So following on from last time’s K team, we come to the L team.
This is one of the big guns with a great opening partnership and very solid batting. This is combined with a fearsome bowling attack, possibly the best in the competition, with over 1250 Test wickets and two Hall of Fame members between them.
Bill Lawry (VIC) (captain) – 67 Tests, 5234 runs at 47.15, 13 centuries, 210 high score, Cricket Australia Hall of Fame
Opening the batting is one of the most stubborn, accomplished defensive batsmen of all time. Bill Lawry, also known as “The Corpse with Pads”, was a rock at the top of the order during the 1960s and captained his country 25 times.
His much loved (and much imitated) commentary career may have since overshadowed his playing days, but he had a remarkably good record. With Bob Simpson, he formed one of Australia’s greatest opening partnerships, scoring 3600 runs together at an average over 59, including a record partnership of 382 against the West Indies in 1965. It remains the highest opening partnership for Australia and fifth of all time.
Lawry hit 13 centuries in only 67 Tests and scored 667 runs in the 1968-69 home series against the West Indies. He also managed 592 runs in the 1965-66 series against England. Lawry was exceptional in home conditions, averaging over 56.
Lawry’s returns were dropping off over his last few series, but even so it was a shock when the captain was left out of the side after the 1970-71 Ashes.
Justin Langer (WA) – 105 Tests, 7696 runs at 45.27, 23 centuries, 250 high score
Justin Langer was a gritty middle-order batsmen who transformed himself into half of possibly Australia’s greatest ever opening partnership. Langer’s career finished with three double centuries and countless victories as part of the strongest Australian team since the Invincibles.
Langer’s first few Tests in 1993 were defensive and modest, scoring two 50s and achieving an average in the 20s with a strike rate in the 30s. He returned briefly in 1994 and again in 1996 without nailing down a spot.
He returned in 1998 as a number three and between then and 2001 Langer enjoyed a regular starting spot, including a memorable second-innings century with Adam Gilchrist to steal a Test from Pakistan in Hobart in November 1999. But after a couple of lean series in 2000-01 Langer was dropped for the 2001 Ashes Tour.
Langer was the reserve batsmen for that tour, but received an opportunity in the final Test at the Oval. Michael Slater was dropped and Langer was drafted into the unfamiliar opening position. He scored a century in a 150-run opening stand with Matthew Hayden and the rest is history. Langer remained a first-choice opener until his retirement in 2006. Over the second half of his career Langer took his average from 39 to 45 and his strike rate from 47 to 54.
Langer and Hayden scored over 6000 runs at a partnership average in excess of 51. This is the fourth most runs by any partnership and the second highest for an opening pair, only behind the great West Indians, Gordon Greenidge and Demond Haynes.
Langer’s 28,302 first-class runs are the most by any Australian and his 7696 Test runs sits seventh on the Australian all-time list.
Marnus Labuschagne (QLD) (leg spin) – 14 Tests and counting, 1459 runs at 63.64, 12 wickets at 36.3
When I first started these articles, Marnus had an average in the low 30s and I grudgingly put him at six. He is now one of the first picked with an average in the upper echelons of cricket history.
Labuschagne was a speculative pick at first. He started with a duck and after his first five Tests he had a single 50 and an average just over 26. A short career seemed on the cards and then Jofra Archer nailed Steve Smith with a short one at Lord’s and the rest is history.
Since that moment Labuschagne has averaged 83 and reached at least 50 in 11 out of 15 innings. He became the first Australian in history to record at least four scores over 140 in a home summer. And he averages more than Steve Smith. All hail the Summer of Marnus.
Martin Love (QLD) – five Tests, 233 runs at 46.6, one century, 100* high score
Martin Love was one of Australia’s most successful first-class players. He scored nearly 17,000 first-class runs at an average approaching 50. His five centuries in Sheffield Shield finals may never be broken.
But his Test career was limited to only five matches. Even so, Love averaged over 46, but further opportunities were limited by living in the age of Ricky Ponting, the Waugh twins and others.
Love played all his Tests in a six-month period in 2002-03. He played two Tests in the 2002-03 home Ashes and averaged nearly 50. He received a Test in the West Indies as an injury substitute and then signed off with an unbeaten century against Bangladesh in Cairns.
