ICC Dream Team | all-time XI – I don’t think

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ICC Dream Team | all-time XI.

Everyone loves lists, and no-0ne loves lists more than male sports-followers. This week sees the release of the so-called International Cricket Council ‘Dream Team’ – supposedly the best 11 cricketers ever to take the field – voted on by the aforementioned male cricket loving public.

I made a list like this about 6 months ago, and mine is quite different – and a shit-load better. Demographics have played a big part in the voting for this team. For a start it’s heavily skewed towards cricketers of the last 30 years, with only one – the incomparable Bradman – getting a guernsey. Beyond that the overwhelming number of Indian supporters accounts for the preponderance of Indian cricketers – vastly surprising given the history of cricket, which has generally seen India as being one of the weaker teams until recent times. No English players make the list at all.

Some selections are no-brainers: Bradman, Tendulkar (despite some reservations), Warne. There are others more contentious and open to discussion, but which I concur with: Gilchrist, Akram (a favourite of mine), probably Lara. Of the rest some are clearly borderline in or out – Ambrose, McGrath, maybe Gavaskar, but that leaves a couple of Indian selections I think are plainly wrong.

To select Kapil Dev over Sobers, or even Miller, is just rash. Kapil Dev was a fine player, but there are probably half a dozen better all-rounders in the history of the game. You’d select Botham ahead of him, but Botham doesn’t get in my best side. And Imran Khan! And even Jacques Kallis. Fail.

Sehwag is a great player on his day, and one of the most destructive of all time, but I doubt he’s even the best opener of his generation, let alone of all time. I think Hayden ranks ahead of him in this era, Greenidge is probably his equivalent, but I actually selected a couple of Poms when I nominated my best ever: Hobbs and Sutcliffe, statistically the best opening partnership ever. If we’re to select them then Gavaskar misses out, which is a tad tough given how good he was, so let’s just say he’s in the mix (as would be Hayden, but neither Sehwag or Greenidge).

I may be partial, but a lot of people have claimed Dennis Lillee to be the best fast bowler of all time – he certainly is in my viewing of the game (which covers the golden age of fast bowling). He’s in definitely, probably in for Ambrose. McGrath, great as he was, doesn’t survive either. I’m partial to Andy Roberts, who many no longer remember and too easily discount. If you’re looking for balance in the bowling attack then you have the tearaway-cum-clever seamer in Lillee, the great left-armer Akram, Sobers who can roll his arm over either medium or spin, and of course the greatest of all, Warnie with his leg spinners. You could do with a McGrath type, steady as the day is long – probably 12th man here – which leave the tall bouncy type bowler like Garner, a express skidder like Marshall, or the precision of a Hadlee. I’ll go Hadlee, a handy batter too.

What remains are some great batsmen who miss out. Lara, in, is hard to leave out – but so to is someone like Ponting, the best number 3 of the generation, outstanding fielder, captain, and all-round tough guy. Not to mention Greg Chappell, Viv Richards, Len Hutton, Allan Border, Neil Harvey, Steve Waugh, and probably a good dozen more… Take your pick.

There is no perfect team. These are very subjective judgements influenced by what we’ve seen against what we haven’t, and in some instances, national prejudices. India certainly doesn’t deserve four in the team, and England merit at least one.

The players to watch

Having spent a lifetime watching Australian cricket I have come to recognise it's prime characteristics. You can count on a committed effort in the field, the batting aggressive, the fielding athletic, the bowling hostile, the attitude unrelenting. I doubt any of our rivals would dispute that. I've been witness to a great era of success that has bordered on dominance. I'm old enough to remember the great West Indian teams of the eighties, but what was fleeting success for them has been sustained by an Australian team from one generation to the next.

Looking back over the last 20 years Australia has probably won about 70% of all the contests they've been in, a great rate when you consider that cricket is one sport where draws are a frequent occurrence. When they've won it seems to me they've won in one of two ways: dominating from start to finish and cantering away; or overcoming a tough opponent, a difficult situation, gritting their teeth and fighting to the last. Some teams lose games in those situations; Australia wins them.

