Old-timers Twenty20 - I
As the rain washed away the first T20I between England and Australia, I started to ponder how the old-timers would have done at Twenty20, and fell, as one does, into constructing imaginary XIs for England and Rest of the World selected from those who finished their international careers before 1970, so as to exclude anyone who ever played an ODI. It is more of a jigsaw-puzzle than picking an all-time Test team because of the need to cover all the angles. You want at least eight batsmen who are unafraid of taking the aerial route, six bowlers covering every speed from 50mph to 90mph and a couple of really good fielders you can put in key positions.
Beginning with the England XI, SF Barnes is always the first name on the sheet for any team I select for which he is eligible since he was the best bowler ever, a master of swing, swerve, spin and pace.
Next for Twenty20 comes Gilbert Jessop, one of the most amazingly fast scorers ever seen. Fifteen of his first-class centuries were scored in under an hour. He was initially regarded as a bowler, of fast-medium pace, and was also a brilliant fielder.
The other two certainties for me are Denis Compton, whose talent for batting improvisation remains unsurpassed, and Frank Woolley, a man capable of peppering the roof of the football stadium at Bradford against the powerful Yorkshire attack. Furthermore, Woolley was an almost Test-class slow left-armer and Compton's leg-spin was good enough to bring him 622 first-class wickets.
So, with Woolley, Compton, Jessop and Barnes as the nucleus, who else?
Of the three great H's, only Wally Hammond seems cut out for this team. Hutton spent his career worrying about the weakness of those coming in after him and curbed his aggressive talents, and Jack Hobbs was a timer and placer as well as a great stealer of singles and would, I fancy, have been as unsuccessful a Twenty20 player as Michael Vaughan. Hammond, however, crunched the ball through the off side with immense power and frequency. That he could (if reluctantly) bowl fast and was a brilliant close catcher are also useful add-ons.
The obvious batsman-keeper is Les Ames, who can also open the batting. But with Hobbs and Hutton ruled out and most of England's openers before 1970 being a stodgy lot, his partner needs some selecting. I will go for Colin Milburn, whose England career finished when he lost an eye in 1969, but who had broken the mould of English openers with his blitzkrieg style.
Still room for one more specialist bat. My choice is Percy Chapman, who will also captain the side. A batsman who hardly knew the meaning of defence and a brilliant cover fielder, he was appointed captain for the fifth Test of the 1926 Ashes and won them back, and then went to Australia and rested after the fourth Test because England were already 4-0 up.
Three places left. We have no off-spinner and no top-quality fast bowler yet, and we can give those spots to Jim Laker and Fred Trueman, whose credentials hardly need further elaboration. The last place goes to Maurice Tate, the great medium-pace bowler between the wars who also opened the batting rumbustiously for Sussex.
So here is the final XI in batting order, with the proviso that Jessop might well be sent in early if it seemed like a good idea:
C Milburn LEG Ames (k) FE Woolley DCS Compton WR Hammond APF Chapman (c) GL Jessop MW Tate FS Trueman JC Laker SF Barnes
My Rest of the World Old-timers Twenty20 team will appear in a couple of days.