To distract myself from the present in English cricket – a mauling down under – I’ve picked the best England XI of my lifetime. First I whittled the contenders down to 33 players and then picked my first XI from them.
For a little more fun I then chose a second XI from the remaining 22 and put the ‘left overs’ in their own third XI.
One other caveat: I am limiting myself to just one of the all rounders, otherwise I’d likely have Botham, Flintoff and Stokes in the same team!
Openers: 2 from Athers, Cook, Tresco, Gooch, Strauss.
Middle order: 4 from Trott, Hussain, Butcher, Root, Vaughan, Smith, Lamb, Thorpe, KP, Gower, Collingwood, Bell.
Wicket Keepers: 1 from Russell, Stewart, Prior, Bairstow.
All Rounders: 1 from Botham, Flintoff, Stokes.
Spinners: 1 from Swann, Ali.
Seamers: 2 from Gough, Broad, Anderson, Caddick, Harmison, Hoggard, Malcolm.
3. Hussain *
7. Stewart +
Alastair Cook is the nailed on choice. His partner is then chosen by the fact I prefer a left-right hand opening combo, which rules Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss out. Tresco would have come close otherwise. So then it was a choice between Graham Gooch and Michael Atherton. A very difficult decision but Athers gets the nod for me.
Next decision in need of explanation is the omission of arguably England’s best batsman, Kevin Pietersen. For me KP was at his best as the match winner. As the guy who could do what the others around him couldn’t. With the ability of picking from England’s best 33 of my lifetime, the impact of KP is lessened with such quality around him. I have a plethora of match winners to choose from, so I’d rather go for solidity than explosive unpredictability. Therefore Graham Thorpe takes the number five position.
Paul Collingwood at six when the likes of Joe Root and David Gower are left out is another one in need of explanation. Whilst not the best of those named, I want a balanced team. Root and Gower would never bat as low at six. In that position I need a man who will dig in if we’ve lost four early wickets. Plus, cricket is more than just batting and bowling. One of England’s best ever fielders, he’ll take the cover-point position in the field. Moreover, we want a team with personality and high morale. There is no better player to lift the team than Colly. His medium pace also provides something different as the fifth bowling option to back up my 4 pronged attack.
The keeping position is a tough one and I’ve chosen Alec Stewart simply on the strength of his batting. I know he didn’t bat at 7 but I’m putting him there as my keeper because quite often he’ll be coming in around the time that the second new ball is introduced. As an opening batsman by trade he’s the best of the keepers to face that new ball. To win a test match a team needs to take 20 wickets. The eleven I’ve selected, with the inclusion of Stewie at seven, would make it incredibly difficult for any opposition to take 20 wickets.
Taking the Wickets
The all rounder position is so difficult. Beefy or Freddie? Freddie or Beefy? It hass almost come down to a coin toss in the end. Ian Botham was my first hero, but I am too young for the earlier part of his career. That, plus the sportsmanship of Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff in the 2005 Ashes sway it for him in the battle of my gladitorial all rounders!
The spinning spot goes to Graeme Swann. With this position coming at nine it’s quite low in the order to factor in the batting too much, which works against Moeen Ali here. But simply put, Swann was the better bowler of the two, almost guaranteeing a wicket every time he came on.
I loved Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick, but you can’t look beyond Stuart Broad and James Anderson for the seamers. The one footnote here is that I may swap Broad for Malcolm if we are playing on a particularly quick deck. The one thing my first XI, and indeed England in general over the last 30 years, lacks is out and out pace.
With six ex-England captains in my first XI I’m spoiled for choice here. It is quite easy to rule Freddie out first! Stewe is next. Cook is a great, great player, and has been captain of some great and successful teams, but his on-field captaincy was always too defensive and often questionable. That leaves it between Athers, Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain. Vaughan, as with Cook, presided over some of the greatest England moments, but overall as a captain I think he was sometimes short tactically and a little more reactive than proactive. Athers captained at a dismal time for England and I would have loved to see him as captain of the 2005 or 2009 teams. But the man who brought about the big changes within the England set up – the mental strength, the attacking nature, was Nass. For me he leads my England XI. This justifies his inclusion at number three as well.
This is a team of mental strength, technique and flair perfectly balanced. I believe it would have given the great Australian side of my era a massive test.
1. Gooch *
9. Russell +
I know I said I wouldn’t have Root, KP, Gower at six but I have to get them all in the seconds because they’re not playing in the thirds!
1. Strauss *
7. Prior +
Whilst writing this article present-time England have taken four quick wickets in the second innings of the second test to reduce Australia to 50-4! I should write more often…
* = Captain
+ = Wicket Keeper