Stuart Law (QLD) – one Test, 54* only score
Stuart Law scored even more first-class runs at a higher average than Martin Love. Just over 27,000 in all at 50.5 and with a whopping 79 centuries. He captained Queensland to their first ever Sheffield Shield title and led them through a successful era.
Law’s only Test came as an injury substitute for Steve Waugh in 1995 against Sri Lanka in Perth, making his debut alongside Ricky Ponting. Ponting hit 92 and Law 54 not out. Waugh came back for the next Test and Law was never selected again, finishing his career without a Test batting average.
Darren Lehmann (SA) – 27 Tests, 1798 runs at 44.95, five centuries, 177 high score
Rounding out this strong batting line-up is Darren Lehman. Lehmann had to wait a long time for his chance at Test level but in a short 27-Test career he made the most of it, scoring five centuries and averaging in the mid-40s.
Lehmann commenced his first-class career in 1987 but had to wait until March 1998 to get his first Test cap. His first three Tests were in India and Pakistan and he scored a pair of half centuries to show his proficiency against spin. He played two Tests in the 1998-99 Ashes without success and was dropped from the team. He returned almost exactly four years later in the 2002-03 Ashes but again failed to set the scoreboard on fire.
Nevertheless he was selected to tour the West Indies and the slower pitches suited his game, scoring his first Test century and averaging nearly 59 for the series. A pair of centuries against Bangladesh in Cairns and Darwin followed as Lehmann cashed in against the lower-ranked teams and spinning conditions. He then dominated a series in Sri Lanka, scoring centuries in Galle and Colombo, but his returns diminished thereafter. Lehmann was one of the very few players who finished with a significantly better away record (49 away compared to 39 at home).
Lehmann had a prolific first-class career, scoring nearly 26,000 runs at an average approaching 58. He also played 117 ODIs for Australia.
Ray Lindwall (NSW) (right-arm fast) – 61 Tests, 228 wickets at 23.03, best bowling 7-38, Cricket Australia Hall of Fame, ACB Team of the Century
On retirement, Ray Lindwall was probably considered Australia’s greatest ever pace bowler. Lindwall burst onto the scene after World War Two and was a major contributor to Bradman’s Invincibles tour of 1948. He formed a lethal fast-bowling partnership with Keith Miller and at the time of his retirement had taken more wickets for Australia than any other bowler.
Lindwall had all the fast-bowling weapons: a classical action (with a heck of a back foot drag to take advantage of the old no-ball rule), extreme pace, a reliable outswinger, an accurate yorker and vicious bouncer. He was also a very useful batsman, scoring two Test centuries and averaging 21.15.
Lindwall first played first-class cricket in 1941, but the war meant that his Test career only began in the 1946-47 Ashes, where he topped Australia’s wickets tally and also scored a century with the bat in only his second Test (from only 90 balls!). He was the most prolific wicket-taker in Australia’s next two series, including 27 wickets in the 1948 away Ashes.
From 1946 until 1953 Lindwall averaged no more than 23.04 in any series, home or away. This culminated in 26 wickets at only 18.84 in a losing cause in the 1953 away Ashes. Lindwall had spent some time in England developing his inswinger and in this series he was the complete fast bowler.
Lindwall had few weaknesses. The only place he failed to conquer was Pakistan where he averaged 46.5 from three Tests. Overall he averaged 23.95 away from home and 27.59 in Asia. Before the arrival of Dennis Lillee, there was little argument that Lindwall was the best.
Brett Lee (NSW) (right-arm fast) – 76 Tests, 310 wickets at 30.81, best bowling 5-30
Brett Lee was a bowler of extreme pace, recorded once at 161.1 kilometres per hour. Right from the moment he took five wickets on debut against India he was the pace-bowling pin-up boy of Australian cricket. He took 42 wickets at an average under 17 in his first seven Test matches.
Despite being relatively injury-prone, Lee ended up playing more Test matches than Dennis Lillee and taking over 300 Test wickets. His career strike rate of 53.3 is extremely good, but when the ball wasn’t swinging he had a tendency to go for quick runs, hence the higher average. Despite ten five-wicket hauls, he never took more than five in an innings or ten for a match.
Lee was very effective on the familiar pitches at home and in South Africa, but he struggled in England (averaging over 45) and in Asia (averaging over 60) where pace alone was not the answer.
