England hero Ben Stokes was the difference for the home team as they kept their bid to win back the Ashes alive with a thrilling one-wicket victory at Headingley.
I was going to write an article rating the ten best Australian cricketers ever. Then I began to consider what the best all-time Australian Cricket XI would be like, and found myself unable to decide between certain players, so I made two XIs.
Then I thought about writing an article rating the top 50 Australian cricketers ever.
However I began listing too many batsmen compared to bowlers, so decided a more even way of compiling such a list would be to create the four best Australian XIs ever.
Then I made five Australian XI – add five twelfth men and you’ve got Australia’s 60 greatest cricketers.
So here are the five best Australian cricket sides I could create, and the 60 greatest Australian cricketers of all time.
The fifth-greatest Australian cricket XI
1. Michael Slater
2. Justin Langer
3. Ian Chappell (c)
4. David Boon (vc)
5. Mark Waugh
6. Lindsay Hassett
7. Wally Grout (wk)
8. Brett Lee
9. Merv Hughes
10. Ashley Mallett
11. Rodney Hogg
12th man: Max Walker
Slater and Langer were both great partners of men who could be considered for the greatest Australian XI of all time. Since he spent time batting down the batting order, Hassett made this side.
Ian Chappell maybe should be in a side higher than fifth. I don’t think many people would agree with who I’ve got in the fourth-best side, ahead of Chappell.
I nearly got cheeky and made David Boon the wicketkeeper – but that would be too much.
In the ODI arena, during 1995-96, Mark Waugh played ODI cricket just about better than any batsman I ever saw. In the Test arena, he didn’t have the toughness or temperament of his brother, Steve. Mark had more talent than Steve – Shane Warne rated Mark one of the greatest Australian batsman he ever faced (they’re friends though), and a better player than Steve.
When motivated, Mark Waugh could be as good as any batsman in the Australian side.
Damien Martyn is one of my personal favourites – I really wanted him in my side! When Australia had Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, Martyn was my favourite player to watch. He was the most technically brilliant batsman of that side, and his touch was amazing. I really thought, way back in 2005, that Martyn was robbed of the Alan Border Medal, the year Michael Clarke won it.
People forget how great Martyn was in 2004, especially on the subcontinent – Australia couldn’t have won the series over there without him.
Simon Katich actually nearly made this side – another underrated batsman. He has an awesome batting average, but he didn’t play for long enough.
Darren Lehman stood out as well – a very underrated player of spin, and his off-breaks were quite useful in Sri Lanka in 2004 on those dusty pitches.
If I had to pick a sixth side, I have no idea who my keeper would be. Grout was the last of the Australian wicketkeepers with a long career and a great many catches and stumpings.
I kept Brett Lee out of my top four sides, I never rated him highly as a Test bowler. I recall when he was dropped from the Test side in 2004, his form in one-day cricket was nothing short of extraordinary. But when he regained his Test spot for the 2005 Ashes, he had a bowling average over 40 for that series.
He obtained about four wickets a Test, which is very good, but at an average over 30, and at a high economy rate. He was also a much less successful bowler when Glenn McGrath wasn’t playing – either through injury or retirement.
He makes my fifth side because to take more than four wickets per Test and take 300 wickets is a significant accomplishment.
Much like my keepers, there weren’t many spin-bowlers I could recall who deserve to be selected. I think Mallett was the last one!
The fourth-greatest Australian cricket XI
1. Bill Brown (c)
2. Bill Lawry
3. Dean Jones
4. Jack Ryder
5. Bob Simpson (vc)
6. Monty Noble
7. Don Tallon (wk)
8. Jason Gillespie
9. Stuart MacGill
10. Terry Alderman
11. Len Pascoe
12th man: Bruce Reid
The opening batsmen were the most difficult part of selecting this side – Slater, Langer and Sidney Barnes all stood out. I looked at Slater’s batting average, and his stats don’t indicate he was as good as I remember – I recall him being an awesome player!
Dean Jones is controversial. He was once my favourite player, so what on earth did he do get in the selectors’ bad books? He had a batting average of 46, and played arguably the greatest Test innings ever in India in 1986!
There was a period in the late ’80s and early ’90s where it seemed like Australia’s sole strategy for winning one-day games was to support Jones. He wrote the book on how one-day cricket should be played – the first leap forward in its evolution!
It was either going to be Jones or Chappell as my number three, but Chappell is overrated for two reasons. Firstly, people associate him with Greg Chappell – the Chappell brothers – and really Greg was a far better cricketer. Secondly, he’s a well-known, visible cricket personality who obtained a commentary job because of his role in helping Kerry Packer launch World Series Cricket.
Bob Simpson stood out at this stage, I must say. His batting performances following the defection of most of the Australian side to World Series Cricket are to be commended. Few players can make a comeback like that!
Don Tallon made Don Bradman’s all-time side. I must say, thinking about keepers has made me realise how few we’ve had in the past five decades. Marsh, Healey and almost Gilchrist, played for more than ten years – Australia hasn’t had many selection worries there! For that reason, those three men stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Jason Gillespie is the most underrated Australian cricketer of all time.
I recall Australia’s historic series win against India in 2004 – perhaps Australia’s greatest Test achievement since defeating the West Indies in 1995. There was a spell of bowling where Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were at the crease – India’s most formidable duo. Dravid was then the best batsman in the world.
For an entire spell, McGrath and Gillespie kept them contained. What impressed me was how Gillespie maintained a quality of bowling that equaled McGrath. McGrath never had another bowling partner remotely as good as Gillespie.
It hurt watching Gillespie struggle for form and confidence during the 2005 Ashes. That was such a significant series, and Gillespie was a shell of his former self. People don’t realise how integral he was to that dominant Australian side – it wasn’t just the Warne and McGrath show!
We didn’t see anywhere near MacGill’s best cricket, due to Warne keeping him out of the side. Furthermore, many have forgotten how good he was when he first started playing – Warne was dropped for MacGill during the West Indian tour of 1999, and, struggling for fitness and form, contemplated retirement.
People also forget that following the 1-2 loss to India in 2001, there was talk that Warne should be dropped for MacGill. Warne recovered during the 2001 Ashes to take 31 wickets, but there was a period from 1998 to 2001 when Warne had shoulder and finger injures, and MacGill almost supplanted him.
Why MacGill wasn’t used in the 2005 Ashes, when the only thing the English seemed unable to do was play leg-spin, I don’t understand. Shaun Tait wasn’t bowling well. Gillespie wasn’t bowling well. Kasprowitz wouldn’t have salvaged anything. MacGill had to be selected.
A bit like Jason Gillespie, who stood behind Warne and McGrath, Rodney Hogg doesn’t get the credit he deserves, for playing behind Lillee and Thompson. The 1975-76 series was to have a massive impact on how the West Indies viewed cricket. Australia had four great fast bowlers that they used, and disregarded having a good spinner. That’s exactly what the West Indies did in the ’80s.
Bruce Reid is another excellent bowler who helped dig Australia out of that mid-80s slump, following the simultaneous retirements of Dennis Lillee, Chappell and Rod Marsh.
In all, that bowling line-up reads like the all-time most underrated cricketer XI in Australia’s history.