Top row (from left): Bobby Simpson, Bill Brown, Don Bradman (c), Greg Chappell, Stan McCabe. Bottom Row (from left): Keith Miller, Alan Davidson, Ray Lindwall, Wally Grout, Clarrie Grimmett, Bill O’Reilly © Getty Images
Top row (from left): Bobby Simpson, Bill Brown, Don Bradman (c), Greg Chappell, Stan McCabe.
Bottom Row (from left): Keith Miller, Alan Davidson, Ray Lindwall, Wally Grout, Clarrie Grimmett, Bill O’Reilly © Getty Images

After covering the Australian XI between 1877 and 1914, Arunabha Sengupta and Abhishek Mukherjee tackle the problem of coming up with the best possible team during the second of the three phases of Australian Test history. The team formed in this article consists of all the cricketers who played after the First World War right up to the moment when Kerry Packer split the cricket world with his financial machinery.

AS: (AS): Having completed the rather difficult task of sifting through the Pre-War greats, let us now turn to our second phase, from 1919 to the appearance of Packer. This promises to be slightly easier because we do have some definite certainties in the line-up.

Abhishek Mukherjee (AM): We need to have a cut-off for the Packer era. How about the day before the bombshell was dropped?

AS: The last day of the last Test played by the pre-Packer guys.

AM: I think that makes sense. Let’s get started now.

AS: So, the first to make the list — since neither of you nor me answer to the name Jack Fingleton— is Don Bradman.

AM: Of course. But unlike the pre-War team, no other person can be considered a certainty in this side.

AS: Perhaps Alan Davidson may be a certainty. He was arguably the greatest left-arm fast bowler ever (I can sense protest from WasimAkram fans);add to that the best record (186 wickets at 20.53) among Australian bowlers with over 100 Test wickets.

AM: But the competition is too stiff to get Davidson in without considering others. In fact, we may have to push Dennis Lillee to the third era.

AS:Lillee had 171 wickets before the 1977 break and 184 afterwards, more or less at the same average. So, yes, I guess we can push Lillee back to the next era. The Packer break neatly cuts across his career, bisecting it into halves.

AM: We also need to have a minimum-Test cut-off of sorts. Unlike in the Post-War era, Test cricket had become more defined after World War I, what with more teams coming in. Some astonishing names like Sid Barnes, Alan Fairfax, Bob Massie and Gary Gilmour may miss out.

AS: Iverson misses out as well.

AM: As does John Benaud, who has better batting and bowling averages than his brother. John averaged 44.60 with bat and 6 with ball compared to Richie’s 24.45 and 27.03, but he played only 3 Tests.

AS: Warwick Armstrong will miss out as well for his neither-here-nor-there career. Unfortunately, he had been considered in the pre-War team but had lost out to some excellent players. As it is,we have plenty of short careers to deal with… such as Bob Cowper.

AM: And Lindsay Kline, probably the greatest Chinaman bowler in history.No, we need to draw a line somewhere.

AS: Bert Ironmonger took 74 wickets at 17 in his 14 Tests. That is the best average for any Australian bowler of the post-World War I era with 50 wickets. And he was a rarity — an Australian left-arm spinner, and a finger-spinner who lacked half his spinning finger.

AM:A 15-Test cut-off will rule out Toshack as well. That would be unfair, since Toshack would probably have played 50 Tests had he not been a contemporary of Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, and Bill Johnston.

AS:True. He played just 12. And perhaps we need to consider that All-Time Tests will not have wickets converted into mud-puddings by rain. Soa 15-Test cut-off it is.

AM:We need to pick 11 men from 66, then. Or 10 from 65, since we already have Bradman.

AS:Generally, that is not a great problem, but for the excellence of a lot of them.Australians have always picked their men well, so while there are fewer men in numbers, the men have been uniformly brilliant.

AM:Let us begin with the openers. Our candidates are Herbie Collins, the four Bills — Woodfull, Ponsford, Brown and Lawry,Arthur Morris, Bobby Simpson and Keith Stackpole.

