To close out 2013 I compiled a team of my most exciting players to have compiled an elite Test career in my time watching Test cricket. It was a happy exercise that inspired a nice trip down memory lane. It was a team of dashers and bashers, wizards and maestros, graceful technicians, inspirational showmen, and multi-skilled legends the likes of which we may never see again.
I’d sure love to see that team play. Of course, if they were to play, they’d have to have a team to play against, and what better team for the Exciting XI to play than the Determined XI?
Determination is a huge part of cricket. No doubt the players in the Exciting XI had their fair share of it. However, there are certain players that have forged careers from their mindset, managing to succeed despite questionable talent and limited techniques. Indeed, for this great cricketing nation, our most dominant era of cricket was born of the number 4 in this team, and nurtured by the number 5.
It is interesting for me in this slightly different trip down memory lane to note that I often got just as much joy out of watching the players in this side (well, the Aussie ones anyway) as I did those in the Exciting XI. Please forgive any Australian bias, but hey, I love my side. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here is the team listed in batting position:
- 101 Tests
- 7,289 runs
- Average: 45.27
From a cricketing family (his father Noel, his brother Paul and his half-brothers Peter and Andy all played First Class cricket, with Peter a fine player who was limited to 12 Tests having debuted at age 37 due to South Africa’s omission from Test cricket), Kirsten had a unique technique and was renowned for his ability to spend long periods at the crease in trying conditions. Like all on this list, he revelled in the contest, and worked hard to overcome his strange style and limited technique. He regularly annoyed me.
2) Justin Langer (Australia):
- 105 Tests
- 7,696 runs
- Average: 45.27
Extraordinarily, over his 105 Tests, Langer averaged exactly the same as his opening partner in this side. What are the odds of that? Anyway, after failing to make an impression at Test level over several different attempts, predominantly at number 3, Langer was drinking beer at Last Chance Saloon in 2001 when Michael Slater was dropped for the 5th Test of The Ashes at Lords, and boy did he take his chance. He went on to establish one of the great opening partnerships with Matt Hayden and, with his team-first mentality and never say die attitude, helped lead the way in a dominant period for Australia. He also made the ugliest double century ever, even worse than Jason Gillespie’s.
3) Rahul Dravid (India):
- 164 Tests
- 13,288 runs
- Average: 52.31
Dravid’s record is truly remarkable. I’m not sure how someone can play that many Tests, make that many runs at an average like that and have such a low profile. Well, actually, I kind of do. Named “The Wall” by a billion cricket obsessed fans, he looked like a librarian and played like he was practicing his front foot defence. For long periods of his career he was impenetrable. While his scoring ability was clearly adequate (you don’t make over 13,000 Test runs without being able to hit the gaps), it is because of his patience, defensive skill and determination that he was so damn hard to get out. I hold him in high esteem.
4) Allan Border (Australia):
- 156 Tests
- 11,174 runs
- Average: 50.56
AB’s Test career started in 1979 when Australian cricket was doing ok. By the time he was captain in 1984/5, Australian cricket was a shambles. He was not a natural leader, but he was the side’s only elite performer, he was durable, determined, and he hated to lose. He really, really, really hated to lose. He took every loss to heart. He hated losing so much he became “Captain Grumpy”, and by doing so he taught those below him (notably the number 5 in this team) how not to lose. His cricket ability is oft overlooked due to his stoicism. While his strokeplay was limited, he had a great eye and was a very clean striker of the ball. His record upon retirement was unparalleled at the time, and he is a legend of Australian cricket. I love him like a favourite uncle.
