THIS MUST be close to mission impossible: choosing a team from the best cricketers the world has ever seen. GEOFF POULTER has taken up the challenge and then selected a team to take them on:
AT the height of a gripping Ashes series, it is topical to select the best World XI of all time. The best team in 140 years of Test cricket. The key to evaluating players is to recognise the dividing line provided by the introduction of covered wickets in the early 1950s. Before that you can assume batting, generally, was more difficult. And it became harder for bowlers after the cut-off point.
England invented the game so it would be strange for the Old Dart to miss out on getting a member in the side. Jack Hobbs is the sole Englishman. A prolific run-scoring opening batsman, he was also scoring heavily well into his 40s.
His opening partner would be Victor Trumper. Don Bradman saw him as an inspiration and rated him the greatest. Neville Cardus wrote: “Trumper was the bird in flight; Bradman the modern aeroplane.”
Bradman is the obvious No 3. His record is exemplary with a Test average about 40 higher than the next on the all-time list. That means the first three are all virtually from pre-WW2 era. The remainder from much later.
At No 4 is Garfield Sobers. Sometimes he preferred batting lower, but he is second in sheer class to only Bradman. Sobers is also your fifth bowler. And sixth, and seventh!
Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar complete the top six. Richards’ explosiveness and Tendulkar’s record speak for themselves. Adam Gilchrist is the world XI wicketkeeper. Don Tallon and Alan Knott may have been better glove exponents but Gilchrist’s Test batting average (47.5) is too great to ignore.
Wasim Akram is at No 8. He is universally regarded as the best left-arm fast bowler of all. No 9 had to be a West Indian fast bowler and it’s Malcolm Marshall. But it could easily have been Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Curtly Ambrose or Joel Garner.
Numbers 10 and 11 just had to be the best Australian bowlers of all time. Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee had tremendous records and could somehow find a way through when the Aussies desperately needed a wicket.
The 12th man? It can go to the next best batsman, bowler, all-rounder or an outstanding fielder. But most deserving is Barry Richards (four Tests, average 72.57). He was cruelled more than anyone, including Graeme Pollock, when South Africa was banished from Tests.
Unable to be squeezed in are my two favorites growing up as a small boy in the 1950s – Keith Miller and Neil Harvey. Miller is probably the only Australian who would have earned a game as either a bowler or a batsman. He opened the bowling and batted No 4 and sometimes No 3 for NSW. Some ranked Harvey third only to Bradman and Trumper in this country.
The best-ever World XI line-up therefore reads: J Hobbs, V Trumper, D Bradman, G Sobers, V Richards, S Tendulkar, A Gilchrist, W Akram, M Marshall, S Warne, D Lillee. 12th: B Richards.
FOOTNOTE: A late challenge – pick a team to extend the No 1 team.
For openers we go legendary Bill Ponsford – and elevate the “Black Bradman” George Headley (60.83 is 22 Tests, 10 centuries, two doubles), who went in so early so often it wouldn’t faze him.
At No 3 Neil Harvey, a marvel despite poor eyesight. He couldn’t read the scoreboard – and a South African eye specialist couldn’t believe he was playing sport.
Graeme Pollock (60.97 in 23 Tests) follows and then the technically near-perfect Greg Chappell. Dennis Compton is at No 6. Despite missing his best years during WW2, he still averaged 50.06 in 78 Tests. Alan Knott, a superb keeper, follows.
Controversial. We won’t have a spinner. We’ll blast them out with four quicks – and exceptional ones at that. Richard Hadlee, Ray Lindwall, Joel Garner and Curtly Ambrose (all under 23.05 per wicket).
12th man will be Keith Ross Miller, Christian-named after two pioneer aviators Keith and Ross Smith. Miller was Richie Benaud’s greatest Australian.
Author: Geoff Poulter
GEOFF POULTER, 69, has spent 51 years in sports media. He was the last Melbourne Herald chief football writer. CV: Sports oracle, author, historian, impersonator, raconteur, poet, quiz whiz, philosopher, song-writer, intellectual scholar – and still employable!