With the Ashes a mere seven months away and with loads of cricket to be played between then and now, it seems like the ideal time to engage in that most indulgent and useless of sporting exercises – the combined XI.
Openers – Alastair Cook and David Warner
Despite recently looking like he would much rather be making artisanal goats cheese than opening the batting for England – Cook remains one of the finest opening batsmen in the world. His belligerent style humiliated the Australian bowlers in 2010-11 and despite a dip in form over the past few seasons he is still capable of producing interminable innings to demoralise the opposition.
Big Dave Warner is the opposite of Cook in every possible way from personality to playing style. His trademark run-a-ball 20 before holing out to midwicket has become a staple of many an Australian batting collapse. However, when on song Warner is one of the most destructive forces in world cricket with the power to take the game away from the opposing team.
This opening partnership would be fantastic to watch just for the sheer clash of personalities. Not to mention the hilarity of seeing Warner make a century before lunch while Cook remained unbeaten on 7 of 85 balls.
Middle order – Steve Smith, Joe Root and Usman Khawaja
Steve Smith and Joe Root are good at batting. Nobody else in either middle order is. Looking back through each team’s experiments in the middle order is to see countless batting collapses flash before your eyes.
The images of Adam Voges, Gary Ballance, James Vince and Marshes of both the Shaun and Mitch variety trudging back to the pavilion have been seared into the conscience of England and Australia fans alike.
In recent years it seems to have become a competition between the two sides as to who can produce a more hapless middle order. With that in mind I have plumped for Usman Khawaja as he seems to have played OK recently and also has an excellent name.
All rounder – Ben Stokes
There is a long and proud tradition in England of producing fine sportsmen who were not in fact born in England. After searching far and wide for a replacement for the talismanic Andrew Flintoff England have seemingly found one in the New Zealand-born Ben Stokes.
If you ignore the fact he was blitzed to all parts of the ground by Carlos Braithwaite in the final of the world T20, Stokes has been putting together a solid career – highlighted by a scintillating 258 of 167 balls against South Africa.
He is also one of the angriest men in world cricket – this combined with his fair complexion and the hot Australian sun should provide a pleasing red effect – surely a benefit to any hypothetical team.
Wicketkeeper – Jonny Bairstow
Again the choices here are fairly uninspiring. Bairstow has been excellent with the bat but looks about as comfortable with the gloves as a fish up a tree. For the Aussies the opposite has been true with Matthew Made and Peter Nevill proving competent with the gloves but less so with the bat.
I have gone with Bairstow’s superior batting and his righteous ginger beard.
Spinner – Nathan Lyon
Ah the art of bowling the ball slowly and making it bounce funny. Since the departure of messrs Warne and Swann neither team have produced much in the way of top quality spin bowling. The selection of Bairstow rules out Moeen Ali and his outstanding beard – you just can’t have competing beards in a combined XI.
While it was tempting to go for Adam Zampa just to have a Z on the team sheet or Steve O’Keefe for booze induced outbursts I have gone for reliable old Nathan.
He might not be the sexiest choice out there but at times he has been a decent spinner for Australia and I suppose that’s what it’s all about – tempting as having a boozed up wildcard on the team is.
Pace – Mitchell Starc, Stuart Broad and Pat Cummins
For the pace bowlers I have gone for raw speed and thick hair. While Broad is sporting a trimmer look these days the glory days of his flowing blonde locks were something to behold. He is also capable of bowling some of most destructive spells in world cricket and isn’t adverse to a bit of cheating.
Between Cummins and Starc we have two of the most impressive manes out there. Shampoo costs for this combined XI would skyrocket but it is a proven fact that 80 per cent of the wickets fast bowlers take are caused by their hair.
Control could be an issue for these three pacemen but when you look that good who really cares. Pantene, TRESemme, Head and Shoulders all the big hitters in the Shampoo game would be clamouring to endorse this imaginary XI.