Today I create an XI of the best players most or all of whose careers took place before there was a county championship. Incidentally, there is a page from which all my posts about Saturday’s excursion to Pensthorpe can be accessed. Before I get into the main business of today’s post there is a brief section about…
ENGLAND TEST SELECTORS BLUNDER BIG TIME
The squad for the first test match of the home season, against Ireland is now out, and there are three areas of concern, two selections and an omission. Zak Crawley, a proven failure at test level, retains his slot at the top of the order. Far worse, Ben Foakes has been dropped to make way for the return to test action of Jonathan Bairstow. There may be a case for picking Bairstow, though in a test career which stretches back to 2012 he has blown hot and cold, and more often cold than hot, but there is not even the shadow of a case for dropping Foakes, the best current keeper by far, and someone who has been scoring big runs for Surrey in the championship this season, including a century at better than a run a ball when Surrey were looking for a declaration. Many people have posed this as being a challenge about how to accommodate Bairstow, and I have two options, listed in order of preference:
- Opt for what C Auguste Dupin would call “the sagacious and comprehensive expedient of making no attempt to accommodate Bairstow”. England are coming off a very successful winter without Bairstow, and Bairstow’s overall test record is that of a mediocre middle order batter, certainly not sufficient to warrant discarding Foakes.
- Have Bairstow open the innings as he does in white ball cricket and drop the proven failure Crawley (I would prefer to see a proper opener such as Ben Compton or Ali Orr picked in Crawley’s case, but at least Bairstow would probably be an improvement were he coming in in place of Crawley).
It is now time to get back to the main meat of the post…
THE XI IN BATTING ORDER
- *WG Grace (right handed opening batter, right arm bowler of various types through his career, captain). Had a quarter of a century of first class experience by the time of the first official county championship, so even though he played his last first class game as late as 1908 he qualifies.
- Arthur Shrewsbury (right handed opening batter). The man WG rated as the second best batter around (himself obviously no1), and since he played 15 years of FC before the inauguration of the Championship and 12 afterwards he just qualifies.
- James Aylward (left handed batter). In 1777, just eight years after John Minshull had scored the first recorded century in any form of cricket, he hit the Hambledon record score of 167, which remained an all comers record for 43 years.
- William ‘Silver Billy’ Beldham (right handed batter). In an era when centuries of any kind were rare he hit three in matches of indisputably first class status.
- Fuller Pilch (right handed batter). Acknowledged as the best batter of the 1830s and 1840s, a period when scoring was very low.
- Alfred Mynn (right handed batter, right arm fast bowler). “The Lion of Kent”, an absolute man mountain, and a great all rounder. He was quick enough that on one occasion someone fielding at long stop (directly behind the keeper) to his bowling once had to be hospitalized after being hit in the chest by several of his deliveries.
- Vyell Walker (right handed batter, right arm slow underarm bowler). One of only two cricketers to have scored a century and taken an all-10 in the same first class fixture (the other, WG, is also in this XI). As an underarm bowler any turn he got would have been the equivalent of an overarm bowler bowling leg spin, which makes him a good slow bowling partner for the next guy in the order…
- Billy Bates (right handed batter, off spinner). A massively impressive career record, probably equating in the modern era to averaging 32 with the bat and 25 the ball (actual averages were 21 and 17). He was even better in his brief test career, averaging 27 with bat and 16 with the ball, which probably equates to 41 and 24 in the modern era.
- +Tom Box (wicket keeper, right handed batter). He appeared in every fixture that Sussex played for an unbroken 24 year period, and although his batting average looks very low to modern eyes it is about 60% of that of Fuller Pilch, rated the best batter of the era.
- William Lillywhite (right arm fast roundarm bowler, right handed lower order batter). Rated the best bowler of his era (he was referred to as ‘the Nonpareil’, one half of my envisaged new ball pairing.
- William Mycroft (left arm fast bowler, right handed tail end batter). 800 first class wickets at 12 a piece.
This side has a powerful batting line up, with everyone down to Bates at number eight definitely capable of playing a match winning innings. The bowling, with Mycroft, Lillywhite and Mynn to bowl pace, and Bates and Walker two contrasting types of slow bowler, plus of course the redoubtable WG is magnificent, having both depth and variety.
The two chief rivals to Shrewsbury for the position of Grace’s opening partner were John Small of Hambledon and EM Grace. Lambert, scorer of twin centuries in a match in 1817, a feat which stood alone for half a century until WG Grace emulated it might have had a middle order slot. George Osbaldeston was a fine fast bowling all rounder, but not I reckon the equal of Mynn. Had I been going to pick an overseas player it would have been Dr ME Pavri (India), who visited England in the 1890s and achieved remarkable things as a pace bowling all rounder (once in his native land he decided in advance that team mates weren’t needed, took on an XI on his unaided own, and beat them). Among the great bowlers who missed out were David Harris (Hambledon), the Notts duo of Alfred Shaw and Fred Morley, James Broadbridge and John Wisden both of Sussex and two Yorkshire speedsters, Tom Emmett (left arm) and George Freeman (right arm). Sam Redgate, John Jackson and George Tarrant would all also have their advocates.
My usual sign off…