Following on from the R team, we come to the S team.
This is a strong squad. The batting is a mix of those who will bat very, very long and some dashers. The bowling is varied and high-class.
62 Tests, 4889 runs at 46.81, ten hundreds, 311 high score, Cricket Australia hall of fame
Highest ICC batting ranking: 2 (June 1966), behind Garry Sobers (West Indies)
Bob Simpson was a celebrated Australian opening batsman, captain and coach. He formed one of our great opening partnerships with Bill Lawry and is recognised as possibly the country’s greatest ever slip fielder.
Simpson later came out of retirement to answer a cricket establishment SOS and captain the national side during World Series Cricket. And even later, Simpson became the first professional coach of the Australian team and rebuilt the side after our rock-bottom period of the mid-1980s.
Simpson failed to score a century until his 30th test. Once he got to the milestone there was no stopping him, and that first century ended at 311 after a marathon nearly 13 hours at the crease.
Following that breakthrough, Simpson scored 1364 runs during the 1964 calendar year, a record at the time. Simpson scored a further nine centuries in his final 32 Tests, taking his average from 35.93 to 48.6 at the time of his first retirement.
Captaincy obviously brought the best out of him, as he averaged over 54 over his 39 Tests in charge.
The Simpson-Lawry opening partnership yielded 3596 runs at 60.94 over 64 innings, with a highest opening partnership of 382 – still the best ever by an Australian opening pair. For comparison, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer scored 5655 but averaged 51.88, Michael Slater and Mark Taylor 51.14.
In fact, of the nine opening pairs to score at least 3000 runs in partnership only the great English pair of Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe averaged more.
In 1977 at 41 years old and after nearly a decade out of the national side, Simpson came out of retirement to lead a young team shorn of its WSC stars against India and the West Indies. He contributed 738 runs across the ten Tests at 38.84, including two centuries.
The team won a close series against India at home but both Simpson and team struggled away to the West Indies, where the home board allowed the World Series cricketers to play in the first two Tests.
It couldn’t have been fun facing Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Michael Holding at 42.
Simpson was also a handy leg-spin bowler, taking 71 Test wickets at 42.26.
74 Tests, 5312 runs at 42.83, 14 centuries, 219 high score
Highest ICC batting ranking: 2 (February 1995), behind Sachin Tendulkar (India)
Just like his great partnership with the more conservative Mark Taylor (3,887 runs at 51.14, the sixth most runs by an opening partnership in Tests), Michael Slater will here be the perfect complement to the solid Simpson.
Slater burst onto the scene after starring in the 1992/93 Sheffield Shield, topping NSW’s season aggregate with 1005 runs at 62.81, including a first-innings 69 in the final against QLD. He had not even started the season in the first XI.
Slater was selected for the 1993 Ashes tour after just 12 first-class games and fought it out with a young Matt Hayden for the second opener slot. It is now history that Hayden enjoyed a 1000-run tour without ever being able to dislodge Slater from the side.
Slater scored 416 at 41.6 in his first series, including a half-century on debut and 150 at Lords in just his second Test.
Slater’s career and swashbuckling style were in part defined by two innings. In the 1994/95 home Ashes, Slater cracked the very first ball of the series to the point boundary like a tracer bullet and England looked defeated already as he went on to score 176 from just 244 balls.
Slater scored 623 runs in that series at 62.30 with three centuries as Australia easily defended the Ashes.
And in January 1999, Slater came within one run of breaking the oldest record in Test cricket – the record for the highest proportion of runs in a completed innings by a single batsman, set by Charles Bannerman in the very first Test in 1877. Bannerman’s 165 retired hurt amounted to 67.34 per cent of the team total of 245.
Against England in Sydney, Slater scored 123 out of 184 to fall just short at 66.84 per cent. In an all-star team at that time, the next highest score was Mark Waugh’s 24 and no one else scored more than 8. Slater’s 123 came from 189 balls and the rest of team combined for 57 runs from 200 balls before Stuart MacGill spun the English out with seven second-innings wickets to win by 88 runs.
Falling just short was a bit of a Slater specialty, being dismissed in the nervous 90s nine times.
Slater was a key cog in a dominant period for Australian cricket and played all Tests during Australia’s history-making 16 straight wins between 1999 and 2001.
43 Tests, 2807 runs at 37.42, seven centuries
Highest ICC batting ranking: 1 (August 1972).
Coming in at number three, we have the dangerous Keith Stackpole.
