Saturday 11 February 2012

Inter-Galactic Test

Observing the recent Test series between Pakistan and England, taking place at Pakistan’s ‘home away from home’ on the slow turning pitches of the United Arab Emirates, highlighted amongst other things that the renascent spin bowling gravy train has resumed its journey after a couple of years in the sidings and is approaching something resembling full speed once more.

Not since Messrs Warne and Muralitharan were relentlessly depressing batsmen’s averages the world over has the spin bowler been such a prominent protagonist in Test cricket. A whole heap of spin induced batting woes in the aforementioned series in particular appeared to be the sum of two parts: the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) and downright poor technique.

Indeed, it could be argued that the inclusion of the UDRS in to Test cricket will in time see a visible change in the way batsmen approach spin bowlers; developing a means to combat the exponential increase in lbw decisions being awarded to spinners that we are now witnessing.

Whether it is UDRS that is the main driving force behind this spin revival is a topic that has already been extensively discussed, but certainly in terms of technique there have always been those that stood out from the crowd. Watching over some clips of the epic battles between Shane Warne and Brian Lara recently got me thinking: who are the greatest players of spin in the history of the game? Further to that, on a turning wicket, what is the best all time XI that could be assembled?

Sir Jack Hobbs - masterful
Leaving the realms of reality behind then, we travel to the Planet Teesra, light-years from Earth. As you might guess, the conditions are a spin bowler’s paradise; crumbling dust bowls with a dearth of moisture in the wicket, and many a delivery causing chunks to explode from the surface.

The Planet Teesra resident cricket team have challenged us Earthlings to a one-off Test match, to be played in their home conditions, of course. They represent a fearsome prospect, boasting a selection of the finest spin bowlers the universe has ever seen; difficult to read from the tentacle and with the ability to turn it on space ice. Their batsmen are equally masterful players of spin.

Such aliens are not the usual kind one would expect from the movies. They're similar in stature and form to human beings, so we shouldn't be facing anything too out of the ordinary, or likely to see our batsmen 'retire hurt' through alien induced savaging. They're a sporting bunch, and to counter their home advantage they have offered us the following terms and conditions:

  •  An atmospheric dome will cover the venue, where gravity is equivalent to that on Earth (otherwise there would have been some serious six hitting!)
  •  The aliens of Planet Teesra have offered use of their advanced technologies; allowing any cricketer from any era on Earth to be resurrected in their prime years in order to participate in this one-off Test match.
  • The current ICC rules will apply, restricting the degree to which the alien spinners can use their flexible tentacles when bowling a delivery.

As selector, who would you pick? Remember, we must assemble the very finest side that Earth has had to offer in spin friendly conditions. Here is the Silly Point(s) XI:

Sir Jack Hobbs – whilst seldom batting on ‘dust bowls’, Sir Jack played many an innings on ‘sticky’, spin friendly wickets that others could only marvel at. His mastery in 1909-10 of South Africa’s leg-break bowlers when playing on the matting wickets then used in South Africa where, according to Wisden, “South African spinners were at their most viciously angular” adds further weight to the selection of cricket’s original ‘Master’.
Virender Sehwag – an extremely aggressive opening batsman that rarely lets a spinner settle. Sehwag has had his critics for his technique against the seaming and swinging ball, but his dominion of spin bowling in his home conditions of India, perhaps the nearest thing on Earth to ‘alien’ conditions, sees him selected as an opening partner for Sir Jack Hobbs. Plus, as Wisden tells us, “the sight of a spinner brings the savage out in him.” Let those aliens be scared of us, for once.
Sir Don Bradman - the greatest batsman that ever lived has to have a place, doesn’t he? Perhaps slightly weaker against spin than seam, but still outrageously effective against it; you would always back The Don to score runs.
Sachin Tendulkar – perhaps the most complete batsman of his time, ‘The Little Master’ has prolifically scored runs in all conditions. Possesses a vast array of strokes along with the perfect balance and poise at the crease that proves so effective on a turning pitch, and holds a very strong record against the greatest spinners of his time. More than capable as a back up spinner.
Brian Lara – quite simply amongst the best players of spin bowling that I have seen in my lifetime. Sublime footwork and plenty of aggressive intent that never let a spinner settle. Notable success against Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan makes his inclusion a certainty.
Sir Garfield Sobers - the finest all-rounder in the history of the sport slots in well at number six. A magnificent batsman against any type of bowling, and a very good left arm spinner in his own right, adding further variation to the Planet Earth XI spin attack, not to mention being one of the great leg-slip fielders; a key position in these conditions. 
Andy Flower (wk) – as perhaps the one Zimbabwean batsman of true Test quality, Flower consistently proved himself to be one of the finest players of spin in world cricket, enjoying tremendous success on the turning wickets of India. Will have a hard task keeping wicket in such conditions, but makes it in ahead of Alan Knott for his excellent technique when combating spin bowling.
Wasim Akram  - picked as the solitary out and out fast bowler for this Test. One has to imagine that such a pitch will be particularly abrasive, lending itself to the reverse swing of Wasim as the ball gets scuffed. More than handy with the bat for some late order runs.
Shane Warne (c) – possessing every variation in the book, including a few that existed only by name, the leg-spin of Shane Warne would be expected to play a pivotal role. Prodigious turn, accuracy and with that all-round ‘X-factor’, the greatest captain that Australia never had takes his place at number nine as captain of the Planet Earth XI. Has the ability to add further late order runs.
Sydney Barnes – sharing the new ball with Wasim, Barnes would utilise his mixture of medium pace and both off-spin and leg-spin deliveries to devastating effect on a crumbling pitch. As Wisden say, “Barnes was creative, one of the first bowlers really to use the seam of a new ball and combine swing so subtly with spin that few batsmen could distinguish one from the other.”
Muttiah Muralitharan – the record holder for the most number of wickets in Test cricket is a certain pick at number eleven to complete the Planet Earth XI line-up.  A mystery bowler whose stock off-break delivery would perfectly complement the leg-breaks of Warne, Muralitharan’s variation and lethal doosra would prove a nightmare for even the finest alien batsmen to contend with..

Perhaps our team strip will involve black suits and dark sunglasses, too.

Over to you.


  1. I did consider Viv for a moment, but ultimately felt that Tendulkar perhaps had the more solid technique and balanced the side better, given that we already have ample aggressive batsmen in Sehwag and Lara.