Day Four: Passing the time in the backyard


Contributors: Chris-next-door and Richard:

“The beauty of our road is the ability to chat over the back wall. I said hello to the Polish family in the house behind ours for the first-time last week, when their youngster was blowing bubbles. We keep an eye out for the pensioner who lives next door to them, although she has family popping in. Thankfully, we also have the ability to chat to our neighbours, and they have grown to become treasured acquaintances.

Since we began socially distancing and then moved into some kind of lockdown, we have tried to maintain coffee in the back garden at 5pm. In the last few days, Chris-next-door and I have been discussing the greatest England and Wales Test Cricket XIs that we have seen, either live or on the TV, in our lifetime. We then moved on to discussing our World XIs. We were only interested in test matches.

The point of this, in part, is to act as a distraction from the grind of the news, from which I have largely switched off to be honest. Instead, I am finding more redemption in self-reflection, and in particular, considering my present life against what I hoped for and what I have experienced. This is also pushing me to take a historical focus – what must it have been like for those here and elsewhere on the planet trying to make sense of plague, pestilence, famine and flood? What must it have been like psychologically, emotionally, cognitively and physically? And how might we work through this differently?

Anyway, I was apprenticed and learned my craft as a historian. The idea that we may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us, is very important to me. In particular, the past that I have witnessed, and about which I can make more sense, as long as I can reflect upon how and why I feel as I do as I make my judgements. Sport is very important in this – with whom do we connect and why? Who has remained with us? Who would we want in our corner in a struggle?

So here we go.


Chris’s World XI

Sunil Gavaskar, India, 125 Tests, 10,122 runs at 51.12. Anyone that can maintain that average against the West Indies in the 80s must be bloody good.

Graeme Smith, South Africa, 117 Tests, 9,265 runs at 48.25. Crept under the superstar radar for many years, also a left-hander, so good to open with.

Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka, 134 Tests, 12,400 runs at 57.40. Short gritty aggressive batsmen, great on the leg-side.

Jacque Kallis, South Africa, 166 Tests, 13,289 runs at 55.37, 292 wkts at 32.65. Mr all-rounder, huge batting average and could bowl at 90mph if needed.

Steve Waugh, Australia, 168 Tests, 10,927 runs at 51.06, 92 wkts at 37.44 (captain). Could grind out an innings against the best attacks in the world. 50 to 100 conversion rate up there with the best.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, West Indies, 164 Tests, 11,867 runs at 51.37. Number 6 possibly hardest position in the team but managed to average 50+ batting with the tail.

Adam Gilchrist, Australia, 96 Tests, 5,570 runs at 47.60, 379 catches, 37 stumpings. Could take an innings away from you in a session and also second highest test dismissals.

Curtly Ambrose, West Indies, 98 Tests, 1,439 runs at 12.40, 405 wkts at 20.99. 6ft 5”.A Aggression, don’t try and get under his skin as it only made matters worse.

Malcolm Marshall West Indies, 81 Tests, 1,810 runs at 18.85, 376 wkts at 20.84. 90+ mph skiddy swingers… almost impossible to play sometimes.

Glenn McGrath, Australia, 124 Tests, 641 runs at 7.36, 563 wkts at 21.64. Pigeon… draw a 12 inch square on the track and he would hit it 6 out of 6, always aimed for top of off stump.

Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka, 133 Tests, 1,256 runs at 11.67, 800 wkts at 22.72. 800 test wickets says it all, great average for a spinner also.


Richard’s World XI (this is from my heart, and not my head, and therefore there can be no Australians. Ever.)

Virender Sehwag, India, 104 Tests, 8,586 runs at 49.34. I love an opener who effectively says “screw you” to any bowler. His refusal to move his feet mirrored my own batting style. That is where any mirroring ended.

Gordon Greenidge, West Indies, 104 Tests, 7,558 runs at 44.72. I always remember his 214 at Lord’s in 1984 after England, hilariously, chose to declare. Idiots.