AS:Of these, Simpson has the best record as an opener.And remember, we are not considering his return from retirement to lead the Packer-hit Australian side

AM:Simpson has an average of 55 at the top. The others with tremendous numbers are the three Bills. Both Woodfull and Ponsford averaged 65 in First-Class cricket, and Australian domestic cricket has always been as tough as they make them.

AS:Yes, tougher than say playing a South African side of the 1930s or an Indian side of the 1940s.

AM:Let us finalise on Simpson first. Simpson had probably the most complete opener in the post-1950s era. As an opener his worst average was in South Africa, and even there he got his runs at 48.30.

AS:Simpson can also add a lot of value with his bowling —though I doubt he will be required to bowl much in this team, especially leg-spin.

AM:He was also one of the greatest slip fielders in history. He led and coached them too. I wonder how many men have contributed as much towards Australian cricket.But all that is redundant. For sheer consistency across oppositions and conditions, Simpson seems peerless as an opener.

AS:Yes, Simpson is definitely in. Of the others, Lawry played the longest. He was also not as slow as people think he was.

AM:He was simply unattractive. Probably an Alastair Cook from another era.

AS:But as Steven Smith continues to show us, ugliness has no correlation with runs. But back to the task in hand now: Morris earned untold praise from his first captain — none other than The Don — but somehow his career did not quite manage to continue in the same vein after that supreme 1948 series. In that series, we must remember, they were playing a very weak England attack. Morris finished with 3,533 runs, but in his last 32 Tests (of a 46-Test career) he averaged 37.28.

AM:That is similar to Neil Harvey’s career, but we will discuss him later.

AS:Yes, very much so. I think we should check the other Bills as well.

AS:Woodfull and Ponsfordwere consistent and prolific.

AM:Ponsford played 7 series but averaged more than 20 in only 3 of them.One of them was against a West Indies side of the early 1930s.

AS:Yes. Consistency was an issue with Ponsford — although he became a run-machine in the last 3 series he played.

AM:Woodfull,on the other hand, failed only once, in 1934. He averaged 34 in the Bodyline series despite getting hit.

AS:Larwood wrote that Woodfull was slow on his feet and immobile, but he had plenty of guts to stick it out nevertheless. Considering Bradman’s average was brought down to 56 in that series, 34 is no mean task. I think apart from Simpson,Woodfull was the most consistent of the openers.Collins does not have the same numbers, in spite of playing in the 1920s, when the wickets were by far the best possible.

AM:Collins’ numbers seem somewhat inflated by his average of 85 against South Africa. He did not get even 40 against England.

AS:So we can take him Collins off the list.

AM: Similarly, Morris misses out because ofthe downward spiral.

AS: Woodfull will score over Lawry in consistency, although the rate of scoring was similar.We need to check Brown, though. Brown was a very handy opening batsman, but unfortunately did not play as a regular opener in his last tour with Barnes and Morris taking up the places. But we cannot leave him out only because he was not consistently the first choice even in his own era!

AM: Indeed. He averaged 50 as an opener, 51 in England. Surprisingly, he failed against India(if you can call 42.67 a failure at all). Perhaps he was too scarred by the Mankading incident.

AS: Brown actually never failed. As you said, his failures were against India, that too after The War when his best days were behind him. He also failed in the 2 Tests of 1936-37, but one of them was on a mud-cake of a wicket. So, I think we will have to go for Brown as opener alongside Simpson.

OPENERS:

BOBBY SIMPSON, BILL BROWN

AS: Now coming to that sensitive area known as the middle-order. The obvious contenders are Greg Chappell, Charlie Macartney, Lindsay Hassett, Neil Harvey, Stan McCabe and Norman O’Neill.

AM: Then there are the surprise ones, Bob Cowper, Jack Ryder and Doug Walters.

AS:Chappell had 4,097 runs at 53.20 from 51 Tests before the Packer break and 3,013 at 54.78 from 35 after that. There is not much to choose, but he played more in the pre-1977 era.On the other hand, Macartney’s record is 1,252 runs from 14 Tests after World War I, at 69.55 with 6 hundreds with virtually no failure.

AM:But had we not agreed on a 15-Test cut-off?