Despite his pace-bowling career, his most famous moment may have been with the bat. In the 2005 Birmingham Test, Lee got Australia to within two runs of an amazing victory, only to be denied as Michael Kasprowicz was caught behind leaving Lee stranded on 43 not out. The image of Freddie Flintoff consoling the devastated batsman is one of cricket’s most memorable. Lee’s batting overall was very handy, averaging over 20.
Lee was actually a more dominant white-ball bowler. His 380 one-day international wickets places him second on the all-time list for Australians, just one pole behind Glenn McGrath (and eighth overall) and his average of 23.36 (fourth for Australia behind Lillee, Mitchell Starc and McGrath, minimum 100 wickets) and strike rate of 29.4 (behind only Starc) are truly elite.
Gil Langley (SA) (wicketkeeper) – 26 Tests, 374 runs at 14.96, 83 catches and 15 stumpings
Gil Langley first played first-class cricket after World War Two. He was the back-up to Don Tallon at national level, playing a few Tests as an injury replacement, then took over as first-choice keeper from 1953 when Tallon retired until his own retirement in 1956.
Wisden named Langley one of its five cricketers of the year in 1957 and described him as “the safest wicketkeeper in the game”. In 1956 at Lord’s, Langley took nine dismissals for the match, which remained the world record for nearly 25 years.
Langley was also a very accomplished Australian rules footballer, playing for many years for Sturt in the SANFL, including as captain for three years, and turning out for a few games for Essendon in the VFL, including the 1943 grand final.
Dennis Lillee (WA) (right-arm fast) – 70 Tests, 355 wickets at 23.92, best bowling 7-83, Cricket Australia Hall of Fame, ACB Team of the Century
Joining this strong fast-bowling side, and perhaps leading it, is possibly the greatest of them all, Dennis Lillee. No one who saw him in his prime will easily forget the sight – bristling moustache, shirt unbuttoned half way, chain swinging, as he flowed rhythmically to the crease and then the gather, leap and deliver with a beautiful side-on action.
Lillee was all charisma, showmanship and, like Shane Warne in later times, sometimes appeared to take wickets by force of his will alone. And the leg-cutter wasn’t bad either.
Lillee exploded onto the scene in 1969-70 as a young tearaway for Western Australia. He joined the Test team in 1971 and played 11 Tests, taking 51 wickets at 24.15 before a serious back injury threatened to ruin his career. Not included in those statistics was a marvellous 8-29 in the 1971-72 summer against a World XI (touring to replace the banned South Africans). He followed this with 31 wickets in the 1972 Ashes in England.
Lillee was out injured for 12 months but he returned as a smarter bowler with all the tricks, especially a lethal leg-cutter. And he could still be very quick, being clocked at nearly 155 kilometres per hour in 1975. Forming a wonderful partnership with Jeff Thomson, in 1974-75 they signalled a new era of high-octane cricket and put the world on notice, destroying England in the Ashes.
Lillee also was the star of the 1977 Centenary Test against England, taking 11 wickets for the match as Australia won by 45 runs.
Lillee then spent some of his prime with the rebel World Series Cricket, taking 67 wickets at 26.86 from 14 Super Tests. But even without these he finished as the world’s highest ever wicket taker on retirement in 1984.
Lillee played most of his Test career with his Western Australian teammate, wicketkeeper Rod Marsh. A huge 95 Test batsmen were dismissed caught Marsh, bowled Lillee – a record that has yet to be broken.
Nathan Lyon (NSW) (off spin) – 96 Tests and counting, 390 wickets at 31.58, best bowling 8-50
To accompany this high-quality batch of fast bowlers is the GOAT himself, Nathan Lyon. Lyon started his Test career with little expectation, plucked from obscurity. Not long before he had been the groundsman at the Adelaide Oval.
He found himself selected for some T20 games (being the leading wicket-taker as South Australia won the Big Bash in 2010-11), graduated to the Shield side and after only seven months in first-class cricket found himself bowling in Sri Lanka to the great Kumar Sangakkara. And Lyon took his wicket with his first ball in Test cricket on the way to a five-wicket haul on debut.
What has followed is nearly a decade of quality off spin, often in unfriendly conditions. Despite taking 390 career wickets, the third most by any Australian, Lyon has often been under perceived pressure to retain his spot. However he has continuously improved to the point that he is now first on the team sheet under all conditions, and talk has turned to how he will possibly be replaced when he finally hears “bowled Garry” for the last time.
Next time we tackle the M team, another of the real contenders, with eight members of the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame.