December 18, 2012

Test XV - the final readers' selection

Selection of an all-time Test XV based on readers' votes

Shane Warne received the second-highest percentage of votes after Don Bradman © Getty Images

Finally we come to the moment billions (not that often misused word), a few hundred, have waited for. All the entries for the all-time best XV have been received, processed, cleaned up, shenanigans identified & put in place and the final Readers' XV determined.

The geographic distribution of responses has been given at the end.


1. All the valid entries were placed in a text file. I wrote a custom program to tally the reader selections to create a Player-Reader matrix. Each set of fifteen players was assigned a weighted index using a complex algorithm to pin down identical selections. Then I created multiple Excel files. One for the number of reader votes received. Another for the number of selections by each reader that made into the final XV. Which brings us here.

2. I imposed certain restrictions on the selection of each XV. I did not want the reader to specifically exclude any period whatsoever. This was essential to have a fair field of selection across the years. Another restriction was that a reader had to specifically confirm if Bradman was excluded. Only one reader, out of such three, reverted with a series of convincing explanations. The other two simply did not bother, hence their entries were not included.

3. A few readers had raised the possibility of other readers misusing the system to put in multiple entries. I had always been aware of such attempts and set up diverse steps to locate and exclude such attempts. These steps have been documented in the form of a MS Word document. But why start with the unsavoury??? A link to that document provided at the end of this article.

4. The final selection is strictly bases on 'one reader, one vote' system. Be it Martin Crowe, Rajesh, Madhu or me, we all get one vote each. However I would have given slightly more weight to these selections to resolve a tie but it was not required.

Summary of numbers

No of valid entries received: 205
No of players selected:       119
No player was selected by all readers
Highest selection :           204 (Bradman-99.5%)
No of players with single selection each: 31
The votes gathered by the top 15 players: 2210-72.5%

Top 30 selections

NoPlayerVotes% of Total ...No PlayerVotes% of Total
1Bradman 20499.5...16Hadlee 8642.0
2Warne 18791.2...17Lillee 6431.2
3Sobers 17786.3...18Kallis 6230.2
4Marshall 17082.9...19Hutton 4120.0
5Gilchrist 16982.4...20SF Barnes 4019.5
6Murali 15676.1...21Waqar 2512.2
7Lara 15475.1...22Dravid 2411.7
8Hobbs 14470.2...23RG Pollock 2411.7
9Tendulkar 13967.8...24Holding 2311.2
10Akram 13766.8...25BA Richards 18 8.8
11Viv Richards13465.4...26Flower 18 8.8
12Gavaskar 13364.9...27Sangakkara 18 8.8
13McGrath 11556.1...28Sutcliffe 18 8.8
14Ambrose 9847.8...29Sehwag 18 8.8
15Imran 9345.4...30Hayden 17 8.3

7 players were selected by over 75% readers, 13 by over 50%, 18 by 25% or more and 24 by just over 10%. The 30th best selection, Hayden, received 17 votes (less than 9%). 40 players have 10 or more votes. There are big drops after Gavaskar (#12 with 133 votes), McGrath (#13 with 115 votes), Hadlee (#16 with 86 votes), Kallis (#18 with 62 votes) and SF Barnes (#20 with 40 votes).

The Readers' XV

The following final XV has been selected strictly based on votes received. There is no doubt that this is an excellent group of players. While there could be individual differences of opinions from readers, there is no doubt that this is an all-time best XV representing countries and eras in a very fair manner.

Viv RichardsWin854050.24

There are 5 West Indians, 4 Australians, 2 Indians, 2 Pakistanis, 1 Englishman and 1 Sri Lankan in this elite list of fifteen players.

Bradman is in with a record 99.5% votes. It may resemble the ballot to elect the President of a banana republic. Well, Paul Sime need not fear any reprisals from the President's secret service. He had clearly explained his selections. My estimate is that if we had received 1000 votes, Bradman would have got 99.94% selection (Thanks, david !!!). The lily needs no gilding. And before someone comments that it is absurd to destroy the lily because melting is an essential step for gilding, let me include the original quote by Shakespeare - ''To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet,... Is wasteful and ridiculous excess." (Milind, thanks!!!). So let us move on.

I must admit that I was startled by the second highest selection. While I expected Sobers at this position, to my pleasant surprise, it is Shane Warne who garnered 92.7% of the votes. This indicates the very very high opinion of informed readers in considering Warne as the best spinner of all time and a genuine match-winner.