Stackpole was a relatively slow starter in Test cricket, taking nearly five years from his debut to average over 40 in a series. His peak was across the 1970/71 and 1972 Ashes series when Stackpole topped the Australian batting aggregate scoring 1112 runs for the two series at 52.95 with an all-in, entertaining style.
This included his highest score of 207, opening at the Gabba in the first home Test (although pictures later showed that he definitely should have been given run out on 18). By the end of this period, the retrospective ICC rankings had him as the best batsman in the world.
Stackpole was named one of Wisden’s cricketers of the year in 1973. But by March 1974 Stackpole’s Test career was over after a dreadful run against NZ, where he made no score over 27 in his last five Tests, including a pair in his final outing.
Steve Smith (New South Wales)
73* Tests, 7227 runs at 62.84, 26 centuries, 239 top score
Highest ICC batting ranking: 1 (December 2017) – second highest of all time
And then, after Slater and Stackpole have pummelled you, with Simpson a rock at the other end, in comes Steven Peter Devereux Smith, the latest and maybe greatest, ‘best since Bradman’.
The rise, fall and rise of Steve Smith from a potential leg-spinning all-rounder to the greatest Test batsman on the planet has been well documented, so I’ll just leave you with some random facts.
Smith has achieved the second-highest ICC batting ranking in history.
Smith has the third-highest career average (minimum 20 innings) behind Donald Bradman and the ‘Year of Marnus’. But Smith’s away average on its own of 60.15 is also good enough to be the eighth-highest overall career average for any batsman – better than the overall averages of Sobers, Kumar Sangakkara, Jacques Kallis, Tendulkar and Virat Kohli.
Smith has averaged over 70 across his last 62 Tests (out of 73 Tests in total). This was when he scored his first century and his average at the time was 29.5.
Smith averages a scarcely believable 89.76 in the first innings of a match, but only 30.68 in the fourth innings.
Against possibly the two best sides of the era (or at least the two most well funded), India and England, Smith averages 70.5, home-and-away, with 18 centuries in 37 Tests. Against India alone, this rises to 84.05 with seven centuries in only ten Tests.
Smith has averaged over 100 in seven different series, including each of the last two Ashes series.
Smith has scored over 750 runs in a series twice, 769 in 2014/15 against India at home and 774 in 2019 against England away, joining Bradman and Sunil Gavaskar as the only players to score over 750 runs in a series twice. Smith also hit 687 runs in 2017-18 at home to England.
Smith is one of only four Australians to hit four centuries in a single series (alongside Bradman, Neil Harvey and Doug Walters).
Smith took 126 innings to reach 7000 runs. The next best is 131 by Walter Hammond of England.
But I won’t be making him captain. Just let the boy bat.
31 Tests, 1594 runs at 33.91, two centuries, 127 high score
Highest ICC batting ranking: 16 (December 1970)
Paula Sheahan was an excellent first-class batsman for Victoria during the 1960s and 1970s, scoring 3191 Sheffield Shield runs at a wonderful average of 55.98.
This record did not quite translate to Test cricket. Sheahan started very well in the middle order. He scored 135 against New Zealand in an Australian XI tour before scoring 81 on debut in 1967 at only 21 years old.
Sheahan scored over 300 runs in his first series, averaging over 45. He enjoyed a decent couple of years, including a century away in India, and did not score less than 20 in his first eight innings. He was also considered one of the best cover fieldsmen of his time.
Sheahan was dropped during the 1970/71 home Ashes due to poor form. He spent 18 months out of the side but returned in 1972 and later that year scored a century against Pakistan in Melbourne as an opener. But then after only five years in international cricket and at an age when most players are just hitting their straps, Sheahan retired at just 27 to concentrate on his teaching career.
(right-arm medium/offspin) 26 Tests, 1462 runs at 40.61, two centuries, 162* high score, 24 wickets at 37.33
Highest ICC batting ranking: 12 (May 2008)
Coming in at number six is the prodigiously talented Andrew Symonds. Symonds was one of the most dynamic players in world cricket and is in the conversation for Australia’s best ever limited-overs team, as well as being one of the greatest fielders of all time.
Symonds took some time to adapt to the rigours of Test cricket. After 11 matches he had a top score of 72 and a batting average of only 18.47. His two 50s to that point had been made at strike rates over 115, indicating his potential for destruction, but he showed an inability to reign in his instincts and bat out longer periods.
