February 24, 2014

The tradesmen

A Barber, a Cook, an Engineer and other cricketers whose names are also professions

It was a close-run thing for one of the opening spots in this team, but the prolific opener Vijay Merchant beat off the challenge of his compatriot Nari Contractor, on weight of runs - and by virtue of a first-class batting average of 71.64, bettered only by Don Bradman.

England's captain Alastair Cook gets the nod at the top of the order despite his recent problems in Australia. He still reached 8000 Test runs at a younger age than anyone else and, rather scarily, is still only 29.

Test cricket's most-capped Butcher is Mark of England, with 71: his family has 72 caps when father Alan's solitary one from 1979 is added in. But Basil Butcher, a stalwart of the strong West Indian side of the 1960s, had a better batting average - 43.11 to Mark's 34.58.

Another representative from that exciting West Indian side, the big Barbadian Seymour Nurse could murder the bowling - as he did most efficiently in what turned out to be his final Test innings, 258 against New Zealand in Christchurch in 1968-69.

A hard-hitting left-hander best remembered for a pulsating 185 in an Ashes Test in Sydney in 1965-66, Bob Barber will also bolster our attack with his legbreaks, which brought him 42 wickets from his 28 Tests.

There was only one choice for our jobbing allrounder - the charismatic Australian Keith Miller, darling of the crowds (and the ladies) in the decade or so after the Second World War. Miller was arguably the last true Australian allrounder - one who could have been selected either for his batting or his bowling.

Not too much discussion about our wicketkeeper: the livewire Indian Farokh Engineer, a favourite from Manchester to Mumbai, was good enough to open the batting in Tests - and score a rapid hundred against West Indies in Madras (now Chennai) in 1966-67.

Opening the bowling for our tradesmen will be Ian Bishop, one of the frighteningly quick bunch of West Indian pacemen in the early 1990s. He took 161 Test wickets, at only 24 apiece. He could also help out in the commentary box afterwards.

There's a case for including the New Zealand slow left-armer Mark Priest if the wicket is taking spin, but we have picked from the top of the Ecclesiastical batting order here, by selecting Derbyshire's George Pope, a long-serving seamer who won a Test cap against South Africa in 1947.

Unorthodox spin is provided by Bert "Dainty" Ironmonger, who had eye-popping Test stats considering he was 46 before he made his debut, and nearly 51 when he said his farewells after the 1932-33 Bodyline series. Ironmonger, who spun the ball off the remains of fingers mangled in a farming accident, took 74 Test wickets at 17.97, including 11 for 24 on a Melbourne "sticky dog" against South Africa in 1931-32.

Seamer Lionel Baker, the only Test cricketer from the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, gets our final place - although I did have the tall Surrey fast bowler Ray Baker more in mind at first. During a televised Sunday League game in the early 1970s, when he played alongside Alan Butcher, he inspired the commentator John Arlott to observe that Surrey had "a Butcher, a Baker... but no sign of a Candlestick-Maker".

This team even brings its own officials along: the Indian umpire Piloo Reporter and England's favourite, David Shepherd. And opener Cook could perhaps lend a hand with the teas.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013