Today I watched the final of the U19 Cricket World Cup from New Zealand. Australia were playing Pakistan. Australia has won this twice before, but it's never really been big in the public's consciousness. In an interesting article today Peter Roebuck made the point correctly that in the Australian mind winning a junior tournament is nice, but it's really the grown up stuff that counts. To a degree that has been the cricketing administrations view also: they were quoted going into the tournament that the first priority was to develop players who can progress to the senior team in years to come. The trophy would be nice, but this is all about the future and ensuring the success of our senior team continues far into the future.

That said you always want to win, and no kid walking onto the ground today would have had any other thought than that. In the end it was a very good, tight game. Australia batted first and struggled along to a mediocre score, but kept going when they might have been bowled out. Pakistan looked good early but then Australia in their inimitable way put the screws on with excellent fielding, smart bowling, and astute captaincy. As the game went on the screws were further tightened as Pakistan slowly lost their way and succumbed to the pressure. In the end Australia comfortably won a match they should have lost, very much in the manner of the senior team.

Now they have the trophy that's the end of that team. They'll go back to their states and make their way, progressing individually or falling away. One thing is certain that there are players we saw today who will one day play test cricket for Australia. For me their are two leading candidates. Josh Hazlewood is six and half feet tall and was the match-winning bowler today. I think he's a special. In fact I think one day we'll be speaking of him in the same breath as Glen McGrath.

The other is the skipper of today's team, Mitch Marsh. Son of a former player and the brother of Australias's one day opening batsman, I think Mitch Marsh is a good chance to captain the senior team too one day. Tall, powerful, aggressive, confident he possesses that intangible quality that separates the good from the great. If I was a selector I'd be inclined to fast track him because I think he's one of those rare players without limit. The harder you put it to him, the better he'll go.

Other than those also impressed with Jason Flores, Luke Doran and Tom Triffitt , the wicketkeeper. The other one to remember is Darren Pattinson, playing for Victoria – in fact bowling stocks look pretty good. Look out for them.

On a sort of related note I saw highlights last night of a match in the early nineties between  the senior Australian side and Australia A, made up of the young up and comers. The senior side was good, the best in the world, and they beat Australia A on the night. It was a good contest though, and fascinating to look back at the A team and those players who would bridge the gap and be integral members of what was to become probably the best team of all time: Ponting, Hayden, Martyn, Blewett to add to McGrath, Warne, the Waugh's in the senior team.

We've been very spoiled.

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Poor form all round

England cricketer Andrew StraussImage via Wikipedia

On a whim this morning I got up early to watch the last 45 minutes of the cricket from England. Australia led the series 5-0 going into this match, and were well on their way to another easy victory. Win again on Sunday and its a series clean sweep, nice, and it goes some way to make up for losing the Ashes – but never far enough.

In any case I sat there on my couch watching while the sun rose outside and the day began and it was all very conventional until the after match presentations.

Poor old Andrew Strauss, six times now he's had to get up on stage in front of a home crowd and make some sort of explanation for a succession for woeful performances. It's a tough gig and he must be sick of coming up with different answers while the team continues to under-perform (though Australia has been exceptional).

I have a lot of time for Strauss. For a start he leads from the front, as a captain should. He had a very good Ashes series and has been their best player in the one-dayers. It's not his fault they're losing. I like his style too. He's not a flashy batsman, but he's solid, and he brings those same qualities to his captaincy.

I had thought him stolid and unimaginative, and while that is occasionally true you can't fault his heart or his work ethic, he's honest and he tells it like it is.

That's one of the reasons I was shocked this morning when he was booed as he walked to the dais. I'm sure those sour English supporters doing this are not representative of the English public, but it is another indication of the capricious nature of the English sporting public. For fucks sake, you've just won the Ashes! A month ago they were riding high and acting smug. Now it's turned the other way.

I can imagine few good reasons why any captain should be booed, least of all Andrew Strauss. It's reprehensible. I know as an Aussie that the only time an Australian captain is booed it's by the opposition supporters – which is what happened through the Ashes this year. Not good form perhaps, but you'll cop it, as Ponting did.

One of the strengths of Australian sport is its unity and purpose, it'll stick through good and bad. And while the Australian public expect a lot they've been given a lot, and know it. Even when it's not so good we know that the team is fighting, and we have faith that things will turn – as always they do. From bad things good things come.

It's something the English could well learn. It's stout characters like Strauss who can take them to the top – unfortunately there is still much in the national temperament that serves to undermine that success and prevent it from being anything more than fleeting.

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