The All Elegance XI

Pure class. The following XI is unadulterated, yummy, blissful class. I don’t necessarily care how many runs they scored; this is all about how not how many. In fact, I’d rather bank a pretty twenty scored by one of these stylish cricketers than all 7,000 of Steve Smith’s Test runs.

The following players are / were aesthetic delights – elegant players born to enchant and make you purr in admiration. Sure they occasionally made you want to tear your hair out in frustration – mostly because you wanted the show to go on for just a little longer – but they’ll always have a place in folklore as inimitable cricketing artists.

Yes you might scoff at some of the names, and a couple of them were even found wanting at international level, but the important thing here is that they gave us purists joy. And as for the other players, they are indisputable greats – stylish cricketers that not only played like the face of God of a sunny day but also brought back the bacon on numerous occasions. These legendary players not only emptied bars but also drained the opposition’s will. These guys were artists. And the cricket field was their canvass – all 360 degrees of it.

Anyway, I’ve waxed lyrical and drawn from my well of cliches for long enough. It’s time to reveal our all elegance XI (chosen from players since the mid 1980s when we started watching cricket)… may the Lord bless each and every one of them.

1. Saeed Anwar

Openers are supposed to be nuggety, dour, stubborn and resilient. Saeed Anwar said b*ll**ks to all that. His batting was about grace, timing, placement, and flamboyance. Remember England’s failed experiment with Moeen Ali as an opener? Had Moeen succeeded it well might have looked a lot like Saeed in his pomp (albeit not quite as good).

You simply couldn’t take your eyes off this bloke. Yes he’d occasionally slash the ball to gully or 4th slip but overall it was worth it. The fact he averaged over 40 in Test cricket in England, opening the batting with such positivity and flair, shows you just how good his hand / eye coordination was.

2. Michael Vaughan

A somewhat controversial selection, perhaps, but Vaughan was orthodoxy personified. Indeed, his cover drive remains the benchmark by which all emerging players’ cover drives are judged.

Vaughan’s performance down under in 2002-03 remains the outstanding series performance by an England batsman that I’ve ever seen. He picked off one of the best bowling attacks of all time (which included the likes of McGrath, Gillespie, Lee, and Warne) with poise, finesse, and the occasional scintillating pull. People forget that he averaged 45 as a pure opener and over 50 when he wasn’t captain.

3. David Gower

This list of stylish cricketers was never going to be complete without good old Lubo. Gower’s batting was gorgeous and as purists we gorged on every morsel. Yes he was occasionally a bit too loose, but when your best trick – the flamboyant drive through the covers on the up – looks so good why wouldn’t you have a go?

Gower’s batting was so stylish and so nonchalant that he seemed on a different planet to his contemporaries. My aforementioned painting analogy fits Lubo better than anyone else. Batting was his art and every stroke of his bat was like a swish of a master painter’s brush.

4. Brian Lara

The best batsman of the modern era in my opinion. Yes one could make a fantastic case for Sir Viv or Sachin but Lara wins any tie-break on pure aesthetics. Lara’s exaggerated back-lift, full follow through, dancing feet, and remarkably fast hands were quite simply a joy. He did everything with panache.

The Windies have had so many stylish batsmen but Lara tops the list (in my humble opinion) because he starred in relatively weak teams and had little support. I loved watching him so much that I was desperate to call my daughter Lara. Sadly my pleas fell on deaf ears and my wife, who has a lot more taste than me to be honest, resisted.

5. Mark Waugh

I didn’t like Mark Waugh. He was the archetypal gum-chewing Aussie who obviously had no respect for the Poms whatsoever. And who can blame him when we put out attacks like Bicknell, Ilott, Such and Emburey (like we did at Edgbaston in 1993)? Waugh responded with 137 and an unbeaten 62. I swear no batsman has ever made batting in a Test match looks so easy.