He is, as expected, followed by Sobers who secured 86.2% votes. I am bewildered by the rather high 14% exclusion. I feel Kallis edged out Sobers in some selections while a few top batsmen may have elbowed out Sobers for the batting spot.

Gilchrist is next with 82.8% votes. Once again I am amazed that over 17% did not choose Gilchrist. I think Andy Flower, no less a keeper-batsman, took away quite a few votes. Possibly the solidity of Flower was preferred by some (nearly 9%). It is also possible that keepers with better keeping ability (on what basis, I cannot understand) like Knott may also have got the nod.

In fifth position is the undoubted master of aggressive pace bowling, Marshall with 82.3%. Quite on the expected lines. A true match winner and the best fast bowler amongst all the greats.

My two favourites, Muralitharan and Lara, appear next. Muralitharan just edging out Lara by two votes. Two wonderful champions, crowd-pleasers, fighters, elegant performers: all rolled into single packages. No real surprise that over 3 out of 4 readers selected these two players' players.

The next three positions are held by Hobbs, Tendulkar and Wasim Akram, with just under 70% of votes. It is a measure of the readers' understanding of the game that similar numbers have selected two maestros who played nearly 100 years apart. Hobbs and Tendulkar were masters of flawless technique and extremely consistent. That Hobbs received more votes than Tendulkar is a testament to the very fair manner in which the readers had approached this task.

Viv Richards, Gavaskar, McGrath and Ambrose occupy the next four positions. I expected a slightly higher position for Richards and Ambrose. But they are comfortably in. These 14 players were in my selection of 15 players

The last position was a closely fought one. Imran Khan finished comfortably ahead of Hadlee by 7 votes and secured the 15th spot. Maybe a different demographic distribution of readers might have got Hadlee in, as also couple of other batsmen like Kallis or Chappell.

I am extremely happy with the 15 selected and take pride in the fact that Imran was in my XV until the very late stages and Hadlee just about edged him out. At the same time I am happy at Imran's selection since most of the concerns were raised at his exclusion.

In summary, I am surprised that Warne and Kallis got higher votes than expected, and Sutcliffe received fewer. I am saddened that Greg Chappell and Ponting did not get more votes.

The 13 readers who selected 14 of the final XV

No selection matched the final 15. Apart from me, 12 others included 14 out of these 15. It can be argued that my selection closely resembles the final list solely because most readers relied on my list and altered a few spots but a glance down the most commented article reveals the thought behind these selections, The table below lists all these and the selection changes from the final list. KC (from US) matched my selection. Jay and Kaushik had identical selections as also Arnab and Rohith. That is all. These 6 are the only identical choices amongst the 200+ selections. Madhu, Cricinfo Stats wizard, got 14 correct while Rajesh, Cricinfo Editor, got 13 correct. Martin Crowe, who selected the wonderful quartet of Lillee, Hutton, O'Reilly and SF Barnes, matched the other eleven. These four find a place in the second XV.

Readers/WriterSelectedNot selected
Madhu RamakrishnanLilleeAkram
Lucky StrikeHuttonAkram
PradeepBarry RichardsViv Richards

The 4 readers who selected 1 and 2 players of the final XV

Now the other end. One reader, Mike (from Australia), succeeded in selecting only Bradman out of the final XV. However since his selection encompassed all the eras and countries it is fine. Pete, Dennis and Sam39083 selected two players each. All three selected Bradman and Sobers and 13 other players.

The Second XV

The second XV has been selected mostly based on numbers but also with a bit of tweaking to get the team balance correct. It would be silly to just go by the numbers. It may be a good idea if the readers do not come out with comments like "A has got 1 vote more than B, why was B selected?". It would be totally counter-productive.

Barry Richards
Greg Chappell
Graeme Pollock
Andy Flower (wk)
SF Barnes
Waqar Younis

The overwhelming number of votes given for Warne and Muralitharan meant that the other spinners got very few votes. Still the numbers at least were reasonable. It is possible that one could have gone for Kumble over Bedi or Ponting over Dravid/Chappell. But those selected were thoroughly deserving of their inclusions. I am certain that this team would give the Top XV a run for its money. They would certainly win a Test or two in a 5-Test series.

