A look at the best players from before the official inauguration of the county championship, some comments on the selection of England test squad for the one off match against Ireland and a large photo gallery.
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.
For my latest variation on the ‘All time XI’ cricket theme I offer you the Cognominal Contest for the ‘Nugget-Davo’ Trophy! Also features a video clip of the little gem that is Tammy Beaumont, an important autism related link and a few photos.
Welcome to my latest variation upon an ‘all time XI‘ theme. This one requires a little bit of preliminary explanation, so without further ado…
THE COGNOMINAL BRIEF
I have devised the word cognominal myself from the Latin cognomen, meaning nickname. Some Roman cognomina were merely functional: Scaevola indicated that the cognominee or an ancestor (cognomina were often inherited) was left handed, Magnus or Maximus indicated achievement, arrogance or some combination of the foregoing, since the meant great and greatest respectively, and there were many other such. Others pointed up features, so that if an ancestor had a wart on their nose one might inherit the cognomen Cicero, meaning chickpea because that was what the wart looked like. Others were ironic – the first Claudius to be cognominated Pulcher meaning beautiful was so dubbed because he had a decidedly unbeautiful character, and some could be cruel – the already multiply cognominated Gaius Julius Caesar Strabo Vopiscus (Caesar implying possession of a luxuriant head of hair, Strabo meaning ‘cross-eyed’ and Vopiscus meaning that he was the survivor of what had been a pair of twins) subsequently acquired Sesquiculus, not just an arsehole but an arsehole and a half! Cricketer nicknames can be excellent or they can show an utter lack of imagination. The Cognominal Clash features an XI who had impressive nicknames and an XI whose nicknames were all in the ‘must do better’ category. Some of the players I have placed in the latter XI also had less unimpressive nicknames, but I have played fair in terms of creating a contest by picking two decent looking teams. It is now time to meet the teams starting with the…
LAME NICKNAMES XI
Graham Gooch– Goochie – right handed batter, right arm bowler of a pace that was described at various stages of his career as anything from fast medium to slow medium, scorer of 8,900 test runs, one of the openers for my all-time Essex XI. As well as his ‘must do better’ nickname his moustache caused him to be dubbed ‘Zap’ in honour of the Mexican revolutionary Zapata. I personally rate the 154 not out in a team total of 252 all out on a pig of a pitch and in the face Ambrose at his most host hostile at Headingley in 1991 to have been the finest innings he ever played, although he scored more on quite a few occasions.
Matthew Hayden – Haydos – left handed batter, very occasional medium pacer. He was also referred to as Hulk on account of his size and his approach to batting. He was the first to cash in on the brain fade that led Nasser Hussain to put Australia in at the Gabba in 2002, walloping 197 in the first innings and then belting another ton in the second innings. He finished with a test average of over 50, in spite of a dreadful run spanning the first four matches of the 2005 Ashes.
*Michael Vaughan– Vaughany – right handed batter, occasional off spinner, uncertain catcher. The elegant right hander, who also had the nickname Virgil, crunched three centuries in ultimately losing cause in the 2002-3 Ashes series (not a record, Herbert Sutcliffe hit four centuries for England in the 1924-5 Ashes which Australia won 4-1) but got his revenge when he captained England to victory in the 2005 series. In the home summer of 2002 the Indians found weaknesses, but not generally until a double century (approached closely on two occasions but never actually reached) was on the horizon!
Neil Harvey – Harv – left handed batter. At the age 19 Neil Harvey ran up a ton in his first Ashes innings, at Headingley in 1948, and by the time he called it a day he had amassed over 6,000 test runs at an average of 48.41.
Mike Gatting – Gatt – right handed batter, occasional right arm medium pacer. He benefitted from being far more chances to establish himself in test cricket than most, and after taking over 50 innings to notch his first three figure score at that level he ended up producing sufficiently much more to finish with an average of 35.
Ian Botham – Both – right handed bat, right arm fast medium bowler. The all rounder, who also had some more colourful monikers such as Beefy (for his build), Guy and Gorilla, both in honour of a popular resident of London Zoo, took just 21 matches to complete the test double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets.
+Ian Healy – Heals – wicket keeper, right handed lower middle order bat. The most accomplished male Australian wicket keeper I have actually seen in action, and without doubt, even in a team captained Steve Waugh, the undisputed world sledging champion for pretty much his entire career. Adam ‘Church’ Gilchrist was of course a far better wielder of the willow, though Healy could be a major irritant in that department as well. Why did I specify male Australian wicket keeper? Well, Alyssa Healy, Ian’s niece, is a very fine practitioner with the gloves as well and undoubtedly a finer striker of the ball than her uncle was.
