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Best Never Ever XI: The greatest Australian cricketers who didn’t play each of the three formats

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Expert
20th December, 2023
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It’s often been said it can be harder to get into the Australian cricket team than it is to get out of it.

The many David Warner critics of recent times will testify to that theory. 

There have been 466 men’s Test cricketers and Lance Morris is the current young gun who is being frustrated by the constant delays in cracking a spot in the first XI after being a squad member for more than 12 months.

In ODI cricket, there have been 243 caps handed out and for the relatively recent T20 format, only 105 players have had the honour of wearing the green and gold/black/grey/whatever other colours they throw into the mix to boost merchandising sales.

If you were picking three squads of all-time Australian players who never got to represent their country in each format, whether they weren’t selected or were born too early, how would you come up with the line-ups? 

Best Never Ever Test XI

Starting off with the best to never play Test cricket, Morris won’t end up on this list – he will likely get his chance at some stage this summer or whenever the Big Three of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc pick up a niggling injury. 

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When it comes to opening batters, Jamie Cox scored the second-most Sheffield Shield runs of all time (10,821) but never got a look-in at Test level because of the likes of Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Matthew Hayden and Matthew Elliott blocking his path while Queenslander Sam Trimble, who represented his state from 1959-76 while amassing 8647 is another who was desperately unlucky not to receive a baggy green cap. 

Australia’s batting coach Michael Di Venuto made a tick under 10,000 runs, mostly alongside Cox for Tasmania, while Jamie Siddons (10,643 at 44.71 for South Australia and Victoria) is another who piled on the runs at first-class level without ever getting a call-up. 

David Hussey played 105 Shield matches, averaging over 45, as well as 108 white-ball matches for Australia, in the middle order while James Hopes is another who was considered a limited overs special in the international arena but 5069 runs and 296 wickets for Queensland proves he was a formidable all-rounder.

When it comes to a wicketkeeper, another stalwart of Victoria and South Australia is widely considered the finest gloveman never to get the nod from the national selectors in Darren Berry. 

As for the bowlers, Adam Zampa deserves a run as the spinner in the Best Ever to Never Test team after taking a combined 247 wickets in ODIs and T20s for Australia. 

Adam Zampa celebrates the wicket of Moeen Ali.

Adam Zampa celebrates the wicket of Moeen Ali. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Now for the pace attack and for sad reasons, Eddie Gilbert is on this list. Considered the fastest bowler Don Bradman ever faced, the Indigenous sporting pioneer’s path to success was blocked by racial barriers of the 1930s. 

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For the other two fast bowlers, Wayne Holdsworth went on the 1993 Ashes tour, took a hat-trick in a county clash and bagged 212 wickets in his first-class career, often operating on a spinner’s paradise at the SCG, so he could have easily been handed a Test cap. 

The other is a swing bowler who was a stalwart for Western Australia throughout the 1980s, played a few ODIs for Australia but had the misfortune of often having state teammate Terry Alderman ahead of him in the pecking order – Ken MacLeay, who notched an even 300 wickets at first-class level.

Best Never Ever ODI XI

This part of the thought exercise meant going back to the pre-ODI era although there was one fairly modern player who snuck onto the list.

Bill Ponsford and Victor Trumper get the nod as openers – both could score swiftly during their halcyon days in the early 1900s. 

Don Bradman has to be in at three – he wasn’t a big hitter but he could also rack up runs in a hurry. His unorthodox technique baffled bowlers in Tests – give him the freedom of the bowling and field restrictions of the limited overs format and he would be even more dominant, if that’s possible.

Don Bradman batting

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

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His protege, Neil Harvey, would slot in nicely in the middle order as another dasher who would have carved boundaries through an ODI infield with ease while Norm O’Neill is a bit of a forgotten player in Australian Test cricket history but with a reputation as a strokemaker and an average north of 45 in 42 Tests, he’d handle the white-ball game with aplomb.

For an all-rounder, the attacking leg-spin and lower-order batting of Richie Benaud would have been well suited to the 50-over format – he watched more matches than pretty much any other player who has walked the planet so he’d be a master tactician as well.

Bert Oldfield gets a run as keeper – he was peerless when it came to stumping batters which is always a handy asset in the ODI arena. A limit on fast bowlers sending down bouncers would also help him settle in with the bat – too soon?

As for the Best Never Ever bowling attack, Bill O’Reilly’s speed through the air and accuracy as a leg-spinner would make his impossible to get away, Fred Spofforth would be a “Demon” in short spells while left-armer Alan Davidson would not only be able to swing the white pill but also add lower-order hitting. 

The only player not from the pre-ODI era in this hypothetical team of champions is the one and only Colin “Funky” Miller. 

29 Dec 2000: Colin Miller of Australia comes in to bowl, in the 4th test match between Australia and the West Indies, played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia. Mandatory Credit: Robert Cianflone/ALLSPORT

Colin “Funky” Miller bowls at Melbourne in 2000. (Photo: Robert Cianflone/ALLSPORT)

A two-for-one bowling option, he could send down a few overs of seam before switching to spin. That would be a great asset to any one-day team.

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Despite a very nice haul of 69 wickets from 18 Tests and another 49 from as many matches in List A one-dayers, he was never given a run in coloured clothing for Australia despite having the hair to match. 

Best Never Ever T20I XI

Speaking of Funky, this is where the selections get to mix and match eras. 

There are a raft of pre-T20 batters who excelled in the ODI arena who would have been millionaires in the IPL era. 

Mark Waugh, David Hookes, Dean Jones, Kim Hughes (using a much heavier bat than the toothpick he used to wield) and Steve Waugh (whether the young all-rounder version or older slog-sweeper) would go ballistic in 20-over contests.

Keith Miller

(Photo by Topical Press/Getty Images)

Then you could have Australia’s greatest ever all-rounder Keith Miller whacking boundaries at six while also chiming into the pace attack. 

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Rod Marsh was a big-hitting keeper before they became the norm while Shane Warne, who retired just before T20Is exploded onto the scene, would have not only reigned supreme with the ball but been ideally suited as skipper. 

Attacking wrist-spinners shine in T20s so Clarrie Grimmett could wreak havoc in combination with Warne after Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson have ruffled more than a few feathers with the new ball.

TestsODIsT20Is
Jamie CoxBill PonsfordMark Waugh
Sam TrimbleVictor TrumperDavid Hookes
Michael Di VenutoDon BradmanDean Jones
Jamie Siddons (c)Neil HarveyKim Hughes
David HusseyNorm O’NeillSteve Waugh
James HopesRichie Benaud (c) Keith Miller
Darren BerryBert OldfieldRod Marsh
Ken MacLeayAlan DavidsonShane Warne (c)
Adam ZampaColin MillerDennis Lillee
Wayne HoldsworthBill O’ReillyJeff Thomson
Eddie GilbertFred SpofforthClarrie Grimmett
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