AS:Macartney had played 35 Tests in all. The 15-Test cut-off is fine, but it will be harsh on men who have played, say, 14 Tests on either side.

AM:But then, we had decided to leave out Armstrong.

AS: Yes, and Armstrong scored 616 runs at 56 and took 17 wickets at 24 during this window, but he played only 10 Tests. Macartney and Armstrong both fail the 15-Test criterion if we limit it to the Post-War Tests, but that seems a cruel thing because they actually played more Tests in their career. But if we take their whole career into consideration, their numbers are not that good: Armstrong’s batting average comes down to 38 and Macartney’s to 41.

AM: So we have to ignore them. That means we will be left with Harvey, Hassett, O’Neill, McCabe, Cowper, Walters and Ryder.

AS: Harvey, for all his great start, averaged 33 in England and 38 against them. He got the bulk of his runs against weaker sides. Considering he played 79 Tests and averaged less than 40 in his last 43, it was a lopsided career.

AM:Just like Morris’, as we have discussed earlier.

AS:Even his success against West Indies was against the weaker early 1950s bowling attack, when he got 911 runs at 56.93.When Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs and the rest played the 1960-61 series, he got 143 at 17.87. It may be heart-breaking for certain imbecilic indices that fall prey to base rate fallacy and do not check for failure frequencies, but Harvey has plenty of holes in his career.

AM: Let us move on. As we know, McCabe had little beyond three spectacular innings, two of which did come against the best English attacks of the time. His numbers, 2,748 runs at 48.21 with 6 hundreds, make impressive reading. However, if one takes away those iconic three innings the figures come down drastically, to 2,140 at 38.21. Those innings also remained his only Test 150s.

AS:Yet, he was much more consistent. After his first three series, during which he had a slow start, he never really failed in any series; and averaging 42 in the Bodyline series was rather brilliant. On the other hand, most of Walters’ runs came against the weakest of oppositions—West Indies between 1968 and 1973 (when they did not win a series),New Zealand and India.

AM:Walters’ record against England was ordinary (1,981 runs at 35.37), in England was abysmal (745 at 25.68).

AS:As for Hassett, he did not have too good a time against the stronger England sides, made merry against the weaker ones just after The Wars. He had his best time against West Indies and South Africa in the late 40s and early 50s, decidedly weaker attacks. Similarly, Cowper had a torrid time in India, Pakistan, England and South Africa, but a good series in West Indies against a very good attack. He also had that triple-century at home against England.

AM:We also have Ryder, but his average of 51.62 is mainly due to his scoring at 111.33 against South Africa. He got his runs at 24.33 in England. There arealso O’Neill and Ian Chappell.

AS:Now, O’Neill did suffer from the expectations of being a ‘new Bradman’, though not as badly as Ian Craig; and he had decent numbers … his ‘failure’ was England where he averaged 37.

AM:Chappelli had a torrid time in South Africa (288 runs at 17) but had over 40 everywhere elseincluding 46 in England.

AS: I would say in this mix, Greg Chappell is far ahead of the rest. He averaged at least 40 in all the countries.

AM:No, there is no doubt over Greg’s inclusion, and he is followed by McCabe, O’Neill and Ian Chappell.

AS:I think the best option is to go for McCabe. He was consistent, and also had the ability to deliver incredible innings when the chips were down. And after he matured over the first three series, he never had a bad series thereafter. All the others discussed had plenty of bad patches.

AM:On the other hand, Ross Edwards had two rather good tours of England but that was about it for him. He failed in West Indies and mostly at home.

AS:Edwards seems like an Australian MohinderAmarnath.

AM:Take away that series against the weak West Indies, and McCabe actually averages 50. On the other hand, South Africa always gave Chappelli a torrid time. And with everything else nearly the same, we will go with the one who did better under pressure.

MIDDLE-ORDER:

DON BRADMAN, GREG CHAPPELL, STAN McCABE

AM: Do we need an all-rounder for this side? Or should Bradman be considered the all-rounder of the side, being worth two batsmen at the same time?

AS:We definitely do not need a sixth batsman. Bradman is as good as two.

