ICC Test World XI of All Time: Populism Reigns Supreme

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Matt Wood who writes at Balanced Sports vents his frustration at how cricket’s history can be marred by populism. Follow Matt on Twitter @Balanced_Sports

So on the occasion of the two-thousandth Test match, the ICC has taken it upon themselves to right royally arse it up once again.

To celebrate the two-thousandth match in the most honoured form of the sport, the celebrated accountants who today control cricket decided to celebrate by announcing an XI comprised of the best players ever to play Test cricket.  A great idea, good publicity and rightfully commemorating the best to grace the arenas.  The team was announced the weekend before the match to great fanfare and instantly the enormous errors of judgement inherent in the selection process became obvious.

Those named should almost be ashamed of their selection and those who missed out should let rip with a relieved sigh.  Why?  Because an honour which should be immense has been turned into swill.  The ICC, with their infinitely clear vision, opened selection to an internet-based popular vote.  While generating remarkable website traffic and the trending hash-tag #ICCTestXI – publicity you can’t buy – it also produced results biased beyond all common sense and by anointing the team selected by the fans, the ICC has spat in the face of cricketers like Sir Garfield Sobers, Malcolm Marshall, Keith Miller, Jack Hobbs, Harold Larwood, Bill O’Reilly, Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards.

ICC Test World XI of All Time: Virender Sehwag, Sunil Gavaskar, Donald Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Kapil Dev, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Curtly Ambrose, Glenn McGrath

The team features aggressive and enduring batting, a skilled all-rounder and devastating bowling.  What it lacks, however, is credibility due to the populist selection policy encouraged by the ICC.  Although the XI selected would be highly competitive against any other “Best of” team, the results are swayed to the Internet generation and to the subcontinent.  This is to be expected given India’s population and the popularity of cricket within.  But for the ICC to come out and then anoint these players as the best ever to play reeks of pandering to the whims of their clientele.

When ESPN Cricinfo selected their best ever team last year it was done so according to a selection panel of respected, educated voices.  The fans got their say, able to select their teams and compare.  When the NBA marked it’s fiftieth anniversary with the “Fifty Greatest players in NBA history”, the list was compiled by experts – so too, was the AFL’s Team of the Century.  The greatest blunder here isn’t that the public were consulted, it is that ONLY the public were consulted and now the ICC will consecrate these eleven players as the greatest.  This devalues the contribution of every single player to grace a field before 1980 because the people who voted are swayed by recent memory, youth, YouTube and covered pitches.

The Cricinfo World XI of all time: Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Viv Richards, Garry Sobers, Adam Gilchrist, Malcolm Marshall, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Dennis Lillee

Leaving aside the fact that comparing players across eras is a futile exercise because of the changing face of cricket over time, it’s errors of judgement like these which make it seem the ICC has sought public debate and promotion at the expense of Test cricket’s rich, textured history.  It’s eminently possible that voters didn’t even know of Bill O’Reilly or Herbert Sutcliffe.  Being selected to a commemorative XI should be amongst – if not the – greatest individual honour a player can receive.  When a deserving player – Sobers, for example, a unanimous selection to the Cricinfo team – is ejected in what amounts to a popularity contest, the flaws in the system laid down by the ICC scream like Bruce Reid after he snaps in half.

Every player who made the list, with the exception of the statistical anomaly Bradman, played within the last thirty years.  This most damning evidence is proof enough in itself how swayed to the modern the voting has been – no matter how talented this era’s the players have been.  In a “Fan’s All-Time XI”, sure, I’ll buy that – but then to be named the best ever by the game’s governing body?  The ICC, never a stranger to populism, has taken another step towards joining FIFA in the abyss.

Finally, the ICC must concede that any popular vote put up by it has to be tempered with the knowledge that India will dominate.  While Sunil Gavaskar, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar rate as amongst, if not the, best candidates for their positions – though you’d have a hard time convincing me – Kapil Dev, very good player that he was, does not.  The players in front of him (Sobers, Miller, Botham, Imran Khan and even Hadlee) were all vastly superior.  This reflects strongly the 1.2 billion Indian obsessions with cricket – it has seven times the voting power of the next most populous cricketing nation, Pakistan, 25 times that of South Africa and 255 times the voting power of New Zealand.  Of course the voting is going to be swayed.

