A first-class contest: Bob Simpson and Garry Sobers at Sabina Park in 1965
A first-class contest: Bob Simpson and Garry Sobers at Sabina Park in 1965
New South Wales and Barbados have had two of the strongest first-class teams in the world. What would their all-time XIs look like?
A few years ago I received a phone call from former Australian Grand Slam winner John Newcombe asking if I'd judge the merits of two cricket teams chosen by the staff of his tennis ranch in Texas. I agreed and Newk faxed me the Green and Blue teams selected by two different groups from his staff. After five minutes' contemplation, I called him back and said: "The green team wins." Newk was very animated in extolling the virtues of the blue team. It was apparent which side he'd helped choose. "The problem is," I explained, "Bradman and Sobers are in the other team."
Here was Sir Donald, the best batsman of all time, and Sir Garfield, the best cricketer of all time, in the same team - that's an unbeatable combination. "Whichever group chose first," I added, "the next selection should have been who remained out of Bradman and Sobers. No way they should be on the same team."
Newcombe's challenge set me thinking about best ever teams and I decided to see which first-class sides would qualify as the best of their kind. After discarding some very strong challengers in county sides Yorkshire and Surrey, a talented Victoria squad, along with a batting-heavy Bombay line-up, I was left with New South Wales versus Barbados.
Once again Bradman and Sobers were linked in what had all the trappings of a heavyweight bout.
My challenge idea languished until the coronavirus devastated the world and brought cricket to an abrupt halt. This was the ideal time to resurrect the idea of a fantasy match between the two best all-time first-class teams.
The rules for selection were simple. In the case of seven of the NSW candidates - Bradman, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Neil Harvey, Jeff Thomson, Allan Border and Adam Gilchrist - all of whom at some stage represented two states, I opted for those who had played for NSW most often. This meant Harvey, Thomson, Border and Gilchrist missed out. In Bradman's case, while he played exactly the same number of games for NSW and South Australia, he had more innings for the former and was born in that state.
I decided against picking current players as their career statistics are unfinished, so that meant no Steve Smith or David Warner.
Among the many striking features of this fantasy contest is how the tiny island of Barbados, a country with a population of barely a quarter of a million, has produced so many high-quality cricketers. Another standout feature is the dominant periods both teams have enjoyed in their illustrious history.
W trouble: Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott in the middle order would challenge even the most menacing bowling attack in the world
© The Cricketer International
W trouble: Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott in the middle order would challenge even the most menacing bowling attack in the world © The Cricketer International
It's often said: "When NSW is strong, so is Australian cricket." That theory is borne out by the statistics. NSW have won the Sheffield Shield 47 times, with the next best being Victoria's 32. NSW won nine Shields in a row, stretching from 1953-54 to 1961-62, and you only need to take a look at the star-studded side that took the field against South Australia on my Shield debut in 1962 to get a sense of their superiority in that period.
It was Bob Simpson, Ian Craig, Neil Harvey, Norm O'Neill, Brian Booth, Grahame Thomas, Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson, Johnny Martin, Frank Mission and Doug Ford. Only Ford, the wicketkeeper, didn't go on to play Test cricket, and most who did performed at a high level.
The incredible strength of NSW cricket is also displayed in the names who aren't in my best ever side. They include such illustrious cricketers as Victor Trumper, Charles "Terror" Turner, Monty Noble, Charlie Macartney, Archie Jackson, Sid Barnes, O'Neill, Doug Walters, Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater and Michael Clarke. That list includes four Australian captains, namely Noble, Taylor, Waugh and Clarke.
Barbados have enjoyed similar periods of dominance in the official West Indies first-class competition, which commenced in 1965-66. They won nine out of 14 titles between inauguration and the 1979-80 season, including the last four in a row in that sequence. Not surprising when you consider those teams included four of their all-time best: Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall.
Overall, Barbados has claimed 22 titles (plus one shared) and the official records don't include the 1950s. In that era they fielded another quartet of their all-time best (all of whom were knighted) - Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott and Sobers. Knighthoods is one area where Barbados is vastly superior. In the sides I've chosen, Barbados numbers no less than six knights to NSW's sole representative, Bradman.
In painting a picture of the players involved in this fantasy contest, I've included sketches of character as well as of their undoubted playing skills. It features a bunch of strong-minded individuals with a hint of larrikin thrown in for good measure.
Choosing the Barbados side provided a couple of challenges, and some very good players missed out - Sir Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse and Sylvester Clarke among them. The choice of an opening partner for Greenidge was one dilemma. Is it to be Haynes or Hunte, the solid opener in the successful '60s sides? In the end I decided not to break up the established partnership of Greenidge and Haynes.
This is my Barbados XII.
Alan Davidson hooks Wes Hall during the famous 1960-61 series in Australia
© PA Photos/Getty Images
Alan Davidson hooks Wes Hall during the famous 1960-61 series in Australia © PA Photos/Getty Images
Gordon Greenidge: A technically correct but ultra-aggressive opener who probably never quite understood how good he was. He rarely smiled and would often retreat into his shell when Viv Richards arrived at the crease, but look out if he was injured. Greenidge embodied the saying: "beware the injured player".
Desmond Haynes: Quick-to-smile Haynes wore a lucky charm that encapsulated his character. It said, "Live, Love, Life." His nickname was "Hammer", which aptly described his on-side strokeplay. As he matured, his off-side strokes improved, along with his ability to handle slow bowling. In 1988-89, he made a defiant double of 75 and 143 at the spin-friendly SCG.
Frank Worrell (c): Recognised as one of the great captains, Worrell was also an elegant strokemaker and a useful bowler, bowling either left-arm orthodox spin or medium-pace swing. He was revered by his players, and his 1960-61 West Indies team attracted a world-record crowd in the final MCG Test. And then over 100,000 people turned out for their farewell parade through the city of Melbourne.
Everton Weekes: He was rated by both Miller and Benaud as the best batsman of the three Ws. Weekes had good success against the pace of both Miller and Ray Lindwall, which tells you how he might perform against NSW. He was also an expert bridge player with a wicked sense of humour. Once, when I queried the wisdom of his offer to drive me home late at night, he told me: "We're [meaning Barbados] too civilised to have the breathalyser."
Clyde Walcott: (wk) A forceful batsman, very strong off the back foot. He scored five centuries against Australia in the 1955 series at home, a good guide for potential success against NSW. Benaud, who played in that series, walked into Sabina Park in 1991 as a commentator, looked around the ground and pondered: "Where's the f**king tree?"
"Which tree would that be Rich?" I asked.
"The f**king tree that Walcott kept hitting me into," came the straight-faced reply.
Walcott was also a competent wicketkeeper and performs that role in this Barbados side.
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Garry Sobers: The best all-round cricketer I'm likely to see. A technically proficient destroyer of attacks, he could bowl left-arm pace, orthodox or wristspin. He was a great fielder, either catching or roaming the infield. Miller, a man who knew a bit about all-round cricketers, was watching a televised match with his son Denis once when a commentator, in response to an on-screen graphic, said: "There's Bradman, the best cricketer of all time." Miller leapt off the couch and responded: "Best batsman of all time - Bradman. Best cricketer of all time - Sobers."
Denis Atkinson: An allrounder who provides variety by bowling both pace and offspin. His highest Test score was 219, against Australia's strong 1954-55 pace attack. In a region renowned for colourful names, he rates a mention with a middle moniker of St Eval.
Malcolm Marshall: A fast bowler with the ability to swing the ball both ways, Marshall was an astute cricketer and is often referred to as the best of the West Indies' long line of pacemen. I first met him when he walked into an Adelaide hotel with Garner. Malcolm was introduced as "the next great West Indies fast bowler" and I made the mistake of saying to Big Bird, "He's a bit on the short side." "Don't worry about that," replied Joel, "he'll be just fine." Garner knew his man.