Shane Warne – Warney – leg spinner, attacking lower order bat. He took over 700 wickets in test cricket, and was only once in 14 years on the losing end of an Ashes series, in 2005. He was also a shrewd tactician, and although I have honoured Vaughan with the captaincy, I name him as vice-captain, and was severely tempted to name him as captain.
John Emburey – Embers – off spinner and unorthodox right handed lower order bat. He also had the marginally less unimaginative moniker Ernie, derived from his middle name of Ernest. He was four times an Ashes winner, at home in 1981 and 1985 and away in 1978-9 and 1986-7.
Jeff Thomson – Thommo – right arm fast bowler and occasionally useful right arm lower order batter. One of those mentioned when discussion arises about who was the fastest bowler ever. He was at his best in the second half of the 1970s, and although he toured England in 1985 he was by then approaching 35, and unlike Lillee, his most famous bowling partner, he did not have the technical virtuosity to turn himself into a quality operator once the pace had gone, which meant he posed little threat by then.
Matthew Hoggard – Hoggy or The Hogster – right arm fast medium, sometimes adhesive as a lower order batter. He took over 300 test wickets, and unlike many who make their names gaining movement on green pitches and under grey English skies he did not lose much of his effectiveness abroad. His career batting highlight was undoubtedly at Trent Bridge in 2005 when his cool head pulled England through what had every appearance of a crisis – chasing 129 to win and go one up with one to play England were 116-7 with only Harmison and a crocked Simon Jones to follow when Hoggard walked into bat. Hoggard and Giles scored those 13 runs, with Hoggard latching on to a full toss from Brett Lee for a crucial boundary to ease the tension. The full value of that little innings was illustrated a couple of weeks later, when a combination of the weather, some odd Australian decision making (accepting an offer of the light when they were pummelling England’s bowlers, and they needed there to be as much play as possible, since only a win could do them any good) and an extraordinary knock by Kevin Pietersen, well supported by that man Giles, saw England draw the match and claim the Ashes which had been in Australian hands since 1989.
The ‘Lame Nicknames’ have a solid opening pair, a contrasting 3,4 and 5, an x-factor all rounder, a keeper who can bat, two spinners who would complement each other nicely and Thommo to take the new ball with the wind behind him, while Hoggy gets his regular job of opening into the wind. Now it is time to meet…
THE COOL NICKNAMES XI
Jack Hobbs – The Master – right handed opening batter, occasional medium pacer. The scorer of 61,237 first class runs, including a 197 centuries at that level, both all-time records. His tallies of 3,636 runs and 12 centuries are England Ashes records, beaten only by Bradman (5,028 runs and 19 centuries). You may have seen other figures given for his first class records, but Hobbs himself vehemently opposed any changes to traditionally accepted figures. I am 100% certain that Hobbs would not have retired had he believed himself to be only one short of 200 centuries rather than three. He opens for my Surrey All Time XI.
*WG Grace – The Champion – right handed opening bat, right arm bowler of various types, close fielder. He had a wide variety of other nicknames over the course of his long, illustrious and richly storied career. He tallied 54,896 first class runs, including 126 centuries and took 2,876 first class wickets, both records at the time of his retirement, and both still in the top half dozen all-time figures. The revisionists who increase Hobbs’ tallies decrease Grace’s, reducing his century county by two, an action which retrospectively nullifies the scenes at Taunton in 1925 when Hobbs scored his 126th and 127th first class centuries there to equal and then break the Grace record. Of course it is unthinkable for anyone else to captain this side, just as he captains my all time Gloucestershire XI.
George Headley – Atlas – right handed batter, nicknamed after the titan of Greek mythology who carried the world on his shoulders, because he carried the West Indies on his shoulders. Twice he scored twin tons in test matches.
Mike Hussey – Mr Cricket – left handed batter. He averaged over 50 in test cricket, and in the 2010-11 Ashes series down under it was only when England got him cheaply at Melbourne and Sydney that Australia’s resistance definitively crumbled.
ClemHill– Kruger – left handed batter, brilliant fielder. Hill amassed eight test centuries, which was a record until Hobbs overhauled it. At Old Trafford in 1902, when Australia secured the Ashes with a victory by three runs he had a ‘champagne moment’, when he sprinted thirty yards and then dived to take a catch that accounted for Dick Lilley – and it is claimed that his momentum carried him on a further twenty yards beyond where he actually held the catch! This catch made the difference between England needing eight with one wicket left and needing four with two wickets left, so it can genuinely be claimed as a catch that won a match. He was one of the ‘big six’ who refused to travel to England in 1912 because of a quarrel with the then newly established Australian Board of Control for International Cricket, later the Australian Cricket Board and now Cricket Australia. During the 1911-2 Ashes, won 4-1 by England, Hill was involved in a selectorial row that turned physical – he and Peter McAlister who were at loggerheads regarding the board anyway disputed over the right make up of the team, insults were exchanged, and an outraged Hill snapped and slapped McAlister’s face, which was the start of a brawl between the two that allegedly lasted twenty minutes. The ‘Kruger’ nickname arose because of a supposed physical similarity between him and the great South African leader.
