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After 50 years of ODIs, here's a pre-1971 Australian team to beat its best

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20th November, 2020
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The very first one-day international match took place on 5 January 1971, and so will celebrate its 50th anniversary in just a few weeks.

This article names a best possible Australian team from those players who pre-dated the ODI era.

The game took place by accident, rather than design. It replaced the last scheduled day of the 1970-71 Ashes series’ third Test at the MCG, which had been abandoned without a ball bowled. Despite an attendance of 46,006, such matches would not become commonplace for a further decade.

Any vintage team playing an ODI-era one might initially be accorded underdog status because its members wouldn’t boast the resumes of current cricketers. However this side is arguably superior to any that could be drawn from Australia’s 229 representatives in 952 one-day internationals to date.

The players would of course need to adjust to floodlights, white balls, coloured clothing, the DLS and the DRS. It would be challenged by today’s pace quartets and higher fielding standards. On the flip side it would benefit from support staff, sports science, full-time contracts, luxury hotels and air travel.

Its captain and vice-captain are two of Australia’s greatest leaders. Each was ruthless or creative when required. One was the textbook definition of leading by example, whose achievements included winning an Ashes series from 0-2 down. The other captained his country in the most famous series and match of all time, Ashes contests excluded. Neither ever lost a series as leader.

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The side’s batting line-up would enjoy the current era’s power bats, short boundaries, protective equipment, faster outfields, spread-out fielders, fixed innings lengths, flat drop-in pitches protected against the elements, and sixes not being recorded as fives or fours.

Despite having lacked such assistance, six of its members are ranked among the 57 fastest-scoring Test players of all time, ahead of modern ODI stars such as Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Sachin Tendulkar. And while the wicketkeeper-batsman role was unknown in those days, the side’s genuine all-rounders add depth.

In the field, its bowlers would need to adapt to fielding restrictions, over quotas, short spells and the requirement for a fifth bowler. However they would quickly adjust to the ability to win a match without taking ten wickets. The side is filled with bowlers renowned as much for their miserliness as their wicket-taking skills, with economy rates below or near two runs per over. When conditions suited, they could dismiss a team. But if not, then they could engage in what rugby league great Ben Elias would refer to as a “war of nutrition”.

In summary, this team from a bygone era has the skills and experience to defeat any ‘best of the ODI era’ side. The best past Australian players were naturally attacking cricketers. And they did participate regularly in one-day grade matches, albeit not one-fixed-innings-per-side games.

I haven’t named an opposing team, in anticipation of the format’s golden jubilee prompting a flurry of such articles. But a game between two such sides would definitely provide an entertaining and compelling 100 overs of cricket.

Finally, grateful acknowledgements to Crincinfo, Wisden, Charles Davis and Anantha Narayanan for all statistics referenced.

1. Victor Trumper
48 Tests, 1899-1912, 3163 runs at 39.04, eight centuries, strike rate 66-67 runs per 100 balls

Trumper would relish the format given his reported stroke range, ability to score from good deliveries, liking to attack from the first ball of an innings, and distaste for scoring runs when they did not matter. Many expert eyewitnesses rated him the best batsman of the pre-Bradman era, and even superior in many ways to the Don.

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If not for the chronic ill health that ended his life at only 37, he may have achieved even more. The only Australians with higher Test scoring rates are Adam Gilchrist and David Warner. In 2009, Cricinfo named him a member of its best ever Australian team. And in 1963, Neville Cardus named him one of six Cricketers of the Century for Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

victor-trumper-jumping-out

(George Bedlam, National Portrait Gallery)

His fastest sizeable innings as an opener included a century before lunch on the first day at Old Trafford in 1902, 113 from 165 balls against England in Adelaide in 1903-04, and 159 from 158 deliveries against South Africa at the MCG in 1910-11. He could be just as prolific down the order with scores of 185 not out from 245 balls against England at the SCG in 1903-04, 166 in 241 minutes against England at the SCG in 1907-08, and 214 not out from 247 deliveries against South Africa in Adelaide in 1910-11.

And as he would be unlikely to ever face more than 150 deliveries in any limited-over match, it’s worth noting some shorter innings. Against England in 1903-04 at the MCG, he scored 74 from 80 balls in a team total of 122 on an unplayable pitch, and then 88 from 125 deliveries in the return game. And against South Africa in 1910-11, he scored 87 from 85 balls at the MCG and then 74 not out from 100 deliveries at the SCG.

