The XI August 28, 2009

Old gold

England's all-time team has just two players from the last 30 years

Kevin Pietersen has been accepted as one of England's greatest players. And nobody else from his generation cuts the mustard. That is the remarkable verdict the country's pundits and public have delivered, as we reveal the results of Cricinfo's search for the all-time England XI.

This process began six months ago, with the initial deliberations of a select band of 10 jurors, representing the cream of the English cricket-writing fraternity. It was then broken down into six sub-sections - the search for two opening batsmen, three middle-order stalwarts, an allrounder, a wicketkeeper, a spinner and three quicks.

The results are quite astonishing, for they reveal a lasting deference to the greats of a bygone era. From the top-order trio of Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton and Wally Hammond, through the mighty stonewaller Ken Barrington, to the all-round axis of Ian Botham and Alan Knott, modernity scarcely gets a look-in.

The bowling is equally dominated by the champions of yesteryear. The brutish aggression of Harold Larwood and Fred Trueman, the deadly left arm of Kent's Derek Underwood, and last, but so far from being least, the oldest and most incomparable man on the list, Sydney Barnes, whose tally of 189 wickets in 27 Tests gives a surface-level idea of the threat he posed with his boundless array of seaming, swinging, spinning deliveries.

But then there is Pietersen, standing out from the crowd once again, the youngest on the list by more than 30 years, having made his Test debut almost two decades after Ian Botham's career reached its pomp. Admittedly, KP made it to the final reckoning by the skin of his teeth - he tied for jurors' votes with none other than the Brylcreem Boy, Denis Compton, but thanks to the public's vote of confidence he claims his place nonetheless.

This accolade is unlikely to come as much consolation to Pietersen as he recovers from his Achilles operation, while facing up to the fact that he was a peripheral figure in England's 2009 Ashes triumph. But then again, perhaps it will prove to be the perfect consolation. Because if there is one thing that Pietersen seeks beyond fame, fortune and glory, it is acceptance. He seems set to divide opinion for the remainder of his career, but right now, KP couldn't be in more illustrious company.

1. Jack Hobbs
"They didn't call him The Master for nothing: over 60,000 runs and nearly 200 first-class centuries, all of them accompanied by a half-smile and - judging by the fact that you never hear a bad word about him - a word of encouragement for the bowler. Hobbs kept it simple, playing straight and making sure he got his pads in the way too [the lbw law was less strict in his day]." Steven Lynch

2. Len Hutton
"In 1939, as the world descended into war, Len Hutton was about to overtake Bradman, Hammond and Headley as the finest batsman in the world. Already he had established that long-lasting Ashes record score of 364, an awesome performance by a 22-year-old. Then came the broken arm. Yet despite the handicap, he stood as the world's finest for another 10 years, weathering the bouncers, displaying the finest touches of batsmanship. He also pioneered - not without difficulties within the game - the challenge of captaincy by a professional. Slightly built, reticent, but truly a master." David Frith

3. Wally Hammond
"Wally Hammond was an all-round cricketer of imperishable class and command. A majestic batsman who dominated attacks wherever he played, he was the supreme England player after Jack Hobbs, one of the greatest slip catchers ever, and a powerful fast-medium bowler when the situation required." Christopher Martin-Jenkins

4. Ken Barrington
"Ken Barrington actually never played in an England side that won the Ashes, but nevertheless, throughout the 1960s he was the rock on which England was built, and for that reason alone you'd need him to play in any Ashes side. He'll be in my England all-time XI for as long as the game is played." Stephen Brenkley

5. Kevin Pietersen
"Few players could produce an Ashes-winning innings in their debut series. Even fewer could do it with Pietersen's panache. His career has a long way to go yet, but it says a lot for his standing that you have to go back to Ian Botham for the next most recent inclusion on this list." Lawrence Booth

6. Ian Botham
"A proven century-maker, unlike Andrew Flintoff, and capable of bowling either fast like Harold Larwood, or outswing like Fred Trueman. Hammond at first slip and Botham at second would make a formidable cordon beside Alan Knott." Scyld Berry

7. Alan Knott
"Alan Knott was peerless behind the stumps (contemporaries scratch their heads when asked to remember a dropped catch), and pretty damn good in front of them, cracking five Test hundreds despite an unorthodox technique." Steven Lynch

8. Derek Underwood
"World-class English spinners have been thin on the ground in recent decades, but Derek Underwood would qualify as a great in any era. 'Deadly' was his nickname and it could not have been more apt. In the right conditions he was lethal, especially when partnered with his Kent colleague Alan Knott." John Stern

9. Harold Larwood
"He was the arguably the fastest bowler that England have ever had, and arguably the nastiest as well. But above all, he's somebody who still gets up the wick of the Australians more than 75 years after the event. And for that reason alone, he has to be in there, doesn't he?" Mike Selvey

10. Fred Trueman
"Fast bowlers need four things above all: pace, movement, control and heart. Trueman had them all. He became the first Test cricketer to break the 300-wicket barrier. He had his limitations: despite taking wickets everywhere he went, he wouldn't brave the subcontinent, and his grit later turned to curmudgeonliness. But he remains a magnificent sight on grainy old film clips: I would love to have witnessed more of his bowling and less of his commentary." Tim de Lisle

11. Sydney Barnes
"Even in his 10th decade, Sydney Barnes was an intimidating figure. He was born to dominate. Tall and gaunt of features, he seemed to lack humour. His mission in life was to make batsmen miserable, and his figures are extraordinary, even allowing for matting wickets that brought him 49 wickets in four Tests in South Africa in 1913-14. He spun the ball at a brisk pace. Nightmare stuff. Probably still the greatest bowler who ever measured out a run-up." David Frith

12th man Denis Compton

Cricinfo readers' XI
We invited readers to vote on the nominees in each segment. Here's who they picked.
Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Wally Hammond, David Gower, Kevin Pietersen, Alan Knott, Ian Botham, Harold Larwood, Jim Laker, Fred Trueman, Sydney Barnes

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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