The Cricket Web Uncapped XIMartin Chandler |
What is the strongest team that can be selected from the ranks of those that have never played Test cricket? Not a very relevant question of course, just a variation on the old schoolboy/pub/internet forum game of selecting a World XI to play against a Rest of the Universe XI, but entertaining nonetheless. In this feature I name my team and give reasons for selecting them all. I set myself just a few parameters the first being the obvious one that no one should have been in the final eleven for an official Test match (that let Raees Mohammad in), that their career must be over (that ruled Steve Tikolo out) and that no feature about their career has previously appeared on Cricketweb (which ruled out the great American all rounder and swing bowling pioneer Bart King)
My knowledge of overseas domestic cricket is not as good as it might be so there is an inevitable bias towards English players and South Africans who, robbed by the years of isolation of the chance to play Test cricket, plied their trade in the County Championship during my formative years. That said I am pleased to have come up a representative eleven that contains just two Englishmen, three Australians, three South Africans, a Pakistani, a Welshman and a Zimbabwean.
I was keen to choose at least one more from the sub continent, but was foiled by the fact that Ajay Sharma (First Class average of 67.46) played a solitary Test. The only other Indian who came to mind was Bhausaheb Nimbalkar, he of a personal high score of 443*, but ultimately he had to give way to my Southern Africans. There is no Caribbean representative although there might have been. George Ferris, his cousin Hamish Anthony and Hartley Alleyne were all fine pace bowlers when the WIndies had a surfeit of those, but they can’t displace my personal favourites, Eddie Gilbert and Vintcent van der Bijl. I have no Sri Lankans in my team although Eric Bedser was pushed hard by his contemporary, Gamini Goonesena, a fine leg spinner and a batsman good enough to score a double century in a First Class match. That just left New Zealand – I did think about pace bowler Tom Pritchard, who had a successful spell with Warwickshire in the 1950s, but he didn’t linger in my thoughts for too long. As for a Bangladeshi I regret I am bereft of ideas, but hopefully others may not be.
So here is, in batting order, the Cricketweb Uncapped XI – how can it be improved?
1. Karl Schneider Australia
In the 1920s three superb young Australian batsmen came to the fore. One of them, Donald Bradman, went on to enjoy a modicum of success in the game whereas, tragically, neither of the others lived to see his 24th birthday. At least Archie Jackson, who played eight times for his country, did enough before tuberculosis claimed him to secure the place in the hearts and minds of the nation’s cricket followers that enures to this day. By sad contrast Karl Schneider’s name is rarely uttered. A diminutive left handed opening batsman – he was not even 5 feet 2 inches in height – Schneider made his debut at 17 for Victoria before moving, three years later, to South Australia. Leukaemia claimed his life shortly after his 23rd birthday, and just a few weeks before Percy Chapman’s powerful England side arrived to brush his countrymen aside in the 1928/29 Ashes . Schneider played just 20 First Class matches in all, in which he scored six centuries and eight half centuries, and averaged almost 50. His occasional leg breaks and googlies brought him a total of 10 wickets, at a strike rate better than that a certain Shane Keith Warne would achieve over his career 80 years later – who knows what Schneider might have achieved had he lived – what price it might have been he, rather than “The Don”, who debuted in the first Test in 1928/29?
2. John Langridge England
The scorer of more First Class runs (over 34,000 of them), and more centuries (76), than anyone else who never played Test cricket, John Langridge is almost always at the top of the order when these imaginary sides are selected. Older brother Jim, a middle order batsman and orthodox left arm slow bowler, did catch the eye of the England selectors so it cannot have been playing for Sussex, or the family name, that prevented a call up for England. Born in 1910 Langridge made a slow start to his career and did not fully establish himself until the late 1930s. He was selected for the England side that was due to tour India in 1939/40, so it was Adolf Hitler as much as anyone who put the kybosh on Langridge’s international career. By the time peace returned and the County game resumed in 1946 Langridge was 36. Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook were England’s openers of choice, and his chance had gone. Ironically Langridge’s own best year was still in the future. The summer of 1949 saw him score nearly 3,000 runs at more than 60 per innings with 12 centuries, and he remained in the Sussex side until 1955, never failing to get his 1,000 for the season, and over the years catching almost everything that came near him in the slips. After his retirement he was a First Class umpire for a quarter of a century, and in that capacity he did take to the field seven times in Tests, but he remains eligible for this side.
3. Ken McEwan South Africa
When I look in the record books they tell me that over a twelve year career for Essex Ken McEwan scored just over 18,000 runs, with 52 centuries, at an average of just over 43. I have to say that doesn’t quite paint the picture of the batsman I recall. That is by no means a poor record but it seemed at the time as if McEwan scored much more heavily – perhaps he just saved his best for the one day games the television cameras attended. He was a powerful man, but he also had the ability to make batting look very very easy and it is the way he appeared to pick off bowlers at will that sticks in the memory. After 1985, when he was still only 33, he turned his back on the County game and returned to his farm in South Africa – he candidly admitted that without any prospect of Test cricket the attraction of driving around England every summer had become wearisome. He was not lost to the game completely though, and continued to play domestic cricket in South Africa, without any loss of effectiveness, for another five years – only John Langridge of non Test players has exceeded McEwan’s final haul of 74 First Class centuries.
