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Opinion

Australian cricket's seven best Test XIs

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Roar Guru
28th June, 2021
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Bored on school holidays, I thought I might select tiered all-time Aussie Test XIs.

I didn’t have any specific number of teams in mind, but rather simply selected until I arrived at a dearth of further genuine quality.

No doubt I have missed some players that might have been worthy of at least a mention and feel free to point them out in the comments.

I set myself three parameters. The first is that I decided to keep opening partnerships in tact – at least for the first five XIs. This ruled out pairing Matthew Hayden up with Victor Trumper.

Secondly, middle-order batsman could only be selected in a position that we came to associate with that player. Therefore, for example, I could not have a three to six of Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, Ricky Ponting and Steve Smith because two of these players batted at three, and the other two at four.

Ricky Ponting of Australia works the ball to leg

(James Knowler/Getty Images)

Finally, I wanted to keep famous bowling pairings together, as much as practicable.

I will not discuss every player in every team at length simply because that would make it too long. But, again, that is another benefit of the comments section at the end.

First XI
1. Arthur Morris
2. Victor Trumper
3. Don Bradman (captain)
4. Steve Smith
5. Allan Border (deputy vice-captain)
6. Steve Waugh (vice-captain)
7. Adam Gilchrist
8. Shane Warne
9. Dennis Lillee
10. Jeff Thomson
11. Glenn McGrath

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Second XI
1. Matthew Hayden
2. Justin Langer
3. Ricky Ponting (captain)
4. Greg Chappell (vice-captain)
5. Stan McCabe
6. Keith Miller
7. Ian Healy (deputy vice-captain)
8. Ray Lindwall
9. Pat Cummins
10. Bill O’Reilly
11. Clarrie Grimmett

Morris and Trumper are my only opening combo in the first five XIs who didn’t actually open together. Despite being our greatest ever opening combo, I relegated Hayden and Justin Langer to the second XI to maintain the same top three as during their career with Ricky Ponting at first drop.

Hayden may have been a fractionally superior player to Morris, but if he was as good as a lot of people think he was, then Trumper must have been a superior player to Langer.

Both these teams have outstanding slips cordons of Bradman, Smith, Border, Ponting and Greg Chappell with Steve Waugh and Hayden the two gully fieldsmen in the respective line-ups.

Allan Border

(Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport via Getty Images)

Border and Steve Waugh batted five or six for the large majority of their careers and Stan McCabe, although mainly a number four, did bat five during his immortal unconquered 187 during Bodyline.

Keith Miller being promoted to the second XI enables him to maintain his bowling partnership with Ray Lindwall and we also have the Clarrie Grimmett/Bill O’Reilly partnership. I wanted to pick Pat Cummins in the first XI, but the prospect of having both Lillee and Thomson as well as Warne and McGrath all in the same team was just too mouth-watering.

The first XI has a nice littering of left handers at one, five and seven, while the second XI only has openers of that variety.

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Don’t expect Border to average 50 in this team because his legendary back-to-the-wall grit will rarely be needed. When it is, however, he will not let us down.

The first of the Waugh twins to play Test cricket provides an excellent link between the middle and lower order – throughout his peak 1993-2001 years, the tail usually wagged when Stephen Roger Waugh was at the crease.

Third XI
1. Bill Lawry (deputy vice-captain)
2. Bob Simpson (vice-captain)
3. David Boon
4. Michael Clarke (captain)
5. Mike Hussey
6. Doug Walters
7. Rod Marsh
8. Alan Davidson
9. Graham MacKenzie
10. Craig McDermott
11. Stuart MacGill

Fourth XI
1. Mark Taylor (captain)
2. Michael Slater
3. Ian Chappell (deputy vice-captain)
4. Mark Waugh
5. Neil Harvey
6. Damien Martyn
7. Richie Benaud (vice-captain)
8. Mitchell Johnson
9. Jason Gillespie
10. Don Tallon
11. Josh Hazlewood

It is impossible, really, to split the top threes of these third and fourth line-ups, but I thought it prudent to separate Simpson and Chappell, given their contempt for each other post-retirement.

I am sure Chappell will enjoy batting between Slater and Mark Waugh as he was a big fan of both their batting styles and he was also a fan of Taylor’s leadership.

Both teams have a leftie both opening and at five, and the third XI also has one keeping and consequently batting at seven.