But he scored a breakthrough century in the Boxing Day Test against England in 2006 and went on a scoring spree. In his final 15 Tests, he scored 1148 runs at 60.42 including 162 not out against India in Sydney in 2008. His strike rate during this period never against exceeded 100, indicating a more measured approach, although his scoring rate was still consistently faster than any batsman not called Adam Gilchrist.
Symonds had blossomed into a potential game-changer at number six as well as a very useful fifth bowling option, able to bowl medium-pace or offspin as the situation demanded.
But that 2008 Indian tour was the beginning of the end for Symonds as he was embroiled in the ‘Monkeygate’ controversy, where an Indian player was accused of making racist comments to him. The Indians threatened to quit the tour in response and in the end the whole incident was swept under the rug.
This affected Symonds greatly and though he continued to play Tests his commitment was increasingly questioned and by the end of 2008, his Test career was over. His disappointment may have been tempered, however, by being the highest-paid foreign player in the first-ever IPL in 2008, picking up a cool 1.35 million USD for his two months’ work.
A batting versus bowling average of 40.61 to 37.33 puts Symonds nicely in the all-rounder category, although only 24 wickets across his 26 Tests says his bowling was used sparingly. But as a batsman there was no one more destructive.
And it could have all been so different. Symonds holds a British passport and in 1995 was selected for the England A-team. He declined the invitation to pursue his Australian cricket career.
First-class 115, 3559 runs at 24.54, four centuries, 151 high score, 538 dismissals
At keeper, we have the great QLD state keeper Wade Seccombe. Seccombe represented QLD between 1993 and 2005, however, there is only ever one keeper spot available in the national team, and that was sewn up by Ian Healey and Gilchrist. The closest Seccombe got to higher honours was touring England in 2001 as the backup keeper to Gilchrist and playing a few first-class matches on tour.
As a result, Seccombe enjoyed a long career of excellence behind the stumps in front of few people, quietly winning numerous titles with QLD (all of their first five) and taking the third most dismissals in Sheffield Shield history.
Seccombe’s 58 dismissals in the 2000/01 season are the second-most ever in a single season and he was keeper in QLD’s inaugural title win in 1994/95.
(left-arm fast) 57* Tests, 244 wickets at 26.97, best bowling 6/50
Highest ICC bowling ranking: 5 (March 2018)
Next, we have Mitchell Starc. A pure wicket-taker, Starc at times in the past has delivered a mix of unplayable balls and unreachable balls, but he seems to have his control levels right up now to match his incredible strike rate.
His most recent home summer netted 29 wickets in five Tests at 17.4. He is now only two wickets away from entering the all-time top ten for Australia.
And what a strike rate it is. A wicket every 48.1 balls places him in the very elite. It ranks 12th in history out of all bowlers who have taken more than 100 wickets, with only Pat Cummins ahead of him for Australia.
If you increase the cut off to two hundred wickets you see who really sustained that strike power over a long career. Then the players ahead of Starc are only Dale Steyn, Waqar Younis, Malcolm Marshall and Alan Donald (note: Kagiso Rabada is only three wickets away from joining them).
It almost never happened. Despite being targeted from a young age, Starc, like James Pattinson and Cummins, was injury-prone as a youngster. He never seemed to play enough to get into a rhythm and his domestic results were okay at best.
Until Mitchell Johnson retired, having Starc and Johnson together was seen as a luxury and Starc amazingly was dropped or rested after something like ten of his first 12 Tests. This included being rested from the 2012 Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka after taking six wickets in his previous test.
Possibly Starc’s best Test performance was in 2016 in Sri Lanka. During a test series where Australia’s batting badly let them down, Starc took 24 wickets in three Tests on the Asian tracks at an average of only 15.2, including a career-best 11 for 94 in Galle.
Starc can hit a long ball as well and is especially effective against spin bowling. He has 1515 runs at 22.27 in Tests with ten half-centuries. He was more effective early in his career, averaging over 30 after 15 Tests.
His 54 not out in the 2019 Ashes was his first half-century in more than two-and-a-half years.
And of course, Starc is in the argument as the best white-ball bowler of his era, starring at two consecutive ODI World Cups. Starc’s 22 wickets at under 11 in the 2015 edition was scarcely believable.
His destruction of Brendon McCullum at the MCG was a highlight, as was his dismantling of the New Zealand team earlier in the tournament, albeit in a hopeless cause. Starc stands seventh on Australia’s all-time wicket-taking list in one-day cricket and has a better average and strike rate than any of those above him.
