As most of you who have spent any time on the internet know, we all love a good list. And as precious few of you who have read any of my articles know, I enjoy delving into a bit of cricket history and conjecture.
So, inspired by a set of cricket articles a few years back by another Roarer – thanks JGK – I have set myself the task of selecting and describing an all-time great Australian cricket team for each letter of the alphabet to play in the mythical Alphabet Cup.
JGK did this excellently for international players, and I wanted to see if I could replicate it for just Australian cricketers.
Why on earth would someone want to do this? I have a couple of reasons.
One is that I am a cricket tragic and it gives me an excuse to indulge myself. Let’s face it, these will not be articles designed to start a raging fire of outraged comments – “Michael Taylor (VIC) over Dominic Thornley (NSW)? You’re kidding me!”.
The other is that maybe some forgotten gem will be unearthed and receive his moment in the sun. There is one such instance in the Letter A team already.
So, starting with Letter As I will provide an XI for each letter, including some basic stats and a brief background on each player.
Wherever possible, players will be picked in batting order position and I will try to select a balanced team. I am proud to say that there is only one instance where I have had to combine letters to form a team – Q-X-U-Z. There are no Xs in Australian cricket to have played a first-class game, which has left me with only 253 players to discover.
In general I have stuck to some fairly basic selection criteria. Players have been selected based on Test record, first-class record, and limited-overs international record.
In some rare cases, an excellent first-class record might jump a player who played a few more Tests but has a less impressive overall record. Being selected on the basis of white-ball cricket will be rare. Later down the track there will be one special guest star.
And now to the teams themselves. While the quality varies, the hypothetical league between these teams will be hard fought. Many of the teams are stacked with quality international players, but many solid first-class careers also get rewarded with selection.
At the end of it all I will try to rank the teams, so let me know which letter you think will come out on top.
So let’s start with the A Team.
The As have at best a solid first-class batting line-up, with their captain the only player with significant Test experience. They have a good group of right-arm pace bowling options and will be more than a handful in helpful bowling conditions.
Jason Arnberger (NSW/VIC) – first class 88 matches. 6049 runs at 39.79, 13 centuries, 239* high score
Jason Arnberger was a solid first-class opening batsman for Victoria during the late 1990s and into the 2000s without ever achieving higher honours. On retirement he was seventh on Victoria’s all-time run-scoring table and he was the state’s player of the year in 2005-06. He scored a hundred in each innings of a match three times. In 2004, Arnberger scored twin half-centuries in Victoria’s Sheffield Shield final win over Queensland.
Tommy Andrews (NSW) – 16 Tests, 592 runs at 26.9
Opening with Arnberger is a middle-order player who will have to adapt, as the As are not flush with batting options. Tommy Andrews played 16 fairly unremarkable Tests for Australia in the 1920s, including four half-centuries. His selection was based on a very solid first-class career, scoring over 8000 runs at an average of nearly 40, highlighted by topping NSW’s Shield runs in 1919-20 and scoring 247 in their must-win final match that year to take the title.
Andrews also played baseball for NSW and it was maybe these skills that led to him being considered one of the great fielders of his time. Andrews was still playing club cricket for Petersham at 54 years old.
Warwick Armstrong (VIC) (captain) – 50 Tests, 2863 runs at 38.68, six centuries, 159* high score, 87 wickets at 33.59, best bowling 6-35
Coming in at first drop, Warwick Armstrong is the standout player in this team. The Big Ship was an immense presence in Australian cricket and captained the 1921 Australians to the first ever five-nil Ashes clean sweep in England. In all he captained Australia to eight wins in a row against England, home and away.
While more of a batsman at Test level, his first-class record as an all-rounder was incredible, with over 13,000 runs at 46.83 and 832 wickets at 19.71. This included two tours of England in a row where he boasted a first-class batting average over 40 and a bowling average under 20. A true all-rounder.
Armstrong also holds one particularly odd Test record. He is the only player in Test history to have bowled two over in a row, due to an umpiring error after a break in play.
Arthur Allsopp (NSW/VIC) – first class 21 matches, 1469 runs at 45.9, five centuries, 146 high score
Now this is an interesting one. Arthur Allsopp played first-class cricket in the 1930s. Despite a very impressive first-class record, including a century and half century in for NSW against a touring English side, he could not break into the strong Australian team of the time.
He was considered the unlucky omission from the 1929-30 Ashes squad to tour England, having finished behind only Don Bradman and Archie Jackson in Sheffield Shield runs that season. In 1931, Allsopp toured India with an Australian XI under Jack Ryder, where he contracted typhoid fever, which affected his eyesight and damaged his liver. His first-class career was effectively over.
Allsopp was down the other end in a 180-run partnership when Don Bradman set the Australian all-time record first-class score of 452 for New South Wales.
His was a remarkable story as he was playing cricket for a child welfare department home for boys in Gosford when discovered.