Despite rubbing England supporters up the wrong way, Waugh was impossible to hate because his batting was beyond dreamy. He wielded the willow with such natural fluency that every run seemed to tell bowlers “you sweat if you want; this is no sweat for me”.

6 Vikram Solanki

Although Vikram never quite cracked it at international level – he got too anxious and was moved all over the batting order – his pure natural talent was undeniable. No player on the county circuit has given me more joy and therefore he makes the list as one of TFT’s most stylish cricketers.

Solanki’s back-lift was high (almost like a right-handed Lara), and his wrists were reminiscent of Mohammad Azharruddin (who almost made this team). His driving was debonair, he flicked the ball through the leg-side effortlessly, and he cut and pulled the ball as if wielding a rapier.

I’ll never know how Vik managed to score so many runs with such a flamboyant technique in English conditions – particularly at New Road which is never easy. Had he carved out a career in India (where he was born) he might well have played several Test matches. I often wonder whether he might have played Test cricket for England (thus adding to his 51 ODIs) had he moved to The Oval a few years earlier when he was at his peak.

7. Quinton de Kock (keeper)

Name a wicket-keeper batsman more compelling than de Kock? Some might say Adam Gilchrist, of course, but Gilly was more of a bludgeoner and a bully (a ‘hitter’ if you like). Quinton is just as dangerous and destructive but executes the bowlers with a certain elan.

There’s something about attacking batsmen-keepers. So many were inherently stylish cricketers. I might have opted for a graceful gloveman (a pure keeper) like Bob Taylor but this kind of cricketer is sadly a dying breed; therefore it was slim pickings. Still, I don’t think the galleries would object too much to de Kock’s inclusion here.

8. Wasim Akram

How does one define an ‘elegant’ bowler? It’s a trickier exercise than identifying stylish batsmen. In this instance I’ve gone for either natural athletes or simply ‘natural bowlers’ – guys who looked like they were born to bowl.

Wasim has to come top of this list. His action was so uncomplicated and he possessed all the tricks in the book. He was quick when he wanted to be too. Whereas the likes of Shoaib Akhtar had to sprint to the crease and put absolutely everything into every delivery, Wasim jogged in off a considerably shorter run and let his naturally fast arm do the talking. Spellbindingly brilliant.

9. Malcolm Marshall

The greatest fast bowler of all time? Ok, some purists might argue that he was a little too open chested to be strictly elegant, but would you say that to his face when he was in his pomp? You’d end up looking like Mike Gatting after he was smashed in the nose by a Marshall bouncer.

Malcolm was a phenomenon pure and simple. His quick feet sped to the wicket, his arm was a whirlwind, and he somehow managed to swing the ball out (as well as in) despite his open chest and angled approach. Basically he was a genius.

10. Shane Warne (capt)

Forget the beach bum stuff. Forget the bleached blonde hair and the occasionally eccentric behaviour. Just think, purely, about Warne the bowler. Has there ever been a better leg-spinner or one who executed his craft so adeptly?

Bowling leggies is a complicated craft but Warnie made it look so simple. He took just a few steps to the crease, from an orthodox approach, and the ball came out fizzing out of his hand like a bouncing bomb. His variations were utterly beguiling and he made the world fall in love with leg-spin again. If kids all over the world want to bowl like you then you’re clearly doing something special.

11. Allan Donald

White lightning. Allan Donald was the quintessential nasty fast bowler. He was all brawn and aggression. But he also had a fantastic action. He bound to the wicket (feet thudding as he accelerated towards the umpire) he leapt in the air athletically (arms coiled like a cobra ready to attack), and then unleashed thunderbolt after thunderbolt with a violent follow through that sometimes took him three-quarters the way down the wicket – right into the batsman’s eye-line and easily close enough to have a ‘private word’ or two.

I first saw Donald bowl live at New Road before South Africa’s readmission. The Warwickshire keeper, Keith Piper, was standing closer to the sight-screen than the wicket. I’ll never forget the thud the ball made when it hit his gloves.

