Top, from left: Simon Katich, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Steven Smith, Allan Border (c), Steve Waugh
Bottom, from left: Adam Gilchrist (wk), Shane Warne, Ryan Harris, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath © Getty Images

The third part of the series: after selecting Australian XIs for the eras 1877-1914 and 1914-1977, Arunabha Sengupta and Abhishek Mukherjee form the third and final XI for the country. This time the team is made up of players who have represented Australia after the Packer Circus until the present day.

Arunabha Sengupta (AS): We are onto the last leg of this journey: the final Australian XI, from the Packer era to the present day.

Abhishek Mukherjee (AM): The advantage of this particular XI is that there are a few names that choose themselves… probably.

AS: We had pushed Dennis Lillee to this era, and he does get in, with 184 wickets at 24.32.

AM: As should Allan Border.

AS: And Glenn McGrath. With 563 wickets at 21.64 cannot be bettered in modern times He is a sure pick. Shane Warne had 708 wickets at 25.41, perhaps the greatest leg-spinner ever. He walks into the team as well. I am wondering about Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting as well. Should they not be definite picks?

AM: Hayden’s overseas numbers will remain a worry. For example, he has failed in England, New Zealand, and South Africa.

AS: That he indeed has.

AM: These failures do not really cover up for his Asian successes. No, Hayden is not a certainty.

AS: If we look at the openers for Australia over this time, we do have a decent lot: apart from Hayden we have David Boon, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Justin Langer, David Warner… not to forget Simon Katich.

AM: Ponting has India sticking out like a sore thumb in an outstanding career; his Ashes numbers were acceptable, but not outstanding; and 34 of his 76 Tests outside Australia have been in England and India.

AS: In England Ponting averages 41. That is not really bad, unless we map it to his standards. I guess he makes up for the India numbers elsewhere. He made lots of runs elsewhere in Asia.

AM: Yes, India had been his well known Achilles Heel.

AS: No such problem for Border except those 3 matches in South Africa where he averaged 38.

AM: I guess they can be ignored. They came very late in Border’s career, formed too small a sample, and even then, 38 is not exactly an atrocious average.

AS: And then, there is Steven Smith. His style may make us squirm, but there is no denying that he has already etched his name in the history of cricket in letters of gold.

AM: But all that can come later. Let us consider the openers first. No one is a certainty as of now.

AS: We have just seen that Hayden has poor numbers in a number of lands.

AM: Langer, too, had his shortcomings, mostly in Asia, but I guess one has to include only his numbers as opener. But even if one does that, Asia and South Africa stand out as failures. No, not a shoo-in.

AS: Yes. And counterintuitive it may be, but Katich has done well everywhere. His lowest average in a country as an opener is 41.72, in India.

AM: It is interesting, how these numbers pan out. I never thought Katich would outdo some of these giants. But what about the others? Taylor has failed in South Africa, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand; Slater, in India, New Zealand, and West Indies; and Boon, in Pakistan and New Zealand, as opener.

AS: Given Pakistan had a great attack in those days, it does seem Boon was a fair-weather opener. On the other hand, Katich, as I have often said to dumbfounded, apoplectic faces, averages more than both Gavaskar and Sehwag as opener.

AM: And Katich’s stint is not a small sample, either. He has opened 61 times in Test cricket.

AS: Not by a long way. Katich was a damn good opening batsman. Let me conclude that sentence with that cutting argumentative device used by ‘experts’ — Katich was a dam good opening batsman, period.

AM: Warner, too, just like some others, has got runs in some countries and has failed in some.

AS: Warner has failed in too many places — India, Sri Lanka, West Indies, and New Zealand.

AM: On the other hand, he averages over 90 in South Africa, the country that tests every batsman, especially openers.

AS: That’s a pity: Katich-Warner would have been great in the XI, just to watch reactions on publication.

AM: There is no obvious selection at the top. Perhaps Katich is one, but then, one must check the others. Let us check their performances in overseas conditions as openers, removing Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

AS: All these Australian openers seem to have failed at least three countries except for Katich.