Having backed themselves into a corner, the ICC will crown these players as the best the Test format has ever seen.  Under the outward guise of inclusivity, the never-ending hunt for publicity has created a team which almost – but not quite – completely fails to resemble the best ever.  Without using adequate foresight, they’ve smote another blow to cricket tradition.

But this is the ICC.  What more could we expect?

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  1. Chetan L says

    Dear Matt,
    I am an Indian, of the internet generation and I do not know much of Bill O’Reilly or Herbert Sutcliffe. However, I agree completely with your observations. It is a pathetic state indeed for these otherwise great Cricketers to be part of this sham. No one from this list will be proud to have been so selected, though each one will be a deserving candidate to be eligible for selection by an elite panel by virtue of their own merits.

    ICC has, through its actions with little foresight, killed what should have been a proud moment for XI of the greatest cricketers the world ever got to see. There never will be a consensus on who are the greatest XI to grace the Cricket field, but surely some doyens like Viv Richards, Gary Sobers, Malcolm Marshall, Len Hutton and others are glaring in being absent

  2. Sujith says

    Hi Matt

    I agree with you on this. The so-called ICC World Test XI is a joke indeed. The fact that the team was formed on the basis of online votes is a clear indication that populism reigns supreme here. To me, it looks like a team meant for the gallery, and lacks depth and reliability.

  3. says

    As a guy who loves to talk about sport – why do we want a definitive answer to “the best of the best”? Why not leave it open to debate – different people value different characteristics. Let the debate flow!!

  4. says

    I agree that many of these players get into the dream XI due to popularity.But how could you say that Sachin,Sehwag and Gavesker are not great players.Sachin has hit 51 test centuries(until january 2012),and is the leading run scorer in ODI and test match,he is the first person to hit double century in ODI,he has hit 99 international centuary.Viru is the most destructive cricketer,highest individual scorer,has hit highest individual score of 219.he had hit fastest 100,300 in test and is the one of four people to hit two triple century,he had hit more than 8000 runs inODI and almost 8000 runs in test(out of around 100 matches).Let us come to Sunny he is a great batsman,he is the first batsman to hit 10000 runs in test.He was the leading century taker until Sachin break his record,now can you say that they are not great?If I write each and every record of them it would take ages.So please sent your answer to my email ID and beware of Indian Cricket Fans.

  5. says

    Govind, I’m sorry but please read the post again. I don’t have an argument with Tendulkar, may have selected Sehwag myself, and Gavaskar deserves to be mentioned – and perhaps selected – in this company. Kapil Dev, in my opinion, does not. And that’s what the post says.

    Please read the post carefully, and tell me if I’m “dissing” those three players, because that certainly was not my intention.

  6. says

    read the comment again dude Govind hadnt mentioned about Kapil.He had only commented the speciality of Sachin,Sehwag and Gavasker.

  7. muhammad tahir munir says

    guys….first of all why Mr.Don Bradman has to be BY DEFAULT the best…?? he is in my view no way near the qualities of the likes of sachin,lara,ponting,inzamam, dravid just to name a few…Reason ??? wanna know why ??
    because in don’s era he never faced the likes of wasim,waqar,mc grath,shane warn, murali,marshal,walsh,ambrose just to name a few and there are few more …. the above mentioned all the batsmen have played decent number of matches and facing these bowling giants…i would not select mr. don at all….how can ponting,dravid,inzimam,mc grath,murali,waqar can be left out of world 11…..no way

  8. says


  9. Schearzie says

    It’s a tough one to say that those people selected don’t deserve mention. But wow the Indian cricket fans love to look at one of the worst records when they say that Sachin has the world record number of test runs. Of course! he’s played near 200 tests! His batting average (inflated by minnows) isn’t that impressive. He’s not even the best best batsman of his era. Gavaskar, what a great opening batsman. I can’t find much wrong with him, though I also can’t see how he’s seen over someone like Sutcliffe or Hobbs or Hutton. If its on some idealistic sentiment then Haynes has a claim to stake or Australian Trumper (and hopefully I don’t have to repeat all that in the hope that Indian loyalists understand that Sunil was better than Sehwag!) Kapil Dev…hahahahaha.

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