After yesterday’s struggles to produce an XI of players who could all be filed under the letter Q, today’s task of selecting an XI of players with surnames beginning with the letter R presents an altogether different challenge.
THE XI IN BATTING ORDER
- Chris Rogers (Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Middlesex, Australia). The immense strength of Australia’s batting when he was in his prime meant that he got the test call up very late in his career. Nevertheless, 25 matches at that level yielded him over 2,000 runs at 42.87, respectable by any standards. In FC cricket he scored over 25,000 runs at almost 50.
- Barry Richards (Hampshire, South Africa). His test career was nipped in the bud by the expulsion of apartheid South Africa. Four matches at the highest level yielded him 508 runs at 72.57. He was also the leading run scorer in the first year of Packer’s World Series Cricket, when the bowling was seriously good. Don Bradman, certainly qualified to assess the merits of batters, rated him the best right handed opener he ever saw in action.
- Viv Richards (Somerset, Glamorgan, West Indies). The ‘Master Blaster’ was the only cricketer from the Caribbean to achieve the career milestone of 100 first class hundreds. In England in 1976 he was untouchable, tallying 829 for the series even though he missed a match due to injury. He was also the first authentically great ODI batter. West Indies in his playing days were frequently accused of intimidatory bowling, but it was also noted that he was capable of intimidatory batting.
- Joe Root (Yorkshire, England). Certainly the greatest batter England have produced in my lifetime, and a strong case could be made that he is England’s greatest ever (Grace, Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Hutton and at a pinch May and Barrington would merit consideration in this discussion).
- KS Ranjitsinhji (Sussex, England). He averaged 56.48 in first class cricket, though his appearances at test level were limited, he scored 989 runs at 45 at that level, including twice topping 150 against Australia. He was the first known to deliberately score behind the wicket on the leg side, pioneering the leg glance. He was born in a princedom in northern India, and India;s oremier domestic FC competition is still named in his honour.
- *Walter Robins (Middlesex, England). A leg spinning all rounder, and a great captain who conjured a county championship in 1947 for a Middlesex side that was strong in batting but did not have a great bowling attack. Denis Compton, one of Middlesex’s all time greats, and a star of the team in Robins’ day rated him the best captain he ever played under.
- +Jack Russell (Gloucestershire, England). One of the greatest keepers ever to play the game and a hugely underrated left handed batter. He scored a test century against the 1989 Australians when they were running rampant against a frankly shambolic England. He scored a defiant half century when Ambrose was ripping his way through England in Barbados in 1990. Another example of his unyielding determination came against South Africa at Centurion. He joined Atherton with England pretty much buried, and the pair proceeded to bat through two complete sessions to salvage a draw for their side.
- Andy Roberts (Hampshire, Leicestershire, West Indies). The spearhead of the original West Indies pace quartet in 1976, he took 202 test wickets at 25 a piece, morphing as he matured from a fire and brimstone type bowler into an unhittably accurate one. He was also a useful lower order batter.
- Kagiso Rabada (South Africa). At the age of 27 he is just about in the age range usually regarded as a cricketer’s prime years, and he already has 243 test wickets at 22 a piece, sufficient whatever happens in the rest of his career to underwrite his claim to the status of a great fast bowler.
- Wilfred Rhodes (Yorkshire, England). One of the most extraordinary of all cricketers, he had a five-phase career: specialist left arm spin bowler, all rounder, specialist batter (in the 1911-12 Ashes he was England’s number two batter both in terms of his position in the order and in terms of his position in that series’ averages and didn’t bowl), all rounder (having hardly bowled in the years leading up to WWI, he picked up his bowling in 1919, and as though he had never abandoned it, he proceeded to top the national averages for that season), and finally, as his eyesight began to go, a few final years as a specialist bowler, before retiring to make way for the emerging Hedley Verity, who he summed up in typically laconic fashion “he’ll do”, which from Rhodes was a positively euphoric assessment. Given the cricketers available for the letter R I choose to use him in this XI as the specialist bowler he was both at the start and the end of his amazing career, one of the greatest ever. He was the only bowler ever to take over 4,000 first class wickets, and only three others even tallied 3,000, and none of those were ever of any great value with the bat. Of the top ten all time FC wicket takers only the mighty WG Grace outranks Rhodes as a batter. A final comment to end this section, from the legendary Victor Trumper, when Australia were piling up a massive total on a flat one, 185 of them from Trumper himself, and amidst the carnage Rhodes took 5-94 from 48 overs, at one point leading to Trumper saying “for goodness sake Wilfred, won’t you give me a moment’s peace?”.
- Tom Richardson (Surrey, Somerset, England). Only 14 tests for the lion hearted fast bowler, but he took 88 wickets at 25 a piece in those matches. He took more FC wickets for Surrey than any other bowler, and reached the career landmarks of 1,000 FC wickets (134 matches) and 2,000 (327 matches) quicker than any other bowler.
This XI has one great (B Richards) and one very good opener, a power packed engine room of Viv Richards, Root and Ranjitsinhji, an all rounder who happens also to be great skipper, one of the greatest of all keepers, who was also a useful batter, and four great specialist bowlers. A fast attack of Roberts, Rabada and Richardson, backed by the spin of Rhodes and Robins, plus possible part time off spin support from Root and the Richardses is an any reckoning a stellar bowling unit. This is one of the strongest XIs to feature in this mini-series.