Joel Garner: Awkward and accurate, Big Bird was smart and made runs hard to come by with a combination of lethal yorkers and deliveries that rose steeply to a point under the batsman's armpit. Queensland's batsmen were sitting outside the pavilion watching, eagerly awaiting Garner's initial offering for South Australia on a Gabba green top in 1982-83. As he returned to his bowling mark, Big Bird loudly pronounced "no contest", having seen the delivery climb through head-high to the keeper.
Wes Hall: He could bowl lengthy spells at genuine pace from a long and athletic run-up, and formed a lethal partnership with Charlie Griffith. "Winfield," as captain Worrell called him by his middle name, "every run you score is worth 20 to the West Indies." At the end of his career, Hall claimed to be the world's leading run-getter because his 818 Test runs actually equated to 16,360. He also rated himself the smartest batsman because his sole first-class century came against the scholars of Cambridge University.
Charlie Griffith: He bowled his lethal yorker-bouncer combination at genuine pace. But Griffith's fearsome on-field reputation was somewhat diluted when, in his haste to return to his Calcutta hotel during a riot at Eden Gardens in 1966-67, he heard the footsteps of someone he assumed to be an assailant. When the flip-flop-wearing young Indian fan finally overtook the scurrying burly paceman, he kindly informed Charlie that he was heading the wrong way - his hotel was in the opposite direction.
Bill O'Reilly (left) took 325 wickets at 16.52 (26 five-fors and 7 ten-fors) for NSW and Don Bradman made 5813 runs at 98.52 (21 hundreds and 17 fifties) for them
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Bill O'Reilly (left) took 325 wickets at 16.52 (26 five-fors and 7 ten-fors) for NSW and Don Bradman made 5813 runs at 98.52 (21 hundreds and 17 fifties) for them © Fairfax Media/Getty Images
Emmanuel "Manny" Martindale: The first in a long line of Barbados speedsters, he had a reputation for dismissing the opposition's good batsmen. Manny also partnered some of the most colourful and notorious speedsters in West Indies history. The list includes Leslie Hylton, who was hung for murder in 1955; Sir Learie Constantine, who became a successful politician and the UK's first black peer; and fellow Bajan, Herman Griffith, who as club captain once called on a debutant offspinner to bowl but when the youngster requested numerous deep fielders, Griffith demanded he return the ball. "Why?' asked the debutant. "Because you intending to bowl shite," his skipper replied.
In filling out the NSW line-up, there were many challengers for both batting and bowling spots. One battle was between openers Sid Barnes, an Invincible, and Bob Simpson. I chose Simpson because of his slip-fielding ability as it's important to have good catchers to support even the strongest bowling attacks.
This is my NSW XII.
Arthur Morris: A classy left-hand opener and one of four members of Bradman's Invincibles in this line-up. When asked in retirement what he had gained from cricket, Morris' deadpan answer was: "Poverty."
Bob Simpson: A skilful right-hand opener, a useful legspinner and a brilliant slip fielder to both pace and spin, Simpson was Australia's captain in my first series. It was a bit unnerving as a youngster to see him reading Mein Kampf, but perhaps that explains his divide-and-conquer approach to leadership.
Don Bradman: The greatest batsman of all time, he destroyed attacks for a pastime. He is the only batsman to score a Test triple-century in a day, and his average of 99.94 is even more remarkable when you consider it's almost 40 better than the next best.
Mark Waugh: An elegant and skilful strokemaker, Waugh was also a useful medium-pacer and offspinner. He edges out his twin brother, Steve, because of his superior stroke range and all-round fielding skills. Blessed with an active cricket brain but occasionally offering a languid approach to batting, he became bored with Phil Tufnell's negative bowling tactics at the Gabba in 1994-95. He was soon bowled attempting a reverse sweep and when his bemused team-mates asked if he'd ever actually practised the shot, he replied: "No, that was my first attempt."
