ESPNcricinfo picks the best Test teams of all time

The XI

Old gold

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

Andrew Miller

August 28, 2009

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Kevin Pietersen drives through the covers, England v West Indies, 2nd Test, Chester-le-Street, May 16, 2009
Pietersen: in by a whisker © Getty Images

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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Posted by historyman40 on (August 31, 2009, 11:29 GMT)

mk49_van. I quite agree with you. Foreigners should not even be considered for the best of England. Even if they were great which KP is not.

Posted by Engle on (August 30, 2009, 17:48 GMT)

2nd XI : Sutcliffe, Boycott, Grace, May(vc), Compton, Jardine (c),Stewart (w), Tyson, Bedser, Laker, Verity.

There, now I feel satiated

Posted by Aussieicon91 on (August 30, 2009, 12:05 GMT)

I think that people are going to have to come to grips with the fact that the Alltime XI, that these so called "experts" are deciding on, aren't going to be accurate. The Australian side was incorrectly chosen (Not picking Hayden and Ponting) and the whole structure of how they are picking the sides is rather poor to say the least. Jim Laker should be picked over Derek Underwood and in a few years time, these selectors could be made to look foolish if Pietersen goes through a terrible run of form, his averaging drops to the early 40's and he never plays again.

Posted by vimalan on (August 29, 2009, 16:56 GMT)

KP in all time XI ? are you guys serious..he is a good batsman and thats about it. Don't just go with popular vote alone since people may not seen the old stalwarts. KP does not deserve his place in all time XI

Posted by mandi on (August 29, 2009, 13:00 GMT)

In my point of view wicketkeeper stewart is best and trescothick is no. one opener.

Posted by waspsting on (August 29, 2009, 9:14 GMT)

pretty amusing commentary. Botham was NOT fast like Larwood - when he bowled short, batsmen looked for runs, not to save their head. He may have swung the ball like Trueman, but Trueman was genuinely fast, while Botham wasn't. He did bowl a beautiful outswinger, at least at the start of his career, but the short stuff he'd have been better without. He wasn't quick enough for it. Larwood "still gets the wick up the Australians", because he was bowling to a tactic which ANY major fast bowler could have succeeded with (and which was even then considered unethical and today is ruled illegal on top of that). When he wasn't bowling bodyline, he had the odd good performance (as any decent bowler will) but was overall quite mediocre. Bradman himself made this point and claimed he found Ken Farnes a harder bowler to face. Larwood's average against Australia - sans bodyline - is 43!

Posted by kpisthebest on (August 29, 2009, 3:10 GMT)


Yeah he is not technically sound against the spinners as unlike other players from England he has hammered Murali,Warne and co.

Ah so as per you scoring runs against Warne must not be a great thing isn't it???

Posted by kpisthebest on (August 29, 2009, 3:05 GMT)


Yeah KP would have failed against the likes of McGrath as he only scored about 500 runs at an average of over 50 against McGrath and co in Aus.

Scoring about 500 runs against McGrath and co in Australia is no joke for sure!!!

Posted by hokora on (August 28, 2009, 23:02 GMT)

There are a few bizarre choices in this team. Botham?! Sorry, his performances against the dominant team of his era (WI) were pitiful. The team has to be able to play the best, so you need to have players who have proved themselves against the best. I fail to see how Underwood can be picked over Verity, who proved himself against that tremendous Aussie batting of the 1930s. As for Larwood, his test performances were not great outside the infamous Bodyline series. It makes more sense to pick a squad than a team, actually (since pitches vary). I'd go for a squad of 12: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hutton, Hammond, May, WG Grace, Knott, Rhodes, Verity, Trueman, Bedser, Barnes. Hardest is to pick the fast/fast-medium bowlers. If allowed a squad of 16, I'd add Tyson, Maurice Tate (same era as Larwood but a better bowler), KP and Les Ames (assuming you need a reserve keeper).

Posted by SridharSampath on (August 28, 2009, 21:02 GMT)

I can't understand how Godfrey Evans wasn't there in the short-list of wicketkeepers. He played 90+ Tests purely as a keeper. His batting avg was about 15 which means he should have been one heck of a keeper to have played that many Tests. Larwood didn't even get 100 Test wickets, though one may argue that wasn't his fault entirely. Bob Willis has a better record and has toured all countries. KP over Compton or Cowdrey at this point in time seems surprising even though he might make it to this XI more convincingly after 5 more years.

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Andrew MillerClose
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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