The best Australian cricket team of my lifetime

Greg Russell Roar Guru

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    Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer walk out onto the ground - AAP Image/Jenny Evans

    Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer walk out onto the ground - AAP Image/Jenny Evans

    A few weeks ago, Bruce Sheekey nominated Australian cricket’s best ever team. He selected Keith Miller at 6 so that he could have a 2/2 split of fast and spin bowlers.

    For his two fast bowlers, he chose Dennis Lillee and Ray Lindwall, writing “before anyone screams ‘what about McGrath?’, seriously, who are you going to drop out of Lillee or Lindwall?”

    I found this a thought-provoking question.

    Upon reflection, I find it difficult to answer because, being born in 1963, I never saw Lindwall bowl.

    What this in turn made me realize is that I have no right to select an all-time Australian team, simply because I have not seen so many of the contenders play.

    Rather, all I may legitimately do is select the best Australian Test team from my lifetime of watching cricket, which began with the English tour of 1970/1.

    I contend it is a reasonably easy exercise to select the best Australian team of the last 40 years, because I believe that nine selections are incontrovertible:

    M Hayden, opener #2, R Ponting, G Chappell, A Border, S Waugh, A Gilchrist, S Warne, D Lillee, pace bowler #3, spinner #2, G McGrath.

    Notice that I select 12 players, not just because this is usual practice, but also because there is no clearcut selection as fourth bowler.

    Now I will discuss the open-ended positions.

    1. OPENER #2
    First, let me discuss batsmen in general.

    Without question, Kim Hughes was the most talented of all other Australian batsmen from the last 40 years, but for obvious reasons he does not come into reckoning.

    I would rate Ian Chappell, Mark Waugh, Damien Martyn and possibly Doug Walters as the best of the rest.

    Waugh and Chappell both averaged only 42 over their Test careers, but one can probably add about 4 or 5 to this because of their unselfishness: rather than accumulating easy runs, when necessary, they were both happy to sacrifice their wickets in the team cause. Also, they both had a habit of throwing their wickets away once the job was done, as opposed to converting 100 into an average-inflating 200.

    Martyn may seem out of place, but he was pure silk, he averaged 46, he had to wait a long time to get a chance, he had periods where he was the best batsman in the world, and his career was really only ended by a series of appalling umpiring decisions against him in England in 2005 (notwithstanding a brief comeback during which he scored arguably the best Australian century of the last decade in Johannesburg).

    Whatever, none of these players could be considered an opener, so they cannot be chosen here, and we must look to genuine openers.

    Possibly we will allocate this position to Phillip Hughes in the future, but for now it must be given to one of Keith Stackpole, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater or Justin Langer.

    Stacky was my first cricketing hero and was the best Australian exponent of the hook shot until Hayden and Ponting came along.

    Taylor stands out as a better captain even than the several excellent ones in the team above, so he may be worth selecting for his captaincy. Slater had breathtaking talent – remember, it was he who kept the young Hayden out of the Australian side – and let’s not forget that he scored 14 centuries and 9 nineties.

    Langer was arguably the best performed, but he had the considerable advantage of opening with Hayden the colossus.

    It wouldn’t be Stackpole, but I find I cannot choose between the other three for this position.

    2. SPINNER #2
    This would have to be either Ashley Mallett or Stuart MacGill. The leggie took more wickets (208 vs 132) at a phenomenal strike rate (4.72 per test vs 3.47) and slightly lower average (29 vs 30). But wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Warne operate with a high quality finger spinner like Mallett?

    Once again I find this very hard to call, but it would probably be Mallett.

    3. FAST BOWLER #3
    There would be many contenders here: the swing of Max Walker, the brutal speed and hostility of Jeff Thomson, the toil and perseverance of Geoff Lawson, the excellence and sheer class of the injury-prone Bruce Reid, the bluster of the much under-rated Merv Hughes (who is rarely given the credit he deserves for being able to lead an attack. Just ask Allan Border), the athleticism and the statistics of Craig McDermott, and the even greater athleticism and speed of Brett Lee.

