Old rivals come together
The quest for ESPNcricinfo's all-time World XI may have ended last month, but the public's thirst for fantasy match-ups - much like the thirst for top-quality cricket - shows no sign of abating. As England embark on what promises to be one of the most evenly contested Ashes tours in living memory, we have teamed up with our colleagues at ESPN Classic to seek out the ultimate combined Readers' Ashes XI.
Four Australians - Don Bradman, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee - and two Englishmen - Jack Hobbs and Len Hutton - made the cut in the World XI, which also included such indisputable greats as Garry Sobers, Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar. But with 133 years of history from which to choose, the Readers' all-time Ashes XI promises in its own way to be an even more problematic poser.
To provide a starting point for the discussions, we have reverted to the 85 names (39 Englishmen and 46 Aussies) who were put forward for selection for their respective country's all-time XIs back in July and August 2009. Those original shortlists were drawn up by some of the sport's most respected pundits, and span the entire history of Anglo-Australian rivalry, with representatives from every era of the game.
The "Demon" Frederick Spofforth, who contested the very first Test match, in Melbourne in 1877, is one of the names in the reckoning, as are Hobbs and Victor Trumper, two legendary opening batsmen who epitomised the Golden Age at the start of the 20th century. Then come the giants of the inter-war era - Bradman, whose legend will endure for all time, his English counterpart Wally Hammond, and bowlers such as Harold Larwood and Hedley Verity, whose speed and guile respectively made their own indelible marks on Ashes history.
Bradman's Invincibles, Australia'a unbeaten tourists from 1948, are represented in force, with the new-ball pairing of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller principal among their number, while the England team that ruled the roost for much of the 1950s is best showcased by Hutton, their legendary captain from 1953 and 1954-55, and four mighty bowlers in Alec Bedser, Frank Tyson, Brian Statham and Jim Laker, whose 19 wickets at Old Trafford in 1956 is a feat that has never come close to being matched.
Ken Barrington, England's immoveable object, is on hand to epitomise the dour attrition of the 1960s; Dennis Lillee, the ultimate Aussie menace, marks the change of tempo that set the 1970s apart. Ian Botham and Allan Border epitomise the inspiration and perspiration that defined the two nations' attitudes in the 1980s, while the unrivalled dominance that Australia enjoyed throughout the 1990s and into the start of the 2000s is showcased by a host of modern greats: Warne, Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, the Waugh twins, and of course, the last man standing, Ricky Ponting.
As with all such exercises, this is not a definitive list, and there are one or two notable omissions. Jeff Thomson failed to make the cut for the original exercise, for instance, while Chris Broad's three centuries as an opener in 1986-87, the last time England successfully defended the Ashes in Australia, might well have deserved a look in. However, given that one in eight of the names on the shortlist will miss out in the final reckoning, it's fair to suggest that the options are plentiful already.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.