Ashes 100-1 Countdown: 36 Days Until the Ashes…
David Green aka The Reverse Sweep picks his all time Australian Quicks
Picking which pace bowlers should take their place in our all-time Australian and England Ashes XIs is perhaps the toughest category of all.
It becomes even more difficult when you consider that with Keith Miller already picked as the all-rounder and the depth of Australia’s stock of spinners through the years that there may only be two rather than three spots available.
As such in order to get down to a shortlist of eight, we’ve had to rule out a legion of excellent fast bowlers. Names like Jeff Thomson, Jack Gregory, Ted McDonald, Brett Lee, Geoff Lawson, Merv Hughes, Jason Gillespie, Garth McKenzie and Rodney Hogg all miss out – the latter deserving a mention for his record of 56 wickets at 17 in 11 Ashes tests.
Taking our eight in historical order we start with the Demon himself Fred Spofforth, whose 14 for 90 at The Oval in 1882 led to England’s defeat by seven runs and inspired Brooks’ mock obituary in the Sporting Times, which gave the contest its name. In a time when bowlers held sway, Spofforth took 59 Ashes wickets at 19.98 and 94 wickets in all against England at 18.41.
The Demon was succeeded by Charles ‘Terror’ Turner who continued the carnage snaring 101 victims in 17 Ashes tests at an incredible 16.53 with 11 five fors. No wonder the Terror is reckoned to be one of Australia’s foremost bowlers ever.
Next up is Miller’s partner in crime and fellow Invincible Ray Lindwall, who by all accounts was poetry in motion with unwavering control and devilish late swing. Len Hutton was certainly impressed explaining that “The genius of Lindwall was expressed in a variety of ways, not least in his cleverly disguised and devastating pace changes and in a bouncer delivered without any giveaways“. Lindwall took 114 wickets at 22.44 in 29 Ashes tests and if this wasn’t enough also averaged 22 with the bat and scored a 90 ball hundred at Melbourne in 1947.
Australia have produced a flood of left arm quicks in recent years but the best in their history by a mile is Alan Davidson, who probably only ranks behind Wasim Akram in the pantheon of left arm quicks. Davidson took 84 wickets in 25 Ashes tests at 23.76 and like Lindwall was a dangerous hitter down the order, averaging 24 against England.
Many believed that Dennis Lillee was the complete bowler and he certainly reigned terror on English batsmen for over a decade, initially with sheer pace and then with cunning as injuries reduced his speed over time. After taking 31 wickets at less than 18 in the 1972 series, Lillee played the support act to Jeff Thomson when England were simply blown away in 1974/75. In all, Lillee took 128 Ashes wickets at 22.32 – figures that are actually improved when all tests he played against England are taken into account – 167 wickets at 21.
He may not be considered as one of Australia’s greatest bowlers ever, but against England the ever smiling Terry Alderman was pretty much unplayable – he still probably haunts Graham Gooch to this day. Alderman took exactly 100 wickets in 17 Ashes tests at just over 21 and in the 1981 and 1989 series in England snared 41 and 42 wickets respectively.
The 1985 series may have seen a poor Australian side well beaten 3-1, but it did see the emergence of 19 year old Craig McDermott who took 30 wickets in the series. He continued to enjoy playing against England and took eight Ashes five fors in 16 Ashes tests – taking eight in an innings twice. In all, McDermott took 84 wickets at 26 against England.
Last but not least comes old metronome himself Glenn McGrath – the man who still causes Michael Atherton the odd sleepless night or two. As well as routinely predicting 5-0 series victories for Australia (and finally getting it right in 2006/07), McGrath took a bagful of English wickets in his 30 Ashes tests. 157 victims at 20.92 with 10 five fors speaks for itself and it can be no coincidence that the two tests England won in the 2005 series saw McGrath sitting on the sidelines with injury.
So we need to pick three – the decision whether to play three or two will come later when we get to the spinners. As good as Alderman and McDermott were, they are a level below the other names on the shortlist and in the former’s case Gooch is not in the England side. It may be unfair, but the Demon and the Terror also miss out in the final reckoning simply because the odds seem to have been so heavily weighted in favour of the bowlers in Victorian Test cricket.
Finally, although we would prefer to pick a leftie in our final three, we just cannot justify selecting Davidson aheadof either Lindwall, Lillee or McGrath. So the final three names it is with Lillee being the first pick and Lindwall inching ahead of McGrath if we opt for two spinners in the final XI. As an Englishman, the sight of McGrath bringing out the drinks brings a smile to the face as I am sure it would to Atherton if he was commentating.
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