DAVE’S LEGENDS XI
R. Bright (C)
J. McLaren (12th)
What a lack of imagination shown by those people entrusted to pick the century’s top Australian XI. And how boring would the game be? Lillee and Miller would knock the opposition over by tea on day one, Bradman and Ponsford would bat for days two, three and four, and Warne and Tiger would clean the others out in a couple of sessions. Deadly dull. And nobody would want to play against us.
What we needed was a team of wonderful players without whom there’d be nothing to discuss or reminisce over during the rain-delayed morning session. Like the legends XI, each wore the baggy green and, in his own way, contributed something unique and precious to the great game. No question about the openers. The Victorians Ken Eastwood (1970-71) and Wayne Phillips (1991-92) must get the nod over Bruce Francis and Wally Edwards. Both Vic boys had the unenviable task of being brought in to replace famous players when the selectors had decided to end their careers. In effect, the selectors also managed to end the careers of the replacements.
Though two years older than Bill Lawry, who was also his State captain, Eastwood was called up for the seventh Test against England in Sydney. He scored 5 and 0 and didn’t play first-class cricket after that season. Phillips had to contend with a hostile WACA crowd, whose local hero Geoff Marsh had just been dumped after scoring only 35 from his last seven innings. That he had top-scored with a fine 86 before that poor run wasn’t enough to save Marsh from the restless eastern States scribes who called for his head. How he must have wished for a little Mark Waugh-type latitude. Phillips scored 14 and 8 in his only Test.
No 3, as we all know, is the key spot in the line-up.You need a batsman who is not only rock-solid but can be aggressive and dashing, and therefore I have no hesitation in nominating John Dyson. In his 58 memorable innings, Dyson brought to the crease the demeanour of the small-town solicitor asked to defend OJ Simpson. He averaged 26.64. Like all great batsmen, Dyson was unobtrusive. In fact, nobody I spoke to could recall any shots he played, though all remembered his magnificent outfield catch.
No 4 must be Victorian Roy Park. In his only Test innings (against England in 1921), he made a first-ball duck. Yet another Victorian backs up in the No 5 slot. Tom Groube (1880) must have had enormous potential or some explicit photographs of the selectors. He was selected as a batsman in one Test (against England at The Oval), making 11 and 0. His first-class average was 8.52.
The No 6 slot must go to Dirk Wellham. Wellham is one of only two batsmen in the world to have scored a century on debut in both first-class and Test matches. Yet, on each occasion, he was dropped for the following game (by NSW and Australia respectively). Talk about a flaming comet! Despite starting with a ton, he finished with a Test average of 23.36. Wellham is also remembered for a science experiment in which, on his way back to the pavilion, he tried to determine whether the wood in the gate was more durable than his blade.
Unfortunately, as in many such scientific challenges, there is danger, and on this occasion the gatekeeper was accidentally injured. Queenslander Tom Veivers has his name written all over the No 7 spot. As an off-spinner, Veivers was a master of deception. The batsman could never be sure if the ball would go straight on or … straight on. In 21 Tests, Veivers never took five wickets in an innings, his bowling strike rate was 127 and his bowling average was 41.66. His 33 victims is the fewest of any Test bowler who has played a minimum 20 Tests and sent down 4,000 balls. His decent batting average of just more than 30 might be needed, given the wealth of Victorians up the order.
And speaking of Victorians, how could you not make Ray Bright captain? His batting was authoritative. In 25 matches, his highest score was 33 and his average 14.35. Not because he couldn’t bat, but because the self-effacing Ray didn’t want to show up his teammates. As much as his bowling was astonishing (strike rate 104.5, average over 40), I opt for Ray as keeper. A brilliant tactician and so nimble he would make Adam Gilchrist look like a clydesdale, Brighty is the perfect man to lead this team from behind the stumps.
The leggie position is a terrific tussle. Candidates include Reg Sellers (one Test, no wickets and a duck) and the immortal John Watkins. Picked against Pakistan after just five first-class games, in which he had taken only 11 wickets at 37, Watkins had one thing going for him he played for NSW, which is always handy when you are a borderline Test selection. I have to overlook both, however, and go for the left-arm googly Croweater David Sincock. Three Tests and eight wickets at 51.25 shows how Sinners managed to confound the selectors even more than the batsmen. The pace attack picks itself. Big leftie Tony Dell would have been Australia’s Joel Garner if only our selectors hadn’t felt sorry for the opposition, who, as it was, had to face Lillee, Thommo and Tangles. And hang it, I’m going for an all-leftie attack.
Mike Whitney came within an ace of snaring the last spot, but his batting was just too good. So the last spot goes to Sam ”The Cannon” Gannon from Western Australia. Gannon took seven wickets on debut against India (1976-77), but as he didn’t play for NSW, he was dropped when he failed to take a wicket two Tests later. For 12th man, I had to go with history and gave John McLaren the nod. In his only Test (1911-12) he was 0 not out in both innings and took 1-70. He died of diabetes at 34. Somehow that seems to sum up what cricket is about for those who are blessed enough to be a mile better than most, and cursed enough to be an inch short of the best.
Article copyright © Dave Warner, 2000