12th Man. Moeen Ali

Everyone loves Mo. Why? Because he’s an entertainer and one of the most stylish cricketers in the world. There’s always something happening when he’s at the wicket. This might occasionally involve the ball crashing into his stumps, catching practice for the slips, or an ill-advised hook that falls into the lap of long leg. However, it often ends with one of the most captivating half-centuries you’ll ever see in a Test match. After all Mo has scored 14 of these (not to mention his five hundreds).

If the word ‘languid’ wasn’t invented for David Gower then it must have been invented for Moeen. His driving through the off-side, often on the up with that high back-lift, is pure poetry. Will we ever see him in an England Test match again? The pragmatist in me says no but my heart says ‘yes yes, yes’.

Who would you nominate for your all-elegance XI? There are so many stylish cricketers to choose from.

James Morgan

69 comments

  • If you wanted flair but not necessarily success, where oh where is the king of the pretty little fifty, IR Bell?

  • I’m really pleased that you included Mark Waugh, James – I always enjoyed watching him bat. I agree that the Vaughan cover drive was the most elegant I’ve ever seen, too.
    I can’t accept Gower, though. My abiding memory of his batting is him standing flat-footed and squirting the ball to gully …. time and time again!

  • Only a bit of fun of course, David Gower can’t possibly be in the Modern Era can he? He played his last Test was in 1992! Half the England team wasn’t born.

  • Alan Donald? Elegant? He’d probably punch your lights out for suggesting it.

    “How does one define an ‘elegant’ bowler?” Simple. Michael Holding. End of.

    • Yes! I don’t think you’re being quite consistent with this team James–the batsmen are elegant and the bowlers excellent…but not necessarily stylish.

      Akram? Not a chance for me–too windmilly and too much activity somehow; if you’re going to have a Pakistani fast bowler surely it has to be Shoaib Akhtar. Holding should be no.1 on the list for any stylish fast bowler–though I’d be happy with Marshall alongside him. Lillee would be a good shout too–as would John Lever (also a wonderfully stylish outfielder!)

      And isn’t a stylish keeper-batsman cheating a bit–isn’t that actually a stylish batsman who keeps wicket? Surely you want a stylish keeper, and surely you can’t look further than Jack Russell, the man who got a Cup Final MoM award essentially for his virtuosity and his appealing, having scored a duck?

      But seriously–no Colin Dredge…?! (Only joking…) WHich makes me think–maybe you could put together a styleless XI for them to play against: Lance Cairns, Paul Adams, Chanderpaul….

  • I know this is all about opinions, but Michael “listen to me” Vaughan instead of Virender Sehwag? That’s like selecting Tony Adams in front of Bobby Moore for most stylish Centre Back!

    • Sehwag was entertaining but I wouldn’t say elegant imho. Obviously this is an extremely subjective exercise though :-)

  • James
    Most of this selection are reasonably modern in terms of cricket years, however, for those with longer memories or old farts, I must add PBH (May, for those not in the know) and Tom Graveney. As for bowlers, I agree that Warne was exceptional but other leggies should not be forgotten-Richie & Abdul Qadir, who reinvigorated leg spin. Also, surely Michael Holding’s action was elegant.

    I’m sure many others will come up with further suggestions which I wait with bated breath.

    • If we are going back to the 50s and 60s the most elegant of the lot was Bob Barber who made David Gower look like a cricketing navvy. Shame the end result never matched the style.

      • Nobody could possibly make Gower look navy like and I was a warwickshire man who saw a deal of Barber, but he never made that indelible an impression on me. I still say right from the word go as a 17 year old Gower is the only batsman I have ever watched who made the match situation irrelevant. The world seemed to stand still while he was waving his magic wand. King Viv was the only one who ran him close for me, but Viv’s sheer dominance took a lot of the charm away. You watched Gower for the sheer artistry of his movements. His technical vulnerability only increased your desire to make the most of every minute he spent at the crease. Even his running between the wickets and the way he lent on his bat as the non striker seemed to encapsulate a bygone era. He would have fitted perfectly into that Edwardian unfolding of the modern game.