    And in five years it may be clearcut that this position should go to Mitchell Johnson, given his batting and the left-hand option that he brings.

    But for now I find it relatively easy to say that this position must go to Jason Gillespie.

    He is similar in many ways to Damien Martyn: a phenomenal natural talent who enjoyed periods where he was the best in the world and who was mysteriously undone by poor form that came out of nowhere in England 2005.

    Gillespie’s overall test record 259 wickets at an average of 26 more than matches that of the other candidates for this position.

    Perhaps even more importantly, he was a brilliant partnership bowler, which is what is being looked for here, as opposed to an attack leader. Whether bowling with McGrath or Warne, Dizzy really added to the quality of their work. And, of course, Gillespie’s determination with the bat marked him as a real cricketer’s cricketer, a virtue that should not be underestimated.

    So there is my Australian XII for 1970-2009: 10 selections and 2 positions that fellow (Roar) selectors may assist me with.

    Finally, let’s return to Sheek’s question. DK Lillee is untouchable, so who is more deserving out of Lindwall and McGrath?

    Here are their overall test bowling records:

    Lindwall: 61 tests, 228 wickets, 23.03 Ave
    McGrath: 124 tests, 563 wickets, 21.64 Ave

    It’s hard to argue against McGrath, isn’t it?

    One might suggest that McGrath padded out his statistics against minnows, as Murali has spectacularly done. But this is not the case. McGrath played only two Tests against Bangladesh (5 wickets at 24.80) and one against Zimbabwe (6 wickets at 15.00).

    Interestingly, Lindwall played just over half of his tests against India (10), New Zealand (1), Pakistan (3), South Africa (8) and the West Indies (10), so it wasn’t as if he was bowling at England all the time.

    The Poms may have been stronger in Lindwall’s time than McGrath’s, but McGrath had it tougher against most, if not all, of the other nations.

    So again, I cannot see an argument here to go against the statistics.

    Similarly, I do not believe one can suggest that McGrath bowled in an era of more bowler-friendly pitches (if anything, the opposite).

    So while Lindwall undoubtedly was a phenomenal bowler, I conclude that it’s only if one views the past through rose-tinted glasses that one would select him ahead of McGrath for an all-time team.

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    The Crowd Says (16)

    • April 22nd 2009 @ 4:59am
      Armchair Sportsfan said | April 22nd 2009 @ 4:59am | ! Report

      not too many complaints…onyl one comment on the “Opener #2” position….

      David Boon.

      Now I know he is often remebered by many solely for breaking Rod Marsh’s record on the flight to the UK…but he was also one of our toughest Openers/First Drop’s of the past 40 years.

      7422 Test Runs at an average of 44. And a pretty handy fieldsman in close.

      The great Windie Bowling attacks of the 80’s often descibed his as one of the toughest men to bowl against.

      Yes…his test strike rate was only a shade over 40…but with Haydos the Destroyer at the other end, I’m sure the scoreboard would keep itself ticking over!

    • Columnist

      April 22nd 2009 @ 8:09am
      Spiro Zavos said | April 22nd 2009 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      Jeff Thomson should be in ahead of Jason Gillespie, an honest and accurate toiler but without the fear factor that Thomson brought to the task. Any batsman will tell you that the fun goes out of the game when you have bowlers like Thomson whizzing them down at your head. You can’t imagine too may double centuries and so on when Thomson is in an attack. On a fast wicket he was lethal, the ultimate strike bowler whose statistics do not reveal the true story of his effectiveness, literally and mentally on the pysche of the batsman..

      • December 27th 2010 @ 9:16pm
        Michael Hehir said | December 27th 2010 @ 9:16pm | ! Report

        Well said,and more likely than any other bowler in history to produce the unplayable delivery.In an all time greatest side he is a luxury you can afford to have.