Younis Khan, Pakistan, 118 Tests, 10,099 runs at 52.05. Intensely focused, like me. Relies on the bottom hand in his batting, like me. Not particularly stylish, like me. One of the greats…

Sachin Tendulkar, India, 200 Tests, 15,921 runs at 53.78. I was never a big Sachin Tendulkar fan, to be honest. Although I did see his first test century in Madras (as it was) in 1993. It was baking hot, but you can’t argue with a ticket for all five days for 10 quid, and all the curry you can eat. Anyway, you don’t play that number of tests and have that number of innings and have the weight of a nation on your shoulders and end with that average if you aren’t half-decent.

Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka, 149 Tests, 11,814 runs at 49.84 (team captain, because he wears it intensely but lightly, if that makes any sense). He is batting at five, because there are too many amazing number 4s. The power of Sri Lanka in the noughties shone through him.

Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan, 120 Tests, 8,830 runs at 49.60. Like me, he felt that fielding was beneath him. Like me, he felt that running and exercise were overrated. Unlike me, he was a gifted strokeplayer.

AB de Villiers, South Africa, 114 Tests, 8,765 runs at 50.66, 222 catches, 5 stumpings. It bothers me a little that I’m including someone that Boycott gushes over, given my disdain for the Yorkshireman. However, I love a maverick who isn’t obsessively selfish.

Richard Hadlee, New Zealand, 86 Tests, 3,124 runs at 27.16, 431 wkts at 22.29. Always have the Australians in trouble, and carried his team. What’s not to like?

Dale Steyn, 93 Tests, 1,251 runs at 13.59, 439 wkts at 22.95. Scary and skilled. The worst combination, unless you like facing raging bulls.

Curtly Ambrose, West Indies, 98 Tests, 1,439 runs at 12.40, 405 wkts at 20.99. 6ft 5”. 1993, 7-1 off 32 deliveries in Perth. Awesome.

Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka, 133 Tests, 1,256 runs at 11.67, 800 wkts at 22.72. I saw him devastate England at Trent Bridge in 2006, in spite of being swept for six by Monty Panesar. I love the fact that his bowling action got under Boycott’s skin. Lovely stuff.


Chris’s England XI

Graham Gooch, 118 Tests, 8,900 runs at 42.58, 23 wkts at 46.47. Stood out against possibly two best teams ever in W.I 1980s and Australia 1990s.

Alistair Cook, 161 Tests, 12,472 runs at 45.35. Dream of a cover drive and again great conversion rate from 50 to 100.

Joe Root, 133 Tests, 1,256 runs at 11.67, 800 wkts at 22.72 – cheeky Yorkshire man with a phenomenal technique and strong in all facets of the game

Kevin Pietersen, 104 Tests, 8,181 runs at 47.28. Devastating when in the groove and take any attack apart, pleasure to watch in 2005 against Brett Lee.

Graham Thorpe, 100 Tests, 6,744 runs at 44.66. Great on the leg side and also a fantastic square cut.

Ian Botham, 102 Tests, 5,200 runs at 33.54, 383 wkts at 28.40. Up there with Sobers and Kallis for all-rounders, talisman of the team and could win a game on his own.

Matt Prior, 79 Tests, 3,920 runs at 40.83, 217 catches, 13 stumpings. Averaged 40 with the bat and also a strong keeper, good morale booster behind the stumps.

Graeme Swann, 60 Tests, 1,370 runs at 22.09, 255 wkts at 29.96. Troubled batsmen by pushing the ball through quicker than most spinners, great stats for a finger spinner

Matthew Hoggard, 67 Tests, 473 runs at 7.27, 248 wkts at 30.50. Skiddy, great outswinger, deceptive pace.

Bob Willis, 90 Tests, 840 runs at 11.50, 325 wkts at 25.20. Tall and quick, had a great short ball.

James Anderson, 151 Tests, 1,185 runs at 9.63, 584 wkts at 26.83. Can reverse swing a pebble when he wants to, still troubling the best batsmen in the world in his mid-30s.


Richard’s England XI (heart trumps head, but it is my list.)

