The Dream Team
Inside Cricket assembled a panel of ten experts, including Dennis Lillee and Greg and Ian Chappell, to choose the best Australian Test XI from 1995 to 2005.
The XI 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Mark Taylor (capt), 3 Ricky Ponting, 4 Mark Waugh, 5 Steve Waugh, 6 Adam Gilchrist, 7 Ian Healy, 8 Shane Warne, 9 Jason Gillespie, 10 Craig McDermott, 11 Glenn McGrath.
"The opening batsmen spots were tricky - talk about spoilt for choice," says the former New Zealand opener Mark Richardson. Plenty agreed, but in the end, one player was drawn from each of two of the most successful opening partnerships of all time. Matthew Hayden was the most popular choice to head the Australian batting line-up; his dominance of bowling all over the world for a sustained period - combined with his overall record - proved irresistible for eight of the panellists.
Mark Taylor was preferred next, finding his way into half the sides. Terry Jenner described Taylor as "the best Australian captain since Ian Chappell," while Chappell himself cited Taylor's catching ability as another factor in his favour. Justin Langer received four votes and Michael Slater three. The fact this pair missed out is indicative of the talent Australia has had at the top of the order in recent times.
The No. 3 position came down to a battle between Tasmania's two favourite sons. Greg Chappell and Darren Berry selected David Boon to fill what many perceive as the most demanding batting position. And both chose Boon's successor of Tasmanian pride, Ricky Ponting, at No. 4, as did Dennis Lillee. Yet the current Australian captain fills the No. 3 spot. "His ability to dominate bowlers either on the front or back foot is peerless in the current game," says Jenner, while Geoff Lawson acknowledges Ponting's brilliance in the field would add further quality to the side.
Nos 4 and 5
If there's a sniff of class in the top three, the side is positively reeking of it by the time we get through to No. 6. Ponting's three votes at No. 4 were automatically ruled out and the only other selection at second drop was Mark Waugh. "Wonderful to watch his batting," says Lawson. "Simply class," enthused Richardson. "For pure entertainment it is impossible to go past the junior Waugh's stylishly effortless batting," adds Jenner. Only Darren Berry wielded the selection axe on the gifted New South Welshman.
As with Ponting, Steve Waugh collected votes from all panellists, from positions three to six. He was favoured most heavily at No. 5 and his ability to be cool in a crisis, as well as his ruthless and determined attitude, were the major reasons given for Waugh's inclusion. In fact, "an automatic selection" was generally the only comment given - or needed - regarding Australia's most successful skipper.
Nos 6 and 7
The final middle-order place came down to a choice of two. Damien Martyn narrowly missed selection but our panel opted to play Adam Gilchrist at No. 6 and relieve him of the wicketkeeping duties. Ian Healy, with five votes at No. 7, pipped Martyn's four and sneaked, shifting Gilchrist, whose ten votes were evenly divided at six and seven, up the order.
"Healy is the best keeper and it's a specialist position," says Ian Chappell, "plus he was no slouch as a batsman. However, Gilchrist is such a devastating batsman that he's ideal for the No. 6 slot, where a match can be won by a couple of hours of scintillating stroke play."
Guess who? The bamboozling leggie SK Warne was a walk-up starter with comments such as "the best spinner in the game's history," from Lawson being the prevailing wisdom. The next creator of controversy was Warne's brilliant back-up and sometimes-spinning sidekick, Stuart MacGill. Could a side with the Waugh twins at their peak go into battle with two quicks and two spinners? Four experts thought so. "MacGill's numbers [169 wickets at 27] are hard to ignore," said Jim Maxwell. "Most teams can't play legspin, so why not have two?" Lawson asked. Yet, much like his real life story, MacGill was consigned to the bench.
Nos 9 and 10
The first two of the three quicks - Jason Gillespie and Craig McDermott. Gillespie's 251 wickets at 26 are outstanding and this was acknowledged by our panellists. "At his best, Gillespie was on a par with Warne for difficulty of handling," says Richardson. McDermott's feats as Australia's spearhead early in his career and then at the start of this era were rewarded by six panellists, earning him selection just ahead of MacGill. Brett Lee, who was favoured ahead of Gillespie by Lillee, Michael Kasprowicz and Damien Fleming all received votes yet the men with the most wickets on the board - 542 between them - got the nod.
The final member of the side received all 10 votes. McGrath takes the honour of receiving the new ball and leaving Gillespie and McDermott to share it with him. "His record speaks for itself," Lawson said, while others were quick to highlight his absence as the key reason why Australia lost two Ashes Tests in 2005.
The selection of a captain was also a close call. Mark Taylor was elected skipper in every side in which he appeared. Steve Waugh received four nominations and Mark Nicholas deemed Shane Warne worthy of the honour. "Ideally, Warne's inventive and attacking cricket brain would captain this team, which is a choice of personal favourites rather than anything else," Nicholas says. With five votes Taylor, the man who led Australia into the era, takes up the reins.
Selectors Dennis Lillee, Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Mark Nicholas, Terry Jenner, Geoff Lawson, Mark Richardson, Darren Berry, Dean Jones, Jim Maxwell.
This article appears in a special edition of Inside Cricket titled A Decade of Champions. For subscription details go to www.magshop.com.au.