  • I think you have done good job here, although of course there are plenty of options (Martin Crowe and “King Viv” come to my mind among batters who were a joy to watch even when it was your bowlers who were being put to the sword). Yesterday, inspired by a line on the morning’s BBL commentary I put together a “franchise squad” made up exclusively of players from before the T20 era: https://aspi.blog/2020/01/13/franchise-squad-from-the-before-the-white-ball-era/.

  • It maybe before your time, but the likes of Cowdrey, Graveney and Lord Ted come to mind with no apparant hurry to their strokemaking and certainly Edmunds and Emburey as your spinners, both with a short run and smooth delivery, infact Edmunds almost walked to the wicket and then there’s Snow, surely the most languid of quickies, loping to the wicket before exploding in delivery stride, but the prize for most elegant of all fast bowlers should go to Holding, who always looked out for Sunday afternoon run.
    How about an ugly X1 as well.

    • The best case for Colin Cowdrey’s inclusion comes from his impeccably elegant manners. Who else would insist on introducing himself to Jeff Thomson before facing him in a test. Perhaps the only competition would be Mike Smith, an England skipper so laid back that he took his family on tour to Australia when skipper, and left his toddler being looked after in the changing room whilst he went out to bat.

  • I like all those included but some of the selections are just plain bizarre in the face of better alternatives. How on earth can anyone select Waugh (or Vaughan) over the immaculate stylist that was Zaheer Abbas? Even when he got out it was usually due to an otherwise beautiful stroke. And surely no one can argue with the point already made by another poster – the omission of Michael Holding – Whispering Death, the best athlete ever to choose fast bowling over other sports?

    On the suggestion of an ‘ugly XI’, can I open the bidding by suggesting Inzaman Ul Haq as skipper? He deserves the role purely on the grounds of his famous hit wicket dismissal when he attempted to sweep, lost balance and demolished the stumps attempting to get his leg over. Great player, and an even greater entertainer.

    • In the ‘Ugly XI’ I’d have Colin Croft, Andre Nel and Paul Adams in the bowling attack and Kamran ‘Cymbals’ Akmal with the gauntlets.

  • Greg Chappell would be one on my list for lazy, ridiculously easy cover drives. Tres too would be up there at his elegant best.. At his Dale Steyn – of course!

    • I agree. He’s a glaring omission for me. With the possible exception of Gower, the most stylish and elegant batsman I saw.

  • Oh, the folly of youth. When it comes to elegance Jamaica wins hands down…Holding with the ball and Yagga, Lawrence Rowe, with the bat. By far the most elegant
    purveyors of their respective trade.

  • Victor Trumper?! Seriously, though, I loved watching Ian Bell and Viv was so relaxed he might as well have been seated at the crease. What about batsmen with the ugliest technique?

    • Late Dennis Amiss, when he took to a batting stance which had him facing the square leg umpire was a very strange, if successful, technique.

      • Once played in a double wicket competition for Amiss’s benefit, and sat next to him in the changing room, so got chance to wield his bat. I was only a teenager but had trouble keeping it in the air on the backlift. Mark you he did have arms like tree trunks, so I suppose that helped him play with that hunk.
        There were 6 pairs as 6 county players teamed up with 6 of our best for 3 overs each and we lost over 4 boxes of balls that evening with high fences surrounding an albeit fairly small ground.

    • That famous photo of Trumper advancing down the wicket is one of the great images of the game.
      Graham Dilley had a similarly impressive photo in the cricketer magazine, where he appeared in delivery stride to be balancing his entire weight on his big toe. A great pose from a pretty ugly bowler.

  • Shout out to Ian Bell, but if Damien Martyn isn’t the first player on this list then it’s not fit for purpose.

