The Ashes: England Greatest Xl v Australia Greatest Xl

As England and Australia prepare to lock horns in what could prove a vital third test, I drove myself insane delving into myriad statistics to compile the greatest ever Xls in the history of The Ashes.
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England Xl

Sir Jack Hobbs: 3636 runs @ 54.26

Over his 29 year career, Jack Hobbs plundered 61,760 first-class runs, a total only beaten on these shores by Graham Gooch (who is absent from this list due to a poor return in the Ashes). He scored 197 hundreds in that time, with half of them coming after he tuned 40. The first cricketing Knight, ‘the master’ remains the oldest man to score a Test century; he was 46 when he danced his way to 142 against the Aussies at Melbourne in the victorious tour of 1929. Named as one of five Wisden Cricketers in the century in 2000. 10

Sir Len Hutton (C): 2428 runs @ 56.46

You have to feel for Len Hutton. He made exactly 100 on his Ashes debut during the drawn series of 1938 and had to wait 10 years, due to the outbreak of the Second World War, to again play against them on home soil. Unfortunately, he ran into Bradman’s Invincibles. Remembered in Australia for averaging 88 in the 1950/51 series, he was England’s first professional Captain and, in 1953, regained The Ashes, averaging 55 in the process. Once held the world record test score of 364 and just edges out Herbert Sutcliffe. 9

David Gower: 3269 runs @ 44.78

Lord Gower famously cut his first ball in test cricket for four and then spent the rest of his career fighting off accusations that he didn’t care. An effortless classicist, he scored nearly half of his 8231 runs against Australia and exactly half of his 18 test centuries. Captain for the 1985 home series, he recovered from a slow personal start to score 732 runs at an average of 81.33 as England regained the urn with a 3-1 victory. Despite his regal air, Gower remains anti-authoritarian, and once took a tiger moth for a spin in the middle of test. 9

Wally Hammond: 2852 runs @ 51.58

50,000 first-class runs tell their own story, but Wally saved his best for the Australians. On the 1928/9 tour that England won 4-1, he scored 905 runs at an average of 113.12. Remarkably, he did it by scoring two double hundreds and two single tons and no other score over 50. Went back to Australia on the Bodyline tour of 1932/33 as the second best batsman in the world and averaged 55 as the muck and bullets flew. Also took 702 career wickets at an average of 30.58. 10

Denis Compton 1842 runs @42.83

If it’s impossible to write Compton’s name without also typing ‘the original Brylcreem boy’ it’s also impossible to quantify his brilliance by looking only at stats. Made his debut in the same test as Len Hutton and the pair were at odds for the most of their career. A flying left-winger for Arsenal in his down time, the dashing Compton was the poster boy of impressionable boys and sexually repressed girls. England’s best performer with an average of 62 during the disastrous 1948 home series. 9

WG Grace: 1098 runs @ 32.39

The grand old man of cricket not only pre-dated Test matches, but scored England’s first ever test century, notching 152 in the Oval test of 1880. All of his test matches were played against Australia and, if his average doesn’t look that great, you have to remember that pitches in those days were considered unfit for sheep. His bludgeoning style revolutionised batting, he was fond of a bet, loved a sledge, and he played in the first Ashes test after the burning of the bails. Great beard. 10

Alan Knott (Wk): 1682 runs @ 32.98 Ct: 97 St: 8

Miles ahead of his nearest rival for runs and dismissals against Australia, Knott was a wicketkeeper who could bat rather than opposite. Lightning quick behind the stumps, ‘Flea’ did some of his best work standing up to Deadly Derek Underwood on wet pitches and refused to give his wicket away, often batting for hours in support of his partner. Returned from Packer-exile to play the final two tests of the Botham Ashes in 1981, averaging 59. 8

