Almanac Cricket – The all-time Australian men’s MCG XI: dodging the snorefest

Greetings of the season to you and yours!

The time has come for a change. As fun as pulling together the ‘best of’ teams has been, such XIs remain open to the quite reasonable criticism that many of the batting performances come in snorefest draws. They are by no means necessarily the most remarkable or memorable performances at the ground. Such a snorefest team for the MCG looks a little something like this:

So, let’s tweak the rules a bit and put some more criteria around qualification and see if we can come up with some more meaningful performances. Instead of picking the highest run tally for each batting position let’s see what it looks like if we consider the share of their team’s score (i.e. so 100 runs in a team score of 300 is more valuable than 150 runs in a team score of 700).

For the bowlers we’ll consider how efficiently they took their wickets as well as how big their bag was (so 5/100 is more valuable when the opposition scores 300 than when it scores 150… erm, yes, questionable).

As you can see there are a number of changes already. Justin Langer retains his opening position, scoring an impressive 41.6% of Australia’s runs in a five wicket win against England in 2002. However, Shane Watson loses his place to Colin McDonald. While Watto scored 31.4% of Australia’s runs in its 170 win against Pakistan in 2009, McDonald’s 184 runs against England in 1959, represents 43.8% of Australia’s runs in that Test.

At No. 3 Graham Yallop replaces Ricky Ponting, with 268 of Australia’s 555 (48.3%) against Pakistan in 1983. The middle order remains the same, however, 2017 Steve Smith replaces his 2014 version – his 178 runs against England in 2017 (30.2% of the team’s runs) having proportionately greater impact than his 206 runs against India in 2014 (24.3%).

The MCG is Smith’s ground. Prior to missing the 2018 Boxing Day Test, in his previous four appearances in the fixture he has scored 753 runs at an average of 251. Given his comparatively modest returns thus far this summer it will be good to be back at his happy place.

Meanwhile, Rod Marsh’s Centenary Test heroics with the bat retain his place with a more than useful 24.8% of Australia’s runs in that Test (and 38.5% of the catches).

For, the bowlers, only Monty Noble retains his place on the ground, getting picked as a spinner in the team. The pace trio of Bill Whitty (each of his nine wickets in 1910 costing 1.9% of Australia’s runs conceded), Rod Hogg in 1978 (2.0%) and Pat Cummins last year (2.0%) come in for 1879 Spofforth (3.1%), 1990 Bruce Reid (2.1%) and 1921 Arthur Mailey (3.0%). We’ll come back to Bruce Reid at the MCG in a moment.

 

That’s all well and good, but…

Each of the individuals in that team made a significant contribution in a Test – the batsmen with the biggest share of their team’s score and the bowlers taking their wickets most efficiently. However, it doesn’t deal with the snorefest conundrum. As impressive as Bob Cowper’s triple century in 1966 is, the match itself was a fizzer. In response to England’s 9/486 over 127 eight ball overs, Cowper’s innings was the cornerstone of Australia’s response of 8/543 at an even more leisurely 154 overs. Having lost Day 4 to rain, there was no hope of a result and England barely started its second innings before the game was called.

Equally, Justin Langer’s double century against England in 2002 came in a dead rubber. So, how about if we look to the performances that mattered? Those that occurred in live fixtures in games that were comparatively close. Here’s what the all-time Australian men’s MCG team now looks like:

Starting with the openers, first we turf the current Australian coach, as mentioned due to the dead rubberiness of the 2002 Ashes Test. Colin McDonald gets the axe too as his 1959 century also came in a dead Ashes rubber. Shane Watson reclaims the opener’s spot with his 213 runs against Pakistan in 2009 in what turned out to be a 170 run win to take a 1-0 lead in the series (we are somewhat liberal with our definition of ‘close’ here).

Watto’s 120 not out came as almost a lone hand in Australia’s second innings to set Pakistan a victory target of 422 runs as Michael Clarke (37) was the only other Australian batsman to make it past 25. Watto also chipped in with Salman Butt’s (45) wicket in Pakistan’s first innings, bowling 13 of Australia’s 99 overs.

Bill Lawry comes into the other opener’s spot with his 177 runs in an eight wicket win against South Africa in 1964 (again, stretching ‘close’). Following South Africa’s first innings 274 (Eddie Barlow 109, Garth McKenzie 4/82), Lawry anchored Australia’s response, starting with a 219 run opening partnership with Ian Redpath and ensuring Australia held a healthy first innings lead. Chasing 134 for victory, Lawry also got Australia off to an assured start before he was the first wicket to fall, the score on 33. Australia took a 1-0 lead in the series which ended up at 1-1 after five Tests.