Allsopp was also a top-class rugby league centre for Southern Districts, once playing against South Sydney at the SCG. He later became heavily involved in softball as an international umpire, coach and official and the Australian under-17s championship is named after him. His daughter won a World Softball Championship and he himself is a member of the softball hall of fame.
“Boy, you made my heart really glad. It has not been as glad for years. Today I saw a day I saw a great cricketer,” Charles Bannerman said after seeing Allsopp play for NSW colts in 1929.
Wayne Andrews (WA) – first class 91 matches, 4684 runs at 37.17, five centuries, 139 high score
Wayne Andrews was a left-handed batsman for WA in the 1980s. He captained the state ten times and has moved into coaching, spending time with the WA under-17s and as an assistant for the senior team.
Andrews made a slow start to his career, not reaching 50 in his first nine matches from 1983 to 1985. But in the sixth game of 1985-86 he thumped 139 against New South Wales, and stormed home for the remainder of the season to finish with 482 runs at over 40, becoming established in the side.
In five of the next six seasons Andrews scored over 500 Shield runs, and he was part of the WA’s Shield final wins in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1992, scoring half-centuries in the latter three finals. As WA’s period of dominance fell away, so did Andrews and he finished his first-class career in 1993.
Ron Archer (QLD) (right arm fast) – 19 Tests, 713 runs at 24.58, one century, 128 high score, 48 wickets at 27.45, best bowling 5-53
Ron Archer’s Test statistics show him as more of a bowling all-rounder, but here he comes in at number six. At first-class level he averaged a tick under 32 but took his 255 career wickets at 23.36, which puts him in the upper echelon of bowlers. He topped the Australian bowling averages during England’s tour of Australia in 1954-55.
Archer debuted for Australia at only 19 and his career was effectively finished by a knee injury while playing Pakistan in Karachi at only 22. Who knows what he could have been, or what he could have done with today’s medical treatments.
Mark Atkinson (TAS) (wicketkeeper) – first class 95 matches, 2735 runs at 31.80, nine half-centuries, 261 catches and 29 stumpings
Mark Atkinson was Tasmania’s first-choice keeper during the 1990s and holds the dismissals record for Tasmania (and 15th overall for the Sheffield Shield). Atkinson was a stubborn rather than gifted batsman and although he played a match for Australia A in 1994, he was always behind Ian Healy and then Adam Gilchrist for representative honours.
Ashton Agar (WA) (left-arm orthodox) – four Tests, 195 runs at 32.5, nine wickets at 45.55
Ashton Agar’s main claim to fame so far is scoring 98 from number 11 as part of Australia’s highest tenth-wicket partnership, 163 with Phil Hughes at Trent Bridge in 2013.
Agar at the moment is more potential over performance at first-class level but is performing very solidly in limited-overs cricket. A first-class bowling average of 39.15 indicates he is more of a containing bowler and his batting average of 26.31 does not quite put him in the batting all-rounder category. However he is still young for a spin bowler, being first selected when only 19. He is the only teenage spinner to take a Test wicket for Australia.
Jo Angel (WA) (right-arm fast) – four Tests, ten wickets at 46.3
Jo Angel was a WA mainstay at first-class level but received limited Test opportunities. Taking 485 first-class wickets at 25.10 says Angel was a bowler of the highest quality who was unlucky to not receive more Test opportunities.
At six foot six, Angel could get significant bounce at his home WACA ground, demonstrated when he hit Desmond Haynes in the face, forcing him to retired hurt, in only his second over in Test cricket.
Angel finished his career second only to Clarrie Grimmett for career Sheffield Shield wickets and topped the Shield wicket tables in both of WA’s 1992 and 1999 title-winning seasons.
Peter Allan (QLD) (right-arm fast-medium) – one Test, two wickets at 41.5
Peter Allan was one of Queensland’s premier fast bowlers during the 1960s. Allan once took ten wickets in an innings in the Sheffield Shield (10-61 against Victoria, weirdly he did not take a wicket in the second innings).
His career record of over 200 first-class wickets at 26.1 was very solid, and he retired as Queensland’s greatest ever wicket-taker, but due to various untimely injuries he only played one Test match.
Allan also took ten wickets in an innings in a Brisbane club match, only three months after achieving the feat in the Sheffield Shield.
Terry Alderman (WA) (right-arm fast-medium) – 41 Tests, 170 wickets at 27.15, best bowling 6-47
Terry Alderman was Australia’s swing bowling specialist in the 1980s, tearing England to pieces in the UK in 1981 and again in 1989 with over 40 wickets in each series.
Outside of helpful conditions, Alderman was still a handful but his career was curtailed by two significant events. In 1982-83 he dislocated his shoulder tackling a pitch invader and then in the mid 1980s he was banned for joining the rebel tours of South Africa. He took 956 first-class wickets at 23.74.
Alderman so bamboozled the English captain Graham Gooch in 1989 that Gooch asked to be dropped from the Test team. Reportedly his answering machine message at the time was along the lines of: “If I’m not answering the phone I’m probably out, LBW Alderman”.
Next time we tackle the B Team, one of the true contenders.