  • I need to clarify something. I’ve only watched cricket since the late 1980s therefore the likes of Holding, Rowe etc were before my time. I did consider including Holding anyway, as he’s such an obvious choice, but I felt it would be cheating if I hadn’t actually seen him in the flesh. All the others I’ve seen live.

    • Michael Holding nearly killed my daughter! We’d gone to Rishton to see him play in a Lancashire League match against Ramtenstall (? – Andy Roberts was playing, anyway). He didn’t do much with the ball, but scored a rapid 70 or 80, including a six that I would have caught if I hadn’t a babe in arms – honest!. I took evasive action instead…

      • I think the Lancashire league team was Rawtenstall, for whom many decades ago S F Barnes, considered by many cricket historians to have been the greatest of all bowlers (189 wickets in 27 test matches, at an average of 16.53) plied his trade.

    • Saw Holding bowling in the outdoor nets before a test once without any run up, just turning his arm over standing square on at the wicket to flex his back, which was troubling him at the time. It was still pretty frightening as the net bulged head high off a decent length.

  • What about Azharuddin and Laxman. Two beautiful batsmen to watch.
    Holding is an obvious omission as others have pointed out.
    I’d probably have Bishen Bedi as my spinner. More graceful than Warne in his bowling action.
    As for wicket keeper maybe Dujon would be my choice.
    A good read though.

    • Laxman and Carl Hooper would’ve made the team if I hadn’t gone all sentimental over Moeen. Dijon is a superb shout as keeper. Didn’t even think of him, although I was keen to include at least one player still playing in the XI. De Kock is the only one!

  • It’s like you were sent by the devil to tempt the self employed.
    Vaughan, Gavaskar, Gower, Abbas, Bell, Sobers, Holding, Lilee (pre back injury),Qadir, Taylor (wk), Panesar. 12th man Mohammad Asif.

  • Whilst I appreciated Solanki’s elegance his ability to give his wicket away precludes him.
    My XI: Glenn Turner, Ian Bell, Brian Lara, David Gower, Tom Graveney, Gary Sobers, Shakib Al Hasan,
    Alan Knott, Rtchie Benaud, Dennis Lillee, Michael Holding. 12th man Moeen Ali.

  • Some excellent choices – well done with Saeed.

    If we are talking elegance – I would replace Warne with the immaculate Kumble (who also mastered that Warne-era Australian batting side, in Australia as well as at home).

  • Many have beaten me to it but Holding instead of Marshall. I’d take Lillee or Hadlee over Donald too – just look at Hadlee off a short run. And Martin Crowe over Solanki – Crowe didn’t just wave his bat in a stylish fashion but also connected with the ball. Vaughan’s cover drive was a distance behind Crowe’s.

      • I remember seeing his final Test innings at Lord’s which was a wonderful valedictory cameo. He turned one ball off his hip for four so elegantly I would have included him on the basis of that one shot alone !!!

  • As difficult as it is you cannot omit Sobers or Gooch. Moen Ali? Really? No way.
    What about a pre 1960s 11:
    Peter May (captain), Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond, Don Bradman, Percy Fender, W.G. Grace, Godfey Evans (wicket), George Lohmann, The “Demon” Spoforth, Hedley Verity, Brian Statham. 12th man: George Hirst

    • From the film I’ve seen, I wouldn’t rate Statham as particularly elegant – he looked inside his leading arm (like Marshall). Ted McDonald had a reputation as an elegant fast bowler (or how about Learie Constantine?). Colin Blythe might oust Verity as the spinner.

      I’d have Dennis Compton and Ranji in the batting (for Fender and Bradman/Grace).

    • Difficult to decide without seeing players, but I recall seeing Tom Cartwright bowl in the 60s, and he started in 1950 so he qualifies. He had the most effortless delivery I have ever seen and, when I saw him captain Old England in the late 90s his action had not changed at all.

  • First on my list would be the junior Waugh. He was the reason I became a member at Essex CCC, just to spend the summers watching him bat.

