The impending retirement of Warne and McGrath gives me cause to consider the best cricket 11 from the time I have been a student of the game of cricket; since 1970.
Openers: The first name which comes to mind is Geoff Boycott. He was too ponderous and defensive, the man for a defensive fight perhaps, but not for the attacking brand of cricket that the world needs. Barry Richards could be in, but he didn't play enough test cricket to be considered. Similarly Glenn Turner; he did well in England and OK in his short test career; but not enough to prove his case.
Then there is Greenidge and Haynes. They sure knew how to attack and were a great partnership. Sunil Gavasker has a sensational record; one of only two who have averaged over 50. He can't be criticised for doing it all on Indian flat tracks; he averaged 52.11 away from home and 50.16 at home! He had to face the Aussies Lillee etc. The only problem is that he tended to get his runs a little slowly.
Then there is the Langer-Hayden combination. Saeed Anwar also deserves a mention with about 4000 runs in the mid 40's and a strike rate at 55. Langer has been a fighter and scored heavily and at a good rate. But his partner Hayden is unbelievable, belligerent and with an average around 53 and a strike rate of 60. Smith from South Africa is doing well with an average just under 50 and a strike rate at 59; he could challenge. The real comer is Sehwag who has a test average well over 50 and a strike rate of and unreal 75! Overall I will go for Gavasker and Hayden. However, Sehwag is poised to join Hayden.
Top-middle Order: Effectively to be considered a batsman has to have an average over 50. The candidates include Viv Richards with an average over 50 and a strike rate at 68.83! Who can forget Greg Chappell with a better average but a strike rate of only 51.
Then there is Brian Lara with a strike rate over 60, the world's highest test and first-class scores. He has also had to play through a period where the West Indies have been rather weak! I am a great fan of Miandad too who averaged 52 in tests. However, he only averaged 45 away from home and this weakens his case.
Ponting right now is setting new standards with an average near 60 and a similar strike rate. Tendulkar cannot be forgotten with a great average in the mid50's but a slower rate of 53. Hussey is on track to be a no-brainer selection, but he has to sustain it for another 5-10 years! Inzamam-Ul-Haq has a great average and a good strike rate but is not quite as fast a scorer or as heavy a scorer as some of the others.
Azharrudin, Crowe, Mark Waugh, David Gower, David Boon, Clive Lloyd, Zaheer Abbas, Damien Martin, Younis Khan deserve a mention but did not average highly enough. Mohammed Yousuf is on fire with an average in the high 50's and a goodish strike rate (52). If he keeps this up he will be a threat. Sangakkara from Sri Lanka is fashioning a good record with a solid average and reasonable strike rate. Dravid and Kallis have awesome records, averaging nearly 60 but strike rates of 42 sees them miss out to the dashers. Kallis as a bowler is a candidate for the the all-rounders position. However, this is a little slow for the prime batting positions in this team. Similarly, A. Flower from Zimbabwe who is an unheralded genius considering the quality of sides he played in, had a strike rate of 45 which is a little slow. G.Pollock misses my era but would certainly be hard to leave out with a 60 average. S. Waugh and A. Border too were great players. They both averaged 50 but had a huge number of not outs, batting at 6. They are both candidates for the number 6 position. So positions 3-5 go to Richards, Ponting and Lara. This ensures not only heavy scoring, but fast scoring. Unlucky are Chappell, Ul-Haq, Miandad, S. Waugh, Dravid and Kallis.
A great cricket team usually has that extra bowler who bats at six and can take wickets (although the recent Australian team has done it with 4 bowlers only). With the brilliance of the top 5 batsmen I want someone who can bat quickly and get wickets, both at top level. Sobers played a few tests in the 70's but he really falls outside my era.
S. Waugh brings batting prowess. 3rd highest run scorer, average of over 50, 92 wickets at 32. He can trundle a few overs to relieve the pressure of the bowlers. Border similarly brings batting prowess with an average of 50 and can trundle down a few overs of left arm spin. Unfortunately for me, neither are good enough bowlers to fill this slot.
Another possibility is Kallis. On pure stats without concern for strike rates the guy is a certainty. But he scores too slowly for me coming in at 6. Neither is quite the attacking bowler I want. Ravi Shastri was a fine all-rounder, but his bowling is not quite attacking enough he being a slow left-armer with an average of 40 or so per wicket. Carl Hooper is a similar all-rounder. A fine attacking batsman and good bowler; but not a match winner.
Kapil Dev certainly deserves thought. He was a great bowler, holding the world record for test wickets, many gained on the slow Indian wickets. He was a good attacking batsman. However, his batting does not quite measure up to the really top flight.
Hadlee is another great all-rounder. His batting however was not quite the match winning level to challenge the big guns. He is a strong candidate to open the bowling anyway.
Another player from the 70's was Tony Grieg. About 3500 runs at 40 and 140 wickets at 32 is certainly impressive. But he too misses out to the big match winners.
In recent times Andrew Flintoff has been impressive; 3000 runs at 32 with a 64 strike rate and nearly 200 test wickets at 30ish is pretty good. He had a big impact on the 2005 ashes as well.
All these great players aside it comes down to two for me; both match winners with ball and bat. First there is Imran Khan with a batting average of 37 at good speed, a bowling average of 22 and strike rate of 53. 23 5 wicket bags and 6 hundreds! His batting is not quite as red hot as his bowling, but he is a brilliant player for sure! Then there is Ian Botham. He lost it in his latter years which affected his figures but they are still rather impressive. 5000 runs at 33 and 383 wickets at 28! HIs batting strike rate was 60 and bowling 58. 14 hundreds and 17 5 wicket bags. I am going to go for Botham. In his early years he was the man; winning the Ashes single handedly. Imran can still make the side as a bowler.
