saeed Anwar – not quite the equal of Jayasuriya as a fast scorer, and also Jayasuriya gives me an extra bowling option. Chris Gayle, two test triple centuries, more T20 centuries than anyone else (22 of them), but his off spin is not as useful as Jayasuriya’s slow left arm to this team.
Right handed openers: Virender Sehwag – to be able to score 300 in a day in test cricket is remarkable, but I could not drop Trumper even for Sehwag, though this was a very close call. Rohit Sharma, with a 264 in an ODI to his credit and a good start as a test match opener was also in with a shout.
In the middle order: Charlie Macartney, another member of the ‘hundred before lunch on day 1 of a test match’ club and a left arm spinner was close, while the biggest miss by far was Sir Garry Sobers, who I was close to giving Graeme Pollock’s no four slot. Kevin Pietersen would also have his advocates, but would they really drop the ‘master blaster’ to make way for him?
Among the all rounders: Stokes may command a place if he continues on his current trajectory, Botham was an alternative to Jessop for the no 7 slot, but I felt that leaving ‘the croucher’ out of a ‘hitters XI’ to not be an option. Flintoff of course was also a huge hitter, but not a serious rival to Jessop or Botham. Arthur Wellard, the Somerset fast medium bowler who clubbed over 500 maximums in his first class career was another who I regretted not being able to find a place for. There are many others who will have their advocates. Another intriguing possibility, could I have countenanced dropping Jessop would have been to give the no7 slot to the most complete all round cricketer among current top level players: Ellyse Perry. If I could imagine a team called the ‘Hitters XI’ without Jessop I think that giving Perry his no 7 slot would be my choice.
I wanted an awesome foursome of bowlers who all approached their batting as aggressively as they did their bowling, and although I am open to suggestions I do not think that element of the team could be improved upon.
The blockers had some big misses as well. I could only select two openers of course, which meant no place for such masters of the blockers art as Alastair Cook, Geoffrey Boycott, Dick Barlow (the Barlow of ‘my Hornby and my Barlow long ago”) and Alick Bannerman. ‘The Wall’ had an inalienable claim to the no 3 slot, which meant no place for William Scotton or Chris Tavare. Bailey kept out his fellow Essex all-rounder Johnny Douglas (“Johnny Won’t Hit Today, from his initials JWHT) and the first of the great Aussie gum chewers, Ken ‘slasher’ Mackay. In the wicket keeper’s slot I might have had Brendon Kuruppu, scorer of one of the most drab and featureless double hundreds ever compiled. Jason Gillespie’s monumental effort in what turned out to be his final test knock was close to earning him a place among the bowlers. Alfred Shaw’s Aussie counterpart Harry Boyle might also have had a bowling slot.
The stage has been set for the clash between the blockers and the hitters, which of course, especially with me doing the selecting, the hitter are bound to emerge victorious from, and all that remains is my usual sign off…