AM: Phillip Hughes shows up.

AS: We can argue Hughes as a quirk of small sample. His record at home as opener is quite abominable. But when we are still abroad against non-minnows, notice how Katich towers above the rest, with 50.18.

AM: Katich seems to be a must-pick.

AM: There is little to separate the rest. Four men average between 41.33 and 44.91, and none of them is Slater or Warner.

AS: I guess, based on this criterion, the choice is between Langer, Taylor and Hayden. Now let us consider both home and away, and see how these men fared against the non-minnows all through their career.

AM: Langer seems a winner, followed by Hayden.

AS: Langer averages 49.54, Hayden 48.80 — but do note Katich, with 50.48!

AM: Katich, we have already included.

AS: Just want to underline his consistent brilliance, because there will be plenty of disbelieving reactions to this choice.

AM: But what about his partner?

AS: The choice is between the comrades in arms — Langer and Hayden. I just tried to add a strike rate sort into this mix. Contrary to our expectations, against the non-minnows, Hayden (59.1) does not score much quicker than Langer (58.6). And when sorted this way, another figure is revealed… with a curiously high strike rate… an opener we have forgotten all about — Kepler Wessels (55.6) when he played for Australia, although his average of 39.48 as opener would keep him out.

AM: Hayden’s famous conversion rate is not much superior to Langer’s either, if we consider non-minnows.

AS: Yes, Hayden had 28 hundreds and 27 fifties, while Langer had 16 hundreds and 17 fifties. The only major difference is Hayden hit way more sixes.

AM: But Langer averages 2 more overseas (44.91 to Hayden’s 42.96); is that enough to merit him a slot?

AS: Since we cannot use the argument of a faster scorer in favour of Hayden, I guess the fair choice of openers would be Katich and Langer.

AM: I think we can settle for Langer, though the choice is marginal.

OPENERS:
SIMON KATICH, JUSTIN LANGER

AS: Doing the same exercise for the middle order men, we have Smith at the top. I had quite expected that

AM: Smith is at the top no matter what. I guess Smith selects himself as automatically as Border.

AS: If we include both home and away against non-minnows, we have Ponting, Border, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn, Dean Jones and Adam Gilchrist …  as the names following Smith.

AM: If we take just overseas records for middle-order batsmen for Australia in non-minnow lands, we get Steve Waugh, Smith, Border and Ponting in that order.

AS: There is a freak low-sample-size entry of Darren Lehmann, but we can ignore that. The sequence is Waugh, 59.20; Smith, 58.43; Border, 57.28; and … after considerable daylight … Ponting, 46.96.

AM: Though Ponting, Jones, and Martyn come in a cluster.

AS: It seems that Waugh, Smith and Border were/are a class apart.

AM: By the way, even Greg Chappell makes an appearance.

AS: Chappell of the post-Packer era was right up there with these men, but we have already included him in the earlier side. Oh, and there is Adam Voges. But with averages of 7.50 against South Africa and 542 against West Indies; well, to use another remarkable argumentative device : enough said.

AS: Even if we take West Indies off Smith’s record (he has not played against minnows) he still clocks in at 57.11 overall and 51.85 away from home. I do not think there is any option but to take him in.

AM: The way he is going, Smith may end up as the second-greatest batsman in Australian history.

AS: Or in the history of cricket. Now, do we go for five batsmen? Or do we follow the traditional Australian strategy of six batsmen, one wicketkeeper and four champion bowlers?

AM: 6-1-4 has indeed been the Australian norm for some time now. Their bowlers have been so good that they have not needed five. Indeed, we have McGrath, Lillee, and Warne here.

AS: Given that we have no option of an all-rounder, we can give Steve Waugh the job of sending down a few overs of seam, something he used to do quite well early in his career. So, we can go with Ponting, Smith, Border, and Waugh in the middle-order.

AM: Waugh has been superb with ball in New Zealand and South Africa but for some reason he never got a bowl in England. He never thrived in Asia, which was understandable.