5) Steve Waugh (Australia):
- 168 Tests
- 10,927 runs
- Average: 51.06
- 92 wickets @ 37.44
Steve Waugh came into the Australian Test side as a talented 20 year old all-rounder at the height of Australia’s lows. Kept in the side because of his bowling as his batting did not reach the levels his talent promised, it took him 27 Tests to notch his first century. Like a ring forged in the fires of Mount Doom, Waugh came out of his tough entry to Test cricket a different player. He eliminated the pull and hook from his game and wore delivery after delivery on his torso as he refused to play any shot that might bring about his downfall. Not a pretty cricketer, he played pretty much all of the top 10 gritty innings I have seen. From a century with a torn calf at The Oval, to telling Curtly Ambrose in particular terms just where he might take himself, to batting with a guard protecting his broken face after a collision with Jason Gillespie, the man refused to give up. And, although it wasn’t in Tests, you can’t speak grit and Steve Waugh without mentioning the 1999 World Cup. How could you not succeed with a man like that leading the way? Well, with the exception of India, they didn’t.
6) Shivnarine Chanderpaul (West Indies):
- 153 Tests
- 11,219 runs
- Average: 51.93
Many people would not realise a couple of things about Chanderpaul. The first would be that he is still playing as he approaches his 40th birthday, and the other would be just how good he has been. Take a look at his record, for it is truly elite. If you have never seen him bat, you should somehow check him out, for he is the most unconventional gun cricketer you’ve ever seen. He does almost nothing like any other batsman I have seen, and his technique and methods defy wisdom and all coaching practice. Yet there is his record for all to see, a craggy, dirt encrusted nugget of gold in a pile of gleaming gems. Oh, and for what it’s worth, in his most recent Test in December, he made a century.
- 166 Tests
- 13,289 runs @ 55.37
- 292 wickets @ 32.65
Jacques Kallis is perhaps the most accomplished cricketer of my lifetime. Yes, more so than Tendulkar and Lara and Ponting and Warne. I don’t think he is the best, but as far as records go, perhaps he is the most accomplished. As far as all-rounders go, he is at the top of the tree. There was nothing flashy about him, you could even accuse him of being a little dull, but he was efficient and consistent, reliable and durable. Only recently retired, his more than 13,000 runs at over 55 is extraordinary, and when you add his almost 300 wickets at a tick over 30, you have a cricketer to build a side around. He is not my favourite cricketer, but he was the thorn in the side of so many sides for so long, he simply has to be in this side.
8) Mark Boucher (South Africa):
- 147 Tests
- 5,515 runs @ 30.30
- 532 catches and 23 stumpings
Boucher was a competitor. He was stocky and strong, not particularly athletic or gifted, yet he was a world class wicket keeper and a handy lower-middle order batsman. His batting average is only a tick above 30, yet when his side were in trouble and needed him to make runs, it seemed that he did. He was an old-school cricketer who refused to give up and loved nothing more than being in a scrap. His career unfortunately ended when a bail struck and lacerated his eyeball. Does that make him too soft to make the Determined XI? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
9) Shaun Pollock (South Africa):
- 108 Tests
- 3,781 runs @ 32.31
- 421 wickets @ 23.11
Pollock looked like Richie Cunningham and he didn’t play like the Fonz because then he would be in the Exciting XI. He was another reliable and dependable South African (whose cricket I obviously hold in high regard from their selection here), whose bowling was the picture of deadly accuracy. Always on the spot and keeping it too tight to score freely, he would do just enough to get the batsman’s wicket. His batting, due to his height, was slightly ungainly, but he hit hard and batted better than his technique. He is another all-rounder of considerable prowess, and his bowling has oft been underrated.
10) Anil Kumble (India):
- 132 Tests
- 619 wickets
- Average: 29.65
A leg-spinner playing over approximately the same period as the great Shane Warne, Kumble was most things that Warne was not. Physically he was different, in that he was tall, dark and slender. Where Warne was a character that courted trouble, Kumble was unassuming. Warne spun the ball prodigiously and had a vast array of tricks. Kumble bowled quick deliveries with minimal spin but with tremendous kick off the deck. He had a good wrong-un, and he was almost unplayable on a wearing Indian wicket. His 619 wickets leaves him third, behind only Muralitharan and Warne, on the list of all-time wicket takers in Test cricket. He would bowl all day if he had to.