Ian Botham: 1673 runs @ 29.35 / 148 wickets @ 27.65

Not only England’s greatest ever all-rounder, nor merely the British sports personality of the 80s, Beefy is also the reason why Freddie Flintoff is absent from this list. The mark of a great all-rounder is to have a batting average higher than that of his bowling, and If Sir Ian’s look close, it’s worth noting that back-surgery rendered him nothing more than a fourth seamer towards the fag-end of his career. Saved his best for the Ashes, and the 1981 series is named after him, a feat that only Bradman has managed. A big, bearded, boys own colossus fond of a jazz fag and a bottle of plonk. 10

Fred Trueman 79 wickets @ 25.10

Perhaps the greatest English bowler of all-time, Fiery Fred was criminally mistreated by the England selectors, and missed 51 tests between 1951-65 for a perceived bad attitude. Had he kept to his average of 4.5 wickets a Test, he would have ended up with 536 wickets, a mark that only Glenn McGrath has beaten as a fast-bowler. He has the third best average in history (21.57) and fourth best strike rate (49.1). The first man to take 300 test wickets, he went on to present Indoor League on Yorkshire TV, signing off every week with the legendary ‘I’ll si thee’. 9

Sydney Barnes 106 wickets @ 21.58

The original sportsman who ‘didn’t give a fuck’, Barnes was a down-to-earth Smethwick boy who was at odds with the nonsensical class snobbery that rendered him a mere ‘player’ when the gentlemen amateurs ruled the game. Of his 106 wickets against the Aussies, a ridiculous 77 of them were snapped up on batsman friendly pitches in Australia. Could bowl swing, fast, off and leg spin, negating the need for a spinner in this line-up. Between 1894 and 1930 he took 6229 wickets at an average of 8.33, including 76 at 8.21 in his fifty-sixth year. Huge moustache. 10

Harold Larwood 64 wickets @ 29.87

His name forever entwined with the Bodyline series of 1932/33, Larwood was a devilishly quick bowler treated like a pariah after following the orders of skipper Douglas Jardine and bowling short, rapid deliveries to a leg side field. Taking 33 wickets at 19.8, he cut Bradman down to the level of mere mortals and was the scourge of Australia. Following the fall-out, his paymasters drafted a letter of apology and asked him to sign it. He refused, on the basis that he was paid to do what his captain instructed, and his test career was over at 28. 9

Total: 103

Australia Xl

Victor Trumper 2263 runs @ 32.79

Modern day fans might argue the respective cases of Langer and Hayden, but Trumper scored his runs at a time when, especially in England, pitches were treacherously inconsistent. A model of consistency, he made over 2000 runs at an average of 48 in England in 1902, a summer of wretched weather. He was as reliable as an opener could be in the second era of test cricket and was the most popular cricketer of his time in Australia. 9

Allan Border 3548 runs @ 56.31

I expect a shellacking for including Border ahead of Bill Ponsford and Arthur Morris, but he is here for his part in the resurgence of Australian cricket as much as his batting. Took the reins as captain after Kim Hughes tearfully resigned in 1985 and crafted Australia into the ruthless team that dominated for a decade. Oversaw the early development of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath and scored his runs against England at an average of six runs higher than his career figures. 9

Don Bradman 5028 @ 89.78

In all the reams of print dedicated to The Don, I bet no-one has ever called him a ridiculous cunt, so let me. He averaged over 100 in five series against England, his career average in Ashes contests on these shores stands at 102.8, he plundered 19 tons, 12 fifties, a highest score of 334 and returned in 1948, 18 years after his annus mirabilis of 1930, and led a team unbeaten for the entire summer against all-comers. When statisticians devised a points system to find out the greatest sportsman ever, he headed a list that included Pele, Ty Cobb, Jack Nicklaus and Michael Jordan, and was nearly a full point above Pele, his nearest challenger. 10

Steve Waugh 3200 runs @ 58.18

Anyone who reckons Ponting should be here in place of Waugh may as well stop reading now. Waugh was a monster in The Ashes, never losing a series as captain and scoring 10 hundreds and 14 fifties. Started his career as an all-rounder, before cutting out every flair shot from his game to become perhaps the grittiest test batsman in history. With his red hanky fluttering from his pocket and gum between his teeth, he crushed England with barbaric regularity. 10

