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Choosing An All Time XI
04 Sep 2007
By: Archie Mac

At one time or other every cricket fan has had a go at choosing an all time XI. Even though their team of stars will never actually compete against a real team on a real field, the detail that some cricket tragics will go to is quite impressive (or sad depending on your take).

When choosing your all time team there are no hard or fast rules, which leaves one plenty of scope for choosing a team, such as:

Only players I played against; Shane Warne: 2001- (from Shane Warne my Autobiography) Saeed Anwar, Gooch, Lara, Tendulkar, Martin Crowe, Kallis, Chris Cairns, Moin Khan, Wasim Akram, Saqlain Musttaq, Ambrose (Warne had a separate Australian team.

Only players I have watched; Brian Johnston 1984 (famous commentator) - (from The Book of Cricket Lists) Hutton, Barry Richards, Viv Richards, Bradman, Hammond, Compton, Sobers, Benaud/Laker, Godfrey Evans, Lindwall, Lillee

A team of Aries; Jim Laker 1979 (A Spell From Laker) Amiss, Bill Edrich, Wadekar, Hardstaff (I imagine jnr), Kallicharan, Umrigar, Bland, Loxton, Knott, Gladwin, Cowie

A team of Stylists; Michael Parkinson 2002 - (from Parkinson on Cricket) J.D. Robertson, Barry Richards, Graveney, Gower, Greg Chappell, Sobers, Keith Andrew, Lillee, Holding, Trueman, Bishen Bedi, 12 man Keith Miller

One thing you would imagine would be common to most all time XIs would be the selection of Sir Donald Bradman; well you would be wrong, that great all rounder Frank Woolley left Bradman out of his all time team on the grounds that he was suspect on wet wickets. The Woolley side: (from The King of Games) Trumper, Hobbs, Ranji, Johnny Tyldesley, Macartney, Mason (c) Frank Foster, Larwood, Oldfield, SF Barnes, Blythe.

I always like Bill O'Reilly's (no lover of Bradman the man) quote "Give me Bradman and I will take my chances with the bloody weather".

The most common make up for all time XIs is to choose five batsman, four bowlers, one genuine all rounder and one wicket keeper, or alternatively six batsman, four bowlers and one wicket keeper.

The bowling makeup for the modern all time world XI, is generally accepted to be three pace bowlers and one spinner. If five bowlers are selected the make up is usually three pace and two spinners, or four pace and one spinner.

Some selecting an all time team will impose minimum qualifications on their selections; the most common being a minimum of 1000 Test runs for a batsman or 50 wickets for a Test bowler. The super serious will choose an all time XI with fielding positions taken into account.

Others such as Len Hutton will choose certain players to combat another persons all time XI. He chose Maurice Leyland to play for his all time England XI so as to combat Bill O'Reilly, whom he was sure Keith Miller would choose in his all time Australian XI.

Hutton chose Leyland since he was a left hander and because he had caused O'Reilly trouble in the past. O'Reilly always maintained that "lefthanders should be killed at birth" (O'Reilly in fact batted left-handed).

In his book the Top 100 & The First XI Phillip Derriman (published in 1987) came up with a formula (it was Ross Dundas who designed it) that compared players from different eras against their contemporaries, this resulted in an all time Australian team made up of; Bob Simpson, Sid Barnes, Bradman, Greg Chappell, Neil Harvey, Don Tallon, Davidson, Grimmett, Lillee, Spofforth, O'Reilly

Unfortunately no matter what formula Derriman and Dundas came up with they could not find a working formula to statistically separate the wicket keepers. In the end they went with popular opinion and chose Don Tallon.

Geoff Armstrong & Ian Russell (The Top 10s of Australian Test Cricket) had a slightly different take, he separated the players into different eras and chose two players for each era (he only chose the 10 best).

I thought both the Armstrong and the Derriman ideas were a little tough on the contemporaries of 'The Don' as the batsman of his generation are always going to finish a distant second.

As JC Davis writes in his interesting volume Best of The Best, Bradman measured on a Bell Curve is an anomaly with a Bradman coming about once in every 200,000 Test cricketers!

