All-time XI: England

Meaty in the middle

Barring an alpha male, England's middle order has everything: dashers, artists, stonewallers, and all of them graceful

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Peter May and Colin Cowdrey return to the pavilion during their stand of 411, England v West Indies, Edgbaston, 1957

Post-war pin-ups: Peter May or Colin Cowdrey? Or both?  •  Getty Images

Below are 10 names, traversing the ages, and all worthy of inclusion in England's all-time XI. As we sift through the contenders, the battle for England's middle order is perhaps the most open category of all. England has a wealth of talent at its disposal, but it also lacks an alpha male of the stature of, say, Don Bradman or Viv Richards.
Wally Hammond perhaps comes closest to being that automatic selection, but even he could not command 100% approval from our jurors. And besides, for the sake of balance, how would you weigh your side? Would you pack it with dashers - David Gower, Ted Dexter and Denis Compton competing for élan - or would you consider a sheet anchor an essential requirement, and slip Ken Barrington into the mix as well?
If the shortlist reveals anything, it is how the English game is still governed largely by nostalgia. Kevin Pietersen is the only modern-day batsman considered for selection, while Gower is the only representative from the seventies and eighties. The bulk of the contenders are post-war pin-ups - Cowdrey, May, Dexter, and of course Compton - the likes of whom contributed to the only era in which England was unequivocally the best Test team in the world.

The Contenders

Wally Hammond A brooding, brilliant stylist with more than 50,000 first-class runs to his name. An outstanding fielder, and underrated seam bowler as well. But for a certain Australian contemporary, his reputation would be matchless.

Frank Woolley When he got going, there were few more stylish cricketers than the left-hand batsman Woolley, who possessed all the shots and exhibited them with languid ease. Unfortunately the First World War robbed him of his prime.

Colin Cowdrey The first man to play in 100 Tests, and in many ways an embodiment of the English game. An establishment figure with initials to match, Cowdrey's only flaw was a perceived lack of killer instinct, which denied him the chance to captain England in Australia, despite six tours Down Under.

Ted Dexter "Lord Ted" batted as if teeing off on the first at Royal Troon, and had he not been a cricketer, golf would doubtless have been his calling. A mighty sight in full flight, particularly against fast bowling, when his cover-drive came into its own.

Kevin Pietersen Domineering and uncompromising at the crease, and possessed of a talent that few can match. Capable of turning a Test in a single session of counterattacking bravado, although his path to true greatness may be hindered by his desire to play one shot too many.

Ken Barrington An obdurate hunk of oak at the heart of England's batting, Barrington jettisoned a free-spirited style to transform himself into the most fomidable stonewaller of his generation. With an average of 58.67 over 82 Tests, he was indispensable for a decade.

Stanley Jackson If the Ashes is the zenith for any England cricketer, then who better to lead than Jackson, whose deeds in 1905 secured a 2-0 win. In all five Tests he won the toss, and with 492 runs at 70, and 13 wickets at 15.46, he led from the front as well.

Peter May Elegant, upright and classically brilliant, May's record of 20 Test wins as England captain was not exceeded until Michael Vaughan came along. A stalwart of the Surrey side that swept all before it in the 1950s. Success came as second nature to May.

David GowerThe unflappable ease of his run-scoring masked a steely competitive edge that often seemed hidden beneath his trademark golden curls. The classiest cricketer in England's 1980s line-up, and arguably the last of the game's great amateurs.

Denis Compton The original Brylcreem boy, and the pin-up for the post-war generation. Whether dashing down the wing for Arsenal or crashing raffish drives off Ray Lindwall, Compton lived his sporting life with panache, and left it thick with memories.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo