Watching Mitchell Johnson tear through the English batting line up in their first innings at the Adelaide Oval was one of the most exciting sporting moments I’ve experienced in a long time. My cricket side was batting and I had just played one of the worst innings of my life, yet I kept creeping back into the rooms to see what was happening.
It was extraordinary to see a bowler seemingly scaring opposition batsmen out at Test level. Seeing Stuart Broad standing next to his off stump while his leg stump sat back at an unflattering angle brought particular delight. Cricket is once again a talking point, with people happy to discuss the sport and, most importantly, looking forward to watching the next match.
The last time I remember so many people being all abuzz over what they were seeing I was, interestingly, watching a Test match at the exact same venue. It was after my final match of the 2006 calendar year, and I stayed back at my cricket club for our Christmas Party. Happily, the Perth Test Match was on the TV, and a rather talented wicketkeeper-batsman named Adam Gilchrist was playing the most spectacular innings of his life.
My poor brother Dave was doing the duties behind the bar and I remember him craning his neck to try to see what all the cheering and laughing was about. What was going on was pretty simple, or at least it was for Gilly, as he smashed a century from only 57 balls. The cheering and laughing was about the poor ol’ Poms getting repeatedly lifted over the mid-wicket boundary.
1) Virender Sehwag (India):
- 104 Tests
- 8586 runs
- Average: 49.34
- Strike Rate: 82.23
Credibility comes from consistently being truthful, so I must confess off the top to not particularly liking the Indian cricket side. That said, I always loved watching Virender Sehwag bat. His statistics for Tests played, runs made and average are elite, but it is his strike rate that is extraordinary. He was a plucky, fearless, big hitter who took them on from the get go and never seemed to lose his nerve. He benefited from playing on the small grounds of the subcontinent, but so did those who watched him. His strike rate, at the average, over that period of time is all the more amazing considering he opened the batting.
2) Matthew Hayden (Australia):
- 103 Tests
- 8625 runs
- Average: 50.73
- Strike rate: 60.10
If Matthew Hayden was living in the dark ages, he would have been king. He was a huge chested, hulking, dominating batsman that just loved to get on top of the bowlers. A brilliant cutter, driver and puller of the ball, Hayden took a while to find himself at Test match level, but once he did he was a joy. This may not have been true for opposition fans, who may have viewed his approach as arrogant, but for this Aussie, having Haydos lead the way with lofted drives over mid-off’s head in the first over of a Test was exhilarating.
3) Brian Lara (West Indies):
- 131 Tests
- 11953 runs
- Average: 52.88
- Strike rate: 60.51
Wow, what a batsman. Of all the cricketers I’ve seen, it’s between Lara and Shane Warne for the honour of the player I’d like to watch if I could only choose one. He was the most amazing batsman to watch, with a backlift and follow through that dazzled the eye. He was like tightly wound, coiled, electrified silk set to explode on the ball in an extraordinary display of dazzling power. He hit gaps at will, frustratingly so for opposition captains. Some days it was like he wasn’t on his game, and then other days it was like he had pictures of the cricket gods in compromising positions and they’d granted him the power to do as he wished.
4) Mark Waugh (Australia):
- 128 Tests
- 8029 runs
- Average: 41.81
- Strike rate: 52.27
Mark Waugh is a different kind of cricketer to the other players on this list, who all dominated with size, aggression, power and strength. Junior, as he was called, may not have been the best player in his family, but he was the best at making a very difficult thing look positively easy. When you watched him bat you thought, “Why can’t I clip balls past square leg for four along the ground from outside off stump off fast bowlers?” The answer to the question was, I’m not Mark Waugh. He made bowling look slow, like he had more time than anyone else, and he sometimes went out looking like he was bored and had had enough. He was amazing.
5) Sir Vivian Richards (West Indies):
- 121 Tests
- 8540 runs
- Average: 50.23
- Strike rate: N/A
You could argue that Viv was a bit before my time, but he is the exception I’ll make for my 1991-2 starting period. I grew up on TV images of Viv Richards swaggering out to the crease and effortlessly whalloping balls to or over the boundary and not watching them do so. He was the man that led the all conquering West Indies with charisma you can not teach. A boy growing up in a sports mad house could not help but ask, “Where can I get some of that gum?” or, “Why can’t I be an awesome West Indian like him?” Viv made anything he did look easy and cool. If he had a colostomy bag, we’d all want one. And just looking at his record, he was bloody good at cricket.
6) Kevin Pietersen (South Africa):
- 101 Tests
- 7988 runs
- Average: 47.83
- Strike rate: 62.07
Ok, so I listed him as South African, but I really couldn’t handle the idea of listing an Englishman in the side, particularly while the urn is up for grabs. KP is the only player in this side who is a current, active Test player. He may come across as a complete tool of a bloke, and it may grind the gears of many that he doesn’t play for the country from which he hails, but boy can he play cricket. The only consolation from having him in this side is that it would annoy him to be named at six.