Stan McCabe: He played three of the great Test innings, including one where the opposing captain appealed against the light on the grounds that McCabe was endangering his fielders. During McCabe's 232 at Trent Bridge in 1938, when he scored 72 of Australia's last 77 runs, Bradman exhorted his team-mates: "Come and watch this you may never see the like of it again." McCabe's 187 against Harold Larwood and England's Bodyline tactics was full of bold horizontal-bat shots, an innings that confirms he is well qualified to face the Barbados attack.
Turn and bounce: If Benaud didn't get you, Lindy would
© PA Photos/Getty Images
Turn and bounce: If Benaud didn't get you, Lindy would © PA Photos/Getty Images
Keith Miller (c): The second best allrounder to Sobers, Miller was a genuine opening bowler who regularly batted in the top five. He's the skipper ahead of Bradman because his gambling attitude to leadership would have been embraced by the bulk of this team. Miller was described by Benaud as the best captain never to lead Australia, and his tactical duel with Worrell would have been fascinating to watch. In a Shield game in 1955-56, Miller appeared bored as South Australia collapsed against a strong NSW pace attack. O'Neill was making his debut in the match and Miller nonchalantly tossed him the ball and said: "Ehhm, have a bowl, Norm."
"But I'm making my debut," stammered O'Neill.
"So is he," replied Miller, pointing to batsman Tim Colley. "Should be a good contest."
Brad Haddin (wk): A fine keeper-batsman, he won the nod over "Dapper" Bertie Oldfield not only because of his superior skill with the bat but also because he was a good gloveman. It would be unforgivable to burden O'Reilly's keeper with the pronouncement that he was chosen purely on the basis of his run-scoring ability. Haddin was an aggressive cricketer with a genuine interest in the game's history. He wouldn't be overawed by this company.
Ray Lindwall: Genuinely quick early on, in the latter stages of his career he became an astute swing bowler. Lindwall could do everything Glenn McGrath was capable of but at ten to 15kph quicker. He was the most self-effacing top-class player I've met, but he allowed himself a rare detour when I suggested I would have loved to see how I went against his short deliveries. His succinct reply: "Son, I wouldn't have had to bowl bouncers at you."
Alan Davidson: He adds variety with his excellent fast-medium left-arm swing bowling. He could bat and was a brilliant fielder either catching or patrolling the infield. In the 1960-61 tie at the Gabba, Davidson became the first player to complete the double of 100 runs and ten wickets in a Test.
Bill "Tiger" O'Reilly: A tall, fast legspinner who extracted exceptional bounce with his wrong'un, O'Reilly was rated by Bradman as the best bowler he saw. He detested all batsmen but especially left-handers. His disaffection for batsmen shone through when in retirement he was asked by a journalist; "Mr O'Reilly, did you ever try to mankad anybody?" His answer is the ultimate put-down: "Son, I never found a batsman that keen to get to the other end."
Glenn McGrath: A relentlessly accurate medium-fast bowler who would test the patience of the Barbados strokemakers. Always a confident bowler, McGrath virtually nominated Brian Lara as his 300th Test victim and then went on to complete a hat-trick with his next delivery.
Richie Benaud: A fine allrounder whose primary skill was legspin, Benaud was also an inspiring captain. On the final day of the 1961 Old Trafford Test, he gathered his team at drinks and told them: "We can no longer draw this game so we'll have to field brilliantly to win it." He took 6 for 70, including a spell of 5 for 12 in 25 balls to help complete an unlikely victory. Benaud and McGrath would be inter-changeable depending on whether the match was at the SCG, where an extra spinner is needed, or at Kensington Oval, where another quick would come in handy.
A match between these two sides would be a hell of a contest, but at the risk of provoking head-scratching, I have NSW slightly ahead because their attack is more versatile. The result could well be decided by who prevailed - Bradman against the Barbados pace battery or the three Ws and Sobers against the wily duo of O'Reilly and Benaud on an SCG pitch that encouraged spinners.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist
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