AM:That means we can choose our five best bowlers and make the batting credentials irrelevant.

AS:Yes. If some of them are all-rounders, well and good. Remember, we have decided to leave Lillee for the post-1977 side.

AM:We have three legendary leg-spinners to choose from: Clarrie Grimmett, Bill O’Reilly and Richie Benaud.

AS:Yes, Arthur Mailey was way too expensive with his romance of flight and turn.Of these, Grimmett had by far the most five-fors and so on, but O’Reilly had a better average and a meaner streak in the way he did not give away runs.Bradman saw both of them, and had enough personal problems with both, but opted for O’Reilly as the better bowler.

AM:However, Bradman had included both men in his All-Time World XI. One must remember here that Grimmett never got to play at the highest level in his youth.

AS:Grimmett’s greatest fan Ashley Mallett was quite good as well. He was also a rarity as a post-War Australian off-spinner, and was perhaps the best off-spinner of his day, but he was not really in the class of O’Reilly and Grimmett.And while Benaud was the linking thread of great leg-spinners between Grimmett-O’Reilly and Shane Warne, I do not think he was as good a bowler as the other two.

AM:We must remember here that Grimmett and O’Reilly bowled to superior batting line-ups. It is fair that we take out their numbers against New Zealand and South Africa.

AS:Yes, we can do that. If we take away South Africa, Grimmett’s average goes up to 29. Grimmett did not play against any other team that can be considered the minnow of the day. On the other hand, ifwe take away South Africa and New Zealand, O’Reilly’s also goes up — but only to 25.I think that says a lot about the two.

AM:I guess so, but remember, we can pick both and leave out Benaud.

AS: Let us look at how Benaud performs against the best batsmen of his day. If we restrict his recordto England, South Africa and West Indies, his average goes up from 27 to 30. In the 12 Tests in India and Pakistan, he picked up 71 wickets at 19.32.

AM:But you have to agree that Benaudhad mastered the subcontinent, especially India, like no one else. He was, without a doubt, the greatest touring wrist-spinner on Indian soil.

AS: They were helpful conditions, which O’Reilly and Grimmett never got. And let us face it: the batsmen were ordinary. Shane Warne was up against Tendulkar, Dravid, and Laxman. The best Benaud bowled to were Vijay Manjrekar and Chandu Borde. So, we have to take that into account. So, I think we cat shortlist it to O’Reilly and Grimmett, in that order, and us see whether we go with one or both.

AM:As for the pace attack, we are slotting Lillee for the post-1977 period. That gives us leeway to choose between Alan Davidson, Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Jeff Thomson, Graham McKenzie, Bill Johnston and Max Walker.

AS:As discussed, Davidson’s 186 wickets at 20.53 is way ahead of the rest. He is followed by Miller (170 at 22.97) and Lindwall(228 at 23.03). I think there is very little to choose between Lindwall and Miller — we are not looking at batting credentials, remember — except that from a fast-bowling point of view Lindwall was a lot fitter and durable.

AM:We can get in all three, since we do not have Lillee.

AS:Yes. And of the rest of them, Johnston was brilliant without being quite so good. As for Thomson, he was super-fast and intimidating but lacked the skill — and therefore the numbers — of the three mentioned.Walker, good as he was, was once again not in the same bracket.

AM:McKenzie, too,was not in the same class, though he was the leading wicket-taker in the world in the 1960s.

AS:Yes, in the 1960s the Australian pace resources were a bit thin: there were only Alan Connolly and Neil Hawke other than McKenzie.

AS:So, if we fix on Davidson, Lindwall and Miller, we can go with Grimmett and O’Reilly.And that means we also have a genuine batsman coming in at No. 6in the form of Miller, and some superb lower-order batting in the form of Davidson and Lindwall.

BOWLERS:

KEITH MILLER, ALAN DAVIDSON, RAY LINDWALL, CLARRIE GRIMMETT, BILL O’REILLY

AM:We still do not have the gloveman, though.

AS:Yes, the perennial problem. We are spoilt for choices here, though.

