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Cricket's all time alphabetical 'S' team

Dale Steyn has to be in the conversation for the greatest quick that's ever been. (Image: AAP/Dave Hunt)
Roar Guru
24th July, 2013
35

This team should be strong given the deep talent pool to choose from. However I did find it hard to compile given the number of similarly high quality openers and spinners and surprisingly few middle order options.

Perhaps the resulting side is a bit unbalanced. Ultimately it is probably the team with the most spots where I lack absolute conviction in my selections.

1. Graeme Smith (c)
2. Herbert Sutcliffe
3. Kumar Sangakkara
4. Sir Garfield Sobers
5. Bob Simpson
6. Virender Sehwag
7. Alec Stewart (wk)
8. Dale Steyn
9. Brian Statham
10. Fred Spofforth
11. Jack Saunders

This team would appear to have most bases covered. The number seven has over 8000 Tests runs, the fifth bowler has 235 wickets. Yes, I do have two of the game’s best openers filling in at five and six, but they too bring contrasting skills to the team. Some more on each:

1. Graeme Smith
England, LHB, 110 Tests (102 capt), 8753 runs at 48.63, 26 100s

Australians originally had a skeptical view of Smith after he sooked about being sledged on his Test debut.

Since then they have spent a decade seeing how immense he is at the top of the order and, following Smith’s innings with a broken hand at the SCG in 2009, no longer question his courage.

He has captained his country more times than any other player, a stat which is more incredible given that he was made captain after just eight Tests notwithstanding the number of other quality players in the team.

2. Herbert Sutcliffe
England, RHB, 54 Tests, 4555 runs at 60.73

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Only Bradman has more Test runs at a higher average than the Yorkshire legend. In fact, Sutcliffe and Bradman have almost identical ‘balls faced per dismissal’ records.

Together with the even more prolific Jack Hobbs, he formed the greatest opening partnership in history, with the two of them averaging nearly 88 together.

Sutcliffe’s highest score of 194 came in his 40th Test (the first Test of the Bodyline series where Stan McCabe played his first masterpiece).

Amazingly, it was the last time that Sutcliffe scored a century yet he played a further quarter of his career after that Test and still managed to keep his average above 60 – all due to his incredible consistency.

Indeed, Sutcliffe and Mike Hussey are the only players to average over 50 in Test cricket without scoring a double century.

3. Kumar Sangakkara
Sri Lanka, LHB, 117 Tests (15 capt), 10486 runs at 56.99, 33 100s

Sanga is more than just a modern great, he is undoubtedly one of the best batsmen of all time.

His record as a player rather than as a keeper is 7369 runs at 68.86. His record batting at three is 9815 runs at 60.21.

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These are all time great numbers that comfortably sit alongside the likes of Sobers, Hobbs, Tendulkar and so on.

On top of that, he is a lovely batsman to watch, with the full array of shots, but is similarly capable of batting for long periods while compiling massive scores (as his monstrous 624 partnership with his mate Mahela Jayawardene and his eight double tons show).

4. Sir Garfield Sobers
West Indies, LHB, LM/SLA, 93 Tests (39 capt), 8032 runs at 57.78, 26 100s, 235 wickets at 34.04

One of the easier selections in this or any team.

A knight; number two on the Wisden five greatest players of the 20th century list (although inexplicably 10 of the ’eminent judges’ didn’t vote for him their top five); the first player to 8000 Test runs; a former highest score record holder; the first player to hit six sixes in an over in first-class cricket; arguably the second best batsman ever, let alone the small matter of his 235 wickets at 2.5 wickets per Test and brilliant fielding.

He retired a series too late and only managed 100 runs at 20 against the England tourists of 1974 as he chased the 8000 run landmark.

5. Bob Simpson
Australia, 62 Tests (39 capt), 4869 runs at 46.82, 10 100s, 71 wickets at 42.27

Simpson might be a strange choice to bat at five (although that was here he batted during his comeback during World Series Cricket).

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As opener his record was 3664 runs at 55.52, and he and Bill Lawry formed possibly the second best long term opening partnership after Hobbs and Sutcliffe.

All this shows is that Simmo is too good to leave out, doubly so when you consider he barely played during his 30s.

On top of his batting, Simmo was also a very useful leggie and is widely regarded as the finest slipper ever. He later became the legendary coach during Australia’s resurgence under Border.

His career was in three parts – his first 29 Tests over seven years where he failed to score a ton but did reach 90 three times, and 50 15 times!

The floodgates then opened at Old Trafford in 1964 where he scored 311. In the 23 Tests from then until his first retirement at the age of 31 he dominated with 2478 runs at 63.54.

He returned nine years later, aged 40, at Bradman’s request to captain the side after the WSC defections. He did superbly in the first series at home against India but found the likes of Garner, Clarke, Roberts and Croft a bridge too far in his final series.

