Top row: Monty Noble (c), Joe Darling, Clem Hill, Victor Trumper, Vernon Ransford Bottom row: Billy Murdoch, Hugh Trumble, Charlie Turner, JJ Ferris, Jack Blackham (wk), Fred Spofforth
Top row: Monty Noble (c), Joe Darling, Clem Hill, Victor Trumper, Vernon Ransford
Bottom row: Billy Murdoch, Hugh Trumble, Charlie Turner, JJ Ferris, Jack Blackham (wk), Fred Spofforth

As Australia are busy playing their 800th Test, Cricketcountry’s Arunabha Sengupta and Abhishek Mukherjee have got down to form their All-Time XI by wading through the enormous talent pool. To make an insurmountable task easier, they have broken the history of Australian cricket into three different parts, as explained in the previous article on this topic. Here is the XI for the Australian team stretching from the beginning of Test cricket in 1877 to the start of the First World War.

Arunabha Sengupta (AS): As already mentioned in the Problems of Australian All-Time XI, it is almost impossible to make the side in a single sitting. There are just too many great names to sift through. Hence we have broken it up into three groups: pre-World War I, World War I to Kerry Packer’s World Series, and the modern era. Here we start with the first team.

Abhishek Mukherjee (AM): But even during the first few years, we do have quite a few names to choose from.

AS: Should we start by putting down the absolute certainties in the team list?

AM:Yes, I guess.

AS: The first man to be listed should be Fred Spofforth, arguably the best bowler to have drawn breath, the man whose incredible burst gave Australia their first hat-trick in 1878-79, and then created the lore of the Ashes in 1882. Even WG Grace fell to his venom and guile.

AM: Also,if we look at the acceptance of Australia as a cricketing nation at par with England, we have to considerate the way Spofforth helped them rout MCC in 1878… the famed single-day match.

AS: Yes. Spofforth is a given. The next two men on the list as absolute certainties need to be Clem Hill and Victor Trumper.

AM: Indeed, the two greatest pre-War batsmen of Australia, probably in that order.

AS: Trumper…. well, folklore has accepted him as nonpareil in terms of romanticism, aesthetics etc; and he definitely was right up there in terms of performance as well. However, if we look closely at the records, we will find that Hill had as good numbers as him, and performed significantly better against the tougher opposition. Hill was more workmanlike in his approach, more Allan Border, than say Mark Waugh. Hence not remembered with the same flights of imagination.

AM: The numbers tell the story. If we go by averages there is little to choose (Hill had 39.21 to Trumper’s 39.04). But Hill averaged more against England (35.46) than Trumper (32.79).

AS: And some of Trumper’s legend stems from the deeds in the wet English season of 1902, when cricket writers gushed over him, coupled with Australia becoming a newly-formed Federation and looking for a national sporting hero. It was a happy coincidence. But even in that season, Hill did better in the Tests (36.85 to Trumper’s 30.87), though Trumper had a fantastic 48.49 in all matches.

AM: But Trumper fared with spectacular success on wet wickets. And all said and done they were the two best batsmen of Australia before WW1, and two of the very best of Australia if we stretch the canvas to all-time. Yes, they are must-picks.

AS:So, Trumper is one of the openers and Hill comes in at one-drop.

AM:  Now for Trumper’s partner.

AS: Wait,Trumper actually fared much better as a middle-order batsman(1,553 runs at 48.80) than as opener (1,650 at 33). That is something pink-tinted glasses often hide from us. So do we take Trumper as an opener or a middle order bat?

AM: Four of his top five scores actually came in the middle-order…

AS: … as did 5 of his 8 Test hundreds.

AM:So, given that we have champions like Warren Bardsley and Joe Darling at the top, pushing Trumper down may be a good idea.

AS:Let us look at the other openers too. Charles Bannerman did not do much more than that 165 retired hurt.

AM:It was too short a career anyway. His brother Alec probably had the ability to bat out all five days, but unfortunately, Tests are decided byruns, not minutes.