7) Adam Gilchrist (Australia):
- 96 Tests
- 379 catches / 37 stumpings
- 5570 runs
- Average: 47.60
- Strike rate: 81.95
Ok, I can concede that the list is starting to look a little Australia-centric, but how could you possibly leave Gilchrist out? He was not the greatest keeper, but he was more than adequate. What he was though, was the greatest match winning wicket-keeper batsman the world has seen. I don’t believe that another middle order batsman has saved or turned as many Tests so regularly and quickly as Gilchrist. The game would be going one way and then, two hours later he’d taken it another way. If it wasn’t for the much loved Ian Healy being around for most of Gilchrist’s twenties, his record and legacy would have been greater still.
8) Chris Cairns (New Zealand):
- 62 Tests
- 3320 runs @ 33.53 with strike rate of 57.09
- 218 wickets @ 29.40
The son of Lance may stand out in this list a bit, as his record does not quite marry up with the elite crop of cricketers he finds himself amongst. That said, this list is the Exciting XI, and this confident, swaggering Kiwi fits that bill beautifully. Early attitudinal issues and later injuries did restrict him to only 62 Tests, but at his finest he was one of the best and most dynamic allrounders the modern game has seen. I loved watching him play. His pacy, bouncy swing and seam bowling was high quality and his batting could be destructive. Upon retirement, he had the most sixes in Test cricket history. Of the 5 players to have since past him in this statistic (he has 87, Gilly has the most with 100), all have played between 34 and 102 more Tests than him.
9) Wasim Akram (Pakistan):
- 104 Tests
- 2898 runs @ 22.64
- 414 wickets @ 23.62
Wasim Akram did things with the ball at pace that I have not seen anyone else do. Some of the deliveries he sent down were just plain rude. Sure, he could be a big hitting middle to lower order batsman as well, but most of us mere mortal bats would not have had the foggiest idea what to do to his bowling. You don’t need me to describe it, have a look at the video below and see him totally bamboozle poor Michael Slater at Bellerieve in 1995…
10) Shane Warne (Australia):
- 145 Tests
- 708 wickets
- Average: 25.41
Forget the crazy tan and the constant tweets, the celebrity wife and the superstar life, Shane Warne is the finest cricketer I ever saw. From the ball of the century to the other 707 wickets, from start to finish it was exactly 15 years of brilliance. He was a showman, a genius with the ball and without, a local sporting larrikin who just happened to be the greatest leg spin bowler in the world. He was renowned for detesting physical training, yet would bowl all day if he was allowed. In a 3 Test series against Pakistan in 2002/3 in the searing heat of Sharjah, Warne bowled 35% of his team’s overs, taking 27 wickets at 12.66. Below Bradman there is Warne and, like Bradman, there will never be another Warne.
11) Curtly Ambrose (West Indies):
- 98 Tests
- 405 wickets
- Average: 20.99
- Attitude: AWESOME!!!!
I’m totally stuffed if I know how or why Dean Jones stood up to this man; I was terrified from my lounge room. Big Ambrose hated batsman and he loved getting them out or hitting them with the ball. He wasn’t too fussed which of those two things happened, so long as it was one of them. His record is frighteningly good, and he must have been a nightmare to face bowling so quick from such a height. Who could forget him taking 7 for stuff all to tear through Australia at the WACA in 1992/3? I bet there are 11 Aussies who wish they could.
Stiff To Miss:
- Mitchell Johnson: Since he inspired the list, you’d think he should have been in it. I felt like to include him may just have been getting caught up in the moment. I also thought I might have been pushing the Aussie flavour of the list a little too far. If he continues this form for a few more years, Chris Cairns’ possie would be his.
- Andrew Flintoff: He was in consideration at Cairns’ spot as well. He was a big bustling steam train of a bowler who, by most Aussies, is remembered for cleaning up Adam Gilchrist and pretty much everyone else in 2005. The rest of his career never really got off the ground, despite being the England captain, but in that 2005 Ashes series he was phenomenal. In the end, his bowling average was a larger number than his batting average. That is not good for an allrounder.
- Sachin Tendulkar: I have included Sachin in the stiff to miss section because there are about 1 billion Indians who will never read this who would savagely tear me to shreds if they ever found out. The little maestro would be in pretty much every other team compiled, but he never even got close to this one, as while I appreciate his skill, he just seemed efficient and clinical to me, with no pizzazz.
- Ricky Ponting: Ricky was my favourite Aussie batsman. I absolutely adored the way he went about it. His majestic pulls and audacious drives on the up were a joy to watch. When he was going in the mid 2000s he was unstoppable. To achieve that level of unstoppability, however, he had to curtail some of his aggression to “swim between the flags” as he put it. As such, he just missed out.
- Ian Botham: It simply comes back to him being before my time. When I was looking for allrounders for the side, he was clearly the pick of the bunch. I remember stories of him from when I was a boy in the 1980s, but I have no real memories of him myself. I’m pretty glad about that, because I can’t stand the bloke.
Regardless of whether you agree with this team or not, it is a pretty amazing side that would definitely get the fans filling the stadiums. Still, no matter how dazzling and brutal they are, there would surely be a team of tough, dour, nuggetty buggers that would love to get down and dirty against them.
Hmmm, stay tuned for Greg Gibson’s Test Cricket Determined XI.
Follow Greg Gibson on Twitter: @GregGibbo28