2. Charlie ‘The Governor-General’ Macartney
35 Tests, 1907-1926, 2131 runs at 41.78, seven centuries, strike rate 57-58 runs per 100 balls, 45 wickets at 27.55, economy rate 2.08 runs per over

Macartney was a contemporary of Trumper, and suffered little in comparison. He reportedly sought to always drive each match’s first delivery straight back at the bowler. If not for WWI, which commenced when he was aged 28 and at his peak, his career record would have been greater still.

In 1998, Don Bradman named him in a team of the best Australian players that he had ever seen. And in 1963, Cardus included him in his 19-person shortlist of six Cricketers of the Century.

In 1921, he scored 345 in 232 minutes against Nottinghamshire. In the following week’s Test at Headingley, he scored a century in the first session of the match. Other rapid innings included 137 from 193 balls against South Africa at the SCG in 1910-11, 170 from 227 deliveries against England at the SCG in 1920-21, 116 from 139 balls in Durban in 1921-22, and 151 from 206 deliveries at Headingley in 1926.

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His tight left-arm finger spin was more than useful, with 7-58 and 4-27 at Headingley in 1909 a highlight. He also had few equals as a mid-off fieldsman.

3. Don Bradman (captain)
52 Tests, 1928-1948, 6996 runs at 99.94, 29 centuries, strike rate 61-62 runs per 100 balls

Bradman is the most successful batsman of all time, and the world’s greatest athlete based on level of performance relative to every other person to have played the same sport. If not for WWII, which commenced when he was aged 30 and at his peak, his career record would have been greater still.

Australia's Don Bradman (r) batting

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

He would be the team’s ideal number three batsman due to his ability to bat through a full innings and score quickly without taking risks. He reached a Test half-century in 42 of 80 innings, and then converted 29 of them into three figures. His average innings lasted 164 deliveries, by comparison with those of Victor Trumper (58 balls) and modern batsmen Steve Smith (113), Kane Williamson (98), Virat Kohli (92), Joe Root (88) and David Warner (67). You can’t score runs in the pavilion, as the saying goes.

While he earned a reputation for grinding bowlers down, his scoring rate was higher than other batsmen who were seen as more aggressive. His fastest-scoring Ashes centuries included 244 from 271 balls at the Oval in 1934, 169 from 191 deliveries at the MCG in 1936-37, 102 not out from 135 balls at Lord’s in 1938, and 344 from 448 deliveries at Headingley in 1930. This is despite hitting only six sixes in his entire career, by comparison with Adam Gilchrist (100 sixes), Matthew Hayden (82), Ricky Ponting (73) and David Warner (56 to date).

4. Stan ‘Napper’ McCabe
39 Tests, 1930-1938, 2748 runs at 48.21, six centuries, strike rate 61-62 runs per 100 balls, 36 wickets at 42.86, economy rate 2.47 runs per over

McCabe was a dashing and hard-hitting batsman, and useful medium-pace bowler and fieldsman. He played fast bowling particularly well, and played three of the greatest innings in Australian cricket history. If not for WWII, which commenced when he was aged 28 and at his peak, his career record would have been greater still.

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At the SCG in 1932-33 when aged only 22, he scored 187 not out from 233 balls against the Bodyline attack of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, and in the absence of an ill Bradman. In Johannesburg in 1935-36 he scored 189 not out from 230 deliveries, reportedly prompting opposing captain Herby Wade to appeal against the light for fear of injury to fieldsmen.

And at Trent Bridge in 1938 he scored 232 from 277 balls, from only 300 runs scored while he was at the crease, prompting Bradman to call out to his teammates: “Come and look at this. You will never see the like of this again.”

5. Clem Hill
49 Tests, 1896-1912, 3412 runs at 39.21, seven centuries, strike rate 58-59 runs per 100 balls

The left-handed Hill was a teammate of Trumper and Macartney. Like them, he had a high strike rate even by current standards. Unlike them, he was more orthodox than spectacular. His consistency meant that in addition to seven centuries, he recorded a further 11 eighties and nineties.

He was also an outstanding outfielder best remembered for his running catch at Old Trafford in 1902 to inspire a three-run victory, in the game that had begun with Trumper’s century before lunch.

Hill’s career did feature a number of rapid innings. In Sheffield in 1902, he scored 119 from 130 deliveries. In Johannesburg in 1902-03, he scored 142 from 155 balls. Against South Africa in 1910-11, he scored 191 from 200 balls at the SCG, and 100 from 98 deliveries at the MCG. And against England in Adelaide, he scored 81 in 98 minutes in 1897-98, and 88 from 120 balls in 1903-04.