4. Brian Davison Zimbabwe
In the 1970s Brian Davison, who played for Leicestershire, was one of the best batsman to watch on the County circuit. He didn’t quite have the style of Barry Richards, the withering power of Clive Lloyd, or the consistency of Ken McEwan, but he had something of all three about him and his aggressive style of batting was ideally suited to the new age of limited overs cricket. As well as that his athletic fielding and fine throwing arm could be relied on to thrill spectators in an era when outfielding was just coming to be recognised as an important facet of the game. For fourteen seasons Davison delighted the supporters of the East Midlands county and it was a great shame when a financial dispute soured the 1983 season, which turned out to be his last for the county. After missing the following English season Davison returned to the County Championship in 1985 for a last hurrah with Gloucestershire. He let no one down but, at 38, his best days were behind him. Altogether in his First Class career there were more than 27,000 runs for Davison at a whisker under 40 per innings. In his day his country, Zimbabwe (then still Rhodesia), was two decades away from Test status, and the traditional route to Test cricket for Rhodesians, via South Africa, was closed – his loss was Leicestershire’s gain.
5. Raees Mohammad Pakistan
It must have been more than a little frustrating for Raees Mohammad to watch each of his four brothers in turn take their places in the Pakistan Test side. He was the second eldest of the famous brotherhood and came close to selection himself. In 1954 he was one of 35 from whom the party of 17 for his country’s first ever tour to England was selected, and in the following home season he found himself selected in the squad for the first Test to be played on Pakistani soil, against India in Dacca. His brothers Hanif and Wazir played but Raees was twelfth man and, perhaps surprisingly, the selectors never troubled him again. He played only 30 First Class matches in his entire 13 year career and that doubtless did not help his cause. He was the tallest of the brothers and an elegant and stylish batsman who was also a more than capable leg spinner. The season of India’s visit in 1954/55 was by some distance his best, and saw him score both his career centuries and average 87 with the bat. He also took 14 wickets at 26 runs apiece. As all his brothers have said the talent was undoubtedly there – had he just played a little more often then surely it would have been five out of five.
6. *Clive Rice South Africa
Selection as captain for his country’s first three ODI’s in 1991, against India, meant that unlike Ken McEwan, Brian Davison and Vintcent van der Bijl, Clive Rice did play at least some international cricket. Unfortunately for Rice he was 42 at the time and his best years were behind him. His performances in those games do no justice to the great all round talent that he displayed in his pomp. When, five months later, the South Africans played their first post readmission Test, a one-off match against West Indies, there was some controversy over his omission from the side, but looking at matters dispassionately it was the right decision, and one that makes Rice available to captain this side. For 13 seasons, from 1975 to 1987, Rice played for Nottinghamshire in the County Championship and twice led them to the title. His captaincy in South Africa was equally impressive. As a player he was a genuine all rounder. With the bat he averaged almost 41 and scored 48 centuries over a career that lasted for a quarter of a century. In his prime he was an aggressive stroke maker with a square cut of such power that fielding at point to him was an uncomfortable experience. With the ball he was only just short of being genuinely fast and more than 900 wickets at 22 runs each are ample testimony to his skills in that department. For Notts he would generally open the bowling with the great Richard Hadlee. Rice’s run up and approach to the wicket had nothing of the elegance of Hadlee and aesthetically the two were poles apart, but while Hadlee’s figures were usually the more spectacular, Rice’s bustling persistence at the other end was a big factor in Hadlee’s successes.
7. Eric Bedser England
Remembered mainly as the identical twin brother of England’s legendary medium pacer of the immediate post war years, Sir Alec Bedser, it is often forgotten that Eric was a fine cricketer in his own right. He was a mainstay of the Surrey side that won seven consecutive County Championship titles in the 1950s and his place in the team was always secure, even when all of Surrey’s England contingent were available. Over a 17 year career, which did not begin, due to the war, until he was 27, he scored almost 15,000 runs at 24. Those figures may not, at first glance, look too impressive but his home wicket at the Oval was a sporting one through most of his career, and he played many valiant and invaluable innings there. As a bowler Eric took to off spin and accounted for more than 800 victims over his career at less than 25 runs each. For a man who had to play second fiddle to the great Jim Laker, and who also had Tony Lock in his way to getting the ball, it is an impressive record. The Bedser twins were, of course, inseparable so Eric never left Surrey, but he would surely have played for England had he put his own career first, and gone off to one of the weaker counties where he could have been a dominant figure.
8. +Darren Berry Australia
By the time Darren Berry retired from First Class cricket, at the end of the 2003/04 season, his wicket keeping had earned plaudits from all with whom he had been involved – Steve Waugh and Shane Warne in particular were unstinting in their praise for a man who broke many records during a 15 year career. A genuine gloveman rather than a mere stopper he was equally at home keeping to the myriad variations of his Victorian colleague Warne or, stood up to the wicket, to all but the very fastest of bowlers. Early in his career Berry’s batting was distinctly modest and although he improved and, in the final analysis, passed his century on four occasions, he was never going to score enough runs to displace Ian Healy or, later, Adam Gilchrist notwithstanding that purely in terms of ‘keeping skills he was without doubt the best of the three. In 1997, while honeymooning and coaching in England, Berry was called up into the Australia touring party when Gilchrist was injured and the matches that he played against Kent and Glamorgan were the only occasions on which he was to represent his country in First Class cricket. For this XI his is an obvious selection.