6. Virender Sehwag
India, RHB, ROS, 104 Tests (4 capt), 8586 runs at 49.34, 23 100s, 40 wickets at 47.35

Another left field selection of selecting an opener to bat down the order. In my defence Viru did score a century on debut batting at six.

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Sehwag is best known as the extremely cavalier and dangerous opener feared by many fast bowlers.

An average close enough to 50 and a career strike rate of 82 means that his balls faced per dismissal in Tests is on par with Jason Gillespie’s. But with the exception of Gilchrist, cricket has never seen anyone score so many runs, so quickly and so consistently, and certainly not as opener.

Like Bradman, Viru has two triple tons and a 290.

Rahul Dravid he put on 410 with Rahul Dravid for the opening wicket at Lahore in 2006, falling three runs short of the first wicket world record at the time as Viru was caught behind for 254 off 247 balls.

Certainly one of the most entertaining cricketers I’ve ever seen, although now sadly on the decline.

7. Alec Stewart (wk)
England, RHB, 133 Tests (15 capt), 8463 runs at 39.55, 15 100s, 241 dismissals (227/14)

I disparaged Stewart somewhat in the R Team article by claiming he was a makeshift replacement for Jack Russell who was the superior gloveman.

That was unfair and Stewart’s reputation for hard work and fitness was evident in the improvement in his keeping over his career.

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It is also testament to this hard work that a player who made his debut at nearly 27 years old could go on to play 133 Tests and play at a high level until his retirement at 40.

Stewart scored more runs in the 1990s than any other player despite having the great disadvantage of playing in the golden decade for world bowling, and it’s little surprise that his four most regular tormentors in Tests were Warne, Walsh, McGrath and Donald.

You do wonder what his record might have been like if he was born a decade later.

8. Dale Steyn
South Africa, 65 Tests, 866 runs at 13.97, 332 wickets at 22.50

Just as Sangakkara has moved from modern great to all time great in recent years, the same can be said of Steyn.

Fast, skilful, aggressive – the same attributes I used to describe the likes of Dennis Lillee and Malcolm Marshall – sum up Steyn just as comfortably.

At five wickets per Test and a ridiculous strike rate of 41, only fitness and South Africa’s future Test schedule will seemingly prevent Steyn from eclipsing Glenn McGrath’s record for most Test wickets by a pace bowler.

9. Brian Statham
England, LHB, RF, 70 Tests, 675 runs at 11.44, 252 wickets at 24.85

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Statham was another of the stalwarts of the great England sides of the 50s.

His partnership with Fred Trueman is England’s finest and fittingly both held the wickets world record at stages of their careers.

Yet they were like chalk and cheese, with Freddie being the loud aggressive one and Statham being the quiet gentlemanly one who would often warn a batsman that a bouncer was coming!

While his Test record is superb, his first-class record borders on the unbelievable. 2260 wickets at 16.37, all after WWII!

10. Fred Spofforth
Australia, RHB, RFM, 18 Tests, 217 runs at 9.43, 94 wickets at 18.41

As we sit here and lament about Australia’s God-awful performance at Lord’s, it might be of some comfort to think about ‘The Demon’ and his heroics at The Oval in 1882 which inpsired the Ashes over 130 years ago.

It was the first time Australia had played what could be described as a full strength England team.

We were rolled for 63 in the first innings. Spofforth bowled unchanged and took 7/46 off 36 four ball overs in reply as England reached 101.

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Australia responded with 122, mainly due to Hugh Massie’s legendary 55 off 60 as opener.

Defending a target of 85, Spofforth famously spurred on his teammates, exhorting that “this thing can be done” as they came out to bowl.

And it was.

With Spofforth bowling unchanged again to take 7/44, including his last four wickets for two runs, England lost its last eight wickets for 26 runs to lose by seven.

The mock obituary for the death of English cricket in one of the papers the next day noted that its “body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia.”

Good times.

11. Jack Saunders
Australia, LHB, SLA, 14 Tests, 39 runs at 2.29, 79 wickets at 22.73

If a player plays a reasonable amount of Tests yet still somehow manages to take twice as many wickets as he scores runs, this suggests that he is a particularly good bowler or a particularly poor batsman or both. Jack Saunders was both.

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In his short career, Saunders certainly played in, and contributed to, some extremely tight matches.

Old Trafford 1902, Australia won by three runs when Saunders bowled poor Fred Tate.

Later that series, Saunders couldn’t repeat his heroics as Gilbert Jessop’s masterpiece (and the Yorkshire twins Rhodes and Hirst’s 15 singles) got England home by one wicket at the Oval.

At the SCG in 1907, Australia scraped home by two wickets as its ninth wicket put on 66, with only Saunders in the shed!

Yet a couple of weeks later at the MCG, England’s 10th wicket put on 39 to win by a wicket.

Despite taking 31 wickets in that 1907/08 series, with tension like that it isn’t surprising that it was Saunders’ last series!