(right-arm fast/medium) 67 Tests, 221 wickets at 30.66, best bowling 6 for 54
Highest ICC bowling ranking: 3 (January 2012), behind Dale Steyn (South Africa) and Jimmy Anderson (England)
I was at the Gabba when Peter Siddle took his famous birthday hat trick in the first Ashes Test of 2010/11. Of course, the series went downhill from there, but the roar of the crowd was electric and reflects the respect and affection for Australia’s modern-day workhorse.
Peter Siddle gave his all for his country and was the type of bowler who every captain wants in their team. Whether steaming in for his first spell or his fourth, the effort and questions asked of batsmen remained.
Siddle was an explosive bowler when he first debuted, smacking Gautam Gambhir on the helmet with his first delivery in Test cricket. In those days he regularly nudged 140km but was pretty gun-barrel straight. As the years went on consistency and subtle movement replaced intimidation, netting him over 200 Test wickets.
After five years on the front lines, Siddle’s effectiveness declined from 2014 and he was reduced to a few generally ineffective Tests here and there as younger, fast bowlers were preferred (Siddle hadn’t taken five wickets in an innings since mid-2013).
However, a recall for the 2019 Ashes showed a change in direction for the Australian team and Siddle’s experience and economy rate during the first two Tests was an underrated piece of the puzzle as Australia regained the Ashes.
(right-arm medium) 18 Tests, 94 wickets at 18.41, best bowling 7 for 44, Cricket Australia hall of fame
Highest ICC bowling ranking: 1 (January 1879)
Fred Spofforth is one of the few Australian bowlers to have a better career strike rate than Mitchell Starc (an amazing 44.5), so this is a potent lineup. ‘The Demon’ was Australia’s premier bowler during the birth of Test cricket and it was his bowling and never say die attitude that directly led to the creation of The Ashes.
That occurred in 1882 at The Oval. England had got themselves in a position requiring only 85 runs in their second innings to win.
This was after some questionable tactics from the great WG Grace, running out Australian Sammy Jones after he left his ground to do some ‘gardening’. This apparently riled the aggressive Spofforth, who insisted “this thing can be done”, and then proceeded to do it virtually on his own, taking 7 for 44 (and a match total of 14 for 90, still the second-best ever by an Australian) as England fell seven runs short.
An obituary for English cricket was run in the newspaper and ‘The Ashes’ was born.
But this was not Spofforth’s only claim to fame. In 1878 he first announced himself and his country as a cricketing force to be reckoned with by taking ten wickets for the match as the touring Australians bowled out the MCC (virtually the England side) twice in a day for a combined total of 52.
Spofforth was also the first bowler to take a Test hat trick, against England at the MCG in 1879.
And he could be a prickly character. Spofforth missed Australia’s first-ever Test match in protest over the selection of Jack Blackham as wicketkeeper over his preferred man Billy Murdoch. His steely glare was considered almost as dangerous as his off-cutter.
(left-arm medium/left-arm orthodox) 14 Tests, 79 wickets at 22.73, best bowling 7 for 34
Highest ICC bowling ranking: 1 (February 1908)
Jack Saunders had a short but notable career for Australia in the early 1900s and his 5.6 wickets per Test is up with the very best. Amazingly his 79 Test wickets are still the most ever by an Australia left-arm spin bowler.
He took five wickets on debut and nine for the match in Sydney in 1902 before being selected for the 1902 Ashes tour. Saunders took 127 wickets at just over 17 for the tour, including 18 in the four Tests.
This included bowling the last batsman Maurice Tate with an arm ball at Manchester with the home side falling only three runs short of victory in one of the closest Test matches in history.
Saunders next toured South Africa, who were just starting in Test cricket, and bamboozled them taking 15 wickets in two Tests at only 11.73. But he struggled at home against England in 1903/04, taking just six wickets in two Tests at nearly 45.
He had better luck when the English next toured Australia in 1907/08, taking five-wicket hauls in each of the last three Tests in the series to take 31 wickets for the series at 23.09.
It was to be Saunders’ last series, and he later moved to New Zealand and coached Wellington. He apparently played for New Zealand (who were not a Test nation at the time), but perhaps his most notable accomplishment as an honorary Kiwi was to persuade a young Clarrie Grimmett to try his luck in Australia so he could play Test cricket.
Saunders was definitely not a batsman, with a Test average of only 2.29.
Next time, we look at the T team. The batting lacks depth but the bowling will be a handful.