Readers should remember the magnitude of the task I have completed. Cutting and pasting teams sent by readers in different formats, correcting spellings (how many 'Marshal's), affixing Viv or BA as warranted, affixing RG or SM as warranted, following up and effecting changes, tracking all below-15 and above-15 selections and validating these, checking for duplicate entries, taking care of multiple changes to teams and finally the special work to weed out suspicious entries and so on. All these with a 83.5% physical condition.

So please accept that there could be a few errors. However I am certain that these errors would not cause any change to the final selection. Frankly the only votes that matter are those to Imran and Hadlee. Imran is 7 ahead and is very unlikely to be caught up, on account of my errors. And many of the entries rejected had Imran. Even if you point out some errors please do not expect me to rush in and correct those.

To view/download the complete Player-Reader-Matrix Excel file, please CLICK HERE.

To view/download Word Document about my steps to locate and remove multiple selections, please CLICK HERE.

The geographic distribution of responses

Afghanistan     1
Antigua         1
Australia      32
Bahrain         3
Bangladesh      1
Barbados        2
Canada          1
Germany         1
Iceland         1
India          75
Ireland         1
Israel          2
Italy           1
Japan           3
Netherlands     1
New Zealand     4
Pakistan       19
Saudi Arabia    1
South Africa    3
Sri Lanka       3
UnitedArabEmir  2
United Kingdom 23
USA            24

What next?

Let us all settle back and relax, me the most. My next article will be an alternate review of 2012 by first week of January 2013. I have to do a lot of work to get the simulation programs up. Whether I want to carry out a simulation or not is also unclear. Let us give this a break. All you guys have a great Christmas, New Year, Pongal, Sankranti and Id-e-Milad. Your comments are, of course, welcome and will be published with the normal response criteria.

Have a great holiday season

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 18:13 GMT

    Gentlemen The fat lady has sung and the time has come for all of us to wind up the show and go home. All the crowd have gone and here we are, a few people, arguing endlessly on something not connected with the play and not worth a tinker's damn. I have to pack up and leave. The next show has started and let us move on there. No more comments on this article will be accepted. There will be no last words other than these words of mine. Thank you for co-operating. Ananth

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 13:12 GMT

    @Boll - Such exercises as suggested by delmeister can never be conclusive.

    @Ananth - An alternative could be All Time World XI versus All Time Country XI minus its players in World XI. It would be an interesting 5-match test series played in 5 key Test playing zones with 2 warm up matches in each location with their all time strongest FC Team. For example, World XI would play with India XI in Kolkata with a warm up match against Mumbai in Brabourne(?). We can simulate the entire series on this space with a tour schedule consisting of 10 FC matches and 5 Tests. In that way, we could simulate a decent tour across continents.

    We can have blogs at the end of each Match and then a summary of performances. I know its a far fletched thing giving Ananth too much to play with his tennis elbow, but then, it would give a definite twist to the test arena. We could may be extend this to a 5 Test/ 3 ODI series with all time ODI XI of World & Countries!!!

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 11:26 GMT

    @delmeister, great reading and some good points. I fully agree that these exercises should be enjoyable, but we should also attempt to reach some subjective conclusions and attempt to stand up for our beliefs...probably not ad nauseum as you suggest though.

    I`m even sick of hearing myself (in those ever-decreasing circles) ...cheers and welcome back.

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 10:47 GMT

    @Bheem, not quite sure how Rodney Hogg snuck in there with the likes of Alderman and Philander (very cheeky!) - at least 10mph between them, and completely different bowlers.

    I would suggest that Alderman circa `89 was pretty similar in pace to Maurice Tate 1924/5 when he had that great series against Aus, with similar figures.

    Plenty of people other than Bradman who rate/d O`Reilly extremely highly - quite apart from that, his stats speak for themselves.

    No problem at all in ranking Tendulkar right at the top - in my World Test XV without much question and one of the first 2 batsmen picked in my ODI World XV.

    re.bowling charts over the last 35-40 years - with the top 3 wicket takers being spinners, I think you may have missed the boat on that one.

    @shrikanthk, yes Shackleton and Cartwright had v.good 1st class figures, but they didn`t take more than 40 wickets in an Ashes series...twice, or play at that level in the last 25 years - thus the Alderman comparison.

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 10:44 GMT

    "I asked Murray whether his friend Arthur Morris thinks Bedser would've been successful in the modern game. Nothing against Bedser, but the circumstances these days don't aid medium pace"

    All of them have always thought so ( I throw in Harvey, Benaud, Hassett, DGB, Weekes, May, Nourse .... all of them.) Len didn't like him because he bowled his overs too quickly lol :).