Rodney Marsh

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

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Martyn scored his first five Test tons at number six, and then took a while to find his feet at four after Mark Waugh’s retirement before peeling off eight more in that particular slot, seven of them in a period of little more than 12 months just prior to his horror 2005 Ashes series.

The first four XIs have a class leg spinner and the thirds and fourths also have a class left-arm paceman, something the fifths also have.

I’m not in a position to critically assess Tallon, but Bradman rated him highly, even if his batting stats suggest he wasn’t quite in the Marsh and Healy range with the willow.

Fifth XI
1. David Warner
2. Simon Katich
3. Marnus Labuschagne (deputy vice-captain)
4. Darren Lehmann (vice-captain)
5. Norman O’Neill
6. Stuart Law (captain)
7. Brad Haddin
8. Geoff Lawson
9. Damien Fleming
10. Nathan Lyon
11. Bruce Reid

Sixth XI
1. Bill Woodfull (captain)
2. Bill Brown (vice-captain)
3. Martin Love
4. Jamie Siddons
5. Kim Hughes (deputy vice-captain)
6. Archie Jackson
7. Wally Grout
8. Mitchell Starc
9. Ashley Mallett
10. Terry Alderman
11. Carl Rackemann

Warner only makes the fifths because of his poor overseas record and Katich makes it because he is probably a somewhat underrated player in the who’s who pantheon of Australian batsmen. I don’t know much about Norman O’Neill, but as I understand it, he was Australia’s best middle-order batsman in the very dull decade that was the 1960s.

Bruce Reid doesn’t make a higher XI because of his terrible injury rate – on ability and performances in a limited career, he belongs in a higher team. Lawson was Australia’s premier spearhead for a period of about three years in the early to mid-1980s and Fleming’s career figures would look a lot better if he had the opportunity to play a couple of series in England.

With all our quality leggies gone, Lyon and Mallett come into the mix.

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For the batsmen, I decided it was time to reward some olden-day players who were very good to great in their eras as well as the fringe dwellers who got limited opportunities during that 1990s era of astonishing depth.

Kim Hughes was a fine batsman until his captaincy demise, and Marnus Labuschagne will hopefully challenge the incumbents in the higher teams for their spots over the course of his career that is still in its early childhood.

Marnus Labuschagne

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Seventh XI
1. Bill Ponsford
2. Syd Barnes
3. Jack Fingleton (deputy vice-captain)
4. Dean Jones
5. Andrew Symonds
6. Shane Watson (vice-captain)
7. Tim Paine (captain)
8. Fred Spofforth
9. Hugh Trumble
10. Len Pascoe
11. Rodney Hogg

In the sevenths, expect our reviews to be quickly burnt with two notorious never-out batsmen in Jones and Watson, and of course Paine calling the shots when in the field. However, there really isn’t a better captaincy option. Watson opened and batted at both three and six during his career while Jones batted every slot from three to six. This team does have a particularly long tail with all four bowlers coming from eras of five or six out, all out.

Jack Fingleton was a useful batsman from the 1930s and Barnes had a contextually successful but very short career either side of the Second World War.

Other players to come into contention for this final seventh team include Alan Kippax, a predominantly 1920s player with a similar statistical record to Andrew Symonds. However, Symonds gets the nod because he played in an era of much higher standards and in a much bigger variety of conditions. There is also Symonds’ very useful part-time off-spin bowling, and fieldsmen have never and will never come any better.

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If I was to select an eighth XI, I suppose the opening combo of the Chappell era, Ian Redpath and Keith Stackpole, would be as much a chance as any others. Players such as Graeme Wood had strengths and weaknesses, while Kepler Wessels only made one ton overseas, against minnows of the time Sri Lanka.

Wayne Phillips, from the early to mid-1980s, may well have had a more successful career long term had a specific role been defined for him throughout. He opened the batting, batted at six and also seven, when he had the gloves virtually forced upon him. I have read from at least one reliable source that keeping was not something that he particularly enjoyed.

Finally, a spot could certainly be found for the likes of Paul Reiffel and Max Walker. However, any eighths and ninths teams would feature mainly also-rans, rather than a genuine proliferation of players with even remotely prestigious records.

In all, to this point, there have been 460 Aussie Test cricketers from Charles Bannerman to Will Pucovski, with a surprisingly high number, 25, born overseas. Therefore, to be able to find at least 77 of such high quality speaks volumes for our historical standing in the greatest game there is.

As with Labuschagne, hopefully Pucovski will come into serious contention for a much higher team by career’s end.

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