This is a multi-part section. The first subsection deals with probably the finest of the eligible cricketers not to make the XI…
26,000 FC runs at 41, 900 FC wickets at 21, and no place for him? The problem is that this letter has immense strength available, and he never played test cricket due to circumstances. There is no way to know how he would have fared at test level – some (e.g Herbert Sutcliffe) do better against tougher opposition, some like Graeme Hick and someone we will be meeting later in this piece do very much worse. Also, fitting him in to the XI would be a major challenge – I would either have to drop one of my top five, all of whom have ironclad claims to their places, or change the balance of the side by dropping Robins and naming someone else as captain, or drop one of my three unarguably great fast bowlers to accommodate a batting all rounder, again changing the balance of the side.
CAG ‘Jack’ Russell averaged 59 in his brief test career, including becoming the first English batter to record twin tons in a test match, but the brevity of his career at the top tells against him. Jack Robertson, who contributed 12 tons to Middlesex’s 1947 championship winning season, played 11 test matches, averaging 46, and had he been left handed would have been a challenger to Rogers, but given that he played less than half as many tests as the Aussie and his average was not that much greater I felt that he had to be left out. Tim Robinson had an impressive start against India away in 1984-5 and Australia at home in 1985 but was unceremoniously found out by the West Indies mean machine in the Caribbean in 1986. Pankaj Roy shared an opening stand of 413 with Mulvantrai ‘Vinoo’ Mankad, but that was a rare major success at the top level for him – he averaged 32.56 at test level overall.
THE MIDDLE ORDER
Mark Ramprakash has the best FC batting record of anyone I omitted for this letter, but he failed miserably to transfer that form to the test arena, managing just two centuries in 52 test matches. Richie Richardson had a similar test average to Ranjitsinhji and played more matches at that level, but I felt that I could not overlook Ranji. Vic Richardson was one of the greatest all round athletes ever produced by the state of South Australia, but his record in the test arena was modest – he was comfortably outdone at that level by two of his three famous grandsons. Two J Ryders, Jack who played for Australia in the mid 1920s, and Jesse who played for New Zealand much more recently had good test records, but not quite good enough. Ajinkya Rahane has done some good things at test level for India, but for me he is just a fraction short of being genuinely top class and therefore misses out. Clive Radley did all that could be asked of him when called up for England in his mid-thirties. Also, a name check for one of the greatest batters the women’s game has seen, Mithali Raj.
Other than Rice who I have already mentioned, and Robins who I selected there are two other all rounders who merit a mention: Wasim Raja, a batter and leg spin bowler for Pakistan, and Ravi Ratnayeke of Sri Lanka.
Mushfiqur Rahim of Bangladesh was closest to challenging Russell for this slot. Jack Richards of Surrey and England had one great Ashes series in 1986-7, but left the game early after a dispute over terms with Surrey. Oliver George Robinson (Kent) is a fine keeper, and has recently scored 206* in a 50 overs a side game. Some Worcestershire fans would doubtless make a case on behalf of Steve ‘Bumpy’ Rhodes, but he was in truth not Russell’s equal in either department. Denesh Ramdin of the West Indies probably believes he should be in this XI but I don’t reckon anyone else does.
Oliver Edward Robinson has done very well for England when he has been fit to bowl – and it is that caveat that prevents him from meriting serious consideration as yet. Wahab Riaz of Pakistan was a fine pacer in his day, but I cannot place him ahead of any of Roberts, Rabada or Richardson. Rumesh Ratnayake was often the only member of the Sri Lankan sides he was part of who could bowl at anything above medium pace, and I acknowledge his efforts with an honourable mention. One solitary spinner might have displaced Rhodes: Sonny Ramadhin. As good as the first half of ‘those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine’ was he does not get in ahead of Rhodes.
I always select with long form cricket in mind unless I have specifically stated otherwise. The following names who could not be accommodated in a long form side would merit consideration in white ball: Rilee Rossouw (South Africa), KL Rahul (India), Luke Ronchi (Australia/ New Zealand), Jason Roy (England) and Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh, a left arm pacer with a great record in limited overs matches and a very moderate one in long form cricket).
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN?
Rayford Robinson was an Australian batter and near contemporary of Don Bradman. The Don himself reckoned that in pure talent Robinson outranked him, but he managed one test appearance, in which he scored 2 and 3. He appears to have had an attitude problem.
Harold Rhodes was a fast bowler whose career was ruined by suspicions about his bowling action (he was actually perfectly legitimate, doing what is today described as ‘hyperextending’ his bowling arm).
ONES FOR THE FUTURE
Two last names to conjure with. Mohammad Rizwan of Pakistan has not yet done enough to claim a place for himself, and would probably have to force his way in as a specialist batter, given the keeping standards set by Russell. James Rew of Somerset is going places in a big way – at the age of 18 he already has centuries in both first class and list A cricket. I would be very surprised if a version of this XI in ten years from now did not feature him.
Our cricketing journey through the letter R is complete, and it remains only to apply the usual sign off…