    If Jackson Bird also had a sharp inswinger and a fizzing leg cutter how would he go ? How did McGrath go (and he hardly moved the ball)....

    This 130-135 range is where Alec would have mostly bowled.

    I have no hesitation in thinking Alec a true great !

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 9:50 GMT

    Re fast bowling speeds.

    I got hold of some film taken in Sydney December 1954. It'll take me a while to figure out how to even play it, let alone convert into digital video. But I'll try.

    Think it will convince anyone that Tyson was very fast that 4th innings. The "story" side is some I've never heard exaggerate, talking about bruised shins through pads.

    Without being a definitive measure of speed; There have been 4 bowlers recorded as having cleared the boundary with a bouncer. I hope everyone will agree that that's certainly up there in pace ?

    Kortwright did in 19th century at a ground in Thames valley I can find no details on. (it might be small). Tyson did at the Oval in 1954. Roy Gilchrist did at Essex in 1957. Jeff Thomson did at WACA in 1975.

    I havn't seen anyone anywhere near quick enough to do that start a Test career since Mohammad Zahid. (oops I picked someone there were no speed guns on :) )

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 9:23 GMT

    ...of going round in ever decreasing circles as now,why not give this fun exercise a shot? It is very interesting and stimulating I can assure you... :)

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 9:20 GMT

    ...ahead of many greater players to go in 6 and captain,as an added insurance against defeat (sort of).In 2001,one writer made very interesting point about him.He reckoned if you took Waugh out of the contemporary World XI,and made him captain of the second XI,the latter would didn't find that an outlandish claim.I could see what he meant.Lot of selections are 'counter moves' to selections of other teams.Gilchrist selected straight away to try and lessen Sobers' advantage in team A,and will certainly bat no.6.Tendulkar immediately selected,before Viv and Lara,to give a known successful counter to Warne.Botham selected well before Imran due to greater ALLROUND (as opposed to pure bowling)match turning qualities,since fairest way to select players is in their prime AND SLIGHTLY EITHER SIDE OF IT imo.Akram ahead of slightly greater bowlers for similar reasons,plus variety of left arm and reverse swing.Headley specialist run hungry no3 counter to Bradman. Go on lads-instead ...

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 9:10 GMT

    ...capabilities to play each other? How?Well,I got the idea from IPL auction (it had to come in useful for something! lol),plus the dreaded 'playground picking 2 teams of the kids assembled'from school days.Imagine 2 identical clones of yrself having alternate picks from every player in history,you select the 2 teams.In order of players I selected ie 1st pick to 11th pick,here are the 2 teams:-

    team A-Sobers,Barnes,Lillee,Warne,Hobbs,Lara,Headley,Hutton,Imran,S.Waug(capt),Knott(wkt)

    team B- Bradman (capt)Gilchrist(wkt),Marshall,Tendulkar,V.Richards,Murali,Botham,Grace,Ambrose,B.Richards,Akram

    The selection processes are VERY different at times from the Knott selected last as Gilchrist was early,hence strengthen rest of team first.Sobers I would pick ahead of Bradman because I think that against very fast great bowling in helpful conditions,Bradman nowhere near as far ahaead of a few greats,inc Sobers,as in other circumstances,plus Sobers' other 'extras'.Waugh in ...

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2013, 8:46 GMT

    ..of mine s you'll see on my Favouite XI selection) quicker than Tate.Yr living in cloud cuckoo land if you think that.Tho often compared to Barnes and Bedser,Tate was undobtedly quicker,with noted nip off the pitch and disconcerting carry that they didn't get.Alderman,esp after shoulder injury (both Ananth and I can hugely sympathise!) was about Bedser's pace,so bit quicker than Barnes,who was CERTAINLY quicker than slow-medium spinning legend O'Reilly-why on earth Bradman tried to compare those 2 totally different bowlers,concluding O'Reilly was better as "also had a googly"is totally beyond me,a very basic error indeed.Unless of course,using Wasp's excellent theory,he was trying to 'big up'his own record making his teammate 'the greatest',which he did do,subtly,more than many realise.Anyway,I am getting a bit bored with this over-scepticism of older players.Why not try an exercise I tried many months ago?Instead of first and second XIs,why not try selecting 2 teams of pretty equal..

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