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Ahead of Friday's World Test Championship final between New Zealand and India at the Ageas Bowl, former England batsman Sir Geoffrey Boycott picked his matchday squads for an all-time WTC final. He has picked 12 men for each squad, from all eras and countries, to produce the ultimate Test match.
It is unfair to judge players only on figures. They all have great numbers so to be fair I judge them against contemporaries from their own eras. Modern day Tests many teams go in with one spinner and three seamers. The Southampton pitch usually spins as the match progresses so I go with two spinners. Great fast bowlers have always decided a lot of Tests. They are the aces, the match winners. If you can’t handle fast bowling at the highest level then don’t turn up.
Jack Hobbs & Herbert Sutcliffe (England)
The finest opening pair in history to give a good start. They played 38 innings together and averaged 85.81. You can't do better that. To get that sort of start – on average – is like winning the pools.
Donald Bradman (Australia, captain)
A run scorer, a unique genius who was twice as good as the rest of us and is captain of this team. There is nothing else to add.
George Headley (West Indies)
Toss up between Wally Hammond and Headley at four. The reasons why I picked Headley – who only played 22 Tests in 10 years and scored 10 centuries – will become clear in a moment. The Aussies dubbed him the black Bradman for his mastery of Clarrie Grimmett 1930-31 in Australian conditions. He played one sentimental Test in 1954 in Jamaica aged 45 and the public paid for him to return from England. That was how much he was admired.
Sachin Tendulkar (India)
Technically superb with the performances to match against all types of bowling. Mastered his era and handled the pressure of expectation from India’s fanatical supporters.
Gary Sobers (West Indies)
The best batsman I have seen. Scored a world record 365 not out against Pakistan in Jamaica in 1957-58. He was originally selected as an orthodox left-arm spinner but later in his career bowled left=arm lively swing which could be devastating. A great catcher anywhere close in.
Alan Knott (England)
Lovely hands. Missed very little. I judge keepers on what they miss, not just how many they catch. How many catches or stumpings a gloveman takes is dependent on how many catches and stumpings the bowlers create. Got important runs when his team was in trouble, too.
Shane Warne (Australia)
Natural wicket taker with amazing control. Generated a huge amount of spin with very, very few bad balls. Before he hurt his shoulder his flipper was devastating. The one bowler above any other I would have liked the challenge of batting against because he was very special. I might have got out but would have loved the challenge. It would be like trying to climb Mount Everest but if I succeeded it would be the pinnacle.
Jim Laker (England)
For balance, I want a spinner turning the ball the other way. If it spun, Laker bowled teams out. He didn’t bowl the doosra because he didn’t need it. On dry turning pitches or a wet pitch that was drying he was nigh-on unplayable. On flat pitches you still couldn’t get after him.
SF Barnes (England)
As Wilfred Rhodes put it, “He was a very fine medium pace bowler and the best I ever played with." Or how about Herbert Strudwick, the Surrey and England keeper? “He was the best I ever kept to. He sent down something different each ball and he could turn it either way in remarkable fashion." And Clem Hill, the great Australian batsman, said: “On a perfect pitch Barnes could swing the ball in and out late and spin it. Magic balls!”
It is easy to think maybe the stories about him are embellished but his figures prove he was no fairy tale. Barnes didn’t play much county cricket as he could earn more money playing Minor Counties for Staffordshire and League cricket. The most important way of judging him was the people of great cricket standing in that era and what they said about him.
Malcolm Marshall (West Indies)
Super guy off the pitch but a fierce competitor on the field. Bowled very fast with movement. Could and did sometimes cut his pace down and seam the ball around at a lively pace within himself. On subcontinent pitches he was highly successful because he was skiddy without losing pace. Tall guys banging it in on those pitches can have the life sucked out of the delivery.
Dennis Lillee (Australia)
In 1971 he played one season for Haslingden, which is where he learned tricks like varying pace using the crease and how to cut the ball. He became a craftsman to mainly bowl or lbw batsmen. At his pace, slips often couldn’t catch the nicks! Fast, clever, skilful and he had a big heart. In his pomp he was also very fast and very smart. Wonderful control - a complete fast bowler.
