Today is the third anniversary of my first ever All Time XIs post, about Surrey and I am varying the theme today with a look not at an all-time XI but an XI for a particular period of cricket’s history – England before WWI, so picked from players who appeared in the first 37 years of test cricket.
THE XI IN BATTING ORDER
- *WG Grace (right handed opening batter, right arm bowler of various types and captain). WG’s test record looks fairly modest, but he was already 32 by the time he made his debut at that level and almost 51 by the time of his last appearance. He also did twice hold the England record individual score at that level, with 152 on his debut at The Oval in 1880, which lasted six years, and 170 at the same ground in 1886 to reclaim his record from Arthur Shrewsbury after one match. This latter stood until the 1894-5 Ashes series when Stoddart topped it with 173. Had test cricket been established a little earlier than it was Grace’s record would have been a lot better – in the 1870s he averaged 49 in FC cricket when no one else in England could do more than half as well.
- Jack Hobbs (right handed opening batter). Included in this XI as well as the one for the inter-war era out of deference to his own expressed wish to be remembered for how he batted before WWI – he was actually firmly established as the best in the world before the outbreak of WWI although his main record breaking years were after that conflict.
- Johnny Tyldesley (right handed batter). It was a choice between this man and David Denton of Yorkshire for the number three slot (both filled it with distinction) and I opted for the Lancastrian due to the fact that his brother misses out on a place in the inter-war XI because of England’s immense batting strength in that era.
- KS Ranjitsinhji (right handed batter). 989 test runs at 45 including two 150+ scores. One of the great geniuses of batting.
- FS Jackson (right handed batter,right arm medium fast bowler, vice captain). He never managed an overseas tour due to work commitments (he was a genuine amateur in terms of his cricket), but he still managed five test centuries against Australia in home matches. His peak came in the 1905 Ashes, when he won all five tosses, led England to victory in the only two matches to have definite results and topped both the batting and bowling averages for the series.
- Len Braund (right handed batter, leg spinner). The all rounder of the side, and an excellent slip fielder to boot.
- Frank Foster (left arm fast medium bowler, right handed batter). His career was cut short by a motorcycle accident, but in the few years he was around he did enough to claim his place, including playing a key role in a 4-1 win down under in 1911-2.
- +Augustus “Dick” Lilley (wicket keeper, useful lower order batter). The longest serving of England’s prewar keepers, and with an excellent record.
- George Simpson-Hayward (under arm off spin, right handed lower order batter). Selected for historical significance as the last specialist under arm bowler to feature at test level (and he did well in the five matches he got to play btw). He would need a law change (see here for a suggestion of how such a change could safely be made) to be able to play today.
- SF Barnes (right arm fast medium bowler, right handed lower order batter). That official ‘right arm fast medium’ is about as complete a description of Barnes the bowler as ‘artist’ is of Leonardo da Vinci – it tells a tiny fraction of the story of someone who could bowl every type of delivery known to right armers of his day and whose special weapon was effectively a leg break at fast medium.
- Wilfred Rhodes (left arm orthodox spinner, right handed lower order batter). Although Rhodes’ brief period as an England opening batter happened just before WWI I have selected him for his bowling – he started and ended his career as a specialist bowler with two spells as an all rounder and in the middle a spell as a specialist batter and I have put him in the slot from which he helped George Hirst to knock of the the 15 required when they came together at The Oval in 1902 and from where he helped RE Foster to add 130 for the last wicket at Sydney in 1903.
This XI has powerful top order, all rounders at six and seven, a fine keeper who could also bat at eight and three master bowlers to round out the order.
Other than my actual choices the main contenders for opening slots were Archie MacLaren and Arthur Shrewsbury. Reginald Foster has two places in the record books – his 287 at the SCG in 1903, at the time an all comers test record remains the record for someone playing their first test innings, and he is the only person to have captained England men at both cricket and football, but other than that amazing debut performance he only topped 50 once more in his career and that was an innings in which he benefitted from good fortune. Many would have expected CB Fry to be a shoo-in but his test record was not nearly as good as his FC record, and with WG inked in for the captaincy, and FS Jackson a more than able deputy his leadership skills were hardly required. Allan Steel might have had the all rounders slot I gave to Braund (like the latter he bowled leg spin). George Hirst may well have been as his Yorkshire skipper Lord Hawke was wont to claim the best ever county all rounder, but his performances for England were overall not that great, though he did have his moments.
George Lohmann was probably the biggest bowling omission but I felt he was too similar to Barnes to be able to pick both. The side also lacks a really fast bowler. The obvious candidate would be Tom Richardson, with 88 wickets in his 14 test matches, and if I were to be debarred from selecting Simpson-Hayward then Richardson would take his place, but I prefer the greater variety that Simpson-Hayward’s presence brings. Schofield Haigh’s England successes were limited for all that he was outstanding for Yorkshire. There were a stack of left arm spinners I could have picked: Johnny Briggs, Bobby Peel and Colin Blythe being the three most notable other than Rhodes in this period, while George Dennett never actually got an England cap, but 2,151 wickets at 19.82 in FC cricket provide proof of his greatness.
My usual sign off…