Ricky Ponting grabs his spot back from Graham Yallop as, while Yallop’s 268 came in a dullish draw, Ponting’s 288 runs against India in 2003 helped Australia to a nine wicket win to level the series 1-1. With India posting a competitive first innings 366 (Sehwag 195), the 234 run partnership between Hayden (136) and Ponting was the feature of Australia’s 558 in response. After Brad Williams (4/53) helped to contain India’s second innings to 286, Ponting and Hayden again combined to take Australia past the 95 runs required for victory.

Again, we completely replace the middle order… kind of. Steve Smith qualifies with a different Test, his 204 runs in a 177 run win against the West Indies in 2015. Joining him are Greg Chappell with 178 runs in a 92 run win against Pakistan and a surprise with Johnny Taylor’s centuryless 162 runs against England in an 81 run win in 1925.

Source: Trove

Taylor’s most meritorious contribution undoubtedly came in Australia’s second innings on a crumbling pitch as Australia sought to build on a 121 run first innings lead. Taylor was the sole upper order resistance to Tate (6/99), taking Australia from 3/27 to 6/166. A 71 run ninth wicket partnership between Gregory (36 not out) and Oldfield (39) saw Australia through to a defendable lead of 371 runs.

Rod Marsh’s Centenary Test performance sees him hold his place with the gloves, ahead of Gilchrist’s 1999 effort against India and Tallon’s 1947 Test against England.

Onto the bowlers – by the very nature of their job, requiring that the bowling performance comes in a ‘close’ match very much narrows the field, given outstanding bowling tends to lead to substantial victories. Of the top 20 match figures for bowlers at the MCG, the first 19 came in victories. The 20th, Pat Cummins’s 9/99 last year against India, is the only one that came in a defeat. Nonetheless, qualifying for this bowling line-up we see Rod Hogg and Bill Whitty retain their places while Bruce Reid replaces Pat Cummins and Joey Palmer takes the spinner’s spot from Monty Noble.

Bruce Reid’s 13/148 as part of an eight wicket win against England in 1990 gets him the gig here. However, it is worthwhile noting that he could also have qualified with 12/126 against India in 1991. As much as the MCG may be more memorable for the bowling exploits of Dennis Lillee, who has four of the 14 best match figures at the ground, Reid’s name might more readily spring to mind if not for injury.

Of the bowlers selected, Bill Whitty starred in the closest match – an 89 run win over South Africa in 1910/11 (a match starting on New Year’s Eve). With Australia trailing by 158 runs on the first innings, a Victor Trumper (159) inspired 327 (Schwarz 4/76, Llewellyn 4/81) gave Australia 169 runs to defend. Whitty, a left arm swing bowler bowled 16 overs unchanged, taking 6/17, as Australia routed South Africa for 80.

Source: Trove

Joey Palmer is the other name that may not immediately spring to mind – his 10/126 against England in 1882/83 (another match spanning the new year) helping Australia to a nine wicket win. Palmer did most of his good work in England’s first innings, bowling 52 of 107 overs in taking 7/65 to dismiss England for 177 to give Australia a 114 run first innings lead. Enforcing the follow-on, Giffen (4/20) was the most effective of the Australian bowlers while Palmer took 3/61 and Bannerman and Murdoch chased down the 58 runs required for victory.

I hope Santa stuffed your stocking good and proper and, as always, enjoy your cricket!

 

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About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

Comments

  1. Shane John Backx says

    I wish everyone would stop calling it ” The mens Australian cricket team” It is simply THE Australian cricket team. Any other should be differentiated not this one. It stands alone.

  2. Monumental, DB! A true stats-feast while I’m chewing on my muesli. A bit surprised that Matthew Hayden missed out given his multiple centuries at the G. Just didn’t have the same level of impact, I suppose. And a couple of relative unknowns make for interesting history. Now put your feet up, sit back and watch the Test.

  3. Thanks for the read and comments.

    Hi Shane, that’s no longer true: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-07/cricket-australia-changes-womens-team-name-from-southern-stars/8597000 – men are no longer the default.

    Cheers Ian, likewise. Hayden’s Tests against South Africa in 2005 and India in 2003 were in the running at 29.9% and 28.9% of Australia’s scores in those two Tests respectively

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Glad BA Reid made it back in, at his peak in those consecutive MCG Tests. Then sadly barely played Test cricket again. Pat Cummins fast turning into the modern day MCG specialist.

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