    • April 22nd 2009 @ 8:48am
      Southernwaratah said | April 22nd 2009 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      1.OPENER #2
      Slater for me, Border, Taylor and Waugh as Captains all testified that his ability to get quick runs in the second innings made it so easy to win tests. The SCG test of 98’99 is testimony to that. Slater scored 123 out of Australia’s 184 runs (66.85%) – the second highest percentage of runs by a batsman in a Test innings (record 67.35%, C Bannerman, Aus v Eng 1876-77)
      2.SPINNER #2
      MacGill for me, given his lack of opportunity and his amazing record It scary to think how many wickets he could have taken

    • April 22nd 2009 @ 3:34pm
      sheek said | April 22nd 2009 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

      Greg,

      Great stuff. Spiro wrote a terrific post on another thread about good selecting. Only recently too. He said words to the effect that the best credentialled player doesn’t always get the nod, but someone who fits the “mix”. Or something like that.

      Looking at Lindwall, Lillee & McGrath, Pigeon is clearly superior stats-wise. But we know you can’t religiously go by stats. Conversely, Lindwall started his test career late because of WW2 (1946, age 24 going on 25) & continued onto 1959/60, when he was 38.

      Lindy missed some good years/opportunities in his early 20s, & perhaps hung around too long, with his stats fading in his late 30s. But of the 3, he was the best batsman, averaging over 20 with 2 test centuries. So in effect, in my all-time team the final pace bowling possie came down to Lillee vs McGrath.

      Call me guilty of being faithful to my own generation (or thereabouts), but Lillee is always the first paceman I will pick in an alltime Australian XI, until someone better comes along.

      With respect to your best XI since 1970, Thomson must be the 3rd paceman. Forget any stats here, he was frighteningly fast between 1974-76. And just a smidgin slower after his shoulder injury of December 1976. Lillee, Thomson, McGrath – what an awesome trio!!!

      My other opener would be Slater, although I have a soft spot for both Boon & Langer. With all other things equal, I would go with a right & left hand opening combo. I wasn’t a great fan of Taylor’s batting, although his captaincy & slip fielding were top rate.

      I agree your comments about Mark Waugh & Ian Chappell (my favourite captain). My 2nd spinner would be Ashley Mallett. Again, I’m going for the contrast of a leggie & offie. Finally, Douggie Walters would be 12th man, the ultimate team player.

      My best Australian XI since 1970: Matt Hayden, Michael Slater, Ricky Ponting, Greg Chappell, Allan Border(vc), Steve Waugh(c), Adam Gilchrist(k), Shane Warne, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Glenn McGrath, Doug Walters(12th), Ashley Mallett(13th).

    • August 11th 2009 @ 11:03pm
      Nathan said | August 11th 2009 @ 11:03pm | ! Report

      Im liking your team, mine would be very similar

      M Hayden
      M Slater
      R Ponting
      G Chappell
      A Border (vc)
      S Waugh (c)
      A Gilchrist
      S Warne
      J Gillespie
      D Lillee
      G McGrath

      And here would be my 2nd 11

      M Taylor (c)
      J Langer (vc)
      D Boon
      M Waugh
      D Martyn
      D Walters
      B Haddin
      B Lee
      M Hughes
      J Thompson
      S Macgill

      Tough to find spots for great players like M Hussey, I Chappell, M Clarke, M Walker, G Lawson, T Alderman, B Reid, I Healy, R Marsh, S O’Donnell,
      Sorry if i forgot anyone i should not of.
      I was more going from the late 70’s onwards

    • August 16th 2009 @ 11:19pm
      whiteline said | August 16th 2009 @ 11:19pm | ! Report

      Haddin – What are you smoking Nathan?

      • August 23rd 2009 @ 3:43pm
        Nathan said | August 23rd 2009 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

        Picked him coz he is a much better batsman then Marsh and Healy. If there was no Gilchrist, Haddin would have played 100 tests by now and been one of the best.

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