11) Glenn McGrath (Australia)
- 124 Tests
- 563 wickets
- Average: 21.64
Never in my time has anyone else been so successful over such a long period of time while exerting so little energy and using such little variation. McGrath was a tall, medium-fast bowler who did not overly swing, cut, or seam the ball. He did all three of those things, but only a little … only enough. He was another key-plank of Australia’s successful era, never giving an inch, always at the batsman, always wanting the ball in his hand. He was not an exciting cricketer to watch, but he was amazingly efficient, consistent and difficult to play. He would always find the right length to bowl on a pitch, no matter its condition. One of the worst batsmen ever.
Stiff To Miss:
- Darren Gough: Despite his Yorkshire origins, Gough is an honorary Australian who loved a beer, to bowl, and to compete. He only played 58 Tests, but took 229 wickets at a 28.39. He was a tremendous bowler who would have been a great if not for early injuries and a later long-term knee injury. While he didn’t play enough Test cricket to get into this side, I loved the way he went about it. A captain would love to have him bowling for him
- Daniel Vettori: A bearded version of Harry Potter, this left arm orthodox spinner could conjure enough magic to keep his lightweight nation competitive over his 112 Tests. A genuinely world class spinner, Vettori often had to carry far too much of his nation’s weight over the stretch, which impacted on his average (34.42). I always felt that if he had better support at the other end his results would have been much better. He was also a very handy batsman, averaging above 30. Couldn’t budge Kumble from the side.
- Harbhajan Singh: My parents don’t like me using the word ‘hate’, so instead I will say that Singh is not my favourite cricketer. He was certainly a determined competitor who would have loved to take on the Exciting XI. I’ll never forgive him for calling Andrew Symonds’ a monkey and then using Sachin Tendulkar’s fame to get out of it.
- Ricky Ponting: It is probably wrong of me to leave my favourite batsman out of this side, as he truly was a determined little Taswegian. However, when it came down to picking the side, I held Ponting’s talent against him. He was simply too good to know how much of his success was determination and how much was eye and talent.
- Mike Atherton: A stubborn opener who was keen to bat for long periods over his 115 Test career. His average was only 37.31, and he was somewhat of a bunny to Glenn McGrath. His form against the Aussies was never to the level it should have been, but his wicket was always seen as a key, as if he got in he could be the bedrock to a successful innings.
- Kumar Sangakkara: There is no doubt that Sangakkara is stiff to miss out on the keeping position to Mark Boucher. The Sri Lankan is by far the better batsman, having made 10,592 runs at 56.64 in 119 Tests, but his keeping is not in the same class as Boucher’s. Also, despite his elite batting statistics, I never really considered him a fighter, but this may be collateral damage from his country’s reputation for pumping out wristy front-runners. A great player though.
- Peter Siddle: The world’s toughest vegan would do anything to play for his country. He has already given up meat and any other substance derived from animals, which for some reason includes alcohol. Of all the players from cricket today, Siddle would be the one who would most like to bowl every over of the day. The sight of him rallying the strength to bowl the final over in Adelaide against South Africa in 2012/3 was amazing and will forever stay with me. He is, however, simply not good enough for this side.
- Muttiah Muralitharan: 800 wickets at 22.72 in 133 Tests should be the statistics of the best bowler ever. Unfortunately, I don’t consider Muralitharan’s action to be legal, and so I left him out. He also never really did much against Australia, so I never saw him at his best. Seems like a cracking bloke though.
There are a heap of cricketers who could consider themselves stiff to miss this side, as determination is the bedrock of any successful Test cricketer. Mark Waugh was routinely annoyed at everyone who said he was a player of no substance, just as Steve was annoyed at those like me who played down his ability.
Regardless, the side selected would be incredibly difficult to play against. Which raises the question: who would win, the Exciting XI or the Determined XI?
Follow Greg Gibson on Twitter: @GregGibbo28