6. Keith ‘Nugget’ Miller
55 Tests, 1946-1956, 2958 runs at 36.97, seven centuries, 170 wickets at 22.97, economy rate 2.24 runs per over

The charismatic Miller is arguably Australia’s greatest all-rounder. He was a batsman with classical technique, intimidating pace bowler, fine fieldsman and born leader. He was also a fighter pilot and VFL and Victoria footballer, for whom cricket was far from a matter of life or death.

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When the 1948 Invincibles scored 721 runs in a day against Essex, he allowed himself to be bowled by the first delivery that he received. Trumper would have approved, even if Bradman didn’t.

Keith Miller

(Photo by Topical Press/Getty Images)

The most aggressive of his centuries were 141 not out from 198 balls against England in Adelaide in 1946-47, and 137 in 243 minutes in Bridgetown in 1954-55. With the ball, his best innings figures were 7-60 against England at the Gabba in 1946-47. At Lord’s in 1956 when aged 36, he inspired victory with 5-72 and 5-80 from 70.1 overs. He was never hit for six, from any of the 10,461 balls that he delivered in Test cricket.

In 2009, Cricinfo named him in its best ever Australian team. In 2000, the Australian Cricket Board named him in its Team of the Century. In 1998, Bradman named him in a team of the best Australian players that he had ever seen. And in 1963, Cardus included him in his 19-person shortlist of six Cricketers of the Century. If not for WWII, which commenced when he was aged 18 and already a first-class cricketer for Victoria, his career record would have been greater still.

7. Jack Gregory
24 Tests, 1920-1928, 1146 runs at 36.96, two centuries, strike rate 61 runs per 100 balls, 85 wickets at 31.15, economy rate 2.84 runs per over

Gregory was a genuinely-aggressive fast bowler and left-handed batsman, and brilliant fieldsman. His career was delayed by WWI, which commenced when he was aged only 19, and ended by injury at 33.

His century in Johannesburg in 1921-22 is still the fastest in Test history, reaching three figures in 70 minutes and from only 67 balls. He also scored 100 from 115 deliveries against England at the MCG in 1920-21. With the ball, he combined with fellow paceman Ted McDonald to intimidate England during 1920-21 and 1921, with his best innings figures being 7-69 at the MCG and 6-58 at Trent Bridge. In that 1920-21 series he also took a record 15 catches.

8. Richie Benaud (vice-captain)
63 Tests, 1952-1964, 2201 runs at 24.45, three centuries, 248 wickets at 27.03, economy rate 2.10 runs per over

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Benaud batted, fielded and bowled leg spin with flair. In 1998, Bradman named him 12th man for a team of the best Australian players that he had ever seen.

The fastest of his centuries was 121 in 96 minutes in Jamaica in 1954-55. At Lord’s in 1956, he scored 97 from 115 balls to rescue Australia from a perilous 6-112, then took 1-27 from 28 overs in England’s unsuccessful fourth-innings chase. Against the West Indies at the SCG in 1960-61, he delivered 72 consecutive deliveries without conceding a run. His most famous bowling performance was at Old Trafford in 1961 when captain, taking 6-70 to trigger England’s collapse from 1-150 to 201 all out and ensure that Australia retained the Ashes.

Richie Benaud

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

9. Alan ‘The Claw’ Davidson
44 Tests, 1953-1963, 1328 runs at 24.59, highest score 80, 186 wickets at 20.53, economy rate 1.97 runs per over

Davidson was a left-handed batsman, left-arm fast bowler and brilliant fieldsman who would have thrived in the limited-overs era. He made some of his most significant all-round contributions beside Benaud, in what are now recognised as iconic matches.

In the Tied Test in Brisbane in 1960-61, he single-handedly almost secured victory by taking 5-135 and 6-87 with the ball, and scoring 44 and 80. At Old Trafford in 1961, he scored 77 not out to rescue his team from a 177-run first-innings deficit, and took 3-70 and 2-50 to assist Benaud to bowl Australia to victory.

Across three matches in South Africa in 1957-58 he delivered 522 consecutive deliveries without conceding a boundary. Against England at the Gabba in 1958-59 he took 2-30 from 28 eight-ball overs, admittedly with the assistance of Trevor Bailey’s 68 from 427 balls. In Kanpur in 1959-60, he took 5-31 from 20.1 overs and then 7-93 from 57.3 overs.

10. Ray Lindwall
61 Tests, 1946-1960, 1502 runs at 21.15, two centuries, 228 wickets at 23.03, economy rate 2.30 runs per over

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The 1948 Invincibles spearhead Lindwall was noted for his unwavering control and late swing. He also possessed a lethal bouncer and clever slower ball, which would prove useful in ODIs. He bowled 40 per cent of his victims, and formed an unplayable combination with Keith Miller and Bill Johnston. If not for WWII, which only ended when he was 24, his career record would have been greater still.

