Top, from left: Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Clem Hill, Wally Hammond, Michael Hussey, Vijay Hazare Bottom, from left: Richard Hadlee, Ian Healy, Ryan Harris, Michael Holding, Rangana Herath © Getty Images
Top, from left: Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Clem Hill, Wally Hammond, Michael Hussey, Vijay Hazare
Bottom, from left: Richard Hadlee, Ian Healy, Ryan Harris, Michael Holding, Rangana Herath © Getty Images

Alphabetical All Time XIs are great fun. Composing one from the cricketers with their last names starting with H, Arunabha Sengupta wades through a problem of plenty to come up with a fascinating team.

The problem of plenty starts with the openers, and it is a major one.

The letter ‘H’ has been the hallmark of some of the supreme opening batsmen the game has ever seen. The names can be rattled off without even a glance at the databases.

Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Hanif Mohammad, Conrad Hunte, Desmond Haynes, Matthew Hayden … six of the best opening batsmen of all time. And we are not even considering the exploits of Tom Hayward during the turn of the last century.

However, the choice is perhaps not that difficult. If we look at the records, especially when mapped to their contemporaries, Hobbs and Hutton stand head and shoulders above the rest. They, along with Herbert Sutcliffe, were the greatest opening batsmen the world has ever witnessed. So, we can go ahead with these two.

Can one of the other names get into the middle order?

Let us look at the other options.

Wally Hammond is one supreme name that reverberates across the cricket world even today.

The next claimant is Clem Hill, from the turn of the last century. His record was a wee bit better than Victor Trumper’s, the latter considered by many as the greatest batsman of the era.

George Headley, the pioneering West Indian great with a monstrous average; Lindsay Hassett, the Australian master; two other Australians, both left-handed, from different eras, Neil Harvey and Michael Hussey; some lesser-rated Englishmen with excellent records, Patsy Hendren and Joe Hardstaff Jr; and the Indian maestro Vijay Hazare.

No, I don’t think we can fit in another opener. Selecting three men from this list is difficult enough.

And besides, I have to be a bit controversial here.

Headley, although he made tons of runs, seldom faced top attacks. When he did, against Australia in 1931-32, he averaged a rather mortal 37. The English teams that travelled to West Indies those days, seldom carried the cream of talent. Headley’s runs came against experimental attacks, often weak and venerable ones. He faced a very old Wilfred Rhodes and a very young Ken Farnes. Other than that, most bowlers sending down their wares to him were mediocre. All this has been discussed here.

So, great he might have been, but his greatness is not inarguable.

Coming to Harvey, he had a magnificent start to his Test career. But after that his numbers dwindled. The second half of his career is rather ordinary, and he generally made merry against the weaker attacks of the day.

Again, if we look at Hassett, the strongest bowling he faced was against England … and he has a rather questionable record against them. His best performances were against the relatively innocuous Indian and South African bowling.

The much-loved Hussey did not really travel well when it came to England and South Africa. Similarly, Hazare did set Adelaide on fire with two hundreds in a Test, but did not manage to cross three figures in the 16 other Tests he played away from home around the world. Hendren’s splendid average of 47 comes down to 39 if we consider his Tests against Australia, the only formidable opponents he faced.

However, it is quite the other way for Hill. When we place the very, very similar numbers of Hill and Trumper side by side, we find that the left-hander actually had a much better record against the tougher oppositions. His game was not as attractive, but he was a more effective batsman than the great Trumper.

Hammond, on his part, strides into the team with a splendid record. He did maximise against the weaker opponents, but his record against Australia was splendid as well.

In this respect Hill and Hammond are definite shoo-ins in the side. With Hammond more than capable of filling in as the fifth bowler, we need two more batsmen. I will go for Hazare and Hussey.

Hazare failed in West Indies but had decent numbers in the rest of the world, while being a giant in India. Hussey did, as mentioned, quite poorly in England and South Africa but performed well in the subcontinent. Accordingly, they seem more proven batsmen than the rest of the lot. Hazare will also add value with his medium pace.

The all-rounder’s slot is not really subject to much debate. George Hirst was a splendid man with both bat and ball in county cricket, but his results in Test cricket were not really top notch. And he is up against a contender called Richard Hadlee. Leave aside the all-rounder tag, Hadlee should rank among the top five fast bowlers of all time. He just happened to bat rather well too.

The wicketkeeper is another position not lending itself to debate. There is Ian Healy for the job. End of discussion.

In the pace department the first names that come up, other than Hadlee, are Wes Hall and Michael Holding. There are names of Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Josh Hazlewood and Merv Hughes, but the only real competition for Hall and Holding comes from Ryan Harris. If we look beyond hype and reputation, we do realise that Harris had a better record in an era dominated by bigger bats and rules in favour of batsmen. He performed in every condition with more success than Hall, and therefore forms the third pace bowling arm of the side alongside Hadlee and Holding.

One man I would have loved in the team is the unremembered nasty South African paceman Peter Heine. He terrorised men like Peter May and Colin Cowdrey and was a much feared customer with the ball in hand. But although he averaged just 25 with the ball, his number of Tests was limited to 14 and therefore he cannot quite make it to the bowling attack.

Finally, when we come to the spinner, Rangana Herath has done more than enough to trump Harbhajan Singh for the slot.

The other serious spinner in the group, Roger Harper, will be the dream twelfth man for any side.

Hence the team:

Name Runs Ave W Ave
Jack Hobbs 5,410 56.94 1 95.00
Len Hutton (c) 6,971 56.67 3 77.33
Clem Hill 3,412 39.21
Wally Hammond 7,249 58.45 83 37.80
Michael Hussey 6,235 51.52 7 43.71
Vijay Hazare 2,192 47.65 20 61.00
Richard Hadlee 3,124 27.16 431 22.29
Ian Healy (wk) 4,356 27.39 C 366 St 29
Ryan Harris 603 21.53 113 23.52
Michael Holding 910 13.78 249 23.68
Rangana Herath 1,444 14.73 373 27.87

Twelfth Man: Roger Harper

Manage: Lindsay Hassett

After-dinner speaker: Merv Hughes