AS:Alec was a stonewaller. Perhaps the ones who think Test cricket is a matter of playing as many deliveries as possible will consider him to be the best batsman ever to grace the game, but otherwise, an average of 23 does not cut it in an All-Time (albeit till 1914) XI.

AM: In fact, according to Charles Davis, Alec Bannerman took 620 balls to score 91 at Sydney 1891-92.

AS: He can be a special museum exhibit when people flock in to watch the All-Time Tests.

AM: Yes. And he will outlive the museum for sure.

AS: Let us move on to more serious aspects. As an opening batsman before 1914, Bardsley had the best average for those over 500 runs, although he was helped by the fact that he played after 1909, and the art of wicket preparation was slightly more developed by then.

AM: On the other hand, Darling played from 1896.

AS: Yes, and Darling still had a superior record as an opening batsman than Charles Kelleway (1911-12).

AM: However, Bardsley’s average drops somewhat if we consider only England. In fact, against England — the team to beat in the era — Noble actually averages more than Bardsley as opener.

AS:Noble played much of his cricket on under prepared tracks as well.

AM: Noble’s inclusion will also enable us to go with the extra batsman at No. 6. This may be crucial, since wicketkeepers of the era were not exceptional with bat.

AS: Given that he was one of the best swing bowlers as well, Noble is a good option for an opening batsman.

AM: Had Noble’s record been inferior to Bardsley’s or Darling’s, the choice would have been more difficult. But since the trio have similar records with bat, Noble — one of the greatest all-rounders in the history of the sport — is a shoo-in.

AS:  We do have a few other exceptional all-rounders though. Not only do we have Kelleway, but there are also George Giffen and Warwick Armstrong, and even a pre-War slice of Charley Macartney. However, let us discuss openers for now.

AM: We have Noble, Bardsley and Darling as options. Oh, and as for Kelleway, he really peaked between the Wars; his pre-War heroics were mostly against South Africa.

AS: Darling was left-handed, as was Bardsley. With Hill to come in first-drop and Trumper probably at 4 or 5, it does seem to be quite a combination. Oh, we have forgotten Reggie Duff… but good as he was, Duff was not of the same class as the other names.

AM: Trumper will be 5. The numbers tell us to put him at 5. He averaged 69.37 at No. 5.

AS: In all likelihood. We do have a couple of exceptional all-rounders apart from Noble in Armstrong and Giffen. Honestly, I donot see too many batsmen giving them competition; so, to make room for them in the middle, I would say Noble goes in with Darling.

OPENERS:
MONTY NOBLE (also all-rounder), JOE DARLING

AM: We have No. 4 up for grabs. Bardsley can fit in there, but his No. 4 runs(590 runs at 53.63) were mostly South Africa-bashing. He averaged only 19.20 against England.

AS:  The other big name we need to consider for the middle order is Vernon Ransford.

AM:And, of course, Billy Murdoch.

AS:Yes,of course there was Billy Murdoch: the first overseas hundred, first double-hundred, exceptional on difficult wickets as in the 1882 Oval Test, and more. To average 32 between 1877 and 1890 over 33 innings was no mean feat.

AM: Unfortunately, his preferred batting position clashed with Hill’s.

AS:Despite that, it is difficult to leave Murdoch out. Between 1877 and 1890, Murdoch was right next to WG and AG Steel, even ahead of Arthur Shrewsbury,if we go by the averages.No one else was close.

AM: But let us decide on Ransford first. He will occupy No. 5 happily. If we pick Murdoch he will have to bat at 6.

AS:Wait, did we not decide on Trumper at 5?

AM: Right. But, hey, Trumper averaged 86.33 at No. 3 as well, which took his tally to 3 and 5 combined to 814 runs at 74. One can ignore his 6 innings at No. 4 as an aberration. If a man does well at both 3 and 5, it is likely that he will do a decent job at 4.

AS:  Yes, that seems logical. So, do we go for Ransford at 5? Or do we opt for Murdoch assuming he will also do well at No. 5?

AM: Murdoch can always hold up the rear at 6 (remember, we have Noble at the top?)