His most economical bowling returns included 6-20 from 16.1 overs at the Oval in 1948, and 3-32 from 25.2 overs in Kolkata in 1956-57. He was also a useful lower-order batsman with highest scores of 100 from 90 balls against England at the MCG in 1946-47, and 118 in 159 minutes in Bridgetown in 1954-55.

In 2000, the ACB named him in its Team of the Century. In 1999, Bradman named him in a World XI of the best players that he had ever seen. And in 1963, Cardus included him in his 19-person shortlist of six Cricketers of the Century. England opponent John Warr stated that: “if one were granted one last wish in cricket, it would be the sight of Ray Lindwall opening the bowling in a Test match”.

11. Don ‘Deafy’ Tallon
21 Tests, 1946-1953, 394 runs at 17.13, highest score 92, 50 catches, eight stumpings

Tallon is arguably Australia’s finest wicketkeeper, and kept to every bowler named in this team. He was agile and sure-handed with the gloves, and took his most famous catch at the Oval in 1948, left-handed and at full stretch to a genuine leg glance by Len Hutton.

Against England at the MCG in 1946-47 he scored 92 from only 108 balls. His nine first-class centuries included an innings of 146 not out in which the last batsman contributed only nine runs to a partnership of 100 runs in an hour. He will bat last in this side only because of its depth.

If not for WWII, which commenced when he was aged 22, his career record would have been greater still. He played for a Queensland Country XI against England in 1932-33 aged only 16, made his first-class debut the following season at the age of 17, and was considered unlucky to be omitted from the 1938 tour to England. In 1999, Bradman named him wicketkeeper in a World XI of the best players that he had ever seen.

12. Neil Harvey
79 Tests, 1948-1963, 6149 runs at 48.41, 21 centuries

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The left-handed Harvey debuted for Australia at the age of 19, and was a member of the 1948 Invincibles. He became one of his country’s finest batsmen with outstanding temperament, technique and stroke range. In his first 13 Test innings, he scored six centuries. In 2000, the ACB named him in its Team of the Century. And in 1998, Bradman named him in a team of the best Australian players that he had ever seen.

Norm O’Neill and Neil Harvey.

Norm O’Neill (left) and Neil Harvey (right). (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

His fastest centuries were made against South Africa. In 1949-50 he scored 178 from 259 balls in Cape Town, 100 from 131 deliveries in Johannesburg, and 116 from 124 balls in Port Elizabeth. Then in 1952-53 he scored 109 in 155 minutes at the Gabba, 116 in 125 minutes in Adelaide, and 205 from 290 balls at the MCG.

He was also an outstanding fieldsman who effected 11 run-outs in Test cricket. Among Australians, that figure has been exceeded only by Steve Waugh (13) and Ricky Ponting (12), each of whom played more than twice as many matches as Harvey. Four of those dismissals came in a single match, when Australia defeated the West Indies by just one wicket at the MCG in 1951-52. He also took six catches in his final Test, against England at the SCG in 1962-63. He would make an ideal 12th man for this team.

13. Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly
27 Tests, 1932-1946, 144 wickets at 22.59, economy rate 1.94 runs per over

As a journalist, O’Reilly loathed one-day cricket. But if he could be persuaded to make himself available for selection this tall, aggressive medium-fast leg-spinner would be a formidable opponent. His speed through the air would make it difficult to advance down the pitch to him, his bounce and top spin would increase the likelihood of catches, and his wrong’un would deter premeditated strokes.

His most miserly figures included 5-20 from 21 overs in Johannesburg in 1935-36, 5-14 from 12 overs in Wellington in 1935-36 and 4-47 from 40 overs in Durban in 1935-36. Only once did he concede more than three runs per over in a Test innings, when taking 7-189 from 59 overs in a total of 9(dec)-627 at Trent Bridge in 1934. At Headingley in 1938, he bowled 66 consecutive deliveries across three separate spells without conceding a run. It was reported that he never bowled a wide.

In 2009, Cricinfo named him in its best ever Australian team, and also in its second XI to its best ever World XI. In 2000, the ACB named him in its Team of the Century. Also in 2000, Charles Davis ranked him the second best bowler of all time, after SF Barnes. In 1999, Bradman named him in a World XI of the best players that he had ever seen.

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When O’Reilly died in 1992, Bradman stated that he was the greatest bowler that he had ever faced or watched. And in 1963, Cardus included him in his 19-person shortlist of six Cricketers of the Century. If not for WWII, which commenced when he was aged 32 and at his peak, his career record would have been greater still.