Ashes 2010: All-time England Ashes XI: Positions 4 and 5

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The identity of the two batsmen we will select at four and five in an all-time England Ashes XI is a case of Wally Hammond plus one.

We may have decided to shorehorn Len Hutton into our side at three in preference to Hammond, but we believe that there were good reasons for this. First, having chosen not to break up the tried and tested opening pair of Hobbs and Sutcliffe, space had to be found for someone who is indisputably one of England’s five best Ashes batsmen ever. Second, we needed a captain and who better than the man who led England to success in 1953 – after the urn had been in Australian possession for 19 years and who then subsequently retained the Ashes down under in 1954/55?

But there was no way we were going to leave Hammond out of our XI. He is arguably England’s greatest batsmen ever – in our opinion it is either him or Hobbs. Hammond scored 2852 runs in 33 Ashes tests at 51.85 and hit nine hundreds (four of them doubles). In the 1928/29 series, at the age of 25, he scored a record 905 runs at 113.12 and became the first batsman to score two double hundreds in a series with 251 at Sydney and 200 at Melbourne. England won the series 4-1 and Hammond was acclaimed as the best batsman in the world. And then along came Don Bradman…

So who joins Hammond? David Gower, Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter were all considered for the number three spot and all come into contention again here. Joining them on the longlist are Denis Compton, Maurice Leyland, Peter May, Eddie Paynter, FS Jackson, Kumar Ranjitsinhji and Colin Cowdrey.

We felt that Cricinfo were premature at the time when they selected Kevin Pietersen in their all-time England test XI in 2009. Events since have reinforced this view and despite his excellent record against Australia (1116 runs in 12 tests at 50.72), we prefer to wait until KP has competed in more of these encounters.

From the longlist, we can immediately disregard Cowdrey and Dexter, who both had average overall records against Australia despite being two of England’s greats. We’ve also reluctantly discounted Paynter, who averaged 99.60 in his six Ashes test on account of so few matches meaning it is difficult to make a fair judgement. Finally, Ranjitsinhji (989 runs in 15 Ashes tests at 44.95) and Jackson (1415 in 20 at 48.79) have also been ruled out because in our view they fall slightly short of the others.

That leaves us with five. Gower, Barrington, May and Compton would all be considered amongst England’s greatest middle order batsmen ever and all have fine records against the Australians. Leyland may not be as vaunted as the other four, but he had an excellent record against Australia with seven hundreds in 20 tests and an average of 56.83 – only Barrington and Sutcliffe of those who have played 10 Ashes tests or more can better that average.

Yet again it is a borderline choice. Fine batsman as he was, we decided not to opt for May as three centuries in 21 Ashes tests is not deserving of a place in an all-time England Ashes XI especially when Gower has nine, Leyland seven and Barrington and Compton five. Next to go is Leyland, who despite his fine record we would find hard to select above the other three.

It is difficult to rule out the exuberance of Compton, but his average against Australia (42.83) was nearly eight runs less than his career average, which suggests he wasn’t at his best against Australia. That leaves two players who certainly were. Gower is our boyhood hero, which means that sentiment is in danger of coming into the equation. But he is the only England player – Hobbs apart – to score 3000 Ashes runs, and nine hundreds is a mighty impressive performance.

However, Barrington’s record against Australia is magnificent – 23 tests, five hundreds and 2111 runs at 63.96. He clearly relished playing against England’s deadliest foe. Ian Chappell perhaps summed it up best when he wrote “every so often you encounter a player whose bat seem about a yard wide. It’s not, of course. It just seems that way. England’s Ken Barrington was one.” So although the heart says Gower, the head says Barrington and it is the latter who wins this closest of calls.

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