…Ok, after this, I think I’ll take a little breather from all things cricket. (Well after the Sydney test, anyhow.) It’s taking up an awful lot of time!
First, however, this: the all-rounder and bowlers of my favourite England XI of the last 20 years. (In case you missed it, I figured out the top six yesterday.)
If you agree/disagree via the comments section, below, that would be great. Like a six over the sightscreen. You’re here, though, and I certainly appreciate that at least as much as a cheeky single off the pads.
7. Andrew Flintoff
Freddie Flintoff was the rare sort of player who could appeal even to those oddball types who don’t like the game he played. Why? So many reasons. But mostly because he could combine, at the same time, hard graft and genius. With a fair wind behind him (read: the vociferous support of an energetic crowd), Flintoff would simply refuse the possibility of not being great. Huffing and puffing, charging in to bowl, or charging down the wicket with bat in hand, he would, simply, embrace wantonly his greatness – regarding it as both his birthright and the most terrific fun. Because he could, he bent games to his will. Because it was all such a giddy rush, he carved improbable victories out of the granite rock of inevitable defeat. Sometimes only for joyful, fleeting moments. Then once or twice – with irresistible forcefulness – for whole, happy summers. Didn’t we just love it?
8. Graeme Swann
Match-winning spinners are few and far between – and, unfortunately, England’s just called it a day. Though he only played international cricket for a relatively short time, Swann will be mighty hard to replace. Home and away, and whatever the match situation, he usually delivered. Wearing fifth-day pitch with the game on the line? Throw the ball to Swann. Partnership getting out of hand and the game drifting inexorably away? Throw the ball to Swann. Fast bowlers knackered, sun blazing, pitch a road – time to step up, keep it tight, and hold down an end. Swann. What’s more, he did it all the old-fashioned, fun-loving way. As much as he played hard and to win, Swann – after years of honest county toil – demonstrably enjoyed his time at the top, forever conscious of the fact that only a lucky few ever get there in the first place.
9. Darren Gough
Everyone, it seemed, couldn’t help but love Gough. Even hard-nosed, Pommie-bashing Aussie crowds found him to be a winning sort of fellow. Just maybe they saw in him something unmistakably Australian. ‘Ticker.’ Heart. A thirst for battle, and a keen sense of how, after giving it your all, to then commiserate or celebrate. Gough was a natural showman, with the talent to back it up. Not the tallest of bowlers, nor quite the fastest, he could nevertheless make a ball dance the dance that puts batters off their game: skidding through, or spitting off a length, or seaming viciously away. He could take on the very best, and beat them. And he always took all of us along for the ride.
10. James Anderson
Especially of late, Jimmy Anderson is the unlucky victim of an unforgiving schedule. He rarely gets to put his feet up (least of all recently while his England colleagues bat) and so we don’t always get to see the best of him. Make no mistake, though, his best is only the slightest notch away from all-time great. In particular, with a Duke ball in hand and cloudy skies overhead, Anderson can rip the heart out of opposition line-ups with uncanny efficiency. With conditions in his favour, he’s the kind of bowler who can make his team the best in the world. The rest of the time, he’s ‘merely’ one of England’s most reliably stalwart performers of the last 30 years. He’s a great fielder, too.
11. Angus Fraser
Without quite belonging to their same lofty class, Gus Fraser treated bowling much the same way as Glen McGrath and Shaun Pollock used to. Any entertaining of the crowd was at best a happy accident. His job, as with his more decorated peers, was plain-and-simply to get wickets cheaply. That didn’t mean bowling as fast as the wind, or perpetually at the batsmen’s head. It meant putting the ball in the right place again… and again… and again. Hope for a touch of movement off the pitch, and let hapless batters do the rest – invariably by nicking it behind. Tall, patient, accurate, and fast enough, Fraser regularly scooped up the five-fors more ‘exciting’ bowlers struggle to accumulate. He often made them seem a gut-busting grind, but his ‘hard yards’ were never less than useful.
And, just for the hell of it, here’s the second XI this team would play against:
1. Andrew Strauss
2. Alastair Cook
3. Jonathan Trott
4. Nasser Hussain (c)
5. Ian Bell
6. Paul Collingwood
7. Matt Prior (wk)
8. Stuart Broad
9. Andrew Caddick
10. Steve Harmison
11. Monty Panesar
Would be a close game, huh?