  • I think you cannot leave Colin Cowdrey out of an elegance eleven. And also what about two South African brothers – Graham Pollock as a batsman, and Peter Pollock as a fast bowler. Colin Bland too but for his fielding.

    • If you’re going back that far, what about Barrie Richards. He was a cut above everyone else of his, and most other, eras and always seemed to have so much time to play the ball even against genuine pace.

      • Saw Richards and Greenisge hit over 200 in a session at Edgbaston against a far from inept Warwick attack, including Steve Rouse, David Brown and Eddie Hemings, albeit with a short boundary on one side, which was carefully netted for the safety of the members. Despite their totally different styles both batsmen reached hundreds before lunch, Greenidge repeatedly hitting the short boundary and Richards going for the wide open spaces on the other side. It made for some interesting field settings.

  • Greg Chappell, Martin Kent, Robbie Kerr, Stuart Law, Martin Love – all Australian test players, elegance personified. I bet none of you have heard of most them, but they were artists.

    • Heard of and saw all of them, thank you very much. Stuart Law was probably along with Vince van der Bijl the unluckiest player in terms of Test caps in my viewing history (since 1975).

      I’d throw in Wayne Phillips as well (until he was ruined by being made to keep wicket as well).

      • Stuart Law was a great player – I saw him mostly playing for Lancashire – and he seems to be a good coach, but elegant?; I don’t think so.

      • I know what you mean about Law but I have always thought Amiss was the most unlucky. He may have got 50 caps but was repeatedly dropped for Boycott (usually) or Edrich and occasionally others despite averaging over 46 in tests against some of the best attacks ever – the mid70s Windies with Roberts and Holding, Hall/Griffith/Sobers for the 60s Windies and Thomson/Lillee (to say nothing of the Indian spinners Bedi/Venkat and Chandra). He should have had over 100 caps but for the inexplicable devotion to Boycott, whose average was almost identical but who never played for the team and abandoned it for 3 years.

  • I’d have Holding and Lillee for Marshall and Wasim. Wasim has a true great but not especially elegant (the angles his legs pointed at!). I also wouldn’t rate Warne elegant and would go for Bedi (or even Edmonds).

    I never shared all the love for Mark Waugh (and that’s not including that he’s a truly awful commentator). Damien Martyn would be a decent call but I’d go for Mahela Jayawardene or Martin Crowe.

    If the No.6 berth is reserved for a county favourite as someone halfway between Hampshire and Sussex, I’d have in Trevor Jesty or Paul Parker.

    • On pure beauty of action (rather than results) I would have Pat Pocock as my spinner. The approach to the wicket and delivery action were perfection. Shame it tended not to turn!

  • I thought Bell and Sachin would’ve been obvious choices

    And slightly disappointed on the complete exclusion of Jimmy

  • Any list of artistic elegant players without Ian Bell is not worth glancing at. Solanki? Seriously James I don’t think aesthetics is your department. That omission alone means that your judgement needs a little education. Recently the ECB decided to put a video together of Bell’s 235 against India. It is a showcase of beautiful stroke play including the famous cover drive. There are other wonderful innings on YouTube. The commentaries are revealing. I remember one hard won century in 2013 Ashes when Bell celebrated his ton with a spectacular cover drive. “That’s poetry” said Bumble. It’s that eye for poetry rather than the back lift which sets the purist fan apart. Sorry James, not your bag.

  • I am surprised at the absence of Chris Tavare. Surely an ability to play an innings of several hours with barely any movement (at least between stumps) is the ultimate in minimalist cricket aesthetics?

  • Well done James, a very good list but I would have Frank Hayes of Lancashire (his cover drive was a thing of rare beauty) in for Solanki and ‘Whispering Death’ Michael Holding for Malcolm Marshall.

  • Surprised Carl Hooper doesn’t find a place here. Also, I am sure if this exercise is undertaken again in two years time, Babar Azam will definitely feature.
    Michael Holding has to find a place. He is a shoo in.

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