Now that the XI of left-handers is out of the way, let us shift our focus to those who batted with one hand and bowled with the other. It will not be fair to use the word ambidextrous to describe these people, but hey, what option do we have?
Just for the sake of it, let us split them into two XIs with the obvious classification. This one will consist of men who batted right-handed and bowled with their left hands — and, of course, played Test cricket.
Let me give a prior warning: this side will be filled with innumerable all-rounders. Let me begin with Mankad, who averaged 31.47 with bat and 32.32 with ball. There is, however, a catch: as an opener Mankad averaged 40.74 — a number that dropped to 19.34 when he batted down the order.
Mankad remains the only Test cricketer with 2 double-hundreds and 2 eight-wicket hauls in Test cricket. India did not win a lot of matches during his career, but in the 5 matches he played he averaged 112.60 with bat and 13.31 with ball (there is no typo there). He took 12 wickets in India’s first ever win and 13 more in their second. And then, there was that Lord’s epic of 1952.
Rhodes had more First-Class wickets (4,204) than anyone else. He also finished a mere 31 short of the 40,000-run mark.
What about Test cricket? He started batting at numbers 10 and 11, and made his way to the top. At Melbourne in 1911-12, he added 323 with Jack Hobbs for the opening stand. He averaged 30.19 with bat and 26.96 with ball, numbers one cannot ignore. The corresponding numbers on Australian soil — the acid test for his contemporaries — were 29.48 and 28.83 (remember, finger-spinners seldom do well in Australia).
Rhodes will make it, though his Kirkheaton, Yorkshire, and England mate George Hirst will miss out. On a different note, he was the only Test cricketer to play till past 52, and is the only one with a career spanning over 30 years.
All names are more or less self-explanatory. All of them had the ability to tear any attack apart. All three could win matches on their own. To add to that, Clarke had 2 five-fors (including 6 for 9 against India) with his finger-spin and Denis Compton one with his Chinaman. Worrell was the best bowler of the lot: he took 69 wickets including 2 six-wicket hauls with his mixed bag of seam and spin. Inzamam had bowled as well, but the less said about that the better.
We probably need to talk about the captain a bit. Such was his significance and stature that it is often forgotten how great a batsman he was. Worrell averaged 49.48, but that included the 1963 tour of England when he was past his prime (in form as well as fitness): he went on that tour because he had to lead West Indies. His average read 52.36 before that. He was also the first West Indian to carry his bat through a completed innings.
One wonders whether this side needed yet another all-rounder, but one must remember here that none of the two openers averaged over 35. Macartney averaged 41.78 with bat, a number that rose to 43 on English soil. It was not a small sample either, for he played 21 of his 35 Tests in England. The only worrying bit is that he may not like batting so low down the order.
Now add to that two facts: first, his left-arm spin got him 45 wickets at 27.55 (including 7 for 58 and 4 for 27 at Headingley in 1909); and secondly, he averaged almost 70 with bat after World War I, an indication of what the world had missed out on.
This was easy, as Bisset is the only Test wicketkeeper who filled the criterion (Morne van Wyk, the only other international wicketkeeper who bowled left-handed and batted right-handed, did not play a Test).
Bisset was no ordinary cricketer. He was the first to lead a Test side (South Africa) at under 23. His First-Class average of 23.54 came in an era when keeping wickets was a specialist’s job and did not require batting skills. His Test average read 25.75, albeit over a small sample.
He also became Chief Justice of Rhodesia and acted as Interim Governor of Southern Rhodesia twice, so the opposition will think before messing with our side.
Voce had the fortune and misfortune of being Harold Larwood’s lieutenant in one of cricket’s most significant contests. It was always Larwood and Voce, never the other way round — this, despite the fact that Voce had better numbers (27.88 to Larwood’s 28.35) and stretched his career to 3 post-War Tests. Take these away, and it drops to 26.04.