Graham Gooch, 118 Tests, 8,900 runs at 42.58, 23 wkts at 46.47. Really great moustache. There is something very reassuring about a cricketer with a moustache. Plus, that 154 against the West Indies in 1991. It was the first series I watched with my other half. That summer will forever be young love and Gooch’s moustache.

*My friend Chris (a different one) reminded me that Gooch toured South Africa under apartheid. So, as an apologist for racial violenceand injustice, he’s out. So instead…

Michael Vaughan, 82 Tests, 5,719 runs at 41.44. I can’t believe that I had forgotten Vaughan started his test career as an opener (averaging 45.49), before he became captain, and scored his highest test innings of 197 against India at Trent Bridge at the top of the order. I loved watching that innings from the Fox Road stand, in the sun. When will we see those days again?

Marcus Trescothick, 76 Tests, 5,825 runs at 43.79. Open about his mental health. Loves sausages. He set the tone for that great summer of 2005 on the first morning at Edgbaston. Like living in a dream.

David Gower, 117 Tests, 8,231 runs at 44.25. He wasn’t a number three, but I want him in my team. Mainly for the aerobatics and that 123 at Sydney in 1991. You have to have someone who played for Leicestershire, right?

Kevin Pietersen, 104 Tests, 8,181 runs at 47.28. I love the fact that he irritated the clique that thought it owned the England dressing room. We would never have won in 2005 without him. He is the main reason I can never have Prior or Swann in my team.

Ian Bell, 118 Tests, 7727 runs at 42.69. It is the Ian Bell of 2013 who gets in. I always had a soft spot for him. Gifted yet fragile, and in five Ashes winning teams. Lovely stuff.

Ian Botham, 102 Tests, 5,200 runs at 33.54, 383 wkts at 28.40. He almost made it into Don Bradman’s best England and Wales Ashes’ team. If he was good enough for the Don, he is good enough for me. Plus, 1981, innit?!

Jack Russell, 54 Tests, 1,897 runs at 27.10, 153 catches, 12 stumpings. I love a man who takes baked beans on tour with him. Another standout moustache, and a glimmer of hope in a dreadful decade for English cricket.

Andrew Flintoff, 79 Tests, 3,845 runs at 31.77, 219 wkts at 33.34. Wasted in the early part of his career, because we thought he was the new Botham, rather than the new Andrew Flintoff. We will always have that over versus Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston in 2005, and running him out at The Oval in 2009.

Monty Panesar, 50 Tests, 220 runs at 4.88, 167 wkts at 34.71. I loved Monty. I loved what he represented. I loved that sweep for six against Murali in 2006. I love that he kept trying to find a way, in spite of the ridicule. And I could never have Swann in this team. And we need a spinner. It was almost Tuffers. But my heart belongs to Monty.

Bob Willis, 90 Tests, 840 runs at 11.50, 325 wkts at 25.20 (team captain, because otherwise it will be Vaughan and his batting will drop off a cliff). He won the test at Headingley in 1981. I love the fact that he blanked the media at the end; I love a human who wears their heart on their sleeve.

James Anderson, 151 Tests, 1,185 runs at 9.63, 584 wkts at 26.83. We wasted his talent for so long. There is something very reassuring about sitting in the Eric Hollie’s stand at Edgbaston watching him run in.


NB 1: clearly, we could make decisions based upon longevity, career statistics, purple patches that individuals had, and the nature of the pitch. Who knows why and how personal events, world events, life circumstances and so on impact individuals when they are at work? And sport is work, whatever we think about it. It is tedious, and boring, and brings us together, and gives us some purpose, and it is alienating. But that is another matter. So, maybe we would take Ian Bell at number five for England in his 2013 incarnation, over Graham Thorpe’s performance across his career. Maybe we would take Shane Warne over Muttiah Muralitharan in Australia, but not on the subcontinent. At this moment, I am not sure any of that matters. It’s what and who lie in your soul.

NB 2: in any case, England get beaten by a World XI nine times out of 10. In fact, they probably get beaten by a World Second XI nine times out of 10. So my heart will always trump my head, because that one time we win matters more than we think.”

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