AS: That was because in his early days England folded to Alderman, McDermott, Hughes and others. Then Warne and McGrath came along. He was never needed.

AM: And in case one needs to trouble the West Indians, there is always the option of Border, who averages less than 25 against them.

AS: Yes, he may end up taking 11 wickets in a match.

AM: Just adding to Katich’s credentials, his 21 Test wickets have come at 30 each.

MIDDLE-ORDER:
RICKY PONTING, STEVEN SMITH, ALLAN BORDER, STEVE WAUGH

AS: The bowler with the average next to McGrath in this phase of Australian cricket is Ryan Harris. And after Lillee, we have Bruce Reid, Josh Hazlewood, Jason Gillespie, Paul Reiffel, Terry Alderman, Mitchell Starc and Merv Hughes before we get to Craig McDermott, Rodney Hogg and Mitchell Johnson.

AM: Johnson should not count. He has only done well in one Hemisphere, that too in two seasons. Coriolis Force finds its ways. But hey, Stuart Clark should be somewhere.

AS: If we do the same exercise of counting only the overseas matches against non-minnows, we have McGrath followed by Harris, Reiffel, Hazlewood, Alderman and Starc. Lillee comes after that.

AM: No, we have to pick Lillee simply because we had omitted himself from the previous set, where he was a shoo-in. We could have included him based on the first half of his career in the earlier team. Here we are considering the second half of his career and he is still very much comparable with the rest.

AS: On the other hand, if we include home matches as well, Clark comes into the list and rightr up to the second position. Unfortunately, he had only 94 Test wickets. Against non-minnows, home and away, the list reads McGrath, Harris, Clark and Lillee, in that order. Since Clark captured only 40 wickets away from home, he does not make it to these lists. One has to lower the 100 wicket cut-off to 94 to get him in.

AM: Except for his 2 Tests in West Indies which got him 6 wickets at 30.67, Harris did excellently everywhere.

AS: A short career, but a splendid one, with an average better away than at home. I guess we can form the bowling attack as McGrath, Lillee, Harris and Warne.

BOWLERS:
SHANE WARNE, RYAN HARRIS, DENNIS LILLEE, GLENN McGRATH

AM: That leaves the slot of the wicketkeeper.

AS: Since he is going to come in at No. 7, he better bat well.

AM: The options are really a post-Packer Rodney Marsh; Ian Healy, probably the best of the wicketkeepers; and Adam Gilchrist.

AS: Ah, Gilchrist: a curious phenomenon who cannot be explained. If we take batting into consideration, Gilchrist will walk in head, shoulder, waist and knees above the rest. And he was not really a keeper who made it into the team because he could cover his blemishes with runs: he was a genuinely good ’keeper in his own right.

AM: I guess Gilchrist gets the nod to give the bowlers sufficient time to demolish the opposition.

AS: Yes. And with Katich, Langer and Border alongside him, the top seven will have a great mix of left-handers alongside Smith, Waugh and Ponting.

WICKETKEEPER:
ADAM GILCHRIST

AS: Who will captain the side? Border, Waugh, Ponting or Smith?

AM: Do we need to look beyond Border?

AS: Border transformed the Australians from a very weak side to a very strong one. I guess he should get the honours.

AM: Now, only the 12th man from a nation of spectacular fielders, from Jones to Mike Veletta to Mark Waugh to David Warner. Even Brett Lee.

AS: I will go with Mark Waugh for close-in brilliance at slip, silly-point or short mid-wicket.

AM: Dav Whatmore can coach a side he would love to, while Mark Taylor will be ideal choice for manager.

FINAL TEAM:
Justin Langer
Simon Katich
Ricky Ponting
Steven Smith
Allan Border (c)
Steve Waugh
Adam Gilchrist (wk)
Shane Warne
Ryan Harris
Dennis Lillee
Glenn McGrath
12th man: Mark Waugh
Coach: Dav Whatmore
Manager: Mark Taylor