Greg Chappell 2619 runs @ 45.94

The best Australian batsman of his generation scored hundreds in both innings of his debut as captain and, although he lost The Ashes in 1977, he reclaimed them in 1978-80 and also gave Australian cricket its swagger back after the Botham Ashes of 1981. Not as dynamic a captain as brother, Ian, he is best remembered for instructing his other brother, Trevor, to bowl underarm. He averaged 49 as Captain in Ashes contests and was a calm and meticulous batsman who you’d definitely take into the trenches. 9

Keith Miller 1511 runs @ 33.57 / 87 wickets @ 22.40

The best all-rounder to ever play the game, Miller was the Compton of Australia. Appearing to have just stepped off Bondi, his statistics against England are frightening. In 1947, he averaged 76.80 with the bat and 20.87 with the ball, and in every Ashes series he played his batting average was higher than his bowling. If he had been around today, his worth in the IPL would make the prices paid for KP and Flintoff appear chicken feed. 10

Adam Gilchrist 1083 runs @ 45.12 / Ct: 87 St: 7

The three best wicket-keepers to ever don the webbed gloves have all been Australian, but Adam Gilchrist stands head and shoulders above even Ian Healy and Rod Marsh. Not only did he re-define the role of wicket-keeper batsmen as a destroyer and lower-order hitter, he snaffled a record 2.4 dismissals a game against England and is also one of the nicest blokes to ever play the game. Made 17 test hundreds as a wicketkeeper. 9

Shane Warne 195 wickets @ 23.25 / 946 runs @ 22.00

My favourite cricketer of all-time, Warne not only re-invented the art of leg-spin but did it with a pantomime flair welded to surgical accuracy and an appreciation of the psychological. An undoubted larrikin, he loved nothing better than destroying our batsmen and English scalps adorn wickets 50, 150, 250, 400, 600, 700 and, fittingly, he got Flintoff for his 708th and final Test wicket. The true measure of his brilliance is that, in 2000, he was voted as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Century 8 years into his career. That and the fact than even English fans would love to see him return. 10

Dennis Lillee 167 wickets @ 21.00

Second only to Warne in Ashes wickets, Lillee and his handlebar moustache appeared in the nightmares of English batsmen. In tandem with Jeff Thomson he formed the greatest opening bowling partnership of the 70s, and his rhythmic stride, high-arm delivery and menacing follow through should be the standard to which all quicks aspire. 9

Glenn McGrath 157 wickets @ 20.92

‘Pigeon’ is, without a doubt, the greatest metronome to play cricket. Taught as a child to hit the top of off stump, he rarely deviated and, in tandem with Warne, destroyed England for a decade. His injury in the 2005 series is rightly credited with being the moment that England won the series. He might not have been the quickest or most frightening, but he retired as the leading test bowler in history with 563 test wickets and is a true Ashes hero. Lived in a caravan to make it as a fast bowler. 10

Ray Lindwall 144 wickets @ 22.44 / 795 runs @ 22.08

It was a close run thing to put Lindwall ahead of a second spinner in Clarrie Grimmett or Tiger O’Reilly, but with Warne in the side you simply don’t need one. Rapidly quick with a delicious late out-swing, Lindwall was beautiful to watch and devastatingly accurate. When he ran into bowl, crowds were hushed and he could also bat with wanton abandon. His test century in 1947 was the second quickest by an Australian at its time. 9

Total: 104

With Australia leading in Ashes series victories, it is certain they would have won the five-test series played between these two historical Xls. For fans of the fantastical, let’s say they won the series 3-2 and, predictably, had Warne and Bradman to thank. The difference between the evenly matched sides, Warne finished the series with 42 wickets at 22.10 and Bradman 823 runs at an average of 96.5. Honourable mentions go to Botham with 27 wickets and 450 runs, Miller with 25 and 510 and Gilchrist with a 38 ball hundred in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

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