There is nothing quite like the Ashes. And what follows, friends, is nothing like it either. Time watching cricket is never wasted, as you know, so drawing on the rich history of the game, I’ve concocted 50 teams of genuine international players and arranged them into proper teams: with one twist. They are selected according to their names. It’s absurd, yes. That’s why I called it Cricket’s Craziest Teams.
Below, especially for James and The Full Toss, is a starter guide to the teams, but this XI is made up of players in the present series who will explain for you what the idea is all about. OK, let’s go.
Number one: David Warner.
Warner opens for the Hotels and Resorts XI, alongside Hilton Cartwright, a plush combination who will settle in nicely and test the covers. Ian Bell is in that team to keep the boundaries ringing up – yes, he’s a good four-poster. This team makes it through to tea but falls around in the final session after having too many cocktails.
Number two: Rory Burns.
Rory is on my cover putting out a fire. He’s already chalked up a ‘Crispy Fried Duck’ and Rory opens for my Illnesses and Ailments XI, which is a team for our times. Tim Paine features in this as the ‘keeper, as does Kiwi all-rounder Ted Badcock and Indian seamer R Surti. We will not enquire too deeply into their conditions. If you catch Flooi du Toit (South Africa, 1892, left arm medium) you could end up Ron Gaunt (Australia 1960s, right arm fast). They would not let either past the check-in at Perth.
Number three: Dawid Malan.
Malan, sounding like Milan, is a slight cheat but a critical part of my International XI. The European force is strong with this team, because they encompass Lee Germon (NZ, 95-97) and Bruce French (Eng, 86-88). Doing his suspect valleys accent is Courtney Walsh (WI, 1984-2001) who holds the Test records for ducks, something Rory has his eye on albeit from the opposite end of the batting order. Moving south, Chris Jordan and Ronnie Irani are clearly going to be next to each other. When watching this team, feel free to give your Bucharest.
Number four: Steven Smith.
Everybody knows how much Smith stands out as a player. Well, not any more. Because he’s one of 11 Smiths now. This team of Smiths is led by South African Graeme, and includes ‘The Judge’, Robin, alongside the historical C Aubrey Smith (Eng, 1888-89) who is the only player to captain the only Test they played. He emigrated to Hollywood, starred in the Prisoner of Zenda, organised cricket there for the likes of David Niven, and was once accidentally pronounced dead. That’s enough foe one lifetime, or two, depending how you count. This team was selected by my friend Ed Smith, who was not good enough to play for it.
Number five: Joe Root.
Joe had to defer to Smith on his favoured place in the order and he represents my Trees XI, which is opened by recent Indian coach, Ravi Shastri. This is one of the more poplar teams. I don’t know why, but they didn’t want to play in the Ashes. The wicket-keeper is West Indian Carlton Baugh (WI, 2003-12). One or two players got left out and are still pining about it.
Number six: Travis Head.
Happy days when the headline read: Woakes Traps Head. After I’d realised it wasn’t a terrible injury, I put Head in my Body Parts XI, which also stars Janardan Navle (India, 1932-33) Doug Insole (Eng, 1950-57) Archibald Palm (SA, 1927-28) and Gavin Tonge (WI, 2009). I included Pakistani Aftab Baloch despite medical advice. I could not find a place in this team for Gladstone Small because I didn’t want to stick my neck out.
Number seven: Jos Buttler.
Jos is a batsman only for the Restaurant XI which re-unites him with Alastair Cook (“chef”). Cook opens alongside Jack Hobbs (Eng, 1907-30) – what a combination that would be for ultimate Fantasy cricketists. There’s Butcher (Basil, WI, 1958-69) and Baker (Lionel, WI, 2008-09) but no candle-stick maker, only Graeme Cremer (Zim, 2005-18) who would feed nicely Richard Spooner (Eng, 1951-55) our wicket-keeper. This team will always play well: they don’t want to be panned.
Number eight: Chris Woakes.
Ah, now, here’s the thing. What possible theme could Woakes represent? He’s in my Rhyming XI. We all know Stokes, Woakes and Foakes, and of course, the classic Lillee, Willey and Dilley, but do you remember Brookes, Hookes and Crookes? (WI, Aus, SA.) Or Wood and Studd? (Aus, Eng.) Well now you do, and voila, or viola, if you’re musical.
Number nine: Mitchell Starch.
Starch is bound to bowl a few stiffeners at the opposition so he’s in my Household XI. Joined by Aussie John Dyson, and if you listen closely through the dressing room wall, you can just hear him going over a few things. Delighted to say women form part of many teams, so welcome to Lorna Kettles, Aussie seamer in the 1930s when the first women’s Ashes Tests were played. Commentator Rob Key is in this XI too. If you remember, he could sometimes have trouble turning.
Number ten: Josh Hazlewood.
Hazel almost made it into the Colourful XI, which could feature Cameron Green too of course, alongside the likes of Ian Redpath (Aus, 1964-76) and Gordon Greenidge (WI, 1974-91). It was good to get Scotsman Dougie Brown into this team (1997-2007) and Jade Dernbach (Eng, 2011-14) whose mother was surely expecting a girl? There are no eligible players called Pink, but you can guess how tickled I’d have been to include one.
Number eleven: Jack Leach.
Leach isn’t in the book, but he’s in a team for my next volume – the Medieval XI which may well feature the likes of Nick Knight and would warm the heart of the late Roy Castle. Or he might appear in my Medical XI which would probably have Ian Ward in it. So many decisions.
There’s 50 teams, all equally bonkers, together with unique cartoons, stories and stats, all completely true but scarcely believable. On the cover, Moeen Ali, cutting the grass for the Gardening XI, alongside Rory, who, let’s face it, is going to need a laugh.
Mark Slattery, author, Cricket’s Craziest Teams, available from Amazon.