AS: That is indeed true. We do need the extra batsman, given that the wicketkeeper will not be an Adam Gilchrist. Noble is as good as any fifth bowler one can think of. In fact he is good enough to open the bowling in quite a few All Time teams.

AM:So, we have Darling, Noble, Hill, Trumper, Ransford.

AS: Yes, and there is one great bowler in this solid-line up.

AM: Now if we can decide whether to play a batsman at No. 6 or an all-rounder.

AS: I think we should go for the extra batsman. We really do not need six bowlers. Noble was not merely a batting all-rounder: he was an outstanding bowler.

AM:I think the batsman should get the nod. However, before deciding on Murdoch, let us get back to Bardsley a bit.

AS: Before the First World War, Bardsley did have 1,490 runs at 45.15. However, 914 of these came against the rather weak South Africans, at 76.16. Against a stronger England side, he scored 576 at 27.42. Of course, his record in England was good, and he had a good series in 1909, and he got runs towards the end of it. However, his record in England is boosted by a couple of centuries he scored against South Africa during the Triangular Series of 1912.

AM: Murdoch actually did better than a pre-War Bardsley, and Murdoch played his cricket on far worse pitches. Remember, the difference between 1880 and 1914 was way, way more pronounced than that between 1980 and 2014. The wickets improved — rather, got some shape — with every passing year.

AS:  I think given this, Murdoch is the better candidate for the side.

MIDDLE-ORDER:
CLEM HILL, VICTOR TRUMPER, VERNON RANSFORD

AS: For the slot of the wicketkeeper do we need to look beyond Blackham?Of course there was the solidity of JJ Kelly and the excitement of Sammy (Hanson) Carter, but Blackham, after all, was the Prince of Wicketkeepers, hardly doing a thing wrong over one-and-a-half decades…

AM: … other than getting extremely nervous in the pavilion when captain, of course.

AS:  Carter was the first wicketkeeper to crouch behind the stumps. Blackham bent from the waist.

AM:  Carter was also the better, and more innovative, of the two batsmen. He invented the scoop.

AS: Blackham kept wickets to faster bowlers. He stood up to the stumps to Spofforth. He even stumped two men off Spofforth.

AM:On the other hand, Kelly did the glovework for the pace of Ernie Jones and the spin of Hugh Trumble— and also Jack Saunders.

AS: Carter did keep to Tibby Cotter and Bill Whitty, who were fast,as well as RanjiHordern’s leg-breaks and googlies.

AM: What to do?I can go with Carter, the Yorkshireman…

AS: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…

AM: Blackham travelled a lot. He travelled between Australia and England so frequently that he could have had a living out of frequent-flier miles if they were there in the 1800s. And he remained fit.

AS: Well, Carter kept wickets in USA in 1933.There isvery little to choose between these stalwarts, but perhaps Blackham should get the nod. He kept non-stop without missing a Test, during the first 17 Tests in history. He travelled incredible distances, and never doing much wrong…

AM: He was also rarely injured, despite standing up to some outstanding fast bowlers with ordinary gloves.

AS: And among these men, he was the only one to lead Australia, which will make him a valuable member of the think-tank.

WICKETKEEPER:
JACK BLACKHAM

AM: Now, we already have Spofforth and Noble in our attack. Who else do we have?

AS: We have a platter of Harry Boyle, Charlie Turner, JJ Ferris, Cotter, Whitty, and Ernie Jones to choose the other pacemen, while there is Giffen as well — and Saunders.

AM: Let us discuss Hugh Trumble first. He should probably get the nod as the spinner. He had most wicketsfor Australia (141 at 21.78) in the pre- War era. Remember, all his wickets came against England.

AS:Who are the other options?We have Joey Palmer as the off-spinner, Hordern as the mystery leg-spinner and Armstrong as leg-spinning all-rounder.

AM: Trumble had excellent overseas numbers, too. On English soil his 67 wickets came at 20.35.

AS:How does Palmer compare against Trumble? He had comparable numbers (78 wickets at 21.51), but he bowled on shoddier pitches. His 23 wickets in England all came at 25.56.