So for our All Time XI we will go with the Armstrong method and choose two players from each era, except for Bradman who we will automatically except as sacrosanct. We will also choose five batsmen, four bowlers, one genuine all rounder and one wicket keeper.

Using a bit of selectorial discretion we will also be conscience of making sure we choose a wicket keeper, genuine all rounder and a balanced attack. Also we will choose the eras ourselves, no disrespect to Mr Armstrong).

Era one 1877-1919
Era two 1920-1946
Era three 1946-1970
Era four 1971-1990
Era five 1991-2007

Era One 1877-1919

From the birth of Test cricket through to the romanticism of the 'Golden Age' this period was dominated by the amateur batsman. The old sepia photographs (posed) of the batsman a mile down the pitch- a batting glove on the bottom hand only- ready to launch the ball into the stratosphere-conjures up images of the perfect cricket match.

This period also inspired some of the greatest cricket writers from AA Thomson to the greatest of them all Sir Neville Cardus who wrote of Archie MacLaren 'he didn't merely hook the ball, he dismissed it from his presence'. The golden age also featured other great batsman including the Doctor WG Grace known simply as the 'Champion', and the Indian Prince Ranji described by county pro Ted Wainwright as 'e never made a Christian sstroke in his life'. Other greats of the period were: Murdoch, Fry, Clem Hill, Dave Nourse, 'give me Arthur' Shrewsbury. But in the end we shall choose the very embodiment of the age; Victor Trumper by popular consensus the most enigmatic and talented batsman from crickets golden age.

Some of the greatest bowlers came from this period, their averages almost defy logic George Lohmann (112 wickets @ 10.75): 'The Demon' Spofforth (94 wickets @ 18.41), 'Terror' Turner (101 wickets @ 16.53), Johhny Briggs (118 wickets @ 17.74), the man who was accused of once urinating on the pitch during a county match Bobby Peel (102 wickets @ 16.81), a former 'clown cricketer'- Edmund Peate (31 wickets @ 22.00)but in the end there is only one choice, the man considered by many as the greatest bowler in history SF Barnes (189 @ 16.43).

Not until the 1980s was cricket to again see the quality of all rounders that were thrown up in this period, from George Giffen still the only Australian to claim 1000 wickets and score 10,000 runs, to Monty Noble (some modern Australian players still describe going after the bowling as 'going the Monty'), to Aubrey Faulkner one of the first truly great South African cricketers-war hero- insightful coach, who was tragically to take his own life. The Yorkshire twins Hirst and Rhodes, the latter who started his Test career as a number eleven and finished as an opener good enough to feature in England's record opening stand. And last but not least Stanley Jackson (Jacker) who had a great Test batting average (for the era) of 48.79 and bowling average of 33.29.

Wicket Keepers of the period were mostly of a eupheral nature, the two main stays were the 'Prince of Keepers' Jack Blackham who played Test cricket for 18 years never missing a Test match for Australia but still only playing in 35 Tests. And 'Dick' Lilley from England who wrote one of the most enjoyable biographies of the period Twenty Four Years of Cricket

Era Two 1920-1946

The Great War ended the 'Golden Age' and greatly reduced the amount of amateurs in the county game. With a more professional attitude and a plethora of batsman friendly wickets this era became to domain of the high scoring batsman.

No thrills but very effective opening batsman such as Ponsford and Sutcliffe, broke bowlers hearts. There were still however some very gifted stroke players such as Wally Hammond-his cover drive is still considered by many to be the best ever produced. To George Headley, who carried the West Indies batting hopes- scoring ten of the first twenty hundreds registered by a Windies batsman (no one else scored more than one). 'The governor General' Charlie Macartney, who always maintained that 'you should hit the first ball straight back at the opening bowlers head; they don't like that you see'.

But in the end the nod goes to the 'master' himself Jack Hobbs who could score runs with equal facility on good or sticky wickets.