For me this is an easy one. Marsh, Knott, Healy, Dujon, Bari are all great glovesmen. But none comes close to to Gilchrist as the whole package. What a shame he came into test cricket so old. He has kept brilliantly and consistently to a great attack including Warne and McGrath. His batting is simply spectacular, averaging near 50 at an awesome strike rate of 82! He is also now second in test dismissals as a wicketkeeper (372) to his predecessor Healy (395).
There have been a swag of impressive quicks. I will list them with their wickets, averages, strike rates, 5 for's and economy rates. I will add up their ranking on each and from that will select the ones with the lowest. I will let the stats do the talking on this one.
Lillee: 355 (10) at 23.92 (12) SR 52 (8) 23 5 fors (5=) ER 2.75 (10) (47)
McGrath: 557 (1) at 21.68 (4) SR 51.9 (7) 29 5 fors (2) ER 2.50 (4) (18)
Hadlee: 431 (3) at 22.29 (6) SR 50.8 (4=) 36 5 fors (1) ER 2.63 (8) (22)Donald: 330 (11) at 22.25 (5) SR 47 (3) 20 5 fors (11) ER 2.83 (12=) (42)
Imran Khan: 362 (9) at 22.81 (7) SR 53.7 (10) 23 5 fors (5=) ER 2.54 (6) (37)
Wasim Akram: 414 (4) at 23.62 (10) SR 54.6 (12) 25 5 fors (4) ER 2.59 (7) (41)
Waqar Younis: 373 (8) at 23.56 (9) SR 43.4 (1) 22 5 fors (8=) ER 3.25 (14) (39)
Malcolm Marshall: 376 (7) at 20.94 (2) SR 46.7 (2) 27 5 fors (3) ER 2.68 (9) (23)
Michael Holding: 249 (14) at 23.68 (11) SR 50.9 (6) 23 5 fors (5=) ER 2.79 (11) (51)
Joel Garner: 259 (13) at 20.57 (1) SR 50.8 (4=) 7 5 fors (14) ER 2.47 (3) (32)
Courtney Walsh: 519 (2) at 24.44 (13) SR 57.8 (13) 22 5 fors (8=) ER 2.53 (5) (41)
Curtley Ambrose: 405 (5) at 20.99 (3) SR 54.5 (11) 22 5 fors (8=) ER 2.30 (1) (28)
Pollock: 402 (6) at 23.19 (8) SR 58.1 (14) 16 5 fors (12=) ER 2.39 (2) (40)
Willis: 325 (12) at 25.20 (14) SR 53.4 (9) 16 5 fors (12=) ER 2.83 (12=)(59
Others such as Dev, Vaas, A. Roberts, McDermott, Ntini, Gillespie, Srinath, Hoggard, Caddick, Gough, Lee, C. Cairns, Streak and M. Hughes deserve a mention but have not had the impact of the others.
The top three come out as McGrath, Hadlee and Marshall. Ambrose misses out, just! I am surprised that Lillee didn't rank higher.
I will do the same thing for the spinners with more than 200 wickets
Warne 706 (1) 25.35 (2) 57.4 (2) 37 5 fors (2) 2.65 (6) (15)
Muralitharan 674 (2) 21.73 (1) 54.4 (1) 57 5 fors (1) 2.39 (3) (8)
Kumble 538 (3) 28.59 (4) 65 (4) 22 5 fors (3) 2.50 (4) (18)
Underwood 297 (4) 25.83 (3) 73.6 (8) 17 5 fors (5) 2.10 (1) (21)
Bedi 266 (5) 28.71 (5) 80.3 (10) 14 5 fors (8) 2.14 (2) (30)
Chandrasekher 242 (6) 29.74 (6) 65.9 (5) 16 5 fors (6) 2.70 (8) (31)
Singh 238 (7) 29.86 (8) 63.7 (3) 19 5 fors (4) 2.81 (10) (32)
Qadir 236 (8) 32.80 (9) 72.5 (7) 15 5 fors (7) 2.71 (9) (40)
Vettori 229 (9) 34.28 (10) 76.7 (9) 13 5 fors (9=) 2.67 (7) (44)
S. Mushtaq 208 (10) 29.83 (7) 67.6 (6) 13 5 fors (9=) 2.64 (5) (37)
The spinners then are Muralitharan and Warne with Kumble and Underwood number 3 and 4. Even though Muralitharan rates above Warne statistically, I will rate Warne above him because he is the greatest spinner in the game, and unlike Murali, there are no questions concerning his action which for me remains rather dubious.
The Top Eleven Then:
M. Hayden (Australia)
S. Gavasker (India)
V. Richards (West Indies)
R. Ponting (Australia)
B. Lara (West Indies)
I. Botham (England)
A. Gilchrist (Australia)
R. Hadlee (New Zealand)
M. Marshall (West Indies)
S. Warne (Australia)
G. McGrath (Australia)
Other squad members
S. Waugh (if a batsman-bowler is needed at 6)
M. Muralitharan (if it is a turning track and 2 spinners are needed)
A. Kumble (if it is a real turner and 3 spinners are needed)
Captain is R. Ponting (Australia)
It all seems right but should Lillee be in for McGrath or Hadlee? And should I. Khan be in for Botham? Again, should Sehwag come in now ahead of the slower Gavasker? Greg Chappell too was a legend and it is hard to leave him out. Finally, should Muralitharan be let off the hook for his action and put in ahead of Warne.
And who would they play?
What do you think?