It was my tenth wedding anniversary at the weekend, so my Mrs and I took a trip down memory lane and stayed at the hotel where we got married. “That’s all very well” you might say “but on earth has this got to do with cricket”? It’s because the one thing I controlled at the wedding (us blokes are usually allowed one thing) was the table plan design for the wedding breakfast. And being a certified cricket tragic I named the tables after players. My theme was “England’s best all time XI” although in reality it was the best XI since I started watching cricket circa 1986. I decided I could only judge players I’d seen with my own eyes.
As I was sitting with a beer waiting for my wife to do her hair – being as bald as a coot I don’t have that problem – I decided to reflect on my XI and consider how much it would’ve changed over the last ten years. Which recent players would force their way into the squad of 13 and who would make way? Overall, I decided that I’d make just three changes. See if you can guess who they are …
My original squad selected in May 2008:
Reserves – Mike Atherton, Jack Russell
It’s important to note that I selected each player based on what he was like at his peak (pre-injuries etc). Michael Vaughan was therefore selected on the basis of that golden period he enjoyed just before he became captain. I still maintain that his performance down under in the 2002/03 Ashes was the best I’ve ever seen an England player bat. He absolutely destroyed the likes of McGrath, Gillespie and Warne at their peak. Similarly, I chose Angus Fraser because he was one hell of a bowler before his hip injury cost him that ‘nip’.
I said above that I’d make 3 replacements to my marital squad. However, only two of these would be dead certs to make the starting XI. And I think they’re obvious choices: Graeme Swann would come in for Monty and Jimmy Anderson would replace Gus in the bowling attack. I’ve been more and more impressed with Anderson over the years and after taking 500+ test wickets in an era when bats are thicker, pitches seem flatter, and batting averages are higher, I think Jimmy has clearly earned his stripes.
The final change, and I haven’t decided whether he’d make the final XI yet, is Joe Root for Mike Atherton. I rate Root highly but is he better than Gower, Thorpe, and Pietersen? Hmmm. It’s pretty close. The first two scored their runs against some formidable opponents and KP was the closest thing we’ve had to a genius. Root is clearly bloody good, and he might in time surpass the gnarled old pros currently clinging to their places, but for now he’ll have to wait patiently on the bench.
The other recent contenders I seriously considered were Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad. In the end, however, I decided that although Cook’s longevity is seriously impressive, he doesn’t quite have the technique (nor the performances against top class pace attacks) to thrive at an ‘all-time XI’ level. I’d seriously worry about his ability to deal with Lillee and Thompson, for example, if my team ever came up against an historic Aussie team. Ahem.
When it comes to Broady, again I just don’t think he’s quite up there. He’s been an excellent servant to English cricket, and he’s obviously rampant when he gets into one of his match-winning spells, but there have also been times when he’s operated around 82 mph and looked pretty toothless. Personally, I feel that a pace attack of Gough, Jimmy, Beefy, and Freddie covers most bases and this quartet is more likely to make things happen on flat pitches.
My current squad – and I think this will be fun to update over the years – is therefore as follows:
2. Vaughan (capt)
6. Stewart (wk)
Reserves: Root, Russell.
I’d be interested to know what you all make of my team. I guess some of you might want to use the second reserve spot to include a personal favourite. However, I’ve stuck with Jack Russell because he gave me so much pleasure over the years. His batting was quirky and combative (albeit nowhere near in the same class as someone like Matt Prior) but I can’t remember him dropping many catches, and I think it’s important to have a pure keeper in the squad. Snaffling chances is absolutely vital at an ‘all-time XI’ level. You don’t want to give the likes of Sir Viv and Lara second lives!