The Aussie Test side has long prided itself on being outstanding in the field, setting incredibly high standards with their catching and ground fielding.
There have been some amazing fieldsmen wearing the baggy green since 1970, so I thought it would be fun to put together a team based on normal fielding positions.
The aim of this piece is not to choose the best opener, fast bowler, etc, that’s been pretty well done to death. Rather I wanted to see whether I could come up with a team of cricketers who were outstanding fielders as well.
I’ll use the standard team formula, ie six batsman, a wicketkeeper and four bowlers, but instead of starting with the openers and moving down a batting list, I’ll be nominating players based on-field positions.
My choice goes to the man who was voted into the NSW team of the millennium – Brian Taber.
Taber was dead unlucky with his Test career. Australia were hammered in South Africa and selectors wanted more out of each player with the bat and Taber was not a great batsman.
In his Test debut, he held seven catches and completed a stumping, while across his 16 game career, he completed 60 dismissals. Unfortunately he only managed to average just over 16 with the bat, so a younger guy named Rod Marsh was given his position for the 70/71 Ashes.
Given this is a “best fielding XI”, Taber, in my view, is a clear choice behind the stumps.
Australia has had some brilliant first slip fieldsmen, but none better than Bobby Simpson.
During his 62 Test career, Simpson pouched 110 catches, mostly at slip. He had extraordinary reflexes as the following video highlights.
Equally capable of taking chances off spinners or the quicks, Simpson was a master of this position.
The player at second slip is arguably the best fieldsman Australian cricket has seen. I rate him at number two behind the guy at third slip, but there’s hardly any position where Ricky Ponting couldn’t field.
For this exercise, Ponting is in the slips but was equally brilliant close in on the offside, in the covers or midwicket and his wonderful throwing arm meant batsmen thought twice about taking him on if he ran down a shot, close to the fence.
My favourite fieldsman of all time is Mark Waugh. I’ve never seen a player make the impossible look so incredibly easy. His nonchalance at taking absolute screamers, was breathtaking.
Like Ponting, he was an outstanding close fieldsman and was the equal of anyone in world cricket for hitting the stumps, especially at his favourite backward point position in ODIs.
We only need cast our minds back to last summer to know who should be fielding at fourth slip. Steve Smith’s catch to help dismiss Kane Williamson under lights, off Mitchell Starc, is just one of many outstanding grabs this champion has taken already in his career.
Alan Border is not often regarded as one of the best fieldsmen in the past 50 years, but he’s pulled off some stunning catches and his work at midwicket in one day cricket was outstanding.
He would field at fourth slip to a right hander, with Smith outside him and would be at fifth slip to left handers. He’d also be more than capable of fielding in close, but with Ponting and Waugh in this team, why would he?
It’s difficult to describe the fielding in the 1974/75 Ashes series from Australia. The ball was coming off the bat at amazing speeds yet a guy who looked like he should be in a classroom rather than in the gully, pulled in screamer after screamer. I refer of course to Ashley Mallett.
Mallett looked really not athletic, compared to greyhounds like Ross Edwards and Doug Walters, but I don’t remember a catch getting close to him during that series that he didn’t take and some of the ground he needed to make, just to get a hand on the ball, was quite amazing.
I don’t recall when he first found himself in close, but David Boon made the short leg position his own for most of the 107 Tests he played.
This is a position that requires great courage and this is trait Boon displayed in abundance. It also requires great reflexes and anticipation, which Boon clearly displayed when he helped Shane Warne to a hat-trick.
Pat Cummins is one of the great athletes playing Test cricket. He’s an outstanding fieldsman who can field anywhere from out in the deep, to the covers, mid on etc.
His athleticism was no better on display when he ran out Cheteshwar Pujara two summers ago.
Cover point or leg slip
My next choice for this team might surprise many, but Nathan Lyon has become a quite outstanding fieldsman for Australia.
He’s taken some remarkable catches off his own bowling and has become the “go to” guy when Australia wants a fieldsman at leg slip, but he’s also made himself into an excellent fielder at point, as the following highlight proves.
Deep fine leg/Deep third man
If he’s not bowling to this imposing field, Glenn McGrath would be contributing in the field. He was quick across the outfield for such a big man and he had a terrific throwing arm. He hated other fielders giving away runs off his bowling and it was very rare that he misfielded or gave up unnecessary runs himself.
He also had a very safe pair of hands and was capable of moments of brilliance, like this catch to dismiss Michael Vaughan in Adelaide in 2002.
This side obviously has two spinners because they’re two outstanding fieldsmen. For the purists who like another fast bowler, my choice of fielder has to be Brett Lee.
He’s in the same class of athlete as Pat Cummins, quick over the turf as his bowling would suggest, but equally quick to get to chances, as Chris Cairns found out a few seasons ago.
My best Australian fielding XI in batting order is:
12th man would be Andrew Symonds.
If this team played, it would worth the price of admission, just to watch them field.