WG Grace (England)
Some people could say Grace played in an era of underarm bowling that evolved to round-arm bowling. But on poor pitches open to the British weather the ball often jumped up at your face or shot along the deck! He took 3,000 first-class wickets and scored 54,896 runs with 126 hundreds. He was the first man to score 100 hundreds. Compare his deeds with his contemporaries and he was way above anyone else. He was a natural athlete and in 1866 won the National 440 yards title and two days later scored 244 not out for Gloucester against Surrey at the Oval.
Len Hutton (England)
A great England and Yorkshire batsman but Hobbs and Sutcliffe as a pair have to play together so Len opens the batting with WG.
Viv Richards (West Indies)
The best at No 3 but even he can’t be above Bradman in the other XI. Brutal, devastating and a tremendous competitor who was a great of his era. A giant in a fantastic team.
Wally Hammond (England)
Hammond and Bradman didn’t get on during the 1946 friendship tour of Australia. You can’t have two players who hate each other causing disunity so I've separated them. They fell out because Hammond and the England players believed the Don cheated in the first Test when he was caught at slip by Jack Ikin off Bill Voce for 28 and went on to score 187. Australia won by an innings. Hammond took 700 wickets bowling medium pace and was a great slipper. He scored 167 centuries and in 1928-29 he outscored Bradman in Australia.
Brian Lara (West Indies)
A wonderful stroke player. Making the world Test match score of 375 for West Indies v England in 1994 would be the supreme achievement for most batsmen but to do it twice is mind blowing – and that's what he did when he made 400 not out in 2004.
He also scored the highest individual score in first-class cricket – 501 not out for Warwickshire against Glamorgan in 1994 from only 427 balls. Wow. Every cricketer would be happy to have just one of those records. Excellent judge of length and a huge range of shots.
Imran Khan (Pakistan, captain)
Anyone who can handle the politics, tempestuous nature and talent of a team of Pakistani players has to be outstanding at handling people. A fast bowler who was a great exponent of reverse swing on dry or low slow pitches, he also batted well. Excellent all rounder. Great leader of men.
Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
Knott a better keeper but Gilchirst’s glovework was good enough. For a stumper his batting was on another planet. Changed the role of keepers and a long line of fine keeper-batters have followed trying to emulate him.
Bill O'Reilly (Australia)
Very tall, and a faster than normal wrist spinner. He didn’t toss it up much but created enormous pressure on batsmen by giving little to hit. Bradman said Bill O’Reilly was the best bowler he ever faced and was better than Barnes because he could bowl every ball that Barnes bowled, plus the googly. Barnes's reply was “I never needed it.” Barnes was a bit faster than Bill and swung the ball which Bill didn't do much.
Wasim Akram (Pakistan)
Handy to have left-arm seam from a different angle. A tall man, he generated lots of pace and awkward bounce. Swung the new ball and could reverse swing the old ball devastatingly.
Harold Larwood (England)
Must have Larwood in the opposition. Why? If Bradman is allowed to play his best he can bat his side into a winning position. The only man to have cut Bradman down to half size was Larwood in the 1932-33 series in Australia. Larwood unsettled Bradman and also did some psychological damage to the great player because after that series they didn’t speak. There was too much feeling. It was personal. And regardless of all that, he was very fast and very accurate.
Fred Trueman (England)
Hardly ever injured and took 307 Test wickets at 21.57 with a strike rate 49, which is tremendous. Fred was not selected for 29 Tests because the Establishment at that time were wary of characters. Peter May said at the end of a long tiring day in the field Fred was the one bowler he could call on to come back and do the business.
Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
Lovely lad and very likeable but my professional opinion is he threw it with that action. Anyway, I have to accept the ICC cleared it, so with his wickets and match-winning performances he has to be in. Great skill and huge spin either way with the doosra. Wonderful to watch.