This XI might have been England’s best cricket team in generations. It’s a compilation of the best players we’ve seen since we started watching in the 1980s. It’s the side that would have beaten Steve Waugh’s Australians (maybe). If only they’d been born at a similar time so they were at the peak of their powers together.
Of course, if Keith Fletcher was the coach, and they were still playing for their counties the day before a test, it wouldn’t have made much difference. However, these are the cricketers who, more than any others, have won our hearts (and the odd test match) since we started watching cricket in the late 1980s.
1 Graham ‘Zap’ Gooch: Take Terry Alderman out of the equation and you’ve got one of the most successful openers of the modern era. The man with the Frank Zappa moustache scored one of all the all time great hundreds at Headingley in which he memorably carried his bat against Walsh and Ambrose. Gooch’s presence in the XI would inevitably annoy our number three (especially if we put him in charge of our team’s training schedule), but as this is a fictional team we can pretend they’d get on swimmingly.
2 Michael ‘Skipper’ Vaughan (Capt): Our best captain since Brearley, and perhaps England’s most elegant opener of recent times. His average took a knock when he moved down the order, but between 2002 and 2004 he was unstoppable. Scored 900 runs in seven tests against India and Sri Lanka, and became the first batsman for 32 years to score over 600 runs in a test series down under. What’s more, these runs were made against McGrath, Warne and Gillespie at their peak. It was the best I’ve ever seen an England batsman play. Like Gooch, Alastair Cook is breathing down his neck, but Vaughan’s grace at the crease, his superb captaincy skills, not to mention his ability to nail the quickstep and the American smooth, wins him a place in England’s best cricket team.
3 David ‘Lubo’ Gower: During the 1980s the notorious cricket giggle Sticky Wicket always referred to Gower as ‘Lubo’ – a reference to one of his favourite restaurants. Somehow the name summed up his laid back demeanour and charm with the ladies. Gower was a joy to watch. His cover drive was possibly the best ever, and even though he refused to move his feet, one elegant shot made us forget all the times he nicked off behind and looked like a plonker. Like many of the batsmen in this team, he would have scored bucketloads in the current era. Having said that Gower still averaged over 40 comfortably (the benchmark for elite players in those days).
4 Graham ‘The Legend’ Thorpe: England’s best player of spin of the modern era. Thorpie was also a pugnacious stroke-player against pace. Could bat with guts and determination, but also accelerate when needed. Consider this: in his seminal innings against Pakistan in Lahore, Thorpe hit just one boundary. Yet his highest tests score (200no in New Zealand) was the third fastest test double century in history; only Botham and Gilchrist have reached the milestone in less deliveries. It was a shame that injuries and personal problems robbed Thorpe of some of his most productive years. Steve Waugh’s Australians and Murali rated him as one of their toughest opponents.
5 Kevin ‘Peter’ Pietersen: Love him or loathe him, nobody can doubt KP’s pedigree. And that’s why he wins a place this incarnation of England’s best cricket team. Undoubtedly our most entertaining batsman of modern times, KP just oozed talent – and he would have been just as good in previous eras as he is now. The reason? Bowlers frequently don’t get Pietersen out; Pietersen gets Pietersen out. He gets bored; he gets cocky; he annoys us when he doesn’t play for the team. But let’s face it. He’s bloody brilliant. The perfect number five batsman in this XI.
6 Alec ‘Gaffer’ Stewart (Keeper): There were three candidates for this role: Stewart, Matt Prior and Jack Russell. You could make a case for all of them. Russell was probably the best keeper (and certainly the best painter and goalkeeping coach). Prior has improved his keeping and is probably the best keeper-batsman in the world today. However, Stewart was the best batsman of the three – and his keeping was incredibly reliable. People might claim that Stewart was a better player when he opened the batting and didn’t keep, but this misses the context. Stewart’s batting often suffered because he was behind the stumps for two days and frequently didn’t get much of a rest. Think how often the top order used to crumble in the early 90s.There would be no such worries with this team. The Gaffer could put his feet up and enjoy watching Pietersen and Co.
7 Sir Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham: He was Ian Botham. We couldn’t exactly leave him out. The perfect man to bring balance to England’s best cricket team.
8 Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff: Talking of balance, let’s have a bit more of it. We haven’t made this selection on sentiment. Freddie was an outstanding bowler: fast, accurate and lethal against left handers. Heaven knows why he didn’t get more wickets. Every team needs a seamer who bowls a great line and hits the bat hard. Flintoff was brilliant at this. Of course, there were other candidates for his position, but the idea of Freddie coming in to bat at eight, after Botham, was too much to resist. It would be fun watching them bat together.
9 Graeme Swann: His competition for this role was Monty Panesar, but Swann’s batting, personality and yes, his fielding (sorry Monty), get him the nod. Indeed, this selection was a bit of a no brainer really. Which other spinner were we going to pick? Gareth Batty? Eddie Hemmings? Nick Cook? Ian Salisbury? Keith Medlycott? Give us a break.
10 Darren ‘Twinkle Toes’ Gough: My favourite England fast bowler. When selecting this side, I tried to create a balanced seam attack. Flintoff provides the height and accuracy; Botham provides the swing and aggression; Gough provides a nice contast: a genuinely quick skiddy bowler and a brilliant exponent of reverse swing. Goughie also complements the dancing prowess of the XI. Vaughan can manage the ballroom styles, but Goughie can do the salsas and pasodobles.
11 Jimmy Anderson: The thing we love about Jimmy is that he’s very consistent in all conditions. Give him a dead pitch in India or the UAE and he’ll out-think the batsman. Give him and English greentop and he’ll blow them away. He’s also a brilliant fielder – the one thing this team actually lacks (although Thorpe wasn’t bad in his younger days). As statistically our most prolific bowler in history we couldn’t exactly leave Anderson out of England’s best cricket team.
So there we have it. Do you agree? Who would you add? Who would you replace?
Before you add your tuppence worth bear this in mind: this is a test XI (so no ODI or T20 specialists please) based on England teams since the late 1980s (which was the era we discovered cricket); therefore the likes of Hammond, Barrington, Dexter and Compton (Denis, not Nick!) haven’t been considered. It’s still pretty tough to chose though …
After you’ve read this, check out our worst ever England cricket team. If you’re fond of Martin McCague it’s best not to look.