AM:We will have to get the best man for these bowlers. Bert Oldfield was great to Grimmett and O’Reilly, and also kept wicket to Tim Wall.

AS:Don Tallon was said to be the best of all time —and the man who said that was Bradman. But then, Bradman always went overboard while evaluating The Invincibles.

AM:And then, Wally Grout, and there is the small matter of Rod Marsh as well.

AS:Tallon had a short career and Oldfield a long one. Grout was exceptional in the 1960s, as was Marsh in the 1970s.

AM:We are leaving out Barry Jarman,Gil Langley and Brian Taber, I presume.

AS:A man as mild-mannered as Dennis Amiss had confided that Marsh used to be very, very irritating behind the stumps.For an All-Time Australian XI that should carry some weight.

AM:Oldfield, on the other hand, was extremely polite, even apologetic.

AS: Yes, to say “it was not your fault, Harold” after being struck on the temple by Larwood is something. But let us see. Marsh was by far the best batsman among all these men.

AM:Unfortunately, none of these is a very important criterion when it comes to team selection. We had decided to ignore batting as well when it comes to the bottom six. We already have a world-class all-rounder and two bowlers who were more-than-reasonable batsmen.

AS:Yes, that is true. It says something about the quality of the ’keepers, given that apart from Hammy Love and Ben Barnett (who played 5 Tests between) them there were just 10 more men through these nearly 60 years to stand behind the stumps for Australia.I think among all these men, the one most suited to keeping against champion pace and great leg-spin was Grout, who kept to both Davidson and Benaud, and was one hell of a gloveman.I will pick him.

AM: Let us check the others. Tallon had kept to Iverson as well as to Doug Ring and Ian Johnson; and of course Lindwall and Miller.

AS: Marsh had just 12 stumpings out of his 355 dismissals. On the other hand, Oldfield had 52 stumpings to 78 catches — the other extreme.

AM: Even McCabe opened bowling when Oldfield kept wickets. It is unfair to compare.

AS:I think we can go for the clichédhorses-for-courses way in choosing Grout, just because of his track record in ’keeping both to pace and leg-spin.

AM:Yes, I guess. We do not have much option beyond that. Grout also had a urinal named after him.

AS:So did Benaud, but we have left him out.

AM: Which is why we should pick Grout: any self-respecting cricket team should have someone with a toilet named after him.

AS: Absolutely.For the sake of sanitation we can do our best to balance things out by including Grout.And for the sake of sanity we do need a measure to pick wicketkeepers going down the line.

WICKETKEEPER:

WALLY GROUT

AS: For the captain, I guess we do not need to look beyond Bradman.

AM:I cannot think of anyone else either.

AS:Simpson is there of course, perhaps as vice-captain.Bill Ferguson will be the baggage master and scorer. As long as Fingleton does not accompany the team as journalist, we should be okay.

AM:Yes. Talking of Fingleton, Vic Richardson will probably be our 12th man.

AS:We do have a great 12th man in Harvey, and else Nip Pellew.O’Neill is a great choice for a 12th man. Superb fielder.

AM:Richardson can also be fitness trainer. And in case we need to play other sports…

AS:I would not like him anywhere close to a team led by Bradman.

AM:True. We already have Greg Chappell in the side.

AS:Greg Chappell was indebted to him for changing his grip, so he should be okay with Bradman. As long as it came to scoring runs, Greg, unlike the other members of his family, did not allow anything to come in the way.

AM:I think we can settle for Nip Pellew for the 12th man. He made out-fielding fashionable in an era when it was not the most preferred suit among cricketers.Also, Armstrong can be coach.

AS:Was he a good coach?

AM:I have no clue, but I am sure he could have bullied anyone to listen to him if he wanted to. And, of course, Woodfull will be manager.

FINAL TEAM:

Bobby Simpson
Bill Brown
Don Bradman (c)
Greg Chappell
Stan McCabe
Keith Miller
Alan Davidson
Ray Lindwall
Wally Grout
Clarrie Grimmett
Bill O’Reilly
12th man: Nip Pellew
Coach: Warwick Armstrong
Manager: Bill Woodfull