one thousand

England starts its 1000th cricket Test match later today. Imagine all the joy and despair wrapped up in that unadorned statistic. The media is awash with the experts picking their best ever English Test matches and the fans picking their best ever English team. I remember many of the former but, as one might expect with the latter, there is too much worshipping the cult of the contemporary going on. Here is the fans' team:

Alistair Cook
Len Hutton
David Gower
Kevin Pietersen
Joe Root
Ian Botham
Alan Knott
Graeme Swann
Fred Trueman
James Anderson
Bob Willis

I first started following English cricket - armed with my shelf-load of uniquely fat, but tiny, Playfair Cricket Annuals and my shortwave radio - as a Himalayan lad in the early 1970s, almost 50 years ago. That Playfair Annual served the dual purpose of teaching me English geography. Even today, as I drive through the English counties, I find myself naming their cricket players from the 70s.

"That is ridiculous, Paul - you need to get help for that behavioural disorder." Yes, I know. By the way, that is India's Bishen Singh Bedi on the 1974 cover - playing for Northamptonshire, if I remember correctly.

Out of respect for the fans, I am not going to touch the 'oldies' in the team selected above. Given the chronological snobbery at work in the selection, Hutton, Gower, Botham, Knott, Trueman and Willis must be really good to have made the team. They are. I'd also like to gently remind those fans that the 1950s was the best decade for their cricket team. They won almost 50% of their games, while in the 1980s they won less than 20%. So let's keep the chronological snobbery in check a bit and keep an eye out for some players from the 50s...

OK, let's consider the other selections.

Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen. I love watching Root play, with both his skill and his attitude. With the statistic that matters (average runs scored per innings), he is impressive. No doubt about it. Of those who have batted more than 100 times, he ranks behind only Barrington and the three Hs - Hutton, Hammond and Hobbs. On CricInfo's rankings only three batsmen - Hobbs, Hammond, May - have achieved a higher score. But Root is only 27 years of age, with half his career still to play. That statistic alone keeps him out of the team. With Pietersen? At least he has retired now, but then his career statistics are less impressive than Root's. He ranks only 8th in Test average and comes in 6th on the rankings list. He just isn't good enough to be in the team.

The verdict? Root will probably make the team one day - but for now, with the abundance of talent available, room needs to be found for both Hammond and Barrington in the middle order, with averages more than 10 points higher than Pietersen, while also playing in a more bowler-friendly era!

Alistair Cook and James Anderson. I group these two together for the same reason. While both are undoubtedly skilled in their own ways, the basis of their selection is so closely related to the fact that so many more Test matches are played today and they have been blessed with relatively injury-free careers. They are in the team because Cook is the highest English run-scorer ever and Anderson is the highest English wicket-taker ever. These are not good enough reasons. As openers, both Boycott and Hobbs have higher averages than Cook. But it is the fascination with Anderson that interests me. Of all English bowlers who have taken over 100 wickets, seventeen have a better runs per wicket average than Anderson (27.23). The great fast-swing bowlers are in the 21-24 range. Even if you delete those playing before World War II, when pitch conditions favoured bowlers, Statham, Bedser and Snow are all superior. But it gets worse for Anderson. He needs his own English conditions to perform well, with a very poor 'away' average of 32.50. He can't be in the team for that statistic alone.

The verdict? Mindful of the reverse chronological snobbery which afflicts the "good ol' days" generation and impressed by the sheer weight of runs and wickets, it would be easy to retain both of them. But Anderson can't be in the team for the reasons given and so Statham it is. Brian, not Jason. But I am going to lean, just lean, towards Cook, acknowledging his consistent success as an opener in so many different conditions over so many years. Yikes. Choosing Cook over Hobbs? Hope my Dad isn't reading this post.

Graeme Swann. He is a bit of a joker and this is a joke, right? The best-ever English spinner?! Maybe a fan favourite with that personality of his, but... While his strike rate is very commendable for a spinner, you can't make a best-ever team with an average of 29.97. You just can't. On CricInfo's list of best bowlers, eleven English bowlers have achieved a higher ranking. The cult of the contemporary has won the day with this selection. Where is Underwood (25.83), Lock (25.58) - and what about Laker, with his ridiculous 21.24?

The verdict? Ya just can't go past Laker, I'm afraid.

With a nod towards the contemporary, let's add Joe Root as 12th man for when Barrington pulls his hamstring in the warm-ups.  Here is my team:
Alistair Cook
Len Hutton
David Gower
Walter Hammond
Ken Barrington
Ian Botham
Alan Knott
Brian Statham
Jim Laker
Fred Trueman
Bob Willis
12th man: Joe Root

As a general practice, I don't read stuff on the internet before I write a post. But as I finish I see an article in The Guardian following a similar logic. But I've had too much fun writing this to turn around and delete it. And now, I really should have a go at picking a best-ever Indian team, England's opponents later today.

nice chatting



Bondie said…
No Freddie F? You must be joking ...
Tim Hodge said…
This is a lovely piece to read after waking up to read about England's 1000th test - and, by all accounts, what a match!
Looking forward to the piece on the Indian team selection!
Paul Windsor said…
Sorry, Bondie. You of all people know how much I'd love to put Freddie in there.

And Tim - hoping to catch some good highlights over the next day or so, having returned last night.


Ben Carswell said…
Not enough Yorkshiremen ;)
Paul said…
What other comment could I expect from you?!

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