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Naming the greatest cricket team of all time is as old a debate as the game itself. But when it comes to Australian cricket, just one XI sells our history of producing great cricketers short.
Having unveiled my fourth and fifth-greatest Australian cricket XIs yesterday, today we get two teams closer to the peak, and remember some absolute legends of the game along the way.
The third-greatest Australian cricket XI
1. Mark Taylor (c)
2. Bill Woodfull (vc)
3. Stan McCabe
4. Michael Clarke
5. Michael Hussey
6. Doug Walters
7. Hugh Trumble
8. Rodney Marsh (wk)
9. Mitchell Johnson
10. Graham McKenzie
11. Jeff Thomson
12th man: Alan Fairfax
Mark Taylor was an easy selection here – I considered for my first side. His partner was more difficult, as we’re now into the second rung of great Australian opening batsmen. Was Woodfull better than Bill Brown? Woodfull had to bat during the infamous Bodyline series – I wonder how that affected his batting average? I have him ahead of Brown for that reason.
McCabe was an easy selection, no other number three stood out. McCabe is legendary for scoring the two most heroic centuries in Australian cricket history – even Donald Bradman acknowledged he never played an innings like McCabe once did.
It felt weird picking Clarke and Hussey, as they’re both so recent! I don’t quite rate Clarke as highly as the great batsman of, say, the 2000 side – Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, etc.
Hussey started late and really should have played in the 2005 Ashes. I rate him just higher than Clarke.
Doug Walters stood out as the second best Australian batsman of his time, after Greg Chappell.
Hugh Trumble makes the side for being Australia’s greatest ever finger-spinner.
Rodney Marsh kept to Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson – a hard task indeed! “Caught Marsh, bowled Lillee” is now part of the Australian vernacular.
Mitchell Johnson wouldn’t have been close to my top 50 but for his amazing purple patch during the 2013-14 Ashes series, and the subsequent tour to South Africa. That period of bowling compares to the peak of any other Australian bowler. I rate Johnson higher than say, Breet Lee, because of that series.
I used to be a Johnson hater, actually. I didn’t want him in the side prior to the 2013-14 series. But most Aussies would want Thomson somewhere in their top three sides, what did Thomson do during his short peak that Johnson didn’t?
Could you imagine Johnson bowling in tandem with Thomson? Can you imagine Thomson of the 1974-75 Ashes and the 1975-76 West Indian series paired with Johnson of the 2013-14 Ashes and the 2014 South African series? Much like Johnson, Thomson made this side because of a relatively short peak, not for a long career of consistent quality bowling.
Graham McKenzie stands out as a solid bowler over a much longer period of time than either Thomson or Johnson.
The second-greatest Australian cricket XI
1. Bill Ponsford
2. Victor Trumper
3. Neil Harvey
4. Steve Waugh
5. Alan Border (vc)
6. Richie Benaud (c)
7. Alan Davidson
8. Ian Healey (wk)
9. Clarrie Grimmett
10. Charlie Turner
11. Frederick Spofforth
12th man: Craig McDermott
Ponsford was the closest player not to make my first side, so he’s an easy selection. I chose Trumper because of what he meant in terms of changing the art of batting. I also think if more cricket was played during his era, his batting average would be higher.
The middle order for this side was a bit of a mess. Neither Harvey, Waugh, or Border were number three batsman – Stan McCabe would have perfect for this side. Yet when considering the second-greatest Australian batsman ever, five names stood out: Chappell, Ponting, Waugh, Border and Harvey (Gilchrist should be considered too). McCabe doesn’t stand out like Harvey, but Waugh and Border did – so they comprise my middle order.
Healey was probably Australia’s greatest ever wicket keeper, and kept to Shane Warne better than anybody at international level.
Originally I intended to drop either Benaud or Davidson to better balance the side. I have heard Benaud and Davidson being described as all-rounders before – Benaud having scored more than 2000 runs and taken more than 200 wickets. But in reality, both were like bowling all-rounders. Davidson has a bowling average of 20! When I dropped either, it felt like they dropped too low for what they achieved.
Ian Chappell regards Benaud and Imran Kahn as the two best cricket captains he ever saw – so Benaud is my captain. Border, who is the best captain I ever saw and brought Australia out of a slump in the mid-80s, is the vice-captain.
Like my first side – mindful that Davidson, Turner and Spofforth were all excellent bowlers – I’ve select two spinners (Benaud and Grimmett). Grimmett is generally classified as one of Australia’s three greatest spinners, with Warne and O’Reilly.
Spofforth has an amazing place in the history of Ashes cricket that assures his status as a cricket legend, warranting such high selection.
Craig McDermott is simply underrated. For such a long time he had to carry the Australian bowling attack with little help. I rate McDermott and Jason Gillespie as Australia’s two most underrated cricketers ever.