9. Vintcent Van Der Bijl South Africa
It was so nearly a case of like father like son for Vintcent van der Bijl but, ultimately, the fall out from “The D’Oliveira Affair” meant that the one Test tour for which he was selected, that to Australia scheduled for 1971/72, was cancelled. He is, in my opinion, the finest cricketer in this eleven and therefore Test cricket’s greatest loss. At almost 6 feet 8 inches tall, and with a size 14 shoe, van der Bijl was a big man in every sense of the word. His record as a fast medium bowler, 767 wickets from 156 matches at just 16.55, is eye watering for a man who plied his trade in the 1970s and who was, as a schoolmaster until moving into business in 1979, an amateur cricketer. It is supposedly for that reason that Mike Brearley, on learning of his being signed as Middlesex’s overseas player for 1980, had serious misgivings about his committee’s decision. Those worries soon evaporated after the season got underway as, with Wayne Daniel as his opening partner, the Middlesex attack swept all before them and comfortably won the County Championship. With 85 wickets at 14.72 the gentle giant that was van der Bijl was the perfect foil for the explosive West Indian. Daniel was a quick, aggressive and unpredictable bowler and few batsman enjoyed facing him. Van der Bijl on the other hand was accurate, varied his pace, moved the ball both ways and his height made the ball bounce awkwardly. My closing comment is that he was much the same sort of bowler as, a generation later, was Glenn McGrath, and that observation is as much a compliment to McGrath as it is to van der Bijl.
10. Don Shepherd England
The John Langridge of the bowler’s trade, no one has taken more than the 2,218 First Class wickets of Welshman Don Shepherd without playing Test cricket. As he paid a miserly 21.32 for them, had a strike rate of less than 60 and an economy rate of just 2.14, he was clearly a fine bowler. Shepherd bowled quickish off spin and was, perhaps, something of a right arm Derek Underwood. It is odd that he seems to have spent so many years as far from international selection as he did – he never made an overseas touring party or even a Test trial. Glamorgan supporters have often found the England selectors’ reluctance to select their men a source of frustration and in the case of Shepherd will often, and quite rightly, cite two famous Glamorgan fixtures at Swansea as examples of Wales, as opposed to England, winning a Test against Australia. In 1964 Bobby Simpson’s tourists were humbled, with Don Shepherd claiming nine wickets. Four years later Bill Lawry’s team were downed too. This time Shepherd’s personal contribution with the ball was not especially significant, but as the Glamorgan skipper he was the architect of that victory. Whatever the Welsh might say however those fixtures were not Tests, so their man is available for selection here and he is one of the first on the team sheet.
11. Eddie Gilbert Australia
The “Notts Express”, Harold Larwood, was, in the opinion of most of those who faced him or saw him bowl, the fastest that has ever walked onto a cricket field. What is universally accepted is that during the famous 1932/33 Bodyline series he was quicker than at any other time in his career. Donald Bradman saw as much of Larwood as anyone in that series, but still rated Queensland’s Eddie Gilbert as the fastest bowler he had ever faced. That opinion arose out of a famous over in 1930 when he faced six of Gilbert’s thunderbolts in a Sheffield Shield game. One short delivery caused Bradman to jerk his head back so violently he lost his cap, and another knocked his bat from his hand – he was caught behind for nought from the sixth. Gilbert was an aborigine with unusually long arms. His run up was short, sometimes just four shuffling paces, and his long levers did much of the work. There were calls in 1932/33 for him to be selected for the Tests to allow Australia to “fight fire with fire” but he was not picked. His cause would, inevitably, have suffered from the discriminatory views that were widely held in Australia at the time, and in addition there were constant mutterings behind the scenes about his action. One umpire, on one occasion in 1931, no-balled him 13 times but his actions were never repeated. It is a great pity that Eddie Gilbert did not emerge eighty years later as I suspect, from all I have read about him, that the alleged kink in his action would have proved to be no more than the hyperextension which has raised eyebrows with others from time to time but which, in these more enlightened times, is recognised as a characteristic that does not make a bowlers action unfair. Gilbert’s story was a sad one in other ways too. He lost form in 1935/36 and dropped out of the First Class game for good and over the years alcoholism and mental illness took their toll and he died, in the institution in which he had lived, forgotten, for many years, in 1978 at the age of 72. Eddie Gilbert’s career was a short one, just 23 First Class matches over five seasons, and while his 87 wickets at 28 apiece might not look particularly devastating, he achieved that for a weak Queensland side in the days when Australian wickets were, in the absence of rain, every batsman’s dream – when it did rain and the wickets turned spiteful it was not the quick bowlers who reaped the rewards. I have no hesitation in picking Gilbert for this side.