To succeed in this period of cricket, bowlers had to be out of the top draw, or prey for rain on the uncovered wickets to receive 'a sticky dog'. Pace bowlers in particular were up against it, still Larwood of Bodyline fame is still remembered as one of the finest in history. It was however the spin bowler who had the most success; from the round arm leg spinner Grimmett, to the man who dismissed Bradman the most Headley Verity, who unfortunately died during the Second World War. A hard one but in the end we shall select Bill O'Reilly for a man to maintain an average of 17.10 in the Sheffield Shield on covered wickets is a great effort. Also Bradman rated him the best he faced.

Genuine all rounders were rare in this era, there were still a few greats, including Constantine, an explosive batsman and dynamic bowler and perhaps the greatest fielder of all time. The majestic Woolley and the fast scoring fast bowler, Jack Gregory still the holder of the fastest century (in time), round out the list.

The Wicket Keepers of this era were masters of standing up to the stumps Les Ames the first true wicket keeper/batsman, to Bert Oldfield of whom it was said batsman some times walked when he appealed, so honest was he. Jock Cameron a hard hitting batsman who tragically died while in his prime, and George Duckworth a fine keeper who was perhaps the loudest appealer of them all.

It will undoubtedly be remembered however as the Bradman era, and deservedly so, as no man in the history of cricket as so dominated any era of Test cricket.

Era Three 1947-1970

Test cricket had become a more global and competitive sport with countries other than Australia and England able to lay claim to the title of 'Best Team in The World'. Unfortunately the cricket of this period was characterized by too many draws, compounded by slow over rates and defensive batsman, interspersed with the occasional great Test match.

Some of the best batsman were the three 'Ws' from the West Indies, Worrell, Walcott and Weekes, the stylish left handers from Australia Morris and Harvey, the dashing Rohan Kanhai, the charismatic Dennis Compton, the dour Kenny Barrington and Hanif Mohammad, the other Sutcliffe, New Zealand?s Bert. Graeme Pollock the great left hander from South Africa who had his career cut short in its prime. The complicated GLY Boycott. But the player we shall choose is another Yorkshireman Len Hutton, a man for a crisis, with a classical defense and a near perfect technique.

The bowlers of this period started to see the first signs of the reliance on pace. The Windies had Wes Hall, the Aussies had Davidson (a great average for the period of 20.53), the hugely talented Ray Lindwall, the lion hearted Bedser, and the supremely cofident Freddy Trueman, 'Those two little pals of mine' Alf Valentine and Sonny Ramadhin, one of truly great off spinners Jim Laker (the only man to take 19 Test wickets in a Test match), Hugh Tayfield who some claimed was Lakers' superior, and the last of the medium/fast bowlers Fazal Mahmood and Derek Underwood.

Not that many all rounders can be found in the period, but as luck would have it two of the greatest in Test cricket history graced the stage. Keith Miller, a man who could seemingly do anything on a cricket field form hitting huge sixes, to bowling the unplayable delivery to catching swallows in the slips. Sometimes he did not seem interested even in a Test match. A war hero he once said 'cricket isn't pressure, having a Messerschmitt up your arse, now that's pressure'. The ultra competitive Vinoo Mankad, from India also deserves a mention. But it is hard to go past a man who was able to bowl in three distinct styles, was a great field and averaged almost 60 with the bat. Garry Sobers (sorry Nugget)

Wicket Keepers were starting to stand back more and more as spin bowling gave way to speed, still the ill fated Wally Grout, the stylish bat Farokh Engineer, the big stage Godfrey Evans, and according to many judges the most natural of all keepers Don Tallon kept the keepers art at a high standard.

Era Four: 1971-1990

Catalysed by Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket circus, world cricket suddenly went from a gentleman's game to a multi-million dollar business in a matter of two decades. In 1971, the sport was still firmly in the hands of the MCC and the trio of Australia, England and the West Indies. By 1990, the period of West Indian dominance was fading, one-day cricket had burst onto the scene and the Asian nations were emerging as the new epicentre of the game.

This would be the era of the all-rounders, as Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan entertained the crowds with aggressive hitting and heroic performances with the ball.

