Top row, from left: Barry Richards, Vijay Merchant, George Headley, Martin Donnelly, Alan Melville (c) Bottom row, from left: Mike Procter, Hon. Alfred Lyttleton (wk), Bart King,    Ranji    Hordern, Charles Kortright, Vincent van der Bijl    Getty Images and Wikimedia Commons
Top row, from left: Barry Richards, Vijay Merchant, George Headley, Martin Donnelly, Alan Melville (c)
Bottom row, from left: Mike Procter, Hon. Alfred Lyttleton (wk), Bart King, Ranji Hordern, Charles Kortright, Vincent van der Bijl Getty Images and Wikimedia Commons

Making the Alphabetical All-Time XIs was great fun. However, going through the exercise, there is the heartbreak of having to drop several worthy men because they did not play too many Test matches. Arunabha Sengupta now forms an XI out of the men who missed out in this way.

It was heartbreaking on occasions.

Our rules were strict.

Only Test cricketers would be considered. Which meant no Vincent van der Bijl, no Garth le Roux etc.

We would go for players with a very small sample of Tests if, and only if, there was no decent alternative. This meant that men like Barry Richards missed out. 4 Tests constitute a very small sample, and there were plenty of men with more than decent records vying for a slot as the opening batsman of the R XI, Ian Redpath being the forerunner.

At the same time, someone like Buddy Oldfield did get in despite playing just 1 Test. There was not many Os with sizeable Test matches under their belts to choose from.

Perhaps now, at the end of the exercise, we can make an XI out of all the men who missed out. And I do believe that side will be a cracking one.

To start with we have two excellent openers, considered all-time greats by most judges. We have already mentioned Barry Richards. Walking in alongside him will be Vijay Merchant. He played just 10 Tests, but his stint at the highest level lasted more than one-and-a-half decades, and he was as classy in his last days as he was in his prime. The First-Class average of Merchant, although much of it amassed on the roads one had for pitches in India during his era, still ranks second only to Don Bradman.

The next man in the order is he unparalleled Caribbean master George Headley. He did play 21 Tests, and hence does not strictly fit in the category of small sample. The reason why he did not make it was that if we go through the Tests he played minutely, we will not find him tested by too many good bowlers. The English teams he batted against were mainly experimental elevens, or motley group of ageing or very young tourists. The only time he did face a good attack was in Australia in 1931-32, and there he averaged 37 in the 5 Tests. This is not to say he was not a great batsman. There is just not sufficient evidence to say so. But, in our small-sample-eleven, he does make it to the No. 3 slot.

The next man to bat is the Kiwi genius Martin Donnelly. He played 7 Tests, spread across the two sides of the Second World War. And he got 582 runs at 52.90. He was classy before the War. After the atrocities, he was a run machine. He got 64 at Leeds, 206 at Lord s, 75 and 80 at Old Trafford before running out of steam at The Oval. After the War, only Denis Compton captured the imagination of cricket fans like Donnelly did.

A similar career spread across the two sides of the Second World War was eked out by our next batsman, the South African Alan Melville. In 11 Tests he got 894 runs at 52.58. There were 4 hundreds, made in successive innings in 3 Tests, one of them the last he played before the War, and then the others the first two he participated in after the hiatus. A sign of absolute timeless class.

Mike Procter towers as the all-rounder in this side. Unlucky to play just 7 Tests due to the isolation that the South Africans had to go through, he nevertheless managed 41 wickets at 15 apiece in those few outings. Besides, for Gloucestershire and Natal he was a dream all-rounder for around two decades. Whether it be hitting century after century or capturing hat-tricks of leg-befores from while bowling round the wicket, he did it all. He averaged 36 for his nearly 22,000 runs and 19.53 for his 1,417 wickets in First-Class cricket.

Procter strides into the team. There was Franklyn Stephenson as well to be considered for the all-rounder s spot, but that excellent cricketer from West Indies loses out to the South African.

With Procter in the side, there is already the beginning of a formidable pace attack. This is appended by two bowlers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who did not get to play Test matches. But, both are acknowledged as genuine greats.

Charles Kortright was fearfully fast, and even WG Grace had problems facing him.

And Bart King was the greatest bowler to emerge from United States, one of the best fast bowlers of all time even if we stretch the geographical confines around the world, and one of the first exponents of swing bowling. He was a handy batsman too, with a triple-hundred in a club match.

As for the spinner s spot, it is a fascinating tussle between two leg-break googly bowlers of outstanding quality. Charles Father Marriott picked up 11 wickets in the only Test he played, that too at the age of 37. However, his wickets came against a rather ordinary West Indies side.

Hence, I would rather go for HV Ranji Hordern whose 46 wickets came at 23 apiece in just 7 Tests, 2 of them against a rather spirited South African side and 5 against the tough English team of 1911-12. Five 5-fors in 7 Tests is really extraordinary. The 5-Test wonder Jack Iverson, by the way, already managed to get into the I s XI because of the lack of genuine contenders.

The wicketkeepers vying for a place in this side are plenty. It is an extremely difficult choice from all the names that crop up, especially because this department is tough to judge from data. This is perhaps one occasion in this entire exercise when I will be a romantic and go for someone who can also double up as a lob bowler. Yes, I will pick Hon. Alfred Lyttleton. The historic relevance of this chirpy character, especially his 4 wickets in the 1884 Oval Test, is what tilts the scales in his favour. He was a brilliant gloveman as well as being a classy batsman.

With one more slot for the taking, I am tempted to append Procter, Kortright and King with another paceman. And the best candidate as the fourth pace bowler is one of the greatest cricketers not to have played Test cricket. Unfortunately, Vincent van der Bijl was just 22 when South Africa went into isolation and he was 43 by the time they returned to the fold. But for Natal, and in one glorious summer for Middlesex, this towering gentle giant was a phenomenal operator. His 767 First-Class wickets came at an average of 16.54, and a strike rate of 45.98. That should prove conclusively that he deserves a place in the side.

This is a fascinating side, with great batsmen, fantastic bowlers, a magnificent pace attack and an almost non-existent tail. This team can take on any of the Alphabetical XIs on almost equal terms.

Hence the team:

Tests First-Class
Name R Ave W Ave R Ave W Ave
Barry Richards 508 72.57 1 26 28,358 54.74 77 37.48
Vijay Merchant 859 47.72 13,470 71.64 65 32.12
George Headley 2,190 60.83 9,921 69.86 51 36.11
Martin Donnelly 582 52.9 9,250 47.43 43 39.13
Alan Melville (c) 894 52.58 10,598 37.85 132 29.99
Mike Procter 226 25.11 41 15.02 21,936 36.01 1,417 19.53
Hon. Alfred Lyttleton (wk) 94 15.66 2 (ct) 0 (st) 4,429 27.85 134 (Ct) 70 (St)
Bart King 2,134 20.51 415 15.66
Ranji Hordern 254 23.09 46 23.36 781 16.97 228 16.36
Charles Kortright 4,404 17.61 489 21.05
Vincent van der Bijl 2,269 16.2 767 16.54

12th man: EM Grace

Manager: HH Stephenson