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ESPNcricinfo picks the best Test teams of all time

Openers

The hardest picks

Few tasks in cricket are tougher than opening the batting in England, and picking openers for an all-time England XI is hardly easy either

Andrew Miller

July 28, 2009

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Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe
Will either or both of Hobbs and Sutcliffe make it to England's all-time XI? © The Cricketer International
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The Australian nominations are out of the way; time now to turn to the men who will meet them in our Ashes cyber-clash. To assist our search for Cricinfo's best England XI of all time (and it's not a quest we've undertaken lightly) we've called upon the services of 10 of the most respected pundits in the country - a medley of editors, correspondents, columnists and historians, charged with condensing 132 years of Test history into 11 good men and true.

From Tom Armitage in 1877 to Graham Onions in 2009, a grand total of 644 men have answered their country's call, making this particular XI the toughest pick of all. Some names you'd imagine would be shoo-ins for one and all, but not a single one of the jury's final selection received 100% of the votes. The net has been cast as wide as possible, and the debate will doubtless rage regardless of the names involved.

We launch this search with perhaps the most crucial combination of all - the opening batsmen. Is there any tougher task than repelling the new ball in England? The heat of the subcontinent or an Australian summer may sap the concentration more, but in terms of a full examination of technique and temperament, there's nothing quite like the variety of conditions on offer in Blighty.

From the early-season greentops that cause the ball to spit off the seam, through the often overcast conditions that enable medium-pacers to hoop the ball round corners, and for the older generation the challenge of uncovered wickets and all the spite contained therein, to succeed as an opener in England is the surest confirmation of class.

The old adage of "A strong Yorkshire is a strong England" could scarcely ring more true when it comes to this crucial role in the team. Three of the eight contenders hail from "God's own country", including Geoffrey Boycott and Sir Len Hutton.

The Contenders

Jack Hobbs The original "Master", and arguably the greatest batsman of the pre-Bradman era. Scored 199 first-class centuries in a three-decade career, and often got himself out after reaching three figures to give his team-mates a go

Herbert Sutcliffe Hobbs' legendary opening partner. Scored eight Test centuries against Australia alone. Separating them in this all-time XI will be as tough as it was at the crease.

Len Hutton Another Yorkshire great, who overcame a debilitating wartime injury to score 19 centuries in 79 Tests. Reclaimed the Ashes in 1953, and defended them Down Under two years later.

Geoffrey Boycott Yorkshire's favourite son of the 1960s and 70s, and obdurate rock of England's batting. Stubborn, opinionated and immoveable - traits he has carried into his career in broadcasting.

Mike Brearley A modest Test average of 22.88, but worthy of consideration for his captaincy alone. His "degree in people" brought the best out of his players, most notably the young Ian Botham

Graham Gooch Went toe to toe with some of the greatest fast bowlers of all time, most notably the 1980s West Indians. A weakness against swing bowling undermined his mighty record.

Mike Atherton Ambrose and Walsh, Donald and Pollock, Wasim and Waqar, McGrath and Warne. There was scarcely a cheap run available during his tough decade at the top.

Michael Vaughan The man who reclaimed the Ashes in 2005, but it was as an eye-catching opener three years earlier that he really made his mark, with 633 runs in a 4-1 series defeat.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007

England jury

Scyld Berry
Scyld Berry
Wisden editor, Sunday Telegraph correspondent; author of Cricket Wallah among other books
XI: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Stewart, Hammond, Pietersen, Gower, Botham, Rhodes, Trueman, Snow, Barnes
Lawrence Booth
Lawrence Booth
Guardian cricket writer, author of the weekly email newsletter The Spin, and Cricinfo columnist
XI: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hutton, Barrington, Hammond, Pietersen, Botham, Knott, Underwood, Barnes, Willis
Stephen Brenkley
Cricket correspondent of the Independent
XI: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Gower, Barrington, Jackson, Botham, Knott, Larwood, Barnes, Rhodes
David Frith
David Frith
Cricket historian, writer and archivist. Author of the definitive history of Bodyline
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, Hammond, Compton, Barrington, Botham, Knott, Laker, Verity, Larwood, Barnes
Tim de Lisle
Tim de Lisle
Former editor of Wisden and Wisden Cricket Monthly; editor of Intelligent Life magazine
XI: Hobbs, Brearley, Hammond, Pietersen, Barrington, Greig, Botham, Knott, Trueman, Underwood, Barnes
Steven Lynch
Steven Lynch
Deputy editor of Wisden, editor of the Cricinfo Guide to International Cricket, and writer of the Ask Steven column on Cricinfo
XI: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Compton, Pietersen, Botham, Knott, Barnes, Larwood, Laker, Trueman
Christopher Martin-Jenkins
Christopher Martin-Jenkins
Former cricket correspondent for the Times the BBC and the Daily Telegraph; Test Match Special commentator
XI: Hutton, Hammond, Compton, May, Botham, Knott, Rhodes, Laker, Trueman, Barnes
Peter Roebuck
Peter Roebuck
Former captain of Somerset; author of It Never Rains and Sometimes I Forgot to Laugh among other books.
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, May, Hammond, Compton, Barrington, Knott, Larwood, Tyson, Barnes, Underwood
Mike Selvey
Mike Selvey
Former England fast bowler; cricket correspondent of the Guardian
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Barrington, Botham, Knott, Larwood, Tyson, Snow, Barnes
John Stern
John Stern
Editor, The Wisden Cricketer
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, Hammond, Gower, Barrington, Botham, Knott, Larwood, Bedser, Underwood, Snow

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