Greg Chappell and Allan Border, both fierce competitors, gave Australia's batting a steely resistance to the all-conquering West Indian fast bowlers, but they were no contest for the 'calypso cricket' of the likes of Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge that caught the imagination of the masses. In England, Graham Gooch and David Gower produced runs through a more classical approach, while Javed Miandad, Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar were instrumental in the rise of Pakistan and India, scoring runs aplenty on flat Asian wickets. One batsman, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest; no-one since Bradman had exuded as much talent as Viv Richards, the West Indian 'master blaster' who effortlessly took bowling attacks apart.

And once teams had been pummeled around the park by Richards, they then had the unenvious task of trying to escape intact against the battery of West Indian quicks. Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Andy Roberts were probably the most fearsome quartet of fast bowlers ever to operate together and led to the West Indians standing head and shoulders above all other opposition for almost two decades. They were mirrored both in speed and hostility by Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Australia's pair of runaway fast bowlers who snarled their way through many batting orders.

Despite their being a number of brilliant glovemen around - Rodney Marsh and Alan Knott among them - none warrant a place in the final eleven, while it is almost too difficult to select one bowler from the array of West Indians, who performed so well as a unit together. Richards however is an automatic selection, while Imran Khan wins the all-rounder's spot for his consistent displays with the ball.

Era Five: 1991-2007

The years 1991 to 2007 saw a distinct shift in power from the fast bowlers to the batsman, so there is a plethora of talent with the willow from which to choose. Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar are almost automatic choices, such has been their domination of the last decade and-a-half. Brothers Steve and Mark Waugh were instrumental in Australia's rise to the top of the pile, while Ricky Ponting has cemented that position by producing runs as consistently as anyone in recent times. Since 2000, there has also been the emergence of two other systematic, though more circumspect players: India's Rahul Dravid and South Africa's Jacques Kallis complete the list, along with the lumbering elegance of Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq.

On the bowling front, the last real fast bowlers disappeared when Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose hung up their boots at the turn of the century, having spearheaded the West Indies' attack for over a decade. Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock matched the Caribbean pair for the title of the world's best new-ball bowlers and were key in South Africa's re-emergence as a major cricketing power. In Pakistan, Wasim Akram brought reverse swing onto the world stage in explosive style, while Glenn McGrath's metronomic accuracy became the scourge of opening batsmen across the globe. But the era will be best remembered as the age of the 'mystery' spinner, with Shane Warne the controversial Muttiah Muralitharan breaking wicket-taking records and leading to a renewed interest in the dying art of slow bowling.

Before he arrived, wicket-keepers were glorified fielders with gloves; since he first began to demolish attacks from number six, every keeper has to be able to bat as well as he catches. No player better symbolizes the changing pace of the game than Adam Gilchrist, quite simply an unprecedented type of player with the ability to turn the result of a match in a matter of minutes.

With no serious contenders for the all-rounders' slot and, as prolific as Tendulkar, Lara, Ponting et al have been, no opening for another batsman in our eleven, it is left to Gilchrist to take the keeper's spot and Wasim Akram to provide reverse swing with the old ball and runs from the number nine slot, the clinching factor in his selection.

So our side in batting order is:

Jack Hobbs
Len Hutton
Don Bradman (c)
Viv Richards
Victor Trumper
Garry Sobers
Adam Gilchrist WK
Imran Khan
Wasim Akram
SF Barnes
Bill O'Reilly

Four Australians, three Englishman, two West Indians, and two Pakistanis

No Indians, no South Africans, no Sri Lankans, it may be advisable for the selectors to stay low for a couple of weeks (Archie and George run and hide).

For comparison here are a couple of other all time XIs, out of these two and our selection only Bradman, Sobers, and O'Reilly made all three teams.

Don Bradman's All Time XI 2001 (from Bradman's Best), Barry Richards, Morris, Bradman, Tendulkar, Sobers, Tallon, Lindwall, Lillee, Bedser, O'Reilly, Grimmett.

Ashley Mallett's Team of The Century 2001 (From Eleven) Hutton, Barry Richards, Bradman (c) Trumper, Miller, Sobers, Knott, Lindwall, Laker, Thomson, O'Reilly

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