Ashes cricket: England vs. Australia
ADB Australia XI vs Oxford DNB England XI
To mark the 2006–7 Ashes, the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography have joined forces. We present an Australia XI selected from the cricketers included in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, ranged against an England XI selected from cricketers in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Click on the players' names on the scoreboard to read their biographies.
ADB Australia XI
In the absence of Bradman, Victor Trumper would always be the first picked for a historical Australian team. Trumper’s legendary standing was to be overtaken by the phenomenal scoring feats of the Don. England’s bowlers may be relieved that Bradman is unavailable for this selection, but Trumper’s elegance and artistry produced many masterpieces, and he was Australia’s crown prince of the golden age. Sir Neville Cardus wrote, ‘he was the most gallant and handsome batsman of them all’.
Trumper’s dashing and innovative batting would be complemented by his opening partner, Bill Woodfull, whose seemingly impregnable defence encouraged such nicknames as Unbowlable and Worm-killer. Under Woodfull’s resolute and dignified leadership Australia twice recovered the Ashes; he was the only captain to accomplish this.
As Chris has chosen the incomparable Dr Grace to lead England, I have selected a forceful personality, the Big Ship, Warwick Armstrong, to lead the Australian eleven. Armstrong’s gruff manner did not endear him to the English public, so he is the ideal counter to the scruples of the doctor. A determined all-rounder, Armstrong would come in at number six, behind the middle order of Macartney, Hill, and McCabe.
Charlie Macartney’s audacious batting was dauntless. ‘It’s always a good idea to aim the first ball at the bowler’s head. They don’t like it, it rattles them, then you can do as you like.’ Clem Hill was Australia’s first great left-hand batsman. Strong forearms produced powerful drives and cuts and he was a brilliant outfielder. Stan McCabe thrillingly took on Larwood in the controversial bodyline series, scoring 187 not out, an innings matched by his 232 at Trent Bridge in 1938 when Bradman summoned his team, telling them they ‘would never see anything like it again’.
Jack Gregory’s dynamic all-roundedness featured dashing batting. In his second test against England a hundred came in 137 minutes—followed up with seven wickets for 69. From twelve steps he bowled menacingly, a final giant leap producing surprising bounce. And Gregory’s long reach hauled in spectacular slip catches.
Sharing the new ball with Gregory is the Demon, Fred Spofforth. Tall and gaunt, Spofforth was the first great overarm bowler, whose fourteen wickets at the Oval in 1882 in Australia’s first test win in England cued the Ashes tradition. Charles Turner, like Spofforth, was deadly on the uncovered, under-prepared pitches of his era. Known as the Terror, Turner took 101 test scalps at 16.53 per wicket. The slight and wizened Clarrie Grimmett unfurled a mixture of top spinners, flippers, leg-breaks, and occasional wrong ’uns, earning nicknames like the Gnome, the Fox, and Scarlet for his elusive craft.
Supporting this attack is Bert Oldfield, a neat and undemonstrative wicket-keeper. Known as the Gentleman in Gloves, Oldfield showed remarkable skills, as captured in the statistics: 130 test dismissals, 52 of them stumpings.
Promoters of this imaginative contest would hope for fine weather, and a reliable pitch, because Spofforth or Barnes would finish the game off quickly on any untrustworthy surface.
Jim Maxwell is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's most experienced cricket commentator, having covered 170 tests since he joined ABC in 1973. He is the editor of the annual ABC Cricket Magazine, Australia's longest running cricket publication, and his books include The first sixty years: a history of the ABC Cricket Book, and The Ashes: from bodyline to Waugh (2002).
Oxford DNB England XI
To choose any England side to defeat an Australian team that had access to Don Bradman, the greatest batsman of them all, would have been tricky. However, it’s my good fortune that the Don will not appear in the Australian Dictionary of Biography until the next edition, so I am hopeful that my England XI will be unbeatable. It does, after all, have one of only two cricketers who might in all-round talent be said to have exceeded even Bradman, namely W. G. Grace. (Gary Sobers, happily still living and therefore ineligible for inclusion in the Oxford DNB, is also off limits to Jim and to me as a West Indies and Barbados player.)
I make Grace my captain. He took the art of batting to a new level but also collected an enormous horde of wickets by cunning bowling, and was the equal of any fielder as a young athlete before age and good living expanded his figure.
I have no doubt about including Jack Hobbs as his opening partner. He scored more first-class runs, and more hundreds—197—than any man.
Wally Hammond, the one Englishman to command the same sort of awe as Bradman in the same era, will go in at three, field at slip with rare brilliance, and take stand-breaking wickets if necessary with nippy outswingers. He topped the English batting averages eight years running and in his 85 tests averaged 58 with no fewer than 22 hundreds.
Denis Compton goes in at four by virtue of a universally acknowledged genius and Peter May at five because of his rare combination of skill and steel. Compo averaged 50 in test cricket, yet entertained gloriously; May, in his first three home series, averaged 72 against South Africa, 90 against Australia, and 97 against the West Indies.
The batting strength continues at six, seven, and eight: Wilfred Rhodes started as a number eleven and ended up opening the batting, creating a first-wicket record partnership of 323 in 268 minutes with Hobbs, so he makes a useful pivot in the middle of the order.
Les Ames may one day be succeeded in an Oxford DNB side by Alan Knott, happily not yet eligible. Until then he is the obvious choice, the only wicket-keeper to have scored 100 first-class hundreds, with the patience to score nine double hundreds too. His keeping too was of high class, as proficient standing up to the leg-breaks and googlies of Tich Freeman as to the raw speed of Larwood and William Voce.
Poor Australian bowlers! At eight I have George Hirst, scorer of more than 2000 runs and taker of more than 200 wickets in the 1906 season alone.
Which brings me to the other bowlers: Harold Larwood, the ferocious destroyer of Australia in 1932–3, will take the new ball with Sydney Barnes, the greatest bowler of any type there has ever been and a bowler of all types in one.
Hirst, bowling zippy left-arm inswingers, will follow, with Hammond in reserve. To spin the ball we have first Rhodes with his incomparable flight, then Jim Laker, whose 19 wickets out of 20 in the Old Trafford test of 1956 may still be used by Australian grandfathers to petrify youths inclined to be unruly at bedtime. Should any Australian somehow survive, the captain will be only too pleased to tease them out with his mixture of guile and gamesmanship.
Christopher Martin-Jenkins is chief cricket correspondent for The Times and a commentator for the BBC. His many publications include The complete who's who of test cricketers, World cricketers: a biographical dictionary, and The spirit of cricket: a personal anthology.
Australian players available for selection
The ADB Australian XI is selected from the 81 cricketers included in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Every person in the ADB is deceased, and died before 1981. It is for this reason that Sir Donald Bradman, and other greats who died after 1981, are not included in the team.
English players available for selection
The ODNB England XI is selected from the hundred or so English cricketers included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Every person in the Oxford DNB is deceased, and died before 2003.