Sir Ian Botham’s Greatest England Test XI
The current England captain is the best player the nation has ever had. He has scored more centuries than anyone else in fewer Tests. He is an obvious choice. There is not much left to say. Just after he was made captain, after Andrew Strauss stepped down, he skippered England to their first series win in India last year. During that tour he notched up his 23rd century for his country, edging past Colin Cowdrey, Wally Hammond and Geoffrey Boycott on 22. He took to his new role in charge of the side well, and became the first captain to score a century in each of his first five Tests in charge, and with him being only 28 – still relatively young for a Test player – we can expect many more hundreds from Alastair. However I would not make him my captain. That honour goes to David Gower, for the reasons I give below.
Here we have an exceptional player, his record is there for everyone to see and he is another obvious selection to me. Goochie was one of the most successful international batsmen of his generation, and through a career which spanned from 1973 to 2000 he became the most prolific run scorer of all time, knocking 67,057 runs in first-class and limited-overs games. It’s no surprise that Graham is Cook’s batting coach. It’s a role he has performed for England since 2009 but he has been keeping an eye on Cook for much longer than that. They both have their Essex connections, of course, and are righter handers blessed with incredible shot selection and patience. For England Graham managed 8,900 runs in 118 Tests at an average of 42.58 – still the most by over 500 runs (second is Alec Stewart with 8,463). Cook has some way to go before catching his mentor yet, though he probably will. I had to give a bit of thought about whether or not to include Geoff Boycott instead of Graham, but I’ve made my decision and some people will disagree. He is fourth on the all-time England runs list with 8,114 but Goochie gets the nod. I’ve made that choice on guy feeling.
David Gower is probably the most elegant batsman that England have ever produced in the period that I am discussing. A fantastic, flowing number three, he is third on the all-time England records, having knocked 8,231 runs in 117 Tests, with an average of 44.25 an innings. He is someone you want coming in after losing the first wicket, and it is ideal that he is a left handed player, just to mix it up a bit having opened with two right handers. He still holds the record of 119 consecutive innings without registering a duck in Test cricket. David is an excellent cricketer and he would be my captain. From this team I believe he would be the best man for the job. He is intelligent, a good cricketing tactician and he is pretty unflappable. He must be one of the most level-headed people in the game. He is very laid back – he doesn’t let much faze him – but if he does blow his fuse make sure you stand well away.
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This guy is probably the most exciting player in the world at this time, though Chris Gayle might have something to say about that. As with many of the people in this lineup he can turn a game around by himself. He is England’s most-attacking weapon I have seen for a huge number of years, and he can win a game in a session for you. He started out at KwaZulu Natal as a right-arm off-break spinner, but that was the only way for him to get in the side. He invented himself as an all-rounder because amazingly they would not select him on the strength of his batting, which was always his talent. It’s their loss – and South Africa’s – and very much England’s gain when he was spotted and moved to Nottinghamshire.
Here is a batsman who is the best player of quick bowling I ever played with. Here is a batsman who is the best player of quick bowling I ever played with. He was terrific to watch. Because he is short in stature he has a low centre of gravity and he cuts and pulls extremely well. Like Pietersen his opportunities were limited in his native South Africa, though in his case because they were banned from playing international cricket due to the apartheid regime. He joined Northamptonshire so he could enhance his career and eventually play Test cricket for England, which he did a fortnight before his 28th birthday. In total he played 79 Tests and scored 14 centuries, though had he been English by birth surely he would have played many more games, and managed a significant number of hundreds. And when you consider that he was playing against the West Indies in the 1970s and 1980s, when they had the most potent fast-bowling attack in the world – from any era – that that makes him some player. He was terrific to watch, truly exceptional. I would go as far as to say that he is one of the most impressive players of quicks in the history of the game. And he is in my side for exactly that reason. Because he is short in stature he has a low centre of gravity and he cuts and pulls extremely well. I loved batting with him, and he quickly became one of my good mates. He is excellent company. We have similar interests: we like fishing, shooting and golf. We have a lot of fun when we get together.
Alec Stewart (wicketkeeper)
Stewart hit 8,463 runs for England in 133 Tests, which is a stunning record, especially when you factor in that he was behind the stumps for most of the time and would have been drained after concentrating for so long. I had a good think about my man with the gloves. I mulled over whether to include Alan Knott or Jack Russell, as well as totting up the pros and cons for picking Matt Prior, who is doing an excellent job for the current England side. But Alec it was for me, and – if I’m honest – it did not take me too long to make my mind up. He is a terrific ‘keeper and a fantastic all rounder. When he didn’t have the gloves he was a tremendous fielder, and with his batting he proved so gritty. He showed fantastic versatility whether he was opening the batting or coming in further down the order.
As I can’t pick myself, unfortunately, the next best option would be Freddie at the peak of his game. He was superb a reverse swinging the ball, which has become an important weapon in the modern game, and when he was in his pomp he was magnificent. He opened the bowling for England and could bowl consistently around 90mph, which is a quick as the best of the them. In this side I would use him as the third seamer. With him at seven he can certainly do a destructive job down there. He is one of the hardest hitters of a cricket ball. Sometimes he timed them sweetly, too, but his brute strength was awesome. He is the person who has been compared most to me, and I think there is no one else who has really come close. He was a cracking close fielder, and scooped up many a sharp catch – and at vital times, too.
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Darren Gough / Graeme Swann
This selection comes down to the conditions on the given day. And people might say that there is quite a long tail, but if the first seven can’t do it, then why worry about nine, 10 and 11. The bottom line is that you need to take 20 wickets in a Test match. Swann is excellent against left handers and is more than capable with the bat and he can bowl a decent number of overs. He is one of the best characters in the current England team, but in this dressing room I think Allan Lamb and Bob Willis would be at the heart of the jocular banter.
You could argue that Derek, who managed 297 wickets in 86 Tests, is the best left-arm spinner to have ever played the game. On his day he was truly magnificent. If India had prepared a turning wicket and he was playing they would be shooting themselves in the foot and would be in real trouble. He could – and did – win games on his own. His record is there for everyone to see. He has over 300 wickets. He was such a gusty performer. He just kept on going – his fitness record was excellent. If you pick him he will bowl lots of overs, and he throughly enjoys bowling lots of overs.
He and Dale Steyn are the two best swing bowlers in the business at the moment, and he may have recently reached a milestone in taking 300 Test wickets. He may, in all probably, go on to take 450 wickets. People tried to change Jimmy early in his career and he was going backwards, but he has taken it back to basics and he is one of the most dangerous bowlers in the world once again.
Jimmy and Bob would take the new ball in my team, and – while Anderson may overtake us both eventually – behind my 383 wickets Bob is the most successful England bowler. He struck 325 times in his 90 Tests, with an average of 25.20, and was quick and could generate decent bounce. Who can forget his performance in the Ashes at Headingley in 1981? It’s a very strong bowling attack, in my opinion, and would be more than a match for the best that Australia could throw at us. I want 20 wickets and this side will be able to give me that.