At his prime Voce was spectacularly quick, and obtained his wickets for both Nottinghamshire and England, in tandem with Larwood or alone. There are plenty of delicious anecdotes around the men, but this is not the place to discuss them.
There are five potential partners for Voce. The recent ones, Zaheer Khan and Trent Boult, both average over 30 overseas. This brings us to John Lever, who averaged 23.69 in Australia and 19.75 in India — but a woeful 40.14 in England, his home country.
That leaves us with two men. Frank Foster (20.57) and Bill Whitty (21.12) had excellent numbers against everyone at all venues. There is little to choose. Of the two I will go with Foster, the better batsman. He averaged an impressive 23.57, which will give him an edge over Whitty. Remember, we need to beef up that batting as much as possible.
Before we move on, let me have a word or two on Foster, the man who led Warwickshire to their historic title in 1911. Foster did this in an era when English cricket was dominated by Yorkshire, Lancashire, Middlesex, Surrey, Nottinghamshire, and Kent to an extent that a seventh county winning the title was impossible.
This was also Foster’s first season as captain: he led from the front, with 1,383 runs at 44.61 and 116 wickets at 19.15. And while Syd Barnes immortalised the 1911-12 Ashes with 34 wickets at 22.88, Foster actually outdid him with 32 at 21.62 — in addition to 226 runs at 32.28.
Then, suddenly, a motorcycle accident at a mere 25 ended his career. He was even removed from his family business in 1928 (though he got an allowance). He became a gambler. He went bankrupt. He had dalliances with prostitutes, and was even accused of murdering one. They stopped him from entering Edgbaston for his behaviour. In his final years he faced charges of theft and fraud. And he spent his final years in a lunatic asylum.
The last spinner: Colin Blythe
This is where things get dicey. We have to pick one, and only one, name from some of the greatest names in the history of left-arm spin. It is almost impossible to choose one (or two, or three) of the four Englishmen: Johnny Briggs, Colin Blythe, Hedley Verity, and Derek Underwood. Even if one leaves out Bishan Bedi and Tony Lock, one cannot ignore Alf Valentine, either.
Let us begin with the quintet. Briggs had an exceptional career for Lancashire. For England, too, his average reads 17.75. Take away those ridiculous 2 Tests against South Africa (he took 21 wickets at 4.80), and the numbers still read 97 wickets at 20.55 (including 46 at 28.23 overseas).
Verity, perhaps the greatest in the long lineage of Yorkshire left-arm spinners, had only one visible weakness: his finger-spin never took off in Australia. He did decently in the Bodyline series, but failed to rise to the challenge on the helpful wickets of 1936-37 when Bill O’Reilly and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith ran riot.
Despite his numerous excellent spells for Kent and England, Underwood never got going against the greatest team of his generation. West Indies sorted him out, both home and away, selling their wickets to him at 43.57 runs apiece.
Valentine never mastered the art of bowling on harder pitches. At home he went for a shade under 40. In Australia his average read 32.21. In fact, if one takes away that wonder-series of 1950 (when Sonny Ramadhin and he routed England), his wickets came at 33.40.
That brings us to Blythe, a man whose 9 Ashes Tests fetched him 41 wickets at 21.39 (19 wickets at 29.36 in Australia). However, if one excludes that solitary Test of 1907-08, the numbers drop to 19.73 and 26.11 respectively. That puts him above Briggs, and Blythe played his cricket on slightly better pitches.
No, it has to be Blythe. I will avoid the temptation of adding Paul Adams’ wrist-spin for variety.
There will be an obvious requirement for a world-class close-in fielder as 12th man for all these champion left-arm spinners. Who better than Lock for that?
The XI (in batting order): Vinoo Mankad, Wilfred Rhodes, Frank Worrell (c), Michael Clarke, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Denis Compton, Charles Macartney, Frank Foster, Murray Bisset (wk), Bill Voce, Colin Blythe, Tony Lock (12th man).
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