Alfred Mynn – The Lion of Kent – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler. The best all rounder of the 1830s and 40s.
Gilbert Jessop – The Croucher – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler, brilliant fielder. His nickname was derived from his batting stance, and is perhaps not all that cool, but I was prepared to compromise to set up a contest in which Jessop and Botham were on opposite teams.
FR Spofforth – The Demon – right arm fast bowler (added many variations later in his career), right handed bat. Frederick Robert Spofforth announced himself to English audiences at Lord’s in 1878, when he was brought on to replace Frank Allan (dubbed ‘bowler of the century’ in the pretour publicity – Aussie mind games are nothing new) with the MCC score reading 27-2. MCC were all out for 33, Spofforth 6-4 in 23 deliveries! The Australians fared little better, inching their way to a very slow 41, after which the Australian captain did not call on Allan but went straight to Spofforth and Harry Boyle. This time MCC were all out for 19, with Boyle the chief destroyer capturing 6-3, while Spofforth had 4-16. Needing 12 to win, Australia lost one wicket getting them, the game ended on the same day it had started, and that aggregate of 105 runs for 31 wickets remains the lowest ever for a completed first class match. Spofforth was injured for the inaugural test on English soil in 1880, which the hosts won, but in 1882 he produced the bowling performance that created The Ashes, 14-90 in the match, seven of them in the second England innings, when needing only 85 to win the hosts crashed for 77 and were beaten by seven runs. England reached 50 with only two batters, Hornby and Barlow, gone, but then Ulyett was out 51 and crucially, Grace at 53, for only the second 30 plus score of the match, 32. Lyttelton and Lucas froze like rabbits in headlights, and Hornby, a poor choice as skipper, started tinkering with the batting order, and that was where the match was lost. Spofforth ultimately settled in England, marrying a woman from Derbyshire, and turning out a few times for that county.
Charles Turner – The Terror -right arm medium-fast. Just as England were thinking that the terrors of Spofforth and Boyle were safely behind them, another amazing Aussie bowling pair arrived on the scene, Turner and the left armer Jack Ferris. Medium-fast described Turner’s pace, but leaves his method entirely out of account. He had formidably strong fingers (he could crush an orange to pulp between his thumb and forefinger), and gave the ball a ferocious rip, generating vicious .movement in any and all conditions. Only one bowler has ever taken 100 first class wickets in an Australian season – Turner in 1887-8.
William Lillywhite – The Nonpareil – right arm fast, right handed lower order bat. He was one of the pioneers of ’round arm’ bowling, the form that came between under arm and over arm, and with his regular partner James Broadbridge he turned Sussex into a force that could take on the Rest of England, a situation that has never been the case since then and had not previously been the case. Some bowlers today still bowl with their arms at similar height to the position used by Lillywhite – I refer you to Lasith Malinga, the Sri Lankan slinger. In any case, I suspect Lillywhite would have been delighted to be allowed to bowl proper over arm and would have done so magnificiently – a champion in one era would be a champion in any era. About that nickname, courtesy of merriam-webster.com:
Note the first entry under the ‘noun’ section.
+EJ Smith – Tiger – wicketkeeper, was wont to say that he was willing to bat at no 1 or no 11 but nowhere in between, so I have given him his second choice, no 1 having a prior claimant! The nickname owed to his ferocious disposition. He kept at a time when wicket keepers habitually stood up no matter who was bowling, and I would guarantee that ‘St Smith B Spofforth’ would appear at least once, and probably more in scorecards featuring these teams.
This team has a top of the range opening pair, a wonderful array at nos 3-5, two ferocious all rounders at six and seven, a fine and varied trio of bowlers who would live up to their fearsome cognomina and a brilliant keeper who would let nothing through.
The battle for what I shall call the “Nugget – Davo” Trophy, honouring Keith Miller and Alan Davidson, who I could not find a place for in the two teams would be intense and hard fought, but I think the ‘Cool Nicknames’ would have the edge on as well as off the field and I would expect them to emerge victorious.
LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
The scene has been set for the Cognominal Clash for the ‘Nugget-Davo’ Trophy, but I have a few links to share before applying my usual sign off.
One final cricket related link – as drawn to my attention by the pinchhitter blog, England cricket are honouring their female batting stars this week. Our ‘cool nicknames’ XI features a fast scorer of diminutive stature, 5’7″ Gilbert Jessop, and this video courtesy of England cricket shows and even smaller player, Tammy Beaumont climbing into South Africa to the tune of a 47-ball hundred (and it’s not slogging – these are high class cricket shots struck with perfect timing):