AM: No, Trumble walks in. That leaves us with two bowlers.

AS:  Remember, we have Noble already.Cotter (89 wickets at 28.64) and Jones (64 at 29.01) were incredibly fast, but expensive given the general averages bowlers obtained in that era.

AM:This means that since we already have the extra batsman and extra seamer(Noble), Armstrong should get the nod over Giffen if there is a toss-up.

AS:Let us decide on these two men now. Turner and Ferris were almost incomparable. Turner had 101 wickets at 16.53, while Ferris had 61 at 12.70 (of which 48 came for Australia, at 14.25).

AM: Yes, Ferris played for England against South Africa as well.

AS: Ferris being left-arm will add variety.

AM:Of course, both Turner and Ferris can play, which means Armstrong will have to sit out —again, a terrible thought.

AS: Remember, Trumble, Turner and Ferris could all bat. But we leave out Hordern, do we? We already have a dentist in the team in the form of Noble…

AM: What kind of logic is that? No, on a serious note, I cannot see how we can fit in Hordern. But even then, Giffen and Armstrong miss out.

AS: But before getting both Turner and Ferris, let us check on Giffen and Armstrong one final time. Giffen was an exceptional all-rounder, no doubt. 

AM: No, we will have to go for the better batsman. There is little value-addition in having two all-rounders in addition to four world-class bowlers.

AS: Also, Giffen’s batting at Test level did not do justice to his abilities. It would have been a completely different matter if we looked at his First-Class deeds.

AM:We have too many world-class seamers in the side to compromise on the better batsman.

AS: But Murdoch or Armstrong?

AM: Armstrong gives us a second spin option, something this team does not have.

AS: If we look at it, Armstrong was a genuinely good batsman who could hold his own in the line up purely through batting. A batting average of 38.68 in Tests is extremely good for those days (35.67 if we consider just pre-War).

AM: Buthis bowling numbers do not look that impressive. He got his 70 wickets at merely 35.91 apiecebefore the Wars. His batting numbers, too, were bolstered by his 8 Tests against South Africa.

AS: Again, Murdoch was only after Grace and Steel in his day. Armstrong was nowhere near the top with his batting between 1902 and 1914, our period of interest.His bowling, too, was negative — hugely useful, but more as a play on patience of the batsmen.So, my vote will be for a specialist batsman.

SIXTH BATSMAN:
BILLY MURDOCH 

BOWLERS:
HUGH TRUMBLE, JJ FERRIS, CHARLIE TURNER, FRED SPOFFORTH

AS:  This bowling line up can tear through any All-Time XI.

AM:Some outstanding moustaches in that squad, too.

AS:  The next thing to decide is the captain. We have Darling, Noble, Hill, Murdoch, Blackham, and Trumble. Noble was more successful than any.

AM: Also, if anyone else leads, Spofforth may never get a bowl and Turner and Ferris may be bowled to death.

AS: Yes, Noble was innovative, and was the first captain to make regular bowling changes.

AM: That leaves us with the 12th man, a coach, and a manager. We will pick Giffen, simply because he could fit into any role. I would have loved to get George Bonnor in: not only did he have the second-greatest beard in the history of cricket, after WG, he also threw the ball incredibly hard. But in the end, runs and wickets probably count more than swagger.

AS: We will call upon Tom Horan as the manager? Or do you prefer Peter McAlister just to watch Clem Hill deck him one?

AM: No, to get McAlister will be to akin to playing with fire. We have to get the Irishman.

AS: And as coach, perhaps Charles Bannerman after all? He can even stand in as umpire if needed.

AM:Yes. A team of the era cannot be complete without a mention of the old man.

AS:  And he was a good coach after all

FINAL TEAM:

Monty Noble (c)
Joe Darling
Clem Hill
Victor Trumper
Vernon Ransford
Billy Murdoch
Hugh Trumble
Charlie Turner
JJ Ferris
Jack Blackham (wk)
Fred Spofforth
12th man: George Giffen
Coach: Charles Bannerma
Manager: Tom Horan