The greatest team of all time
Tony Becca, ON THE BOUNDARY
England's 2-1 victory over Australia at home in 2009, their 3-1 trouncing of Australia away in 2010-11, and their recent 4-0 whitewash of world No.1 India, followed by their elevation to the top spot, have left them beating their chests and anointing themselves as not only the best in the world, but as far as some of them are concerned, the greatest for a long, long time.
In fact, the more you listen to them the more you may believe that they believe that this England team is the best cricket team of all time, that a team of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, and Ian Bell; James Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Graeme Swann, etcetera, etcetera, is the best ever.
They would want you to believe that they are better than the likes of Joe Darling's Australians of 1902 with batsmen such as Victor Trumper, Clem Hill, and Warwick Armstrong; or better than their 1921 successors led by Armstrong and parading batsmen such as Warren Bardsley, Herbie Collins, and C.G. McCartney, and fast bowlers like Joe Gregory and Ted McDonald.
According to history, or the men who write the history of cricket, those were the two of the three best three teams before 1950, along with Don Bradman's Invincibles, the Australians who, with Arthur Morris, Lindsay Hassett, Bradman himself, and Neil Harvey as batsmen, Keith Miller, the all-rounder, Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston, and Ian Johnson as bowlers; and others, including wicketkeeper Don Tallon, travelled to England in 1948 and embarrassed the Englishmen 4-0.
I saw none of those teams, or most of those players, but I read about them, over and over, and based on what I read, based on their skill and their dominance, they were good, really good.
Trumper, for example, was an artist, as good, it is said, as any batsman of today, McCartney was a ruthless stroke-maker, as attacking as any today, and Gregory and McDonald were fast, really fast, as fast as any today.
I saw the teams from 1953 onwards, however, or most of them, and I can say, from first-hand knowledge, the England team of the past two years is way behind them. England cannot, for example, walk in the company of the Englishmen of the 1950s, the West Indians of the 1960s, the South Africans of the late 1960s and the very early 1970s, the Australians of the mid-1970s, the West Indians of 1970s into the 1990s, and the Australians of the 1990s into the 2000s.
Those teams were gifted teams, they boasted cricketers of quality and class, they played stylish and attacking cricket, and when it mattered, when it was needed, they fought like tigers, whether batting, bowling, or fielding. No wonder the fans used to flock the grounds in those days, as they did in this past summer in England's moment of triumph.
In the 1950s, England picked their eleven from batsmen such as Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, Bill Edrich, Peter Richardson, Peter May, Colin Cowdrey, Denis Compton, Tom Graveney, and Willie Watson, all-rounder Trevor Bailey, wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans - the best that I have seen in action behind the wicket - pacers Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, Peter Loader, and Frank 'Typhoon' Tyson, and their spin bowlers from Jim Laker - the man who took 19 wickets in one Test match against Australia, Tony Lock, and Johnny Wardle.
In those days, England beat Australia 1-0 in 1953, drew with the West Indies 2-2 in 1954 after trailing 0-2 after the first two Test matches, drew with Pakistan 1-1 in 1954, in Pakistan at that, beast Australia 3-1 in 1954-55 after losing the first Test, won both Tests against New Zealand 2-0 in 1954-55, beat South Africa 3-2 in 1955, beat Australia 2-1 in 1956, drew with South Africa 2-2 in 1956-57, and beat West Indies 3-0 in 1957, beat New Zealand 4-0 in 1958, before going down 1-4 to Australia in 1958-59 on their way to beating New Zealand 1-0 in 1958-59 and India 5-0 in 1959.
In 1963 and in 1966, first under Frank Worrell and then under Garry Sobers, the West Indies had two wonderful teams, one with batsmen the likes of Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Sobers, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon, Worrell, wicketkeeper Deryck Murray, fast bowlers Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, and off-spinner Lance Gibbs, the other with basically the same players with exception of Worrell and the inclusion of Seymour Nurse.
After losing against Australia in 1960-01, the series which is credited with turning Test cricket around, the West Indies beat India 5-0 in 1962, beat England 3-1 in 1963, and beat Australia 2-1 in 1966 to become unofficial world champions.
There is also the team of South Africans led by Ali Bacher which, to many, seemed unbeatable in the late 1960s, even though they never played the West Indies.
In 1965, South Africa defeated England 1-0, in 1966-67, they beat Australia 3-1, and after Australia had defeated the West Indies 3-1 in 1968-69, after Australia had defeated India 3-1 in 1969-70, South Africa clobbered Australia 4-0 in a four-match series in 1969-70, in South Africa's last match before they were banned from Test cricket.
better than today's England
There is no doubt that that team, which included Barry Richards, Bacher, Graeme Pollock, Eddie Barlow, Lee Irvine, Mike Proctor, Denis Lindsay, Herbert 'Tiger' Lance, and Peter Pollock, was better than today's England, if for no other reason than that they white-washed a team of warriors.
Australia were represented by players such as Keith Stackpole, Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters, Ian Redpath, Paul Sheahan, Graeme McKenzie, Ashley Mallett, Johnny Gleeson, and Allan Connolly.
Another reason is that the South Africans won that last series by winning each match convincingly, by 170 runs, by an innings and 129 runs, by 307 runs, and by 323 runs.
The Australians of the mid-1970s were awesome. They included Alan Turner, Redpath, Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Rodney Marsh, and more important, the deadly Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.
They demolished England 4-1 and the West Indies 5-1 in successive series, in 1974-74 and in 1975-76, without even breaking a sweat.
The best of Australia, however, if only for their longevity, was from 1995 to 2009 when, under captains Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, and Ricky Ponting; and players like Mark Waugh, Ian Healy, Shane Warne, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Glen McGrath, Jason Gillespie, etcetera, etcetera, they ruled the roost of world cricket.
The Australians were good. They were, in fact, only behind the West Indians of 1976 through to 1995 when first Clive Lloyd, then Viv Richards, and then, to a point, Richie Richardson led the West Indies to a dominance unparalleled in world cricket.
The West Indies slipped only once, against New Zealand in 1980 when they lost a contentious three-match series 1-0.
Apart from that one hiccup, a combination of batsmen Gordon Greenidge, Roy Fredericks, Desmond Haynes, Richards, Lloyd, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Larry Gomes, Richardson, Gus Logie, and an emerging Brian Lara, to a lesser degree, wicketkeepers Deryck Murray and Jeffrey Dujon, and a bunch of speedsters in Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, and Patrick Patterson, including some of the world's best, proved unconquerable and invincible.
Is England as good as or better than anyone of these teams? I do not think so.
They are not in personnel, not in performance individually or collectively, not in dominance, not in skill and, as easily and as decisively as they defeated India